Today’s guest has actually been a reader of mine for quite some time now, she comments here from time to time and I had the privilege to meet here last year at the Romantic Times Convention where she first told me her son had Autism, more specifically Asperger’s Syndrome. Without me having to prod her into this, she emailed and asked if she could post about Asperger’s in April! So without anything more from me, here’s what she has to say:
April is Autism Awareness month and Rose has graciously allowed me to guest post on her blog to promote awareness to her audience. Thank you, Rose for giving me this opportunity to share my own experience and perhaps shed a little more light on the subject.
What is Autism/Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)/Asperger’s Syndrome? Essentially, these terms all describe complex disorders of brain development. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that 1 in 88 children have some type of Autism Spectrum Disorder. Each year in the United States, about 1 in 54 boys and 1 in 252 girls are diagnosed with ASD. Additionally, government statistics have shown that more children are diagnosed with Autism each year in the US than juvenile diabetes, cancer, or AIDS combined.
I have known since by son was 3 years old that something about him was “different.” He wouldn’t make or retain eye contact with me or anyone else. However, he was speaking in full, complex sentences. Adults found him charming and engaging because he could carry on a full conversation with them at such a young age. But other children could not relate to him. He was awkward in terms of his gross motor skills and coordination. Basically, he was clumsy. Anything that required hand/eye coordination was just not doable for him. He had issues with physical and social boundaries because he could not read facial expressions (thus, the lack of eye contact). At age 5 he was diagnosed with a Nonverbal Learning Disorder, which encompasses a lot of those things but it never felt “right” to me. I am by no means a professional– call it mother’s intuition or what you will, but I was sure from the beginning it was Asperger’s Syndrome. I had researched all his symptoms and behaviors and they all screamed Asperger’s to me. Sure enough, in January of 2012, he was formally diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.
How is Asperger’s different than Autism or Autism Spectrum Disorder? Kids and adults with Asperger’s are usually considered “high-functioning.” They do not tend to have delays in language or cognitive development. In fact, my son tested above average in language development. He has an above average IQ. His memory and retention rate of information is astounding. You can verbally give him a list of facts and a week later he can recite those facts word for word. When he has an interest in something, he learns everything there is to know about that subject and can tell you all about it. So what are some of the signs? Of course, the only way to be sure is to obtain a formal diagnosis by a professional. Below are some behaviors that are common, but not present in all cases.
- Struggling with social relationships, including limited social interaction with others
- Inability to see things from another perspective or point of view other than their own
- Inability to understand non-verbal communication (facial expressions, gestures) but are usually above average verbally
- Having one-sided conversations; usually things that interest them personally
- Lack of eye contact
- Repetitive speech
- Delayed motor skill development
Again, there are probably many other behaviors that are unique to individuals, but the ones listed above are some of the most common and my own son actually displays all of those. He has always had difficulty making friends, oftentimes because they don’t share the same interests. If they don’t play what he wants to he just doesn’t play. Many times in first and second grade, during recess he would go and sit with his teachers and have conversations with them instead of playing. He still doesn’t make eye contact, even if you specifically ask him to. At the age of 10, he still cannot tie his shoes, struggles with buttons and zippers and his handwriting, being brutally honest, is atrocious. I can barely read it at times. Thank goodness he has a wonderful support system at his school via teachers and counselors that let him type his work when he can.
We have been doing various types therapy on and off for several years now, since he was first diagnosed with the Nonverbal Learning Disorder. One thing that was very helpful for us was cognitive behavioral therapy. That has helped him tremendously in school. We also have the benefit of living in a city with an Autism center where he attended a camp last year to help him with social skills. And while you have to pick through information on the Internet, there are plenty of legitimate websites out there with tons of information on it.
There are so many things I don’t know about this disorder, but what I do know is that knowledge is power. I know there is no cure for this and I know that my son will have this for the rest of his life. It will challenge him in ways that I cannot possibly predict. But I am optimistic that through continued research, strides will be made. What I can do, as his parent, is to be as knowledgeable and supportive as possible so I can help him grow up to be as successful and productive as he can be. And I think that’s a commonality that all parents share—special needs children or not.
Note: A lot of the information I have shared has been obtained from Autism Speaks. To learn more about Autism, visit their site at www.autismspeaks.org.