I am a mom to a child with Asperger’s Syndrome. It is a mystery and a delight and sometimes exhausting like you wouldn’t believe. Although my son Finn, who is now eleven years old, is very high functioning, there is still so much misunderstanding in the world about his condition and how it affects him and our family. There are so many times I wish I could build a bridge between Finn’s brain and the brains of the more “typical” human beings. I want to explain to them what he is thinking, and how he operates, and how, if they take the time to understand him and give him a chance, they will find his Asperger’s is not a condition to be “managed” or “tolerated”, it is in fact just a different way of thinking, and there is a lot about it to celebrate and enjoy.
I sat down with Finn and asked him: what are the top ten things you would most like to say to someone who is trying to understand what it is like to have Asperger’s Syndrome? What would you most like to say to a kid who has it and needs a friend? His answers, in his words, were these.
- Having Asperger’s can make it hard to make friends, because you think differently than other people. When I was in second grade, I couldn’t make friends with practically anyone, because I got mad easily and I couldn’t take a joke. I didn’t understand them. I just thought they were offensive. Now, I have tons of friends because I know how to control my Asperger’s reaction. I can take a joke now. If I don’t understand a joke I ask for clarification. I still don’t think like other people, but I understand better how they think.
- Parents can get mad and think you’re throwing a tantrum, even though you are not. You can be really mad about something and not know how to control it or express it and it can look like a tantrum even when it isn’t. The best way to help the situation is to tell your parents you don’t know how to express your anger, and if they don’t believe you you can ask if you can go to a therapist or someone who can help you. You can also go to your room and cool off, because it is your space and no one else can really intrude in there. That’s helps, because there is no one else around and you can settle down and apologize for anything you did in anger.
- Kids with Asperger’s tend to have advanced senses. For example, when I went to Elementary school there were two buildings, the bigger building and the smaller one. I went to Kindergarten in the smaller building. One day a fire alarm went off in the big building and, even though no one else could, I could hear it. Sometimes you might think you’re crazy, and sometimes other people will argue with you about it or tell you you are nuts. You aren’t crazy, you can just hear or feel or smell things other people can’t. Treat this as a benefit, because you have a slight advantage over typical people in that you notice things other people don’t.
- If you have a typical sibling, you might get along well, or you can start World War Three. Asperger’s can make you really annoyed when things don’t go your way, and with siblings, it can be really difficult to control your anger. The best bet is to walk away, find your own space, and if your sibling follows you, go get your parents for help. Don’t beat up your sibling, even if they are being off the scale annoying. Feelings can’t be wrong, but how you execute on those feelings can be hurtful physically and mentally.
- Having Asperger’s at school can be a challenge. People who misbehave can make you feel really uncomfortable, and it can be hard to watch kids who misbehave a lot never get in trouble. Bullies target kids who are different, whether you have Asperger’s, Autism or Special Needs. Make friends with an understanding adult and look for nice, accepting kids who treat you like a normal person. That means a lot, and it will make school much easier.
- Surprises are super annoying to a kid with Asperger’s. People can have a good thought in them, and not understand that you just don’t like things popping up in your face. Asperger’s kids don’t like it when their rules change or their schedules change suddenly. Having time to ease into things, and seeing things coming, make change way easier. Asperger’s kids like routine. It helps us feel way more relaxed.
- Sometimes, Asperger’s kids say things trying to be funny and blend in, and it actually has the reverse effect. If someone doesn’t take something kindly, say you’re sorry and hopefully move on. Explain what you said and why you said it. It will help people to see that you’re not trying to be rude.
- If you go to someone else’s house, or to a new environment, having things that are familiar to you can be helpful. Your sleeping bag, your blanket, your stuffed lobster. These are all helpful things that can help you ease into a new space. When you’re there, find a private spot you can go to to chill out when things are too hectic. You can tell people, “I need to take a break for a second.” If you need to go home, your friends shouldn’t be offended. They should accept the fact that you sometimes aren’t ready for their environment yet. That doesn’t mean you don’t like them, it’s just how your brain works.
- Asperger’s kids can sometimes relate better to animals than people. You can’t really offend an animal with just words, unless you yell at it and scare it. When you feel like you are the only person in society who cares about you or understands you, an animal can make you feel less alone. The reason I get along with my cat so much is because we think so much alike. We don’t like surprises, we both like food, we both like things when they are calm. I knew how to introduce myself to him, because I am very much like that cat. I got down to his height and approached him slowly, giving him time to adjust. Ever since then, he’s been my cat, and likes me the best.
- Reading books about Asperger’s can help you understand. My favorite book to recommend is “All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome” by Kathy Hoopmann. I recommend this book because it really defines what Asperger’s is. It made me laugh, it helped me relate and it has cool pictures of cats. In my opinion, it is a great book for any kid with Asperger’s.
And what would I like to say? Mostly that my child is a special, brilliant, amazing human being who, just like all of us, wants to be loved and appreciated. For every thing that is “too blunt” and for every time he can’t read the room, he notices ten interesting, unique things about people and appreciates them in a way no other child does. For every time he resists a social norm or doesn’t understand one, there are a dozen interactions that his atypical brain make fascinating and delightful. For every time he struggles to adapt or appreciate something that doesn’t fit into his ideas or schedule, there is a time that he reminds me to slow down, see things from a new perspective, and really evaluate what is important and what isn’t. I believe that our children were sent to us for a reason, and I believe that he has as much to teach me as I have to teach him. And I wouldn’t trade him, miraculous, mysterious brain and all, for any other child in the world.
Originally published Sept. 13, 2013