by Dan Coulter, Coulter Video, October 2004
For more articles like this
diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome for your child is sort of like
getting hit by a slow freight train. Usually, you know
something's wrong. Maybe you got worried. Maybe teachers or
others urged you to get your child checked out. Maybe, like my
wife and I, you went through several other diagnoses first. But
even though you knew something was coming, you still feel the
impact when you get the official word.
I spoke with the parents of a newly diagnosed child recently.
His mother said she had virtually shut down. She felt
overwhelmed and almost paralyzed. She and her husband had
demanding jobs. She knew how she'd planned her family's lives,
but things were going to be so different.
Want the good news? You can make things get better. Sometimes
amazingly better than may seem possible at first.
Don't get me wrong; Asperger Syndrome was one of the toughest
things to happen to our family. But our 21 year-old son, Drew,
who has Asperger Syndrome, was one of the best.
Drew is smart and funny and caring. He's also sometimes
distracted and disorganized and overly sensitive. He's always
tried hard to relate to people, but often lacked the tools and
intuitive instruction manual to build friendships. Middle school
and high school were especially tough. Academics went well, but
interacting with pre-teen and teenage peers often seemed like
trying to swim in storm-tossed waves while the water was calm
for everyone else.
But he never gave up. During his last two years in high school,
he finally starting making the kind of friendships he'd always
wanted. Now he's in college. Toward the end of school breaks,
he's eager to get back to the campus to be with his friends. And
his life's getting better every year. It's light-years
better than I could have imagined when we got his diagnosis.
If you've recently received a diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome for
your child, here are some thoughts.
In your mind, separate your child from his challenges. Think of
Asperger Syndrome as a tiger that has attached itself to your
child for life. Your child is not the tiger, but you and your
child both have to deal with the tiger. Sometimes you have to
get past the tiger to reach your child. But, you can also find
ways to make having a tiger work to your child's advantage.
You can make things better. Absolutely. No matter what your
child's challenges, you can help improve things by finding and
reinforcing his strengths - and by helping him overcome his
weaknesses. Spending time with a child having fun is one of the
best gifts ever. When you're a child, seeing your worth in your
mother or father's eyes can give you strength to last a lifetime
and the courage to never give up.
People with AS often describe themselves as looking at the world
in a different way. Give your child the benefit of the doubt.
Not everything he or she wants to do differently is a problem
that needs to be fixed. It may just be another way to reach the
same goal. And he may have special abilities that can help him
excel in the right job.
Patience pays off. Expect results, but not always quick results.
It took my son years to learn to manage social interactions and
to make friends.
Years. But all the social skills coaching and positive
reinforcement were worth it. Also, one of the secrets is to get
your child together with kids who have similar interests. My
son, for example, loves Japanese "anime" animation, and that's
helped him connect with a number of friends. Drew feels his life
now is dramatically better than it was in high school.
Social skills are golden. Common, everyday, social interaction
is the most universal challenge for kids with AS. Helping your
child learn about the give and take of dealing with people can
make a huge difference in how others treat him and how he sees
himself. Some kids practice the piano. If you help your child
spend that same kind of time practicing social skills, you'll
never regret it.
Don't underestimate your son or daughter. It's easy to give your
child a lifetime handicap by assuming he or she can't do this or
that. Most kids with AS can learn to compensate to some extent
for things that don't come naturally. Set high goals and help
your child master independent life skills along the way. It's
hard to learn to fly if you never get the chance to solo.
Beware perfectionism. Mastering a skill doesn't always mean
perfecting it. Sometimes "good enough" really is good enough.
Your child may make A's in school, but it may take even more
effort for him to make a C or B in "eye contact" or "listening
without interrupting" or other social skills. If your child is
really trying and making progress, not pushing too hard for
perfection can save everyone a lot of stress. And praise is a
great lubricant to success. Criticism can be like sand in the
Finally, look at your opportunities. You don't want your child
to have problems, but helping him or her deal with those
problems can bring you closer. You don't have to thank a storm
for helping you get to know your
shipmates - but you can be grateful for their friendship just
the same. Working with your child can help you form a bond that
you might have otherwise have missed.
Plenty of people without Asperger Syndrome have it rough. When I
think of the problems my son has never had -- drinking, drugs,
violence, crime -- I feel pretty lucky. As a family, we've had
lots of experiences that make me grin every time I think of
them. We have fun whenever we're together. Life is only as
special as you make it.
Drew's life will surely be different. It will sometimes be
tough. But, with our support, he's making it full, rich and
Tiger and all.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dan Coulter is the writer/producer of "MANNERS
FOR THE REAL WORLD: Basic Social Skills," and other videos. You
can find more articles on his website at:
Copyright 2004 Dan Coulter Used by permission. All rights
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