Perrie Halpern

In Good Company... Aspergers and Autism.

  
By:  Perrie Halpern R.A.  •   •  7 years ago  •  22 comments

In Good Company... Aspergers and Autism.

When my nephew was about two and a half, we began no notice that he had a peculiar habit. He would arrange his cars in size order. When you changed the order of the cars, He would quickly change the cars back order from smallest to largest. He would persist in this activity, and get increasingly upset each time you changed the order of the cars. Soon after, we began to notice that everything in his room had an order, whether it was books, stuffed animals or trains. And then there were those trains. By the time he was three, he could tell you everything about trains. He knew all the models of trains, the year they were first built, the types of tracks that they used and all the major stations that the trains ran through. This was his sole interest, and if you were not interested in trains, that was tough. He was going to tell you about them anyway.

There were other little things about my nephew that were a bit different. He had poor impulse control. If he liked a little girl in his nursery school class, he would jump out of his seat and kiss her. This did cause problems with some of the girl's moms, who didn't see this as cute. He was a bit klutzy. He winced when he was nervous or upset. He didn't follow class rules and spoke out of turn. 103_blogs.jpg Sometimes he would just burst out and say what was on his mind at that moment, and he had a very busy mind. I had noticed that he was a little different. But being an elementary school teacher, I have had so many students that were a little different, that I saw it as no big deal. To me, if a child is a different kind of learner, it's your responsibility as a teacher to adapt your teaching for that child. My sister saw things differently. Between the teachers making such a big deal about his behavior, and what she saw at home, my sister began to worry. We come from a long line of worriers....

So after much research on the internet, my sister had her suspicions about his condition. She took him to the top doctor in the field, and after an extensive examination, he and my sister got their diagnosis. My nephew had Aspergers. Aspergers is a condition given to children who have "Autism Spectrum Disorder". According to the Autism Society, "One of the major differences between Asperger's Disorder and autism is that, by definition, there is no speech delay in Asperger's. In fact, children with Asperger's Disorder frequently have good language skills; they simply use language in different ways. Speech patterns may be unusual, lack inflection or have a rhythmic nature, or it may be formal, but too loud or high pitched. Children with Asperger's Disorder may not understand the subtleties of language, such as irony and humor, or they may not understand the give-and- take nature of a conversation.

Another distinction between Asperger's Disorder and autism concerns cognitive ability. While some individuals with autism experience mental retardation, by definition a person with Asperger's Disorder cannot possess a "clinically significant" cognitive delay and most possess average to above average intelligence. While motor difficulties are not a specific criteria for Asperger's, children with Asperger's Disorder frequently have motor skill delays and may appear clumsy or awkward."

My sister was understandably distraught about the diagnosis. My nephew was officially labeled, with all the limitations that came with having that label. I was not. I wasn't in denial about his condition, it's just that nothing had really changed. All he had now was a label for his unique behavior. He was no "Rain Man" Hs was charming, super bright, very empathetic, though hard to deal with. His limitations were minor in my eyes. In my teaching career, I had seen much worse, like the "crack children" of the 1990's. His special needs, were minimal compared to those children. Yet, most of them went on to develop the life skills and education they needed to live productive lives. I knew in my heart, that he would be just fine.

In the months and years to come, the label allowed my nephew to get special services. He had an physical therapy for his gross motor skills. He had some speech therapy. When he entered the public school system, they provided him with a para professional to integrate him into the classroom experience. he has grown and developed into the adolescent I expected him to be. He is beyond bright, cheerful, loving and quite the chatter box. Is he still challenging as a child? Well, I would have to say yes. Did the label of being on the "Autistic Spectrum" hurt or help him. I would have to say both. As parents, it hurt my sister and brother in law to know that they had a special needs child. As a family, we reminded the both of them, that nothing had really changed. All that had happened was what educators and evaluators are quick to do, they label him. But I kept telling my sister that the label need not be a limitation. On the other hand, the label was helpful. By labeling my nephew, it got him the special education he needed. He thrived with the additional help he got, and if that was the cost of the label, then so be it. Parents need to keep in mind a label only hurts if you let it consume you and define your child. Once you move beyond the label, your child is only limited by your expectations. Have high ones, and your child will rise to the occasion.

There has been much speculation about people like Albert Einstein and Bill Gates having Aspergers. We may never know if it's true. But if it is, that's fine with me. My nephew will be in good company.

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screminmimi
Freshman Silent
link   screminmimi    7 years ago

One of my grandsons has Asperger Synd. and no one understood his uniqueness or tried to help him deal with it in the school he attended in Alabama.

As a child, I noticed that he only ate certain foods with characteristics that appealed to him. For instance, he loved anything cheesy... loved cheese crackers and popcorn, things of that nature. One day I bought him some Goldfish, which is generally acknowledged as one of the best tasting cheese cracker products.

He would not touch them. In his reasoning, there was something WRONG with goldfish being cheesy, it was not a "cracker" to him because the shape was not square, rectangular, triangle (as in Doritoes) and it was not popcorn.

At big family functions, when he reached the age of about seven and could walk around the buffet tables or the big dining room table at my Mom's which was laden with all types of food, if told to "fix your plate, Charles," he would stare at all that food and pick out fried chicken, green beans and macaroni & cheese. Or he would just get a piece of chicken. Most of the time he would stand next to me and softly say, "Mimi, would you fix me a plate?"

I figured out that it was the sheer volume and diversity of food that overwhelmed him and he just could not choose what to eat. When making sandwiches, I had to be sure the meat on his was square. He loved the snack packs that are so popular, with the square cuts of meat, square cuts of cheese, and the round crackers. The shape of things he ate had to be square, rectangular or round, or he wouldn't put it in his mouth.

When he and his brother were five and six years, I would take them into a toy section of a department store and tell them to pick out a toy. Jonathan could be done fairly quickly, but Charles would pick up a toy and while standing at the register waiting to pay for it, he would look at me say, "Mimi, can I go get (something else)?" I would tell him okay but I needed to hurry and get back home.

He would pick up a toy, walk around with it, put it down, pick up another, do the same thing. I would get so frustrated trying to get him to decide on a toy, and in the end, always... always... he would get the same toy that his brother did.

He couldn't tie his shoes, but at five years old could take my Mom's smoke detector completely apart and put it back together.. just for fun. He could fix a computer, and tell him what your vehicle was doing or not doing, go away and leave him alone and he could fix it. He has a natural ability to instinctively understand electrical wiring, plumbing, engines, and a host of other things.

He would scare the life out of me from the time he was able to walk, with his climbing skills. By the age of five, he could perform the martial arts move of running at a wall and going up it almost to the ceiling before doing a back flip and landing on his feet.

I could be here all night with his quirks and abilities, but I won't bore you.

It's wonderful that your sister and brother-in-law, you and the rest of the family, are such a good support system for your nephew.

 
 
 
Perrie Halpern R.A.
Professor Principal
link   author  Perrie Halpern R.A.    7 years ago

Mimi,

Before I start, a strange coincidence...my nephews paternal grandma is a Mimi, too. I thought it was so original... Now I know two Mimis... is that the right plural?

Our stories sound almost identical. I am not sure of how old your grandson is now, but the hardest part for our family (other than the initial diagnosis) has been now that my nephew is in middle school. The children just sense that he is different and they have been so cruel to him. The school has been wonderful in trying to keep a lid on it, but it has been murder on him and my sister. It is really tearing her apart when he comes home saying how much he hates himself and why can't he be "normal". I have told him that it will get better in high school, and I know that this is true, since I worked with kids with Aspergers that were high school age. The kids become a bit more empathetic and the child with Aspergers becomes more mature. So there is a happy ending to this. BTW, most of the Aspie kids that I worked with, went on to top universities. Something else to look forward to.

I guess the reason I wrote this, is so that people like you and my family know that they are not alone out there. That this is probably a very universal experience, with slightly different twists. If it helps just one person in knowing that they are not alone, and that there are better days ahead, then it was worth writing all of this.

 
 
 
Petey Coober
Freshman Silent
link   Petey Coober    7 years ago

I read something recently that suggested a correlation between the usage of tranquilizers by pregnant women and this syndrome's development ...

 
 
 
screminmimi
Freshman Silent
link   screminmimi    7 years ago

He is twenty-four now and has learned how to handle many things that used to throw him.

The school he went to in Alabama was a nightmare for him. I have fought with school boards, teachers and lawyers about a fourth grade teacher in Section, AL, yelling at him that he was too stupid to be in the fourth grade and she didn't know how he ever got there. (He had recently transferred from the Scottsboro Elementary School, where he had wonderful teachers and a super principal.)

He used to cry and tell me he was just stupid. I wanted, without reservation, to personally put my hands on that teacher behind the gym. I was so angry when I stormed into the principal's office and demanded to meet with her, that she left for the day, and never, ever, met with me to discuss Charles. She sent "representatives" to fill in for her; used a host of excuses to never meet with me personally... all such meetings had to take place after school and she would have to leave unexpectedly because her mother was sick; her father was sick; her husband was sick; her husband's car broke down and she had to go get him; she was sick and on her way to the doctor; she had to take her cat to the vet... the excuses were never ending.

She was the Special Ed teacher. There were students in her class of differing ages, all designated as Special Ed students, and she would put a movie in the classroom TV and walk out of the room. Used her Special Ed class time as an extra break time. The rest of the time she was the English teacher.

One other thing about Charles that made, and still makes, life challenging for him and frustrating for us when he was a child, is that he has such a low threshold of pain that it is almost nonexistent. He was small for his age and other kids picked on him because of his size, thinking they had the upper hand. Problem was, he could feel no pain, and when the fighting started, he would enter a state where everything else around him faded to just the participants in the fight and his determination to win.

He would inflict real damage to his tormentors and because he was the last man standing, he was the one who receive the punishment for the fight while his aggressors were being treated in the school nurse's office.

When he would not understand what an adult was saying to him, he would smile or laugh, giving the impression that he didn't care what was being said. It made the teachers furious and they would heap ridicule on him, which just made him smile wider or laugh louder.

You don't know how much I wish home computers and the Internet had been more affordable and available twenty years ago.

 
 
 
Perrie Halpern R.A.
Professor Principal
link   author  Perrie Halpern R.A.    7 years ago

Mimi,

My sister ran into similar problems with our schools except we have an excellent special ed program. It just costs the district a lot of money to put each kid in. So she had to hire an advocate for him. That got him on the right track. But there have been teachers who tried to give her a hard time about my nephew... but I was on the PTA and the board and that made for one nasty Perrie, given that I knew all about schools and procedures and IEP's, since I was also a teacher. So he got what he needed, but not easily. It is a shame you didn't know me back then. I have helped a lot of other parents in the past with dealing with the special ed departments of their schools. It would have been an honor to do so for you!

But the fighting on the school bus, is the same as with your grandson as is the response from the Admin... it's not easy and I totally understand your anger. I have often had the same thoughts.

Computers have their own risks. He has been cyber bullied. It's awful. When words are spoken, they fade away after time. When they are written, we can look back and relive the pain over and over. Maybe it would have been better, but one never knows and you did your best, Mimi. Hopefully, he will forget the past and move on.

 
 
 
Perrie Halpern R.A.
Professor Principal
link   author  Perrie Halpern R.A.    7 years ago

Thanks John for your kind words. My nephew is a good little chap.

 
 
 
Perrie Halpern R.A.
Professor Principal
link   author  Perrie Halpern R.A.    7 years ago

Petey,

My sister didn't take an aspirin during her pregnancy. I am not sure what really causes aspergers.

 
 
 
Petey Coober
Freshman Silent
link   Petey Coober    7 years ago

That is a very hopeful anecdote BF . As I understand Asberger's it involves a lack of ability to pick up social queues .

 
 
 
Broliver "TheSquirrel" Stagnasty
Freshman Silent
link   Broliver "TheSquirrel" Stagnasty    7 years ago

I am really glad that you shared this with us, Perrie. It shows that a negative can be turned into a positive by just shifting our perspective a teensy bit.

We need more articles of this Calibre on the front page of NT. I have had just about enough of people who slam the different religions or political parties or outlooks on how to live, treating anyone who happens to disagree with their particular pov like so much garbage. When I first came to NT, one of the things that attracted me was the main room and how, even if you shared different political or religious leanings, you could chat in the Main Room and have a sort of camaraderie that rose above the base rancor of most websites.

Sorry. This was off topic. I am just wondering how we get back to that camaraderie that is exemplified in this article...

Once again, a most excellent article.

 
 
 
Perrie Halpern R.A.
Professor Principal
link   author  Perrie Halpern R.A.    7 years ago

BF,

What a wonderful story about your son. It is truly inspirational. I must send it to my sister. Right now she worries and feels that these middle school years will damage my nephews spunk. I wish that he had found a sport that he was good at. I think it would have helped him socialize more with the other boys, as with your son. And BTW what a wonderful gift you are giving the boys that you are working with. You have a good heart, BF; a compassion that goes beyond your own troubles.

I am hoping that high school will be different. My own daughters had a hard time in middle school, but by the time high school rolled around, they had found their own path. I am glad to hear that your son found his and is thriving... a girl friend even! Reading your words gives me hope that this will happen for my nephew, too. That things will fall into place, even now things seem not so much so.

Aspergers simply means that the brain is wired differently than most people. Inside that brain is a beauty and intelligence beyond belief. Our Job as Parents, teachers and mentors is to unlock that mind and show it a way to shine.

What a wonderful way to put it. Our children are the hopes of the future. Each one can bring something special to their world, if we help them get to their maximum potential. It seems that you have been a most excellent facilitator.

 
 
 
Perrie Halpern R.A.
Professor Principal
link   author  Perrie Halpern R.A.    7 years ago

Thanks Brolly for your kind words.

When I first came to NT, one of the things that attracted me was the main room and how, even if you shared different political or religious leanings, you could chat in the Main Room and have a sort of camaraderie that rose above the base rancor of most websites.

I would like to bring that back again. No worries about being off topic. Hopefullycamaraderie will follow.

 
 
 
Petey Coober
Freshman Silent
link   Petey Coober    7 years ago

Perrie ,

No one knows all the details of the causes of Aspergers but the recent epidemic of the syndrome is highly correlated with the use of prescription antidepressants by pregnant women according to a new study from Johns Hopkins .

 
 
 
Perrie Halpern R.A.
Professor Principal
link   author  Perrie Halpern R.A.    7 years ago

No one knows all the details of the causes ofAspergers but the recent epidemic of the syndrome is highly correlated with the use of prescription antidepressants by pregnant women according to a new study from Johns Hopkins .

I did read that study and it does seem to have a high correlation to Aspergers.

 
 
 
Perrie Halpern R.A.
Professor Principal
link   author  Perrie Halpern R.A.    7 years ago

You know BF, the more you talk about this, the more I think I want my sister to read it. I think that she might be more open to this when she reads what it has done for your son.

 
 
 
Petey Coober
Freshman Silent
link   Petey Coober    7 years ago

Although BJJ is of value I would like to suggest Kodokan Judo instead . It may not be as practical for self defense as BJJ but it is safer to practice . Kodokan is even an Olympic sport unlike BJJ . That's because there is considerable risk for injury in BJJ ...

 
 
 
Perrie Halpern R.A.
Professor Principal
link   author  Perrie Halpern R.A.    7 years ago

Petey,

Do you know how well it works with young teen boys? This is as much about internal growth as it is external.

 
 
 
Petey Coober
Freshman Silent
link   Petey Coober    7 years ago

The only objection I have to BJJ is that there are counter joint moves which can be both painful and damaging .
By contrast Kodokan does not have joint attack moves . As far as the throws being damaging , that is not the case if you get proper instruction from a good quality dojo .
The first thing you learn is how to fall . Only after you have mastered correct falling technique are you allowed to progress to throws .

Perrie ,

I see no reason why Kodokan [or BJJ] could not be practised by teen boys . If they get proper instruction they can learn what is needed .

 
 
 
Petey Coober
Freshman Silent
link   Petey Coober    7 years ago

Here's a comparison link :

 
 
 
Perrie Halpern R.A.
Professor Principal
link   author  Perrie Halpern R.A.    7 years ago

Petey,

That was an interesting link. I wish I could have seen a comparison video of similar moves. But I think the bottom line to this, is what works for my nephew best, and I think that would go to the instructor and how he handles the boys.

 
 
 
Petey Coober
Freshman Silent
link   Petey Coober    7 years ago

Seriously ... I was searching for a comparison to BJJ . Aikido does share some of the same anti-joint type of attacks . And in that respect it also shares some of the dangers

 
 
 
Jerry Verlinger
Freshman Silent
link   Jerry Verlinger    6 years ago

We come from a long line of worriers....

Very revealing comment. Explains why you are so attentive regarding every one of the often conflicting concerns presented to you by themenagerie you somehowmanageto keep in check on this site.

That said, your sister is fortunate to have you, being a teacher, to help her understand the true nature of your nephews so called 'affliction'. I agree that there are kids in school that have much more serious behavioral problems than those presented by children with Aspergers Disorder.

Aspergers children, although at times difficult, are at least teachable. Children with behavioral problems caused by poor upbringing andinattentive parents can be much more difficult to deal with.

My nephew, Matt, now 24, is Autistic. A different world altogether. Matt, like most Autistic children was very bright, but a very slow learner. At this time he is attending classes and has recently obtained his drivers permit. His mother, Janet, a state prison corrections officer, has devoted herself to Matt, and bears most of the credit for getting him to where he is today.

 
 
 
Perrie Halpern R.A.
Professor Principal
link   author  Perrie Halpern R.A.    6 years ago

Jerry,

Apparently your comment took and I am glad that it did.

Yes, it is true, that it is my worrying that drives me to keep track of this site, along with other things. It also kept us vigilant with my nephew.

You are very correct that having aspergers isn't quite the same thing as being dxed with straight up autism. Both have the pros and their cons. My nephew is now 14 and having a lot of emotional issues that most kids with autism don't have. On the other hand, he is brilliant, but even this comes with its own challenges.

Your nephew required a different kind of care. As a teacher, I know how hard it is to get a child to pick up on a concept. It can be quite draining. I give his mom a lot of credit.

My daughter has spent this year mapping the brains of autistic children. It turns out that they are very different in the way they work. Maybe one day, we will be able to understand how they process information and help them with the best teaching methods. Maybe one day, there will be no autism. One can hope.