Friday, July 18, 2008

Asperger's Syndrome 101

I have a child with Asperger's Syndrome. It's a developmental / neurological condition on the autism spectrum, but some people don't think it should be there because it doesn't involve a child's losing his vocabulary (autism is often characterized by children totally losing their vocab and starting from scratch). Some people believe it may be caused by immunizations, and I've wondered if his prematurity had something to do with it (my son was born 2.5 months early, and weighed 3.5 pounds), but our neurologist believes it is genetic.

Thanks to a very observant and helpful relative, I found out about this disorder when my son was 3; and thanks to a wonderful pediatrician, we were able to get services that same year.

One of the many things I've learned is that Asperger's isn't a destination; it's a lifelong journey with a lot of bumps but a lot of incredible, memorable moments.

Here were some of the signs we first observed that are autistic tendencies and/or symptomatic of Asperger's:
  • limited vocabulary
    (At 3, my son was speaking primarily in 3-4 word sentences, but there were also "receptive" speech issues too, see next bullet)

  • echolalia
    (He realized that he needed to respond to verbal communication, but if he didn't know what to say, he'd simply repeat what was said to him)

  • hypotonia
    (Low muscle tone in the upper body)

  • tactile issues
    (He wouldn't let anyone cut his hair but me, poor kid, and even now there's only one person he'll trust to do it)

  • other sensory issues
    (My guy's big issue is sounds--he can tolerate a Harley, but a bumble bee will drive him batty)

  • social problems
    (He would hug himself into a corner at daycare and didn't want to interact with the other children; at times won't keep his hands to himself; is very literal and doesn't "get" jokes)

  • obsessiveness
    (He wants to talk only about his favorite obsession--think of how obsessed a teenage girl is with her first boyfriend and multiply that by 10--and will frequently interrupt conversations with "important" news about his favorite obsession. It's why Hans Asperger called his patients "little professors")
  • repetitive behaviors
    (He would look out the corner of his eye and follow the edge of our dining table. Back and forth, back and forth he'd walk. Or he'd play with Hot Wheels cars in only a few predictable directions)

  • emotional sensitivity
    (He is so self-critical that even erasing an answer on math homework can drive him to a fit or tears or both. He'll be mortified if he finds out he is the subject of this blog entry)

  • strong parental attachment
    (Parents tell me how hard it is to let their children go; imagine how hard it is when your child doesn't want to let go and you're told to force him away)

When I first began researching autism and its spectrum of disorders, I had a crying jag from the information overload. But I'm here--and many other parents are here too--to say that life with a child with Asperger's can be challenging, but it is very rewarding, too. I have an exceptionally affectionate, unusually articulate child who has helped me grow in untold ways.

He keeps me grounded, because I still have a lot of growing left to do.


Andrew Brereton said...

Don't write off your own theory about the cause, - it may well be that you are right. I know what you mean by sensory issues, especially sounds. - My own son suffered a mix of CP and autism and you could have a brass band next to him and he wouldn't flinch, but if someone coughed he would go into paroxyms of fear. My current work is with the sensory issues which many autistic children face.

Melanie Gold said...

Thank you for your comment, Andrew. My knee-jerk reaction was that prematurity caused the delays, but there is a history in my family of ADHD, depression, and other disorders. Though my son was a preemie, he received oxygen for only a day or less and had no other incidents, no seizures, etc. His stay in the NICU was, fortunately, rather uneventful.

The prematurity could have had some effect--I would never completely rule it out--but if I had to play an odds game, I'd bet on the neurologist's theory.

Good luck to you in your work.