My Son Has Asperger Syndrome
I was sitting in the back of my child’s class during Open House. Just as I was actually starting to relax, enjoying the bit of freedom away from my offspring, I overheard pieces of the parent’s conversation in front of me.
“So what is up with this Jay kid? Do you think he is dangerous? He pushed my daughter just because she sat down in what he said was his seat at lunch. What’s up with that? There are no assigned seats. Why would he want to sit there with the girls anyway? Then he started crying. I tried talking to the teacher but all she said was that it was taken care of and that I shouldn’t be concerned.”
I politely tapped this mother on the shoulder and said, “Excuse me, but the boy you are talking about, he’s not dangerous. He is not a bully or a bad kid. He likes order and doesn’t do well with change. That is why he wanted to sit in that seat. He has Asperger syndrome – high-functioning autism. I know this, because I’m his mother.”
At once this mother and the other nearby parents transformed. Suddenly I was surrounded by pitiful looks. This was not the reaction I was going for. Angry, sad and now completely embarrassed, I gathered my things and, with as much dignity as I could, walked out the door and back into my life. A life that is rich with laughter, filled to the brim with love and has a good dose of autism thrown in there just to keep things interesting!
An Interesting Life
Yes, my life is interesting. You see, I am the mom of the child who has thrown himself on the ground at the supermarket in a fit of anger because I put a generic lemon-lime soda in the cart instead of the real thing – Sprite. The mom whom you silently, and occasionally not so silently, tisk-tisk and question my mothering skills. “She needs to discipline that boy. That child is just spoiled.” I don’t blame you for thinking this. You see, autism is not called the invisible disability for nothing.
I am the mom of the quirky big boy at the playground who is chasing after your little 5-year-old because even though he is 10, socially he is more your child’s age. You watch him flap his arms and talk loudly as he races after your boy. You think to yourself that he is odd, or maybe you worry about your own baby and call him over. Aren’t you surprised when my boy follows your son over, thinking this is part of the game?
I am also the mom of the boy who has an endless amount of love, who constantly floors me with his abundance of knowledge and facts on thousands of different topics, who gets straight As, reads literature that is five grades above his own age level and who could probably write funnier jokes for The Tonight Show than their writers ever could. Oh yeah … and my son just so happens to have Asperger’s, too.
A Neurological Disorder
Asperger syndrome is a neurological disorder. My boy’s brain functions on a high level and differently than yours or mine. He is wired differently, so to speak. His senses work, but the information they send to his brain can get misfiled or come in on the wrong pathways. Sometimes, all the information from all his senses hits his brain at once like a million radio stations playing at the same time, and he doesn’t know how to filter out the unnecessary and pay attention to what’s important. Imagine how loud or over-stimulating that would be. It would make me more vulnerable to melting down in a grocery store, too.
This condition has advantages and disadvantages. On the upside, people with Asperger syndrome, like my boy Jay, can be unbelievably smart at some things, like remembering different dates, facts, trivia or different mathematical formulas. On the downside, they may have trouble working in groups, and they may have a hard time understanding other people’s body language, indirect language and intonation.
A Regular Kid
I am telling you this not so you’ll feel sorry for my son. On the contrary. If you pity him, you also pity all the great people like him, for example, Thomas Edison, Sir Isaac Newton and Mark Twain, who have been said to have Asperger traits. I write this as a reminder that autism is a disability, like blindness or deafness. People with disabilities don’t need pity. They need acceptance, compassion and tolerance. They need to be appreciated for the unique individuals they are. People with Asperger’s may just need a little extra help when their radio stations get crossed.
I write this to remind you that first and foremost my boy is just that, a boy! A regular kid who likes to eat pizza or vanilla ice cream with rainbow sprinkles. A kid who wants to be invited to birthday parties or asked to come over and play. A person who can hear an ugly comment and see a disapproving look.
Having a child with Asperger syndrome in your child’s class or as your child’s friend can sometimes be challenging. The Asperger child tends to get frustrated easily and can overreact – don’t even think about changing the rules on them. But it can also be very rewarding. Who knows, your child may become friends with someone who could end up discovering a new alternative energy source, solve the world’s hunger problem, compose a masterpiece or, more likely, help your child with her trigonometry or physics homework in high school.
Sharon Fuentes is a freelance writer and the mother of two.
The Symptoms of Asperger Syndrome
The following is a list of some of the more common symptoms that may present themselves in children with Asperger syndrome. It is important to note that not all individuals with Asperger syndrome display each of these symptoms, and that the presence and severity of each symptom is likely to vary between individuals with the same diagnosis. Consult your child’s physician if you have any questions.
- “Robotic” or repetitive speech
- Average or below average nonverbal communication skills, yet average or above average verbal communication skills
- Inability to understand issues or phrases that are considered “common sense,” such as idioms or age-appropriate jokes
- Takes perfectionism to an extreme
- Has difficulty with any changes in the established routine
- Obsession with specific unique topics
- One-sided conversations
- Awkward movements and/or mannerisms
- Lack of eye contact or reciprocal conversation
- Failure to follow rules and routines may result in anxiety and/or tantrums/meltdowns (crying, aggression, property destruction, screaming).
Source: Autism Speaks
Annual Bay Area Walk Now for Autism Speaks
Join Autism Speaks, a national organization that funds global biomedical research into causes, prevention and treatments, for its 10th annual Bay Area Walk Now For Autism Speaks, to raise money to support those goals.
The event happens Sat., May 19, and you can sign up at www.walknowforautismspeaks.org/faf/home/default.asp?ievent=993433. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 707-778-3840 for further information.
Autism & Asperger’s Resources
Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD) is one of the largest worldwide organizations providing treatment to children with autism, PDD and Asperger’s Syndrome. It has two offices in the Bay Area – Berkeley and San Jose – where a team of psychologists, speech pathologists, social workers and other professionals oversee Applied Behavioral Analysis programs for individual children. San Jose: 940 Saratoga Ave., #105. 408-423-8076. Berkeley: 1942 University Ave., #206. 510-549-9405. www.centerforautism.com.
Families for Early Autism Treatment (FEAT) is a nonprofit organization of Northern California parents, family members and treatment professionals, providing education, advocacy and support for children of all ages who have Autism Spectrum Disorder. P.O. Box 255722, Sacramento. 916-303-7405. www.feat.org.
Parents Helping Parents (PHP) is a well-established local organization that provides education, support and training of caregivers to families with children of any age with special needs – including autism. PHP maintains a detailed list of resources and referrals, as well as support groups. 400 Parkmoor Ave., #100, San Jose. 408-727-5775. www.php.com.
Social Thinking is a clinic service led by Michelle Garcia Winner, a San Jose author, educator and speech pathologist who has been internationally recognized as a leader in the emerging field of social skills. Winner’s clinics and therapy are directed at treating high-functioning autism, Asperger’s Syndrome and nonverbal learning disorder. 3031 Tisch Way, #800, San Jose. 408-557-8595. www.socialthinking.com.