By Dan Coulter
There’s a term in screenwriting called “the dark night of the soul.” It’s that point in the script where the hero is overwhelmed by feelings that he faces impossible odds and his situation is hopeless.
If your child with Asperger Syndrome is frequently seized by these feelings, they may be caused by thoughts of past embarrassing or traumatic incidents that are taking up too much space in his memory banks.
Some children with AS, including my son, Drew, are especially sensitive to selective memories. Here’s an example. When Drew was about three and a half years old, he got a balloon tied to his wrist in a shoe store. While walking to the car, he accidently untied the balloon’s string and it floated away, followed by his desperate cries. This event had such an impact on him that for years afterward, he would get extremely upset if anyone offered to give him a balloon. Drew explained recently that the balloon was a beautiful thing, he had to watch it fly away while there was nothing he could do -- and he never wanted to feel that way again.
This was only a lost balloon. For a child with Asperger Syndrome who’s remembering being teased or harassed, or failing at something important to him, the rush of emotions can be overwhelming. They can play over and over in a loop that tells a child that it’s impossible to succeed or be happy.
Even a child who has an overall positive outlook and lots of abilities can be subject to these bouts of negativity and depression.
It’s impossible to know what’s going to trigger bad memories and start such a loop, but you can help your child break it. You do it by showing him how to rewrite the script in his head.
And it takes a rewrite. You can’t just erase the memory like you’d delete lines in a script.
Telling a child not to think about a bad memory is like someone saying to you, “Don’t think about elephants.” No matter how hard you try, a picture of a pachyderm will pop into your head.
Instead, work with your child to prepare a list of positive memories to hold ready. That way, when a negative memory surfaces, he can direct his thoughts to the time he made a great presentation in class, or solved a difficult puzzle, or accomplished something else that made him proud.
It’s best if the positive memories focus on accomplishments, because they’re evidence of competence and self-worth that can be powerful at refuting negative thoughts.
If you can’t help your child learn to redirect negative thoughts and you see that he frequently gets down on himself, you may want to consider getting professional help.
But working yourself to build up your son or daughter is never a wasted effort.
Sitting with your child to compile a list of his accomplishments and good memories is a treat in and of itself. And you’re teaching your child that it’s always possible to take control of his own script, and write the positive story he deserves.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR -- Dan Coulter produces DVDs for people with Asperger Syndrome and autism and those who support them. You can find more articles on his website: coultervideo.com.
Copyright 2009 Dan Coulter All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission.