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Leda Natkin Nelis

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No Filter

Posted: 04/13/2012 11:45 am

Riddle: What do an Asperger's Syndrome child and a Gauloise cigarette have in common?

Having a teenage son without a filter is a unique experience. I often feel as if I have been airlifted straight into my son's anterior cingulate cortex, the brain's centre for sexual arousal. This is a precarious spot for a mother to loiter. I know everything that he is thinking. EVERYTHING. The word "secret" is not a part of my son's vocabulary.

My friends' teenage sons and daughters hoard secrets, minimizing their computer screens the moment their parents enter the room and answering questions about their social lives with non-committal grunts and self-conscious shrugs. Our son, on the other hand, welcomes me into the inner sanctum of his most intimate fantasies with open arms. Most of what he shares with me cannot be published in the Huffington Post. Let it suffice to say that much of it involves thigh-high boots, stretch lace and Eastern Block women. It is fascinating, on one hand, to be privy to your child's every thought. It is also unsettling.

Breakfast table dialogue in our household tends, thanks to my son and his inability to keep his thoughts to himself, to read more like Penthouse Forum than "Father Knows Best." My husband, daughter and I need to constantly steer the conversation away from sex. It is exhausting, trying every 25 seconds or so to manoeuvre these verbal U-turns, but some boundaries must be set. This is an ongoing job in our family, as my husband and I continue to grapple with the issue of how to deal with our son's lack of filter.

This lack of filter is accompanied by a general lack of inhibition. My son considers clothing an encumbrance and prefers to be naked ("the way God made us"). This can be awkward after he has eaten his Chinese takeaway in the buff, and (poor fine motor skills, messy eater) has to have clumps of sticky rice and sweet and sour sauce removed from his navel and nether regions.

Vocal volume control has also been an ongoing challenge for my son -- a challenge typical of children with sensory integration dysfunction. As a result, many of his risqué narratives, which are meant to be shared with me and my husband, end up being inadvertently broadcast in his booming, fifteen-year-old voice, to the general public, usually as we ride the bus or stroll along Wimbledon High Street. Is our son embarrassed when other people hear his musings? Not in the least. Am I? Yes! When we "Sshhhh" him he reacts defensively, insulted by what he views as our draconian censorship. I am trying now to say "Quieter, please" when he starts talking too loud about inappropriate subjects in front of other people, but this is tricky, as it goes against what one could term the "maternal hush reflex".

One helpful strategy to try to avoid inappropriate verbal exchange is previewing a situation. Before our daughter has a friend over to the house, for example, I will run through the upcoming visit with my son. I remind him that he will have to be dressed when she arrives, with zippers zipped and buttons buttoned. No excessive swearing. No sex talk. I then list a number of topics that he can comfortably broach with her (although no doubt she and my daughter will end up ensconced in her room with laptop and/or dip dying their hair). Practice makes perfect.

Like most people with Asperger's Syndrome, my son possesses a "theory of mind" deficit. He therefore has difficulties separating his beliefs and emotions from those of the people around him. This explains his lack of self-consciousness, as he sees no real boundary between his psyche and the mental attributes of others. I need to patiently explain to him at times that what he may find interesting or acceptable is not necessarily palatable subject matter for others. Let's take the X-rated rap lyrics of 2 Live Crew. If my son wants to discuss these with Dan, his very hip thirty-year-old trainer (who sidelines as a DJ), great! Is it appropriate to sing these lyrics in the hallway of his school when the deputy head is nearby? No!

Reading the emotions of others is an ongoing challenge for our son. After every single interaction that we have with a stranger (waiters at restaurants, shopkeepers, ticket collectors) my son will either ask me, "was that person nice?" or venture to assess their demeanor himself, with comments such as, "he seemed friendly, didn't he?" or "She wasn't very kind, do you agree?" The good news here is that my son is constantly trying to improve his emotion reading skills. Unfortunately, he usually makes these assessments right in front of the person in question, not in a whisper but in a loud voice. He is oblivious to the fact that others can hear him. I need to explain then to him that he must talk about others in a hushed voice when they are nearby. Or wait until they are not there. I then try to join him in analyzing their demeanor, as this is good practice for his social cue reading.

I know that my son feels frustrated that his behaviour is constantly monitored and corrected. It is challenging to find a balance between nipping inappropriate language in the bud and building self-esteem by avoiding too much negative feedback. I am still struggling to attain this balance. In the meantime, welcome to the House of No Filter.

Answer to Riddle: Both have no filter.