I began noticing something was different about my son, Matthew, when he was
about two years old. He didn’t make good eye contact. Noise bothered him. He
had trouble with some of his motor skills, such as using a spoon.
He was also having a tough time at day care. He’d cry when I dropped him
off. He couldn’t relate to other kids. He would get bothered if toys got out of
order. And he clapped a lot, more than normal. When I look back at pictures of
him at that age, he looked really sad, really serious. My husband and I thought
that was just the way he was, that he would grow out of these behaviors. But he
didn’t. The behaviors got worse.
Finally in January 2005 -- when he was about to turn 3 -- his preschool
teachers told us they were concerned about his lack of sociability and
obsessive tendencies. Our pediatrician reviewed the preschool’s notes and said
that just one symptom isn’t unusual, but several point to something more
serious. Then she mentioned Asperger’s syndrome. I had no clue what that was.
But after a pediatrician who specializes in developmental problems evaluated
Matthew, the diagnosis was confirmed.
Asperger’s is similar to autism, with some differences. Autistic kids often
have delayed speech, for instance, while the speech of children with Asperger’s
tends to develop normally. But children with Asperger’s have trouble with
“expressive language,” as well as with empathy and reading social cues.
Asperger’s and OCD
Many children with Asperger’s also develop obsessive interests. That
explains why Matthew started focusing on garbage at an early age. He knows more
about it than most people who work for garbage companies. Asperger’s sometimes
has other components of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), too. Matthew feels
a need to shut doors and push in chairs. He gets very upset when his routine
changes. Plus he has anxiety and anger management problems. That’s why he
claps: It helps him organize himself when he’s upset.
But to some extent, Asperger’s and OCD are just labels. What’s most
important is figuring out how best to help him. So we try a lot of different
things: reducing the triggers for his aggressive behavior, occupational and
physical therapy, a very routine schedule, medications, and finding friends who
will be good role models for him. Last year, we also bought him a golden
retriever puppy named Tiger. It’s been helping him develop social skills --
Matthew can talk to Tiger, play with Tiger, tell Tiger he loves him. It’s good
practice for relating to people.
Asperger’s is not insurmountable. It’s not the kiss of death. Matthew’s a
very bright child, but his wiring is different. That’s all.