A common frustration of parenting a child on the autism spectrum is the reality that most insurance policies will not cover social skills groups, and those helpful groups are generally quite pricey. Our occupational therapist has wisely combined OT, (which is covered by our insurance), with social skills, and we recently began doing joint sessions with another boy of a similar age and diagnosis.
So the second time we met with this boy, he and Edward were playing contentedly in the waiting room, bandying some kid’s meal car back and forth while the therapist and I discussed the plan for the hour. All of a sudden out of the busy din of waiting room conversation rang a clear, rather piercing question:
“So, do you have Asperger’s like me?”
The little boy glanced sideways at Edward as he asked, almost, but not quite, making eye contact.
Edward looked at him, looked at the car, and continued playing in apparent oblivion.
To his own credit, the boy could not be deterred, and he fired the question again, this time more loudly to the packed waiting room:
“So, Edward, I said, do you have Asperger’s like me?”
Edward met his gaze, and in mildly exasperated tone of voice fired back, “I do not know what you keep talking about, but I do not have that!”
The therapist and I exchanged a troubled glanced with the boy’s father, and the boys were quickly ushered into the OT room.
Later, our therapist told me that she felt it was time to share Edward’s diagnosis with him because it appeared he was ready to understand it to a certain extent and because more and more of his peers knew about their own diagnoses and would be asking him questions about his.
This is not the first time I have heard this particular advice. I have also heard a plethora of advice against sharing a diagnosis with a child this age.
A bit later in the van, I asked Edward what his friend kept talking about. His response? “Yeah, I don’t know what he was talking about. He kept going on and on about ‘ass boogers‘ and I most certainly don’t have those. That sounds kinda gross…”
(insert grin here)
I went on to accurately pronounce the term and describe some of the characteristics of Asperger’s–how it was similar to ADHD, with which he is quite familiar–and how people who fall into that “camp” sometimes have challenges with social skills and making friends, paying attention and sometimes handwriting and a few other things. We also discussed many of the amazing advantages of having a brain structured like his, and how God had created him so uniquely for a specific purpose.
“Oh, well, yes, then I do have that. I absolutely have that Mom. That’s me…”
You could have knocked me over with a hummingbird feather.
Something I had agonized over and fretted over, something that had kept me up countless nights debating and praying over, was as easy as telling a child he needed to use a special pencil grip or might hit a baseball further if he used a lighter weight bat.
Over the past few weeks, we have had occasion to discuss Asperger’s in much greater detail. He now knows that several of his friends bear a similar diagnosis, and that has made him feel like he is most certainly not alone.
Based on a few comments he has made, I believe he is even recognizing how his difficulty reading facial expressions and body language often confuses him about what a friend is trying to do or say, and now he knows that Asperger’s has something to do with that. All of a sudden the social skills classes make more sense to him.
What was before so confusing, now has a name. That name gives meaning to his own feelings and experiences–both those that are challenges and those that are gifts.
I’m sure that in the days and years to come, this conversation will develop further complexities and nuances that are peacefully lost and absent today.
Yet today, I will revel in the simplicity of an eight-year-old who hears this diagnosis and does not cringe, does not question and does not fear.
That’s what I embrace today.