I Wish I Had a Different Brain

Brain (Photo credit: TZA)



That was Ryan on Sunday afternoon, mid-meltdown. Something was wrong with the hockey standings he was typing. This is a regular occurrence. His carefully crafted document formatting gets messed up. He forgets to save a document. His numbers don’t add up. Whatever the reason, it sets him off. He screams and slams his fists on the desk. He stomps around his room. He slams the door.

We rush in to calm him. Sometimes, we succeed in getting him to realize that typing standings is making him miserable. On those occasions, he is quickly soothed and moves on to another activity. If he returns to the computer, we remind him how he doesn’t really enjoy typing standings and divert him to something else.

Other times, we are not able to stem the tide. The anger and the hurt comes pouring out of him. It is a helpless feeling for a parent to see your child in such distress, and yet not be ale to help.

But this was something new. Ryan’s anger was sparked by whatever had gone wrong with his standings, but the target had shifted. He was mad that his brain, with its unique wiring that gives him such remarkable abilities, was betraying him.



Hearing those words gave me pause. In an instant, I questioned everything about our approach to parenting Ryan, from the amount of therapy and other help we pursue, to using medication, to telling Ryan about his diagnosis.

Ryan didn’t offer much of a reaction when we first sat him down over a year ago to talk about autism, Asperger’s, and his unique brain. He thought the word Asperger’s was funny because it contained “ass.” Over time, we’ve talked more openly about it. We’ve used real-life experiences, both good and bad, to illustrate why certain things are so difficult for him while others come so easily.

Clearly, some of it has sunk in, but I don’t know how sincere he was in this outburst. It’s possible that he was taking this approach to appease us for his behavior, the way a child caught in a lie will offer over-the-top remorse.

I didn’t share the details of Sunday’s meltdown with Veronica. It came and went quickly, but the words sticks with me. They were raw, painful. When it came time to write Monday’s blog post, I considered them, but instead described a wonderful day spent in the company of my daughter.

But last night, it happened again: another meltdown while typing standings. I wasn’t home to witness this one, having been off playing hockey with co-workers. A text from Veronica arrived describing a horrible outburst. It was all I could do to say I was sorry.

When I got home after everyone’s bedtime, the signs of trouble were obvious. Ryan’s door was open; he wasn’t in his room. Instead he was sleeping next to Veronica. She gave me a brief update and we decided to leave him there since he had just fallen asleep. It wasn’t until he awoke in the middle of the night and went back to his room that she told me how he had screamed “I hate my brain!” I told her he had done the same thing Sunday. We both sighed deeply and tried to fall back asleep.

Ryan was up at 5. He was “bored” and worried what would happen if he couldn’t fall back asleep since we had told him he wasn’t allowed out of his room until 6:30. I repeated his goodnight ritual, started his calming music and tucked him underneath his weighted blanket. At 5:30, we heard hum get up and go downstairs. Veronica and I wondered what to do. A confrontation would mean a loud argument and possibly another meltdown, no doubt waking Riley. We gave in and let him be. This was not the moment to enforce discipline.

When I got up, Ryan was on the couch, watching an old 1960s Stanley Cup film on NHL Network as if nothing had happened. But we know better. With way too little sleep, today will be a trying day. His nerves are frayed, his patience — minimal on a good day — will be even less. The same will be true for his parents.

For us, there are only questions. Is the medication working? Is it anxiety related to the upcoming school year? Will our planned beach vacation be a disaster?

One thing I have decided I won’t question: the decision to tell him about his diagnosis. No matter how painful it is to hear, I want him to have the knowledge and the words to express frustrations about the things that are difficult for him.

During Sunday’s meltdown, I reminded Ryan that the same brain he was blaming for his anger was what allowed him to do incredible things that most people would find impossible. In the middle of this morning’s chaos and yelling, I grabbed him a tight hug before and reminded him that with too little sleep last night he would have to work extra hard to make good decisions today.

He nodded, but didn’t say anything. I didn’t think my voice was registering, so I let him go. As soon as I did, he spoke.

“Sorry dad, I couldn’t breathe. You were holding me too tight.”

I laughed and smiled for the first time today. He tore off down the stairs after Veronica.

“Sorry I was being hateful mom!”

I did not tell him to apologize although I’m sure Veronica thought I had. It was a genuine, unprompted apology — something we have spent a lot of time working on. Not a big thing, but something to cling to on a trying day nonetheless.


11 thoughts on “I Wish I Had a Different Brain

  1. this post is all kinds of awesome. each child is so vastly different and they each need specific parenting. and i completely do the second guessing bit when some new behavior shows up. but i believe that the best we can do is second guess, rethink our decisions instead of holding fast to them, be open to modifying our approach. sometimes i decide i should take a different tactic, sometimes i confirm that this is still the best way to handle something. i find myself having to take the advice i give my son when things go awry. i need to be flexible. i need to focus again on what the big goals are and keep moving forward.

    i don’t know you or your family but from what you’ve written, you have a very healthy dynamic going on. he’s a very fortunate kid.


    1. Thank you so much for those kind words. I continue to appreciate and be amazed by the support of this anonymous community of fellow autism bloggers and readers.


  2. also, the ‘i hate my brain’ is not uncommon, especially when they reach adolescence. my son is HFA and 10 years old, but emotionally he’s much younger. i’m dreading the beginning of the blame game. it’s going to be gut-wrenching for me to hear my son say those words.


  3. This is fantastic Neil…you guys are great parents…through thick and thin, continue to do the right thing, and good things will come. I know you know that.

    Go Rangers! Sorry, I had to.



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