Thursday, September 14, 2006

Asperger's Syndrome and Me

Although you have to meet me to be able to define me (and I haven’t done so completely, yet), I have collected various labels in my 10 years. Some labels are rather obvious – boy, kid, and glasses-wearer. Some are not so obvious – procrastinator, best friend, and smart. Asperger’s Syndrome is different than all of these. I like to call it a “personality effect.” This is “defect” without the “d”.

The clinical definition of Asperger’s Syndrome is “a developmental disorder in which people have difficulties understanding how to interact socially,” according to www.WebMD.com. “People with Asperger's syndrome have some traits of autism, especially weak social skills and a preference for sameness and routine. However, unlike those with autism, children with Asperger's syndrome usually start to talk around 2 years of age (the age at which speech normally develops). They have normal to above-normal intelligence.”

I started school at age 5, going to a public school kindergarten at Fort Lewis, Washington. Although I was ahead of my classmates academically, I had trouble with the social structure of class. I talked too much and didn’t participate in activities. I switched to a private church school, Evergreen Christian Academy, in October. I liked Evergreen. I didn’t do my class work, I played by myself at recess, and I spent a lot of time in the office talking to the principal. She was the first person to suggest that I might be autistic (not that I knew that at the time).

In the summer of 2002, my family moved to Heidelberg, Germany. I attended Patrick Henry Elementary School on post. My first grade class was a German immersion class. I was very frustrated with the lack of translation and communication between English and German. Frau B. was frustrated with me. She didn’t believe that I should get extra challenges because, after all, I didn’t know German. In January of that year I was bumped to second grade. That was fun as long as I remembered when, exactly, to use my library pass to escape my frustrated teacher. Mr. H.’s class was much better. It was in English (which is major), and he was easier to get along with.

I met Eric, Ms. P, and Mari that year. Eric is my best friend, but we are exact opposites. We had “gifted” classes and cub scouts together. Ms. P was the TAG (talented and gifted) program. She has very little imagination, to my way of thinking – but I liked her. She wasn’t exactly sure what to do with Eric and me. Mari was the Special Education teacher. She was SPECIAL (as in absolutely terrific!). She was my first introduction to Elvis. She “had my number” from day one, and liked me anyway. I spent the next year in third grade and started fifth grade in my third year of school, all the while doing TAG and Special Ed. In Special Ed, I worked on social skills. I helped other students, played games, went fishing, popped popcorn, and danced with Mari. Life was great!

My parents pulled me out of public school in January, 2005, because it was just painful being in class. I was in trouble all the time for talking and not participating, and I was lonely when Eric moved to Texas. I tried, but I couldn’t seem to do anything right at school. The PHES Vice Principal, Ms. P ( a different one), gave me lots of support and personal attention but I really could not function in the classroom without somebody sitting next to me and helping every minute of every day. I started taking classes at CMA. I like CMA because its online (giving me yet another excuse to be on the computer) and the coursework is fun. I really like all of the mentors I’ve met and worked with: Linda Beth, Lisa T., Diane E., and Kim A.. My main mentor, Linda Beth, also seems to "have my number" and I believe that she likes me too. Even better, I really seem to fit in with the other students of all ages.

Asperger’s Syndrome is not something that you can see when you look at me. At home I don’t notice it much. Everybody is odd at home, at least at my home. Out in public, my biggest social skills challenge is shaking hands and when strangers, usually older adults, try to touch me (not in any inappropriate way – just rubbing my head or patting my shoulder). At first I shrugged, ducked, and swatted their hands away. Then I cut down on the swatting and tried waving “hello.” I figured if I said hi first, they wouldn’t offer to shake hands. Now, I just put up with it. It’s a good strategy because it works without embarrassing anybody.

Other coping strategies I’ve used or heard of are “So?,” buzz off cards, and “get out of line free” pass. “So?” is a strategy I use when someone is bugging me. Its amazing how annoyed bullies get when you respond to their taunts with “so?” or “why?”. Buzz off cards are business cards that parents can give to a stranger when an autistic kid has a tantrum in public and they want to explain the behavior without actually taking the time to define autism. I don’t think they actually say “buzz off”, that’s just what my parents called them. We’ve never used them since I don’t have tantrums in public, but they sound really effective. The “get out of line free” pass is my favorite. At amusement parks, like Disney World or Six Flags, I get a disability pass that allows me to skip the long lines waiting for rides. That’s cool because I don’t have to wait in long, loud, hot lines with strangers pressing in on all sides.

I consider Asperger’s to be something that has an effect on my personality. But, I don’t consider it a disability. In fact, I’m rather enjoying myself. If it wasn’t for Asperger’s, I’d still be in public school as a 4th grader. Asperger’s is an opportunity in many ways. It gives me more quality time with my parents and it operates as a “get out of line free” card for me.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Loved it! Loved it! Loved it!
It sounds like you are dealing with Asbergers in a very positive way. Public school isn't for everyone--some people say it isn't for anyone! It was designed originally to teach people to do repetitive tasks in an acceptable way. How much of that do we need these days?!?!?
LindaBeth

Anonymous said...

My son already knows what he wants to do with his life. He feels that school is a waste of time. So in homeschool, we try to structure the material around his interests. Unfortunately, the state we live in has a lot of requirements, such as history, math, science, etc. Getting him motivated to learn what is not aligned with his goals is tough!
MH

Anonymous said...

I thought you or the people who read your blog might be interested in attending "Today's Man" a film about living with Asperger's Syndrome at Mass MoCA in North Adams, MA. For information check out http://www.massmoca.org/performing_arts/perf_arts_mar07.html

Anonymous said...

Hello,

I like you said, asperger is more like a gift an opportunity than a disability.

I suspect my son martin 6 years old may be asperger. His father dont want to help him to find out.

But yes, You are talented, my son is incredible talented also, and the rest of the people, they just can not go to some school to learn how to get smart.

Social skills is not a big deal
Get smart! "normal people"