Asperger Syndrome has been very much in the media in the last few years, and many people, when confronted with the topic, know a little bit about it. However, there are still many people who do not really know what Asperger’s syndrome is, or what it looks like. A lot of people have misconceptions about kids with Asperger syndrome, as well. My 5 year old son was recently diagnosed with Asperger syndrome and here is what I have seen and learned that does not totally jive with what you will read in the literature on WebMD, or other sites.
To begin, Asperger syndrome is a developmental disorder on the autism spectrum. It is often called very high functioning autism. Kids with Asperger syndrome usually reach developmental milestones at the appropriate age, and do not have language delays. Children with Asperger syndrome are usually of average intelligence, and many are extremely intelligent. While there is a list of signs and traits of Asperger syndrome, no one child with Asperger’s looks like another one, because like any kid, they are individuals. Children with Asperger are quirky kids, but they are smart and charming kids, too.
You will read that children with Asperger’s have issues with social interactions, and this is true. But this may lead you to believe that these children do not want to be social. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Kids with Asperger syndrome crave social interactions, they simply do not know how to go about it properly. They do not understand social cues, and may go one talking about something long after the listeners have lost interest, as an example.
Kids with Asperger’s may also not be able to grasp the concept of what is appropriate and what is not appropriate socially. For instance, my son recently got a toy a gift from a neighbor. It is a lovely, cast iron, old fashioned fire truck being pulled by white horses. My son does not like it and he felt that he really needed to let her know that the next time her saw her. He is into Transformers right now and if it is not a Transformer, he is not interested. I have had to discuss with my son that sometimes being totally honest can be viewed as rude.
How do you tell a kid with social issues that sometimes it is okay to lie to be kind? It is tricky. Finally, after we talked about gifts, and polite behavior, and how not to hurt people feelings, he said. “Okay. This would make a nice decoration. I will tell her that I am going to use it as a decoration.” Perfect—thank goodness. For a child of his age, he simply does not *get* that there are just things that you do not say, like “You are fat,” or “I did not like the chicken that you made for me.”
Oftentimes, kids on the autism spectrum have difficulty making eye contact and do not like being touched. Some kids with Asperger’s do have issues making eye contact, not all of them do. My son makes very strong eye contact with everyone and always has. He also loves to be held and cuddled. However, he might stare a little bit, or get “in your face” at times because he is interested in you and doesn’t understand boundaries. It is also said that kids with Asperger’s have no sense of humor, or an odd sense of humor. My son is hysterically funny, and he finds a lot things very funny. He has a great sense of humor, laughs often, and can have anyone in stitches in seconds. He’s a regular Jerry Seinfeld, but he doesn’t know when a joke is no longer funny. He will find a joke that works and tell it over and over until you want to scream.
So, we are teaching him that telling jokes is good, but that they are not funny if you tell them over and over. Now he asks, “Is this joke still funny?” I told him last week that we were close to the annoying line with a certain joke and he said, “So, this joke has lost it’s luster.” This kid is 5, and it was hysterical, but he is getting it. Now, we just have to keep chipping away at his obsessions and knowing when people no long what to talk about a certain topic, like say, Transformers. We have to be fairly blunt right now, and as a parent, and a single one at that, I do reach the end of my rope some days and simply get Transformered out. Thank goodness for SpongeBob because he breaks things up a bit.
My son is extremely smart–probably gifted. His vocabulary can blow many adults out of the water. I used to attribute this to him having 6 adult siblings, but a lot he simply absorbs from the environment. When he had just turned 4 two month prior, Valentine’s Day came around. He had a box of conversation hearts and was asking me to read them to him. Soon he began to “read” them to me and they started out simple until he held up one heart and said, “This one says ‘Enough with mediocrity!’ ” I almost died laughing. I recently complained about having a sore butt after needing to sit on the floor for a long time. He was casually walking by and said, “Well, why don’t you get up off of your big, engorged, butt?” Where did he pick up the word engorged and know how to use it in a sentences?
He has know the difference between a deciduous tree and an evergreen tree, and an igneous rock and a sedimentary rock, for a couple of years now, but he cannot understand what an accident is, and that everyone has them, and that he does not need to freak out every time he bumps into something. Many Asperger’s kids have sensory integration issues and may be a bit clumsy, so there are lots of little accidents and yet that concept remains lost on my son. It is often very hard for people to understand how a kid can be so brilliant and yet be completely unable to understand very simple concepts. I am still trying to get my adult kids to understand this, so for strangers it is even harder to understand. This mismatched intellect can lead to frustration for the adult and the child involved.
Kids with Asperger’s are also said to dislike change and to be rigid with routines. My son has none of those traits. Children who have Asperger’s can be very obsessive and sometimes defiant and anxious. My son does have all of those traits. Do not move his Transformers or a fit will ensue. Do not leave messes around or he will tell you to clean the house. He does not separate from me easily, but once he gets acclimated, he is fine.
My son needs the services of a social worker, an occupational therapist, and a behavioral therapist right now. Many people, parents, and adults discovering that they have Asperger’s, get scared by the word, or the thought of autism in any form. I do not, and never have. My son’s support people do not fear for his future, either. Life is going to be a bit bumpier for him, and he needs help learning certain skills right now, but he is smart, receptive, and a willing learner, and if you met him, he’d charm the pants off of you in under 20 seconds. I am not worried about my son with Asperger’s. He will be fine as long as the people he meets take the time to understand him. He has a bright future ahead.
Barbara Durso, M.D
Asperger Syndrome in Children