Disclosing Aspergers to Second Graders: Parent or Expert?

13 Apr

One of the most intelligent people I know once said, “If you’re not passionate about the subject, your writing suffers.” You can see by my lack of posts for two months that the fire has not been stoked, and I have not wanted to waste your time reading something subpar. If you think about, that’s my very own Aspie trait — an all-or-nothing, perfectionistic approach to my blog. For a while, I though that, perhaps, I’m trying to take a more even-keeled approach to my career and passion — not letting every little ignorant comment someone says about ASD set me into a blind rage. If that’s the case, it was not a conscious effort. Regardless, the fire has begun to blaze again as I try to ascertain how in the world to explain Asperger’s to a group of second graders in a local parochial school. Because I am hoping for YOUR thoughts, advice, and recommendations, let me provide a bit of background.

Peyton is my client. He is a very thoughtful, engaging young man. He interacts with peers with zest and vigor. He is highly motivated to do well at school. But, it’s those darn kids that break rules that are the demise of my Peyton. You know — the kids who talk when they are not supposed, even if they are whispering. The kids who don’t hear the rules for an assignment and make up their own shortcuts. The kids who push in line to be first, even though they have assigned spots. These kids cause the scissors to fly, the papers to crumble, and the hands to push. These situations cause Peyton the Polite to transform into Peyton the Policeman, ready and waiting to give citations.

Peyton’s school has been phenomenal. Receptive to my recommendations. Open to patience, rather than punishment. Even allowing me to start a social skills group during the school day. We are trying to make the parochial placement work. In an effort to increase acceptance and understanding — mind you, I’m worried this will backfire — the parents and the school would like to tell Peyton’s classmates and their parents about AS. On Monday, we sat in a meeting during which all eyes fell on me for that honor. It is an honor, but, man, does that honor weigh a ton. This is an onus I’ve carried before, so I’m not sure why this time, this idea of disclosure is so nerve-inducing and off-putting and difficult.

Since Monday, I’ve asked many their opinions. “Don’t do it!!!!!” with endless echo has been one strong reaction. The other is advice on what to say, how to say, and, in essence, how to couch and explain the idea of a diagnosis that sounds like an explicit word-food. I’ve begun compiling a document with everyone’s advice because this disclosure will happen soon. A week or so. And, I have to have a plan soon.

So, I put to you, my informed, intelligent, and opinionated reader: What do I say? And, perhaps more importantly, do I take the advice of a colleague who said, “Have Peyton’s parents do it.”


Posted by on April 13, 2011 in ASD in the Schools


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9 responses to “Disclosing Aspergers to Second Graders: Parent or Expert?

  1. Cheri

    April 13, 2011 at 11:25 AM

    Do NOT let the parents of NT kids try to explain AS to their kids, but if that’s the resounding solution, then explain it to them (the parents) first, and have an open discussion about how to answer the questions their kids will inevitably have. Having an NT parent, with NT kids, and no clue what AS really is, is asking for a lot of confusion and misinterpretation. Not that the kids won’t confuse and misinterpret what you tell them, but they can ask for clarification directly, from someone who can best answer it. At second grade, I say, DO IT. They are still young enough to openly accept the difference. If you wait, until 4th or 5th, forget it. He’ll be judged as the weirdo kid that’s “special” in a condescending way. If he’s in a parochial school, it’s likely these same kids will be with him for at least a few more years. The more of them that get to know HIM, and everything he is now, the better, IMHO.

  2. Courtney

    April 13, 2011 at 2:23 PM

    I don’t really have much advice, other than to say play it up! Put a positive spin on it and make your client seem super cool despite some of his challenges. I’d even make him seem relate-able. Share some things that are hard for you to do, and then ask the kids to do the same. If math or reading, throwing a football, drawing, is hard for them, then they might be able to empathize with your client and his challenges. Good luck! I do not envy you in this instance, but I know you will do great!

  3. Keith

    April 13, 2011 at 10:46 PM

    What will become of your relationship with the client, family, school if/when this talk fails to produce the results they are hoping for/expecting?

    Second graders can understand the need for a “peanut table” at lunch.

    The sorts of cognitive leaps required to put to constructive use the knowledge you can share about Peyton’s view of the world… possible in second grade?

    By sharing the information the classmates will sense you’re trying to get them to behave differently because of Peyton’s presence in class. (Wash your hands after eating a PB&J sandwich before playing with the peanut table kids at recess.) What’s the new “Peyton rule” that his parents & administration hope the kids will adopt?

    Maybe the classmate’s parents should receive a note home from the school instead? To get the ball rolling? That way you would simply be reinforcing what the kids have already heard at home. (The power of multiple exposure.)

    You are in an environment where WWJD? might be a familiar phrase. A riff on that might have some traction.

    I’d leave it up to the principal. He or she could give the, “we choose to come to this school because here everyone is different in some ways but we are all the same in This way… ” speech.

    Or the teacher might say, “In this class we are like a family. If you have brothers or sisters at home you already know that you are not exactly like them simply because you are all part of the same family. Even in a family you are still you. None of us are exactly alike. But we are still a family. The only second grade family in this school. And because we are family and care about each other, if we see a brother or sister struggling with something, we want to help them. If we can understand their problem, then maybe we can help them somehow… Well, one of us IS struggling but I think if we all put our heads together we can find a way to help… are you willing to try? I knew I could count on you.” And then she could introduce you…. “even better we have a special guest in class today who would like give us a head start by sharing something very interesting she knows about her friend. And her friend is one of US!”

    Final alternative? Give Peyton a set of glassless glasses which give him a special power to not see how others are bending the rules (unless that person is going to hurt himself or someone else). He can’t be responsible for what he doesn’t see. Right?

    I don’t envy your position. I’m glad you are letting it rekindle your fire.

    Let us know how this turns out?

  4. TMBMT

    April 13, 2011 at 11:28 PM

    My only advice is don’t make it some kind of weird hush-hush thing where it’s talked about behind Peyton’s back or while pretending he’s not in the room. I’m sure you wouldn’t be inclined to do that, but that’s the thing that always ticks me off the most when I hear of others doing something with a kids’ classroom.

  5. Petri

    April 14, 2011 at 2:16 PM

    If his parents are going to do it, make sure you or someone else with an outsider perspective lead the talk. Parents can sometimes be overbearing and overprotective, and what Peyton doesn’t need is any sort of blame game. Just my 2c.

  6. ZenEmu

    May 17, 2011 at 1:50 PM

    Hmm, that is a very tricky situation.

    School is difficult for all children and as you are aware Aspergers Syndrome adds another layer of complication. Peyton’s peers will start to become more socially advanced and even with all the best wishes and help in the world, Peyton will get left behind somewhat. It will become very obvious to him that he is different, but he won’t fully understand why. I’m sure you will agree school can easily become a very lonely place to be.

    In m view, two things are important. Firstly that Peyton has parents who are open and absolutely honest about his Aspergers and will talk to him, not only about the disadvantages of AS, but also the unique benefits that come with the condition.

    Secondly, it is important that he not only understands his Aspergers, but doesn’t feel stigmatised by it.

    It is of course important to remember that children can be cruel, and they may not understand fully. That is something that cannot be accounted for and in the long term is going to cause problems. I suppose what it all boils down to is whether Peyton’s parents feel that the benefits of his peers knowing about his condition at his current age is going to outweigh the disadvantages.

  7. Kim

    May 23, 2011 at 5:41 PM

    There is no way to know if a school or other parents are going to “give in” to the knowledge they have received. If the information is offered; at the very least it has been heard!! I say the more information the better. If they attend the meeting; they must be interested in what you have to say. Whether they admit their own shortcomings will always be the question.


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