Overcomers: Parenting a Child with Asperger’s Syndrome
Amber had never heard of Asperger’s when she realized something wasn’t quite right with her then three-year-old son, Taye. Their pediatrician repeatedly told her not to worry; but as a mother, Amber knew better. She spent the next three years scanning the Internet, trying to figure out why her son was so different from other children. When she heard someone mention Asperger’s on a TV show, she immediately went to the computer and searched for the symptoms. What she read made the pieces fit, and as she looked at the words on the screen, she said, “This is my son.”
Amber tried to make an appointment with an Asperger’s specialist. Taye’s name went onto a waiting list—a long waiting list. Not willing to waste more precious time while they waited, Amber found a therapist who agreed to work with Taye without a diagnosis, based on the fact that his symptoms looked like Asperger’s. Two full years passed before Taye got his turn to be evaluated by the specialist and receive a definitive diagnosis.
Today, Taye is 12. He is very bright, healthy and remarkably well adjusted for a boy who is the only student with Asperger’s in his public middle school.
Amber shared three ways she helps her son thrive despite his disability.
First—by providing a place for her son to interact with, and develop relationships with, people who don’t know that he has Asperger’s.
Because Taye’s behavior at school sometimes falls outside the norm, it was necessary for his classmates to be educated about his condition. But being, as Taye puts it, “that kid with Asperger’s,” makes him unhappy. Having a place to go where people don’t know his diagnosis is vital; for Taye, that place is their church and he loves being there. Amber explains, “At church he gets to be around people who just accept him for who he is—a lot of people don’t even know that he has Asperger’s; he’s Taye and he’s a pretty cool kid.”
Second—by giving her son a measure of control over his schedule.
For example: Amber insists that Taye be active during the summer, so she enrolls him in day camp, but he gets to choose which days he attends. One or two days a week he can relax at home, enjoying his hobbies of building with Legos and making short films with clay figures.
Third—by being sensitive to how Taye is handling challenges at school, and making wise choices about what he needs on any given day.
“My philosophy on parenting,” Amber states, “is—of course I want my kids to go to school and learn things and be productive, but I also don’t want to apply unnecessary pressure.” Occasionally, Taye says, “Mom, I just can’t do it today.” If Amber senses that he needs a day away from the stresses of the classroom, she’ll opt to make it a “school at work” day. On those days, Taye accompanies her to work, where he reads, does school assignments and helps her around the office.
Amber continues, “I don’t make him avoid everything that’s uncomfortable for him, but there are times when I can see he needs a break and I’m more than willing to grant that for him. As long as he’s still doing well in school I think it’s okay. I’m not the mom who’s going to push for perfect attendance.”
Amber is careful to reiterate that she doesn’t allow her son to avoid every unpleasant interaction. She says she knows those are important too.
“There are times when he’ll come to me and say, ‘I really don’t like what happened to me at school yesterday; someone made fun of me.’ I’ll [tell] him, ‘this is just a challenge for you. I want you to go in tomorrow and deal with it. I want you to tell them [what they said about you] is not true and I want you to go on with your day.’”
Amber admits that parenting a child with Asperger’s is extremely tough; she shared a bit of encouragement and advice for others walking the same path:
“Keep an open mind; keep an open heart; and be really flexible. Things change; [my son] can be really sad at one point, you know, going through a tough time, and then come to me ten minutes later wanting to tell me a hilarious joke.
“We’re dealing with a lot because we’re watching our kids suffer; it weighs on you. Sometimes you want to walk around and be sad about it, but they have to find strength somewhere, and they have to find it in us if they can.
“I made the decision a long time ago—probably even before [having] kids—that I was just going to be happy. I realized that we have a choice. Things are going to be what they’re going to be. You can either wallow in [your problems] or you can enjoy your life and get through the best way you can. I just decided to enjoy my life and teach my kids how to enjoy theirs—and hope all goes well.”
[Names have been changed to protect privacy.]