This is my week to come clean, apparently.
subtitled The Asperger’s Post

When stressful things occur in my life, I like to take a week or month or year to process them before discussing them with anyone else. I think it’s a superstitious thing — I can’t risk having things “jinxed” while they’re still freshly occurring. Or else maybe they’re like paint — not safe to touch when freshly applied.

Hence, I’m just now telling y’all about stuff that’s been on my mind for months now. I think it’s a good sign that I can talk about these things on the blog now. It means I have them a little more under control. That said, I’m gonna talk briefly about one of my kids now, and what’s been going on with us.

My middle son, now 12, was recently diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, which basically means “touch of autism.” This didn’t come as a big surprise to me, because I noticed shortly after his birth that he had some autistic-esque symptoms. I’d never bothered to have him formally diagnosed, however, because he’s very bright and had managed to get along well enough through his younger years.

Until now. Now, in middle school, he’s been having a lot of problems. Or, maybe I should say that people around him have been having problems with his behavior. At first I defensively blamed our new school district, branding their staff as intolerant, but it was bound to happen, I suppose. In elementary school, everyone was used to Dallas’s slightly un-typical ways. No matter what middle school he went to, I suppose it was inevitable that people would notice and react to his differences in a bigger way.

So, we started the formal diagnosis process back in November or December. I was really, really reluctant to have my child labeled, but by then, it had become the lesser of two evils. My son’s behavior was being misconstrued in a way that affected his grades.

Common Misconceptions Surrounding People with Aspergers

1. People with Aspergers often find it uncomfortable to make or maintain eye contact. That discomfort can be misconstrued as disinterest or disrespect.

2. People with Aspergers often cope best with situations in which the rules and expectations are logical and clearly explained. Questions about rules can be misconstrued as disrespect for authority.

3. People with Aspergers, although often extremely intelligent, sometimes cope with stress by doing things that “typical” people don’t. Like verbal tics. Or repetitive movement (rocking, hand flapping). Or focusing on inanimate objects. Or seemingly disengaging mentally.

Add to that the fact that people with Aspergers are frustrated by things that don’t necessarily frustrate neurotypical people. Like certain noises, or prolonged eye contact, or seemingly illogical occurrences, or flickering lights, or being touched on the head, or being touched at all. So… someone reacting atypically to something a neurotypical teacher would not find stressful can be misconstrued as willfull misbehavior. Or horseplay. Or constant lollygagging. Or disrespect. Or mental retardation. Or Tourette’s. Or a condition that, although unidentified, would surely be improved by a little Ritalin. Or stupidity. Or simply something “weird,” that needs no investigation or empathy, but only for this weird kid to be removed from your class. From your sight. From your mind.

4. People with Aspergers don’t learn social skills in the same way that neurotypical people do. Whereas most people make eye contact with their mothers and caregivers instinctively, from birth, people with Aspergers might not make eye contact unless they are explicit told to do so on a regular basis. And, even then, they might not make it “correctly.” Whereas you or I might grow up with a general instinct about eye contact — when it’s appropriate and when it’s creepy — a person with Aspergers might need to have every detail of that knowledge explained.

And how do you explain knowledge you were born with, or knowledge you picked up on instinctively? If a person can’t make sense of the rules of eye contact, the first building block of social interaction, on his own, how will he make sense of the intricacies of small talk, or making friends, or finding romance? Will he be able to detect dishonesty, insincerity, or malice? If people are threatening him, bullying him, taking advantage of him?

(The answer to that last: Maybe he will learn these things if he concentrates very, very hard on understanding them. Like Mr. Spock struggling to understand Captain Kirk and Dr. Bones. Or maybe he will learn these things if he’s taught them by very patient, very empathetic people.)

Back to my story… the story of an overly stoic mom…

So, like I said, I feared having my son formally labeled. Why bother, I thought, when he gets along just fine at school? And when there’s no cure for Aspergers or autism, anyway? What’s the point? Why go through the hassle? Let him keep passing as a neurotypical person.

I wasn’t in denial, exactly, but I do admit that the idea of identifying my child as “disabled” had some strong conotations for me, personally. For instance: I was raised to believe that going to the doctor is only for emergencies. That asking for help is only for emergencies. That highlighting one’s own differences is at best a cry for attention and, at worst, a cry for pity.

I would take care of it by myself, I decided. I researched and read everything I could. I coached Dallas on my own. I talked to his teachers frequently and diplomatically and smoothed over the few incidents that occurred. (It helped that his teachers, on the whole, were very empathetic people. For that I thank God.)

Y’all might remember that I was very disappointed last year when Dallas didn’t get into any of the middle schools that we applied for. I’d had my heart set on staying in Houston’s Inner Loop, but it seemed apparent that the Inner Loop had its heart set on ejecting us and replacing us with someone richer.

Y’all might remember that I was equal parts happy and apprehensive about buying a house in the suburbs. Although people have been thriving in the suburbs since caveman times, almost, it was new and alien to me, and I feared massive culture clash and change.

So now we live in the neighborhood that I will call Farfield, and my kids go to school in Farfield ISD. And, as I mentioned above, people at Dallas’s new school noticed right off the bat that he was not typical. And, so, it came to pass that diagnosing his atypical-ness was what I had to do, if I wanted it construed as what it was, and not as disrespect, retardation, stupidity, or a disability requiring medication.

And now that that’s all been done, I’m glad. Farfield ISD turns out to have some extremely awesome, competent educational professionals. And they have what promises to be an awesome program to help kids with Aspergers learn the things that they can’t learn instinctively.

So, in a hokey, superstitious way, I’ve come to believe that the circumstances that led us there did not take place by chance. Inner Loop gentrification and housing inflation, Dallas’s bad middle school application luck, our apartment’s sudden rat infestation — it all led to Dallas traveling to a place where he’d get help.

Which is good, because people need all the help they can get, I realize. Even me.

This is going up unedited now. More on this later. Much more, way later. Thanks for reading, y’all.

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Posted in Aspergers, domestic, parenting, stories on 05/25/2007 11:09 am

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