How Do I Handle My Thieving 7-Year-Old?

By Ijeoma Oluo

Welcome back to The Alchemist — Because Advice Columns Don’t Have To Be Useless

Can I have a good life with Asperger’s?

Advice from Crosswalk.com

The Question (summarized): I’m 26 and I have Asperger’s and no relationships or good job prospects. Am I doomed to a horrible life?

The Bad Advice (summarized): Pray for a better perspective! At least you aren’t homeless! Find a hobby, volunteer!

My Better Advice: I do hope you can find a better perspective, not one based in comparing your situation to the hardship of others, or seeing your autism as a problem to be managed. You have a different brain. A LOT of people do. Your brain is not less than, your brain is not broken. It’s different. Our society NEEDS different brains if we want to take this world in new directions. I’m not trying to say that the difficulties that you are facing are not real. But I want you to understand that the difficulties you are facing are not because there is anything wrong with your brain, but because the world is just now starting to appreciate the differences that make you special.

As someone who has been in serious romantic relationships with people with autism, let me assure you — healthy and happy relationships are possible. Yes, there are often communication challenges. But there are communication challenges in every relationship. When I fell in love with a man with autism, it was not because he was acting like a man without autism. It was because he was fully and vibrantly himself. He was confident in who he was and his wit and humor and uniqueness was all there for me to see. I knew what I was getting into with him, because he knew who he was. When we had communication issues we did our best to work through them. Sometimes it was difficult. But I also knew that I had to meet him halfway. This was not a case of him needing to stop acting like someone with autism. This was about us finding a place where we could meet each other. The relationship didn’t last forever — it ended for a lot of reasons. But he is happily married now to someone who is a wonderful match for him.

Your brain is not less than, your brain is not broken. It’s different.

But in order to find healthy relationships, and in order to find rewarding work, you need to find yourself and your community first. The internet is a wonderful place to start. Look up support and advocacy groups and blogs and forums for people with autism — make sure they are run by people with autism, though. It is very easy to feel alone with your autism — as the parent of a child with autism I see my son struggle with these feelings of loneliness as well — but the truth is, there are millions of people out there just like you. Know that you have a community. A community of people with brains like yours who are supporting each other, learning from each other, and loving each other. Spend time in spaces where you do not have to feel like you are constantly adjusting for the rest of the world. Learn from other people with autism how they were able to find their professional passions, their hobbies, and their relationships. Find a place where you can receive comfort when the neurotypical world is not meeting you halfway in your attempts to communicate and build relationships. Everyone deserves community.

Some of the most brilliant, most caring, most creative minds in our world are minds with autism. Your autism is not a limitation. I’m excited for you to find all the amazing things you are capable of.

What Should I Do About My Stealing Son?

Advice from the blog of John Rosemond

The Question (summarized): My 7-year-old just got expelled from private school for habitual stealing from classmates and teachers. This is probably because we’ve spoiled him and given him everything he’s ever wanted. What should we do?

The Bad Advice (summarized): Buy him less things and homeschool him. You’re lucky! If he’d been in public school, they’d probably send him to a psychiatrist.

My Better Advice: Um. Do not homeschool your child. Don’t. I’m not necessarily against homeschooling children — especially if a child is in an unhealthy school environment. But if the school environment isn’t unhealthy and you want your child to be able to interact in a healthy way in public and with his peers, removing him from his peers altogether is the exact opposite of a solution.

Your child is acting out. He’s not just acting out because you’ve bought him a lot of things (although you really should stop doing that). He’s acting out because he needs something — likely something that cannot be bought — that he is not getting. I can’t tell you what that is. Maybe it’s a feeling of accomplishment from actually earning the things he’s getting instead of just being handed them. Maybe it’s time and attention instead of things. Maybe it’s meaningful friendships with his classmates. Maybe it’s boundaries and consequences to make him feel safe. But whatever it is that he needs, he’s trying in the best way he knows how — and, well, 7-year-olds aren’t very good communicators.

Because it’s very difficult for kids of this age to actually know why they are doing what they are doing, let alone put it into words, you actually will need professional help with this. This does not mean that there is anything “wrong” with your kid, or that you’ve failed as parents. Believe it or not, this kind of acting out is incredibly common. A professional therapist who sees this sort of behavior in kids all the time is going to be able to help translate these actions into the words your kid needs to be able to communicate with you. Often, it is a pretty quick and easy solution, once you know what the problem is. Do not be afraid of professional help, no matter how much the original reply tried to scare you. A therapist can’t usually prescribe meds, and will usually only refer your child to a prescribing psychiatrist if they believe that this is an issue that cannot be addressed through therapy alone, and there is nothing in your child’s behavior that you’ve written about that indicates that would be necessary. And know that as a parent, you will always have the right to say no or seek a second opinion if meds are recommended.

Acting out is a gift — it is your child’s way of reaching out. Take it as an opportunity to get to know your son better. With some help, this could be the beginning of a much healthier and more fulfilling relationship for you.

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