It’s hard to explain exactly what it’s like having a child with Asperger to parents who haven’t lived it themselves. When other people look at my son Evan, they see a very adult-like, mannerly, and intelligent boy. In their eyes everything looks normal.
When Evan was in preschool, everyone said he was brilliant and I was so proud. But in his early elementary years, he was far less successful at school. He could not write and he did not speak or play like the other kids. That was the beginning of 4 years fraught with misunderstanding, bullying, teasing, and ultimately, isolation.
For Evan, going to school was a challenge. My heart broke for him every day as I sent him off to what I knew was a painful and difficult classroom situation. In fifth grade he figured out how to make himself throw up in front of the nurse so he could get out of school. My stress level and “worry monitor” was on “high” 24/7.
As he completed 5th grade, I worried that things would be even worse in middle school. I wondered how he would be treated and I wished I could find a way to shelter him from what I knew could well be a very negative experience. By luck, he got a spot in a Public Charter Montessori school through an admissions lottery.
His 6th grade year started out beautifully, but by November, Evan was feeling rejected again. His teacher said he would fixate on certain topics, speak about complex subjects that other kids could not relate to, and did not seem to know when his classmates were joking and when they were being serious. I went with his class on a field trip. When I met his classmates, I could see that they were nice kids-they just did not understand Evan.
I didn’t know what to do. It occurred to me that if the other kids knew about Evan’s Asperger diagnosis, they might be more forgiving about his odd behaviors. I asked Evan if he thought we should tell them to help them understand that his brain works differently from theirs. If they knew this, maybe they would be more understanding. He was not comfortable with the idea, so I dropped it. However, about a month later, when things had not improved at school, he came to me and told me he was ready to tell them.
Now it was my turn to have doubts-I was not sure that I was ready to do this….but I really felt like we had tried everything else. So I put together a presentation and got permission from the school to show it to the class. Professionally, I have done many public speaking engagements, but that day, in front of those kids…I was terrified. I wondered if I was making a mistake by sharing this information. What if telling his classmates actually backfired and I was about to totally ruin Evan’s chances of developing any relationships?
On the day of the presentation, he left the room and I proceeded with the presentation. The kids were very attentive. At the end, they asked many questions. When it was over, I left….hoping and praying that I had done the right thing.
When Evan came home that day, he told me that he felt an immediate difference when he returned to the classroom. After that day, kids were nicer and they made more efforts to include him in games on the playground. Did he become Mr. Popularity and gain a huge fan club? No. But what he did get was what most average kids in society get—average social acceptance. For him, that was big.
For me, my overall level of stress was relieved significantly. I knew that when he went to school he was going to be OK. For the next 2 years it got progressively better. He was invited to his first party in 7th grade. Now in 8th grade, he talks about his friends at the dinner table. When he invited his class to his birthday party, I held my breath… and they ALL came.
I partnered with a pediatric occupational therapist, Barbara Luborsky, OTR/L from Way to Grow, LLC. Together we turned the presentation into a professional product with a script and a parent guide. Now any parent of a child with Asperger Syndrome can tell the class in a kid-friendly way. Understanding leads to acceptance. Research proves it.
The day I gave that presentation was the day I proved that a mother’s challenges can move her to action…and to a solution.
- by Ruth Bielobocky