Archive for August, 2010

Beware of Bullying

Bullying must be a common behavior that Asperger children must endure. I have read about other children who have had similar experiences as the one I am describing today.
.
One day when Ben was in middle school, I was at his house when he came home from school. He was sobbing as he got off the bus because some of the students had been really mean to him. This is one of those times when his anger turned into rage. He said, “If I had a gun I would shoot them.” (He did not have access to a gun nor did he know how to use one.) Of course, I tried to calm him and reminded him of what would happen to him if he ever did such a thing or even threatened anything like that. He said, “Well, they deserve it.” Then he stopped crying and straightened his face and said, “Nana, I’m not that stupid.” I reassured him of his valuable worth and of my unconditional love for him. Soon he was feeling better.
.
I have great concern for children like Ben who experience episodes similar to the one I have mentioned who maybe do not have understanding teachers or parents. These children have enough with which to deal without having to be hurt by bullying.

Asperger Incidents

Up until now, I have tried to tell about Ben in chronological order. From now on I will be recalling various incidents that happened related to his Asperger’s Syndrome diagnosis.
.
The first day Ben began seventh grade in middle school, his mother found him crying as he was walking home from school. As she listened to him tell about his day, she discovered that the teachers had scolded him because he had not brought his book nor supplies to their classes. The reason was that he could not get his locker open which had a combination lock, and he could not talk to them to tell them why.
.
What a simple thing this was for most normal students his age, but to him it was a crisis. Ordinary people, both adults and children, have no idea how difficult it is for an Asperger child to communicate.

Ben’s Writings

When Ben began seventh grade, we began to notice pieces of paper folded or in some cases wadded up just laying around the house. We began to read them to see if they were important enough to keep. We discovered that Ben was writing about all of his frustrations at school and at home. We collected some and found that he is a gifted writer at expressing his feelings. I will include some of them as this blog proceeds.
.
Looking back Ben’s mother and I believe Ben’s years in the public school system were most unhappy for him. We believe in public education especially since I am a retired teacher and she teaches second grade now in the public school system. If we had it to do over, we would make every effort to find a type of education that would have better fit his needs. He definitely needed to be in a very small class situation where he could get a great deal of one on one instruction. I am not suggesting that the public schools cannot meet the needs of your particular child. In Ben’s case, not a lot was known at that time how best to teach Asperger children. Hopefully, methods have improved. Here are two of Ben’s writings that we found and they were written when he was about fourteen years old:

“You say you want to help, yet the problem still persists.
You try to help me understand, but shortly after, you desist.
You want me to do better, yet you only hold me back.
You are always trying to raise my hopes,
But from all this, confidence I lack.
None of your ideas or plans are ever followed through.
I’m just some kind of circus freak to entertain you.
To those who do not understand, (the vast majority),
You’d stay at home and weep all day
If you knew how it felt to be me.”

ALGEBRA

“Class begins as the tardy bell rings.
I rush to get inside-I barely make it.
I quickly grab my calculator and my math book.
“Great! Homework on a weekend,” I say.
Only to be interrupted by a flash of the overhead.
A Warm-up.
I understand none of the formulas or the equations
Or the problems, or the stress
That comes with having to learn and understand
All these random equations and symbols.
The warm-up is over.
Everyone else understands the explanations
Of how she got this number or that number.
I haven’t even lifted my pencil.
I struggle to understand Algebra once and for all.
I try to comprehend the formulas and numbers and signs.
But it only hurts my feeling of self worth.
And there’s the bell.”

Pride or Treatment?

Is your mind closed to the possibility that your child may have a handicap? For many years there has been a stigma regarding seeing a psychiatrist. Most of us would never hesitate to take one of our children to the doctor for any physical illness. For some reason many of us refuse to admit we need help from a doctor whose expertise is in emotional and mental issues. If your child exhibits the behaviors we have observed in Ben, surely now is the time to forget your pride and do what is best for the child. There is help available.
.
Even after diagnosis and treatment begins, one can never stop being vigilant. Ben has had many outbursts or “meltdowns” as some call these episodes. These outbursts are usually because he felt someone mistreated him or that he was bullied in some way. In some cases there were dangerous fits of rage. It could take as long as one hour to get him to calm down. That is when we would teach that this world is not always fair, but violence is never allowed.
.
During Ben’s middle and high school years were his most difficult so far. He spent a great deal of time pitying himself because he had Asperger’s Syndrome. He also spent much time blaming teachers because he felt they did not understand him or his disability. In some cases he was right. However, our objective was to teach him that in spite of these difficulties, he could still rise above them and succeed.
.
Some of his severe negativity was related to his depression. However, we were aware that he definitely enjoyed blaming his bad grades on the teacher or on Asperger’s Syndrome. Knowing how far to press him was always difficult for us. Finding the right amount of pushing or backing off where his classwork was concerned was always a challenge. We knew that Ben had at least average or above IQ. He loves history and reads history books for fun. Yet he could not do the work required to make a good grade. This fact reinforced in my mind that his brain has trouble processing oral language. He was better at following written instructions than oral directions.
.
One very noticeable behavior that I have not mentioned is that it is very difficult for Ben to make eye contact with the person with whom he is speaking. Counseling has helped this problem but we never stop reminding him the importance of giving eye contact.
.
Also I have not mentioned before now about his lack of organizational skills. All of his life his room has been a mess. He never returns anything to its rightful place. If we told him to go clean up his room, he might go but would be so overwhelmed that he would have no idea where to begin. Usually, I go with him and tell him everything to do, one thing at a time, and he will finally get it done. His desks at school were always the same-messy. He might have completed a written assignment at home, but would not remember to give it to the teacher.

Diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome

Ben did very well in the early grades learning to read and spell. His writing, however, was atrocious. He became a wonderful reader and seemed to comprehend everything he read. Also, he became an excellent speller and absorbed correct grammar and punctuation along the way. His math skills seemed to be the weakest link in his learning process. In the early grades, he did fine in math, but in middle school and high school, math was definitely a problem for him.
.
Ben began to realize he was different from the other children. In kindergarten the children were playing “Duck, Duck, Goose.” It is a game that requires the one who is “it” to choose another child to be the next “it.” When he did not get chosen, he would cry and cry. We later learned this to be the beginning of a life filled with depression.
 
Some teachers learned that Ben would obey written commands better than oral instructions. During these elementary years was when we discovered there was a disconnect between what he heard and what his brain processed. Some without realizing the disability thought he was lazy or just did not want to obey. Ben has always appeared so very normal; however his disability was and is as real as one who cannot get around without a wheelchair.
 
When Ben was nine years old a psychologist from the Mayo Clinic in Minneapolis, Minnesota, came to South Dakota, where Ben and his family lived on the Air Force Base. It was then that he was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. The psychologist explained that the Asperger’s Syndrome was like an umbrella and under it was also Attention Deficit Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and Depression (At least in Ben’s case).
.
Ben’s dad was transferred to Randolph Air Force Base, TX. That is when we began the process of learning all we could about the disorder. Soon after their settling in San Antonio, Ben’s mom heard about a conference that was going to be held in the Dallas area. Dr. Tony Attwood, the leading expert in the field at the time, was to be the main speaker. She attended the conference and came away with a wealth of helpful information. As an aside, when Ben heard that she was going to the conference, he said, “Good, Mom. Maybe you can learn how I can make friends.” Ben had no friends and it was sad when his birthday came around because there was no one to invite to his birthday party. He realized this and was actually grieved because of it.

More Asperger Signs

Frustrations began when Ben was three, four and five years old because he did not know how to use words to express what he wanted.  For example he would stand by the door he could not open and whine and cry until someone noticed what he wanted.  We began to say the sentence he needed to say and ask him to repeat it.  After he would repeat it correctly, then we would open the door or do whatever he wanted.  We, his family members, spent a great deal of time teaching him to verbalize rather than whine and cry.  We even put up a sign which read “No whining zone.”
.
Around this same time frame, we began to notice how sensitive he was to loud noises. They lived near an Air Force Base and when a plane would fly over he would cover his ears. It was also during this time that his eating became somewhat of a problem. He would eat cold cereal, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and little else. Once I insisted he try a bite of scrambled egg and he vomited. I did not try that again. He would not eat spaghetti or any form of pasta. We finally realized that his sense of taste and texture were affected the same as his sense of hearing. I believe the literature covers the fact that many Asperger children (and maybe adults) have issues with the senses of hearing, feeling, touching and tasting. Remember he was still undiagnosed as having Asperger Syndrome at this time. I am just trying to recall his behaviors that we could not understand at the time.
.
When Ben started to preschool he had no idea the correct way to hold a crayon or a pencil. He would hold the very top of the pencil by the eraser end and try to write. Most children seem to know how to hold a crayon or pencil probably because they had observed a parent or sibling holding it the correct way. We now know why he did not know how to do such a seemingly simple thing. Autistic or Asperger children are totally focused on self. They do not seem to notice things going on around them as normal children do.
.
Remember I have already discussed his obsession with tiny things. When he started kindergarten, the teacher did not want the children to bring toys from home. Ben always had a tiny car in his pocket wherever he went. Ben’s mother began to ‘”frisk” him each morning before school. One particular day after she had removed the toy from his pocket, she noticed that during the day he had broken his pencil into two pieces. Then he had something little to hold on to. We did not understand this behavior at all at the time, but since have learned the tiny toys gave him a sense of security much like Linus and his blanket in the cartoon strip.

Asperger Syndrome – Early Indicators

Ben was born March 7th, 1990, and he was a beautiful, normal-looking baby with a full head of brown hair. Our daughter has three boys and Ben was the second born. He was a happy baby. In fact, we called him, “Bennie, the beamer” because as he grew older he was always smiling.
.

Bennie The Beamer

Bennie The Beamer

A common trait that Asperger children share with autistic individuals is fixation, although they usually have more control over their fixations, which take the form of highly focused interests. Ben was born in Virginia, into an Air Force family and I did not have the privilege of seeing him on a daily basis but as far as I know Ben did not exhibit any unusual behaviors that might have indicated autism until he was about two years old. Even then we had no idea that his love for tiny match-box cars was the beginning of many fixations (obsessions) to follow.
.
Ben was slow at learning to talk, but we still thought nothing unusual about that since children are not exactly the same. He could say many words, but did not make a sentence for quite a while later. We also noticed that he learned to walk much later than his older brother, but knew the danger of comparing one child to the other. Ben also had trouble learning to use the potty. He was well past three years old before the training was completed.
.
Another fixation that appeared was his interest in hair. He definitely did not like to get a haircut, but a neighbor who visited his home had a large, rather bushy hairdo and he loved her hair. He would point to her hair and say “haircut.” On more than one occasion Ben would go to sleep by his mother while rubbing her hair. As Ben grew older, new fixations seemed to take the place of old ones. I will discuss some of these in future articles.
.
At about three years old, Ben underwent some psychological testing which indicated some problems with development. However, nothing was said about autism at that time. He was placed in an early childhood program in their community.
.
The early childhood program did help Ben in that he began to learn how to relate better to other children. I emphasize the word “began” because we have learned that relating to others appropriately is always going to be difficult for Ben.
.
If you suspect a family member of having this disorder, be aware of some of the signs I have mentioned. Your doctor should be able to answer further questions and provide both reading material and treatment for this disorder. When Asperger Syndrome goes undiagnosed, children do not get the help they need. This could lead to problems later on in school such as bullying.

A life changing event impacted our family eleven years ago when my grandson at the age of nine was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, which is a form of autism. I began to study and research the subject so that we could be better equipped to provide adequate help for my grandson. Until the time of the diagnosis, I had no idea how the entire family would be affected.
.
The first thing I did was search for a definition of autism. The best way to describe it is that it is a neurological disorder that affects a person’s development in the areas of communication and social skills. I also learned that no two people will have exactly the same symptoms nor the same level of severity.
.
After hearing a lecture from a leading authority at the time, I learned that Asperger Syndrome is a high-functioning form of autism. Not unlike regular autism, there are many levels of severity. Most Asperger children are slow in learning to walk, talk and become potty trained. Even though Ben, my grandson, was formally diagnosed at the age of nine, I have observed the symptoms of Asperger Syndrome in him since he was a baby in his high chair. For the last twenty years I have been actively involved with helping Ben. My first hand knowledge and hands-on experience in dealing with his handicap uniquely qualifies me to speak with authority on this subject.
.
I will be writing future articles regarding my experience with Ben and will cover subjects such as Asperger symptoms, early signs, school problems, medical treatment and counseling. I will also include essays written by Ben which express his feelings about being a person who has Asperger Syndrome.
.
If you have a child who exhibits any signs of Asperger, I want to encourage you to seek professional help from competent medical personnel who are specialists in dealing with autism. It may be that your child, after being properly diagnosed, does not have Asperger Syndrome but it is better to be safe than sorry. Early intervention by professionals is critical because Asperger children can be prone to depression which,in turn, could result in them being harmful to themselves or others.

SEO Powered By SEOPressor