A few years ago when Elizabeth was about 6, Imogen was invited to a sleep-over. It would be her first and she was really excited. I had a problem though: Elizabeth was older and I had never allowed her to stay over at someone else’s house.
Aspergers and sleep-overs are NOT a match made in heaven, in our experience! First there’s the expectation: Elizabeth had read LOTS of books about all things girly including sleep overs. She had a fixed idea in her mind and thought she knew exactly what would happen. Check out Amy from The Big Bang Theory for a grown-up version of Aspie expectations on sleep overs! 😉
But on a more serious level, Elizabeth expected there to be nail painting and pillow fights and midnight feasts etc. Added to these high expectations are the fact that there is inevitably the ‘build-up’ which she found almost impossible to cope with. Emotion is a difficult thing for young people with Aspergers to define and process. Much of it feels like anxiety and for this reason, unreasonably high expectations (such as Christmas, Birthdays and all other holidays plus special days out including sleep-overs) go hand in hand with difficult behaviour. In the build up to the EVENT there will be tears, tantrums and sleeplessness which inevitably causes a cycle of more of the same. Her emotional vulnerability was why we tried to keep things on an even keel. I have never had a rigid structure and we don’t do the same thing day in and day out, but we do try and keep the troughs and peaks to a minimum: the daily-activity equivalent of a Low GI diet!
In the past some of her weekly activities caused these peaks and troughs and they were so hard on her emotionally and on us as a family that we have had to give them up. She did ballet dancing for a couple of years and loved it until she was moved into the class for older children (she was about seven, they kept her in the younger class for as long as they could) and because it was no longer pretending to be fairies, running around the room in a tutu and she was suddenly expected to keep up with the other children and perform as part of a group, to listen and pay full attention she started to feel very stressed out. We reassured her, encouraged her, she had very sympathetic teachers who were aware of her difficulties but she was just not emotionally ready to cope and she was stimming, habit coughing, melting down and arguing in the two days leading up to the lesson and the couple of days after the lesson so we had to call it a day. The same thing happened with her weekly Aspergers Group, ironically! She just couldn’t cope with the lead up to it.
Rainbows was another group that was really difficult for her. They sent us a welcome pack with a leaflet which outlined some of the activities the children would be involved in including the idea that as a result of attending she would have ‘Sleep-overs’. I just didn’t hear the end of it. She expected them to be doing all the activities on the leaflet each time she went and was expecting the sleep over invitations to start rolling in from day one.
Of course I don’t shield her from every activity, it’s just that some activities are more suited to her than others. She loves the Art club we go to and we often meet other families in the park or at Legoland or Martin Mere but I tend not to give her a lot of notice or describe in much detail what will be happening. If it is a new place of course I outline generally the situation she will find herself in so that she is prepared, but I try very hard to play it down. It is hard not to present things in an exciting way when you are telling your kids you are going somewhere special, but it causes such a problem if I do that it can even ruin the event.
Since Elizabeth was born we have been on four family holidays none of which have lasted more than four nights! 16 nights in total because it just hasn’t been something she could deal with. She was so excited and anxious that none of us slept.
Anyway, to get back to my original post: Imogen was invited to the sleep-over and Elizabeth wasn’t. That’s because my good buddy (who invited Imogen) understands completely. Elizabeth won’t be going and may well feel bad about that when the time comes so we have had to have chats about ‘readiness’ and about the fact that she stays up later than Imogen and has nail varnish and other privileges and sleep-overs will happen when she is ready.