Self Awareness Cuts Both Ways

Ryan and friend
Ryan and his friend from vacation, enjoying the ocean.

This is not the post I wanted to write this morning.

We’re just back from an incredibly successful vacation — the best one yet of the three straight years we have spent a week at the same condo unit in the Outer Banks. It was full of family time, activities, glorious weather, relaxation and for Ryan, flexibility, a lack of anxiety, even a friend.

But, but, but … there was something Ryan said on the ride home that will not leave me. Several things, actually. And as painful as they were to hear, they are even more signs of his growing self-awareness.

We were perhaps halfway through what would be a nine-hour trip back home. Riley was texting with a girl who has also been at the same condo the last two years when she realized they were riding just a few spots ahead of us somewhere on the highway in Virginia.

She announced this discovery to all of us and encouraged me to pull alongside their car so we could wave.

This made Ryan upset and he began to mock Riley. He often does this when she talks about friends or girlish activities, and we thought it was just another example of him being an obnoxious 12-year-old, something he sometimes takes pride in.

Exasperated, I asked him “how does Riley texting with her friend affect you in any way?”

The answer took my breath away.

“Because I’m mad that I don’t have a friend like that to text with.”

Knife. Twisted.

After Veronica and I regained our composure, we used the moment to talk about the concept of friendship and to reinforce the things Ryan needs to do in order to have friends. We talked about the help we’re trying to provide with access to a psychologist, a psychiatrist and a social skills group. We told him how happy we were that he wants to have friends.

Ryan began to ask questions. A lot of questions. Some of them we had heard before, others were new. Among them was an uppercut to the gut — yet another proverbial punch that took my proverbial breath.

“What do you do if you want to be friends with someone and they don’t want to be friends with you?”

Before we could answer, he followed up with:

“That happens to me a lot.”

Oh, it hurt as much as you think it would. I had to blink away tears from the memory, still fresh, just to type the sentence. My child, my sweet, innocent child, who can seem so fulfilled with the entertainment he provides himself, just wants to have friends, and he doesn’t understand why it is so difficult for him. And another thing — even though he has never commented on how easily Riley makes friends wherever we go, he notices, and he’s jealous. That was another revelation that came from the same conversation.

As gutted as we were by this exchange, we tried our best to use it as a teachable moment. Riley was supportive, telling Ryan she didn’t have as many close friends as she would like.

But when we get past the hurt of hearing something so starkly laid out, there are HUGE positives to take from such an admission. Ryan is far from oblivious to social situations. He is beginning to understand them quite fully. And he cares.

Let me repeat that.

He. Cares.

Having friends is no longer just a goal of ours, it is a goal of his.

Over the years, we have talked about self-awareness a lot when it comes to Ryan. Our hope has always been that as he aged he would grow more self-aware, and be able to regulate his behavior in order to fit in.

And we are seeing it happen. We saw examples of it, beyond this exchange, over and over in the past week. Ryan pointed out when he was being flexible. He told us how important it is that people at school know he is a good person.

I debated whether to write this post today. We had such a wonderful week that I didn’t want to put a damper on it with this post. But I decided to go with it for two reasons:

1) I can’t pretend he didn’t say those things we heard him say in the car. But just as importantly, as painful as they were, there was a lot of good buried within those words. Which leads me to…

2) I suspect that years down the road, the emerging self-awareness Ryan showed on this trip will be as important as the wonderful memories we made this week.

But it doesn’t make it any easier to hear.

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31 thoughts on “Self Awareness Cuts Both Ways

  1. We ran into this kind of conversation this year. Just a couple months ago. My son is an only child, and he had been acting out for a couple weeks. Finally, he was able to put into words that he was lonely and wanted to play with other kids.

    Thankfully we have been able to connect with another family that has a kiddo similar in age and skill set and they play once a week now.

    Thanks for sharing your post.

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  2. Ouch! I have had slightly similar issues with my Ace. Although at 6 years old, it’s probably not as hurtful as at Ryans age. I think you are right about it being at incredible step towards his awareness and therefore ability/willingness to do something about it.

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  3. I’m in tears. If I may offer a suggestion. Ryan along with your help could start a club at school or in his neighborhood that would show Ryan’s interests like for example:/ A foodie club if he likes to cook, a book club if he likes to read, a super hero club if he likes super heroes…….. what ever Ryan is interested in start that club and meet once a month to start out and go from there. Remember it’s about friends, so this is just a club that meets every Tuesday night down at the local church and these members happen to be of a certain age group (you decide) and have a common interest. Just a suggestion.

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    1. Thanks for that. One of the things we have talked to Ryan about is the need to join some after school activities. He refused to join any clubs last year because he was too worried about sticking to his homework schedule, but this year he better understands that in order to make friends he’s going to have to join some more activities.

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  4. Your story broke my heart in two. We want so much for our kids to have self-awareness and to advocate…but it can be a double-edged sword. I really hope that Ryan finds a group that he enjoys and makes some friends in the process. Even if it’s just one or two close friends who he can pal around with.

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    1. That’s all we want for him — a regular companion or two who understands him and enjoys his friendship. He has had some success, but it’s tricky.

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  5. sorry this happened, just a very painful moment. i know my self-awareness grew and grew regarding various differences…lacking a diagnosis or any support, it was pretty brutal. i know there will be tough times for him, but i can only hope that the love and support you guys are giving him will make a difference. i know it won’t prevent all of the painful moments, but maybe with you guys on his side, he’ll feel a little light at the end of the tunnel.

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  6. My oldest is starting to be self aware more than he ever had been and it has been really hard on him. My other boys are still happy with the way things are. I guess we just have to take these moments and teach and learn from them and help our children grow from it…very well written

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