Life can be beautiful and wonderful. Life can also be disappointing and frustrating. Many of us on the spectrum see life as black and white or right and wrong. There often isn’t any room for those in between ‘gray’ areas of life.
You either make the baseball team or you don’t. You get a good grade on your term paper or you don’t. These seem like clear cut outcomes. Unfortunately, everything in life is not always so literal.
Even when things are very black and white, there is always a little bit of gray.
Gray areas can be difficult concepts for us to understand. Acceptance and rejection fall into this category too. Let me explain….
Let’s say you play the flute. You try out for first chair. As luck would have it, you are competing against the best flute player in your hometown. You, unfortunately, do not get that first chair. You do get second chair, which is still a huge accomplishment. Of course anyone would be disappointed with the outcome. You really worked hard and thought that you were the best. You should have won first chair. Most would be upset at first then quickly get past the fact that they will have to try harder next time. But for those of us on the spectrum, the disappointment can be unbearable.
Many times we have an extraordinarily challenging time understanding other people’s emotions. Losing a game, getting a bad grade or not making the team can feel like an attack on us personally. When failure arrives, which it is bound to at some point in life, we are frequently unable to cope with the disappointment. “You win some, you lose some” is a popular motto but if you are on the spectrum, it is often beyond comprehension. We don’t understand why things in life are not always equal and fair.
My oldest daughter has a particularly challenging time with the concepts of fairness and disappointment. She recently studied diligently for some of her high school finals. When she got her grades, she did not receive what she thought she rightfully deserved. She was enraged when she learned the grades of some of her fellow classmates. She felt she had studied more and it was unfair that some of her peers got a better grade without putting in as much time and effort.
There is that word again, unfair.
I know and understand how difficult it can be for children like mine to understand fairness. As an adult on the spectrum I often find myself struggling with fairness. My mind likes to put everything into compartments. Disappointments come and go. I have learned to bend and flex even though my autistic mind wants fairness. I work hard to let go of what I cannot control.
It is good for children on the spectrum to face disappointments. When it happens to my girls, we engage in different coping strategies such as:
- Role playing
- De-stressing with sensory toys
- Re-directing to another activity
My oldest daughter is developmentally able to discuss different ways to handle her situations. She frequently tells me about all the unfairness and disappointments she faces. Together, we process ways for her to cope.
Dealing with failure is a life skill.
We can teach our children how to face their challenges. It takes time and patience but it’s doable. I know from my own personal experience and watching my children develop better coping skills as they grow.
It’s not what you’re dealt in life, but how you deal with it.