Tag Archives: aspergers

Parenting an Aspie: A Cerebral Task

What if I were to tell you that parenting a child with Asperger’s Disorder is (as not-so-simple as) having an argument without emotion? Perspective and patience, neither of which are plentiful for Aspies or for participants in an argument, are the keys to success.

Let’s face it. An argument takes on a life of its own. It is a verbal joust without rules, order, or logic. At their worst, arguments can be about “winning”, putting others down, and getting revenge. At their best, negative emotion fuels negative emotion as the initial trigger for the argument is shoved aside by anger, frustration, and impatience.

What happens when you replace the word argument with debate? The emotionality of the interaction is completely drained and replaced with rules and structure. A podium allows for uninterrupted speech. A topic is provided beforehand, affording each side time to construct their thoughts into cogent arguments and counterarguments. Emotion is for emphasis but is not necessarily effective or desired.

Let’s take a mom and an Aspie. Our Aspie has failed to brush her teeth after four reminders because the latest installment of Pokemon is far more interesting. Our mom has a long day ahead of her and little sleep and just needs our Aspie to brush her teeth, so they can leave for school.

Brush your teeth.

BRUSH your teeth.



When this shift occurs, from problem-solving, from logical, practical thinking, to emotionally laden speech, we lose our Aspie. We bombard her/him with tone of voice, facial expressions, postures, emotive language, and gestures that simply





Brushing anything is farthest from our Aspie’s mind as she tries to make sense of the emotion. Her mind whizzes, she panics, and she has no idea what to do. As she tries to make sense of the emotion, her mom continues to expect that task to be completed. A full-on argument ensues, and our Aspie’s ability to problem-solve, to think rationally – a typical cognitive strength for Aspies – is replaced with a Flight or Flight reaction (depending on the day).

When the dust settles, and the teeth are brushed, our Aspie cannot be left to pick up the pieces, attempting to understand both the problem and the emotion. We need to have a conversation with her, asking her: How can we avoid this next time? How can I communicate better?

Parenting an Aspie is a cerebral task, a constant one at that. By no means am I saying you can parent a neurotypical child easily or mindlessly but they can make sense and learn from your emotions. Your Aspie cannot. You will parent an NT with your gut and an Aspie with your brain. Your Aspie needs you calm, logical, and with your emotions in check.



Posted by on February 3, 2012 in ASD in the Grand Scheme


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Asperger’s Isn’t….

The “joke” that the radio deejays portrayed it as today

The “disease” that some parents don’t want their kids to “catch”

Ass-burgers, Asp-burgers, AUH-spbergers

A crutch, an excuse, an “out”

Cure-able, reproachable, defamatory

The “geek syndrome”

Something to be taken lightly

Just diagnosed in males

A social disorder

Your uncle who didn’t hold a job, was a recluse, and collected toy helicopters

A diagnosis for everyone who is socially awkward

In need of change, eradication, alteration, or fixing

So unrecognizable that we are incapable of seeing ourselves

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Posted by on September 30, 2011 in Uncategorized



Explaining AS to Parents of Second-Graders in 500 Words or Less: How’d I Do?

I am working on a letter to the parents of one of my client’s classmates. “Joe” is a second-grader at a local parochial school. In one page, I have to accomplish the unthinkable — educate and teach acceptance. How did I do? (Remember: ONE page!)

“Dear Parent,

Today Joe and his parents talked about Asperger’s Syndrome (AS), an autism spectrum disorder. We want to provide you some information about AS, which is often called an “invisible disorder” because the individual looks like everyone else. He’s often intelligent and witty, but he thinks, acts, and speaks very differently. Although no two people with AS are alike, we want to point out some specific traits.

Rule-Governed: Kids with AS are literal and thrive on rules. Structure and routine make learning easier. When rules aren’t followed, something seems “wrong”, like a speeding car in a school zone. It just needs to be “fixed,” something kids with AS do without thinking. They transform into a bossy police officer, telling kids (and even adults) what to do and what not to do.

Order and Routine: Hitting, slapping, and yelling are some of the behaviors individuals with AS impulsively use to restore order in a situation. Typically violence is not intended. The individual feels anxious or frustrated and cannot always verbalize his emotions, so he attempts to return the situation to routine as soon as possible.

Sensitive: Smells, noises, and touches can trigger a “fight or flight” response. Accidental contact, like a bump, can “feel” like a hit to Joe because he does not read someone’s intent. At the same time, kids with AS struggle to modulate their own volume and control their bodies. They yell at others who are shouting, and they shove or run away from those who are too close.  If this confuses you, just imagine how confusing this is for Joe.

“Mindblind”: We take for granted how easily we can “step” into another’s shoes when needed. Individuals with AS innately lack the ability to take the perspective of another, inadvertently making them appear rude, selfish, or less intelligent. Kids with AS have to be taught not only how but when to think about others.

“Faceblind”: It is well-known that nonverbal communication is as important, if not more so, than what we say. Individuals with AS do not innately read facial expressions, tone of voice, gestures and body posture. You can just say your son or daughter’s name with a particular tone or you can “give them a look”, and they immediately “know” what you mean. Because Joe’s brain misses this information, he misses more than just what someone is saying to him, he also misses why.

Book Smart: Individuals with AS often lack common sense. This plays out most distinctly with their ability to socialize. They want friends but have no idea how to do so. Without direct instruction and countless opportunities to practice, appropriate behavior and socialization can be very challenging. They are prone to relentless bullying.

Your child has likely come home with observations about Joe that fall into one of these categories. Your initial inclination might be to tell your child to avoid or ignore Joe, after all you don’t want your son or daughter hurt. This is perfectly understandable but, unfortunately, will only exacerbate Joe’s struggles to learn how to interact. Joe is diligently working at school and at home on how to behave more appropriately. To help Joe, we ask that if your child comes home with a complaint, you respond in this manner: “Just like ________ is tough for you, ___________ is tough for Joe.” We ask you to reinforce that idea that everyone has struggles, and, unfortunately, Joe’s struggles are easier for your son or daughter.

If you would like to read more about AS, we recommend the following websites:

Autism Society of America:




Posted by on May 1, 2011 in ASD in the Schools


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James Durbin on American Idol: The Tale of Fitting a Square Peg in a Round Hole

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Know what  you get when you try to fit a square peg in a round hole? James Durbin. Or any person with Asperger’s really. I could lecture, ahem, inform you on all of the ways Aspies just don’t quite squeeze into that hole, no matter how we position and rotate and twist and turn. Mind you, that assumes our hole represents neurotypicality (and, not to mention, that the pegs want to be shoved into the holes, which they don’t). But, poor James, he doesn’t even get that. He gets people, this blogger included (Fact or Fiction: James Durbin and AS?), questioning his square peg status. He has people telling him, “No, James, you are not a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. You are a round peg trying to fit into a square hole.”

All of this because he disclosed. He pronounced a rather unfortunate word with an attempt at a sophisticated interpretation — one that’s not all that uncommon, mind you. And, then, he acted too “normal”, other than that squinting. Too much eye contact, and coordination, and appropriate facial expressions.

All of this because he preempted possible comments about his mannerisms by giving us an explanation that should have lead us to say, “Ohhhhh, now I get it” or “Good for you, James” or “What a positive example for us to point to”. But, we have to find some way to judge, right? After all, isn’t that the point of the show he is on? If James hadn’t told us, we’d wonder why he was “weird” or “squinty”. If James tells us, we doubt his authenticity, his purpose. Joseph Heller might be tempted to rename his book, James.

This Catch-22 was echoed in my office today with two male clients who have very different views on disclosure. One sees no shame. In his words, “I look normal until I talk or write. Like when I write a check and it takes forever, and others start to wonder, ‘What’s up with this guy?'” The other struggles to admit the diagnosis even to long-time friends. “It will change their view of me. I can’t control that.” James is at the crosshairs of both problems. He’s looked normal, until he hasn’t. He’s disclosed and lost control.

So what’s a square-ish round peg to do in a static world? To start, I suppose, win American Idol.


Posted by on April 30, 2011 in ASD in the Grand Scheme


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Disclosing Aspergers to Second Graders: Parent or Expert?

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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Teaching Social Skills to Kids with AS as Opposed to Blaming Them

Ben was in science class with his sixth-grade classmates. Stuart was seated next to Ben, and he was moving, moving, moving the container of seeds closer, closer, and closer to the edge of “STOP THAT”. Ben said to Stuart. Ben’s paraeducator asked Stuart to put the container back to its proper place. Done. Back to science, right? Wrong. “WHY DID YOU DO THAT STUART?” Stuart smiles at Ben. Ben then wonders to himself, “Why did he smile at me? Is he laughing at me?” “WHY DID YOU DO THAT STUART?” Stuart does not answer. “WHY DID YOU DO THAT STUART?” Then, Ben’s gone. Removed from the classroom because with each “WHY DID YOU DO THAT STUART?” his anger increased with his volume level.

Five minutes after this happens, I receive an email (because I am seeing Ben later that evening) from his well-intentioned case manager. Parts of the story were recounted — basically, Ben yelled again, Ben was removed again, Ben is in trouble again — and then the bottom line, “I had a STERN conversation with Ben. He KNOWS he can’t do it.” Again.

He’s “known” for a long time that yelling in class was “wrong”. If a stern lecture was the antidote, then, I guess we’d all have the cure to autism. This teacher is a well-trained professional whom I respect highly. We’ve developed a great system of communication in order to provide more comprehensive, targeted support for Ben. But, when I saw him tonight, I knew I had a foundation to lay. Yes, Ben lacks the coping strategies for managing his anger more appropriately and we could continue to provide him more deep breathing techniques, another “recovery spot”, a visual cue for how to request a break. These are all great ideas, but they are too late and miss the mark.

The issue is WHY Ben is getting mad. Well, Stuart broke a rule. You and I might realize that this rule isn’t a commandment, but Ben lacked that frame of reference. He wanted that rule enforced, and, even more basic than that, we had to discuss WHY people break rules. (That is not a simple conversation, by the way. Ben asked for a Top 3; my take was: to have fun, because they can, and because it makes them cool. Again, though, try explaining each of those!) Then, we had to build an internal assessment system in Ben’s head so that he could decide WHEN it mattered if a rule was broken. Does it hurt me? If so, do this. If not, do that.

Contrast this process with: Ben, stop yelling. I NEED THE ANSWER. Ben, stop yelling. I DON’T UNDERSTAND. Ben, let’s leave the classroom. I DIDN’T DO ANYTHING WRONG. Ben, you can’t do that. I KNOW THAT BUT I DON’T UNDERSTAND WHY HE BROKE THE RULE.

Why not address these social issues? Is it too hard? Yes, it’s a long, winding road. Does it take too long? Cynically, I say yes, when we want no disruptions in the general education classroom. But, clearly, NOT addressing these social issues is only producing more. So, ironically, it takes longer not to address these issues. Ultimately, though, in Ben’s situation, the support staff missed the forest for the trees, having no idea of what Ben didn’t know they focused on what Ben didn’t do.

“Tsk, tsk, Ben, don’t do it again” is an ill-fitting bandage to a systemic skill deficit in ASD.


Posted by on February 24, 2011 in ASD in the Schools


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Fact or Fiction: James Durbin and Asperger’s?

Tonight, Jesse, a nineteen-year-old client with AS, asked me to watch James Durbin. By now, I’m sure you have heard of him. The twenty-one-year-old unemployed singer on American Idol who has a small child and a supportive girlfriend. I hadn’t heard of James Durbin, nor had the four other guys in the group, all with AS. So, we viewed this clip:

Watching the clip was easy. James Durbin is an excellent singer, more likable and less polarizing than Adam Lambert. He has a story that AI loves — no job, big dreams, complications. For James, these complications are even diagnostic: Tourette’s and Asperger’s. But, watching was only the first part of what Jesse wanted.

“I don’t think he has AS, Jeanne. I think he is working that situation for the show. What do you think?” That’s where the hard part came in. So, I asked the guys to make a case for why he might not have AS; here were their arguments:

“Um, I don’t know many Aspies who frequent bars. Especially at that age. I mean, he’s barely legal.” (James might be breaking a rule, an Aspie no-no.)

“I have Tourette’s. The stress of singing would make me start ticking.”

“Yeah, well, I have Asperger’s. The thought of being around that many people would make me more than nervous.”

“I thought Aspie’s don’t make good eye contact. He just looked his son in the face.”

“That much crap in my hair would make me freak out.”

“His clothes look itchy.”

“I didn’t look at the camera when I was in pictures.”

“I don’t call it AUS-pergers.”

Then, I asked the guys why he would “lie”?

“I don’t lie.”

“I don’t know.”

“To get on tv.”

“To get on tv.”

“To take advantage of the situation.”

I ask you, my reader: What do you think?


Posted by on February 11, 2011 in ASD in the Grand Scheme


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