Control of Ourselves

I wrote the other day about how my son does things out of spite. @Celebr8nGenr8n left a comment that made me really start to think. She is an adult Aspie and she also tweets under @porterhouselife which is supposed to be her account about Aspergers. Both accounts worth following and really both have Asperger’s information since she isn’t all of a sudden an NT when she tweets at @Celebr8nGenr8n. Just saying.

Anyways I always value her insight for many reasons. As I mentioned she is an adult Aspie and so therefore the real expert on the subject. She is also smart (mensa!) and successful. And more importantly she has often told me that my son reminds her of how she was when she was younger.

She specifically responded the other day (paraphrasing) that she had no advice because she often does things out of spite and doesn’t see anything wrong about it. She did add she understood could be upsetting to a parent. I DMd her that it was in issue because was refusing school. But this really did make me start to think more deeply about what was going on.

The “experts” in real life have been talking to me about how he can’t just do things on his own time, or when he wants to. I have been told that if he refuses school and I let him it is setting up a pattern. I was also told that if he does this in relation to other things I should make him do the other things to. Like take him to the grocery store or to church just so he understands he has to do those things. I was also told not to let him control things. Specifically the other day the psychologist was talking about him picking out his own reward.

Wait a minute. First of all I am definitely “a pick your battle” kind of parent. I really don’t think dragging him to the grocery store over the weekend will accomplish anything but pissing him off. He actually doesn’t mind the store and could do it but being a teenager he would rather stay home and play video games. If we are out and I need to stop somewhere quickly he stops with me with no issues at all.

Second of all he does not just refuse things to refuse things. I have said that over and over again. If he is refusing something it is because there is a reason. Related to school he was having issues with school. We were working on it but it takes time. Prior to the pep rally & Thanksgiving he was there all the time and doing work. He was late every day but they adjusted his start time to accommodate him. He actually really likes school and we just need to work through what is going on. Not force him to go to school or the grocery store. IMHO

And finally and most importantly he should have some control over himself! Yes he is fourteen and needs to follow certain rules. In my humble opinion teenage years are for learning how to get through life knowing what rules to follow and knowing when you can make autonomous decisions. Learning how to feel that you are not being controlled by others but following rules. Let me give examples to make this more clear.

He was upset with his science teacher. He knew he couldn’t hit her or cus her out (thank God!) but he wanted to express his anger to her in an “acceptable way”. In his mind he decided that he would just not do his work. Telling him that it was only hurting him and not affecting her just got him more angry.

I figured out this was what was going on and sat him down to really talk about it. I explained to him that it was valid that it was upset. I told him I was thinking he wanted to be in control of something in that class. He nodded his head. I explained that was also a very valid feeling. I told him we just need to think of something to do that would not affect his grade but he would still feel in control.

This is a concept that comes up with him a lot. There are many times that he refuses things but I really think he is just trying to maintain control of his environment.

If I really take a hard look at myself I do it to. I bet most people do this. When I get mad at my work for something I can’t put my head down and refuse to work because I would get fired. But I can control other things that won’t get me into trouble. Sometimes it can be something small and stupid. Like when I worked on the floors as a nurse I had to wear a uniform. I was also supposed to wear white socks but I always wore mickey mouse or something like that. It was the one place I could express myself. I still wear funky socks to work because of this. Yep, I work as a lawyer with funky socks. My favorite right now are the monkey skull and cross bones ones. Can’t remember what they are called, doesn’t matter.

Point is it is okay for him to want to be in control of something. I am actually proud of him. It is people like that who become entrepreneurs or inventors or CEOs when they grow up. I don’t need to teach him to accept all rules. I need to teach him how to operate within the constraints of the rules that he must follow.


  1. My son can be quite controlling as well but I think he is like this because he is trying to manage his fear over what he can’t imagine. If he can control what is going to happen he will feel safe and secure. And I guess my son’s school refusal is also his attempt at controlling his fear which is understandable from his perspective. The thing for me is to work out what is causing the fear for my son to refuse school in the way he’s doing. And I agree with you; they need to learn the rules but its OK for them to want control. Deb x

    • Great post, thank you. I also think control is an absolutely essential concept when looking at issues like this. Forcing a child to do a task/behavior, e.g. go to school, gets the child to school but at the expense of self-control and autonomy. Buy-in is needed. Learning which rules are “musts” (hitting) and which have wiggle room (school EVERY day) is crucial.

  2. Living in a world that forces you to adapt against your wishes makes one feel like they have no control over their circumstances.

  3. I somewhat agree and disagree. My mother used to let me stay home every time I got anxious about going to school. I ended up being very agoraphobic. She used to let my brother do the same (who is also on the spectrum). The difference is our personality. I never do things out of spite, but he does. I have a built in inner drive that makes me take initiative and responsibility. Not everyone on the spectrum does. My brother is almost 30, still at home, and has zero life skills and no reason to learn them. Every time he doesn’t want to do something, or something makes him even slightly uncomfortable he just doesn’t do it. He just stays home where he can feel safe, and my parents have never pushed him due to the push back that he gives. If they try to make him do something he doesn’t want to do, he will stop doing anything at all out of spite. I’m not trying to start an argument, but want you to be aware of what this sort of thing can look like when it starts getting out of hand. It’s gradual, and you don’t always see it as it’s happening.

    • Wow thank you everyone for stopping by & leaving such wonderful comments!

      I really appreciate other’s comments about how forcing him to do things will make him feel as though he has no control. He does have a history of depression and it does scare me that he could feel trapped. He hasn’t made any comments about hating his life or anything more serious in a long time but still is a worry.

      @QuietConttemplation I appreciate your comment & will definitely watch for a continued pattern, especially related to refusing school. I don’t want him to completely avoid anything that makes him uncomfortable. But if issues going on I want to be supportive of his needs.

  4. I agree that he needs some control and while I appreciate what Quiet Contemplation had to say, I think you have to know your child and forcing someone to do something does not prevent them from shutting down either. Everyone has to learn to follow some rules, but I have never found force to be the best option for my daughter. Buy-in makes more sense when you are talking about older children.

  5. I have looked over my post and don’t anything about ‘forcing’. I have asperger’s and children with autism and use only positive behavior reinforcement. I may have been blunt and to the point in my post, but I’m not in any way suggesting anyone try to force their child to do anything. That would be a catastrophe and completely ineffective.

  6. I think it’s very healthy to teach your child appropriate ways to control his environment within what is appropriate. It seems as though control is a theme within autism. I certainly see that in my husband and our son. M (our son) is still too young to have the kind of conversations you are with your son but I’m following how you handle these things to store away for future use! 🙂

  7. Life and Ink says:

    My now 20 year-old with AS so often felt many of the rules he was under while in high school were “arbitrary” and if he did not RESPECT the authority figure trying to enforce a rule he did not feel inclined to follow the rule. His most often used quote while in high school… “Good men must not obey the laws too well.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

  8. Schools were set up for NTs. I mean, the whole world – and all of its rules – were set up for NTs.

    As an Aspie kid grows, the “can’t do things their own way, on their own time” thing – IMHO – applies less and less. WHY can’t we? I agree with Life and Ink’s kid – it feels pretty arbitrary, a lot of the time.

    The thing is, you adapt. For me, I skipped more days of high school than I attended. I arranged with the teachers to do the tests, and I’d catch up on work the days I was there. I ended up quitting high school in grade 11 (with teacher and principal blessings!), as I just had better things to do, and it seemed like a monumental waste of time for me. I was self employed, super busy, living on my own, and making a living. They said I was welcome to come back and finish anytime I felt like it, and – after a car accident – I took them up on it, just as something to do. Having or not having that piece of paper hasn’t affected my life in either way, I’ve been self employed since I was in my early teens!

    Had I been forced to attend school every day, finish high school in one shot? I’d have been utterly miserable, and it probably would have killed my drive altogether.

    You’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do – just make sure he gets SOME social time with NTs. It totally sucks, but it IS necessary for skill development that he *will* need later in life.

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