Reading Through Aspergers: Part I

I’ve posted plenty about our academic curriculum, appropriately so, since academics are what brought us home.   While I still follow numerous trails, investigating the ever-growing world of homeschooling resources, most of my recent explorations are on autism websites.  Just like I know that no one book will turn my writing resistant teen into the next Hemingway or (perhaps more appropriate for my son, Bill Bryson), I know there’s no single book that will help my son with Asperger’s Syndrome relate with the world with ease and comfort.

I know there’s no single book that will help my son with Asperger’s Syndrome relate with the world with ease and comfort, yet I search.  I read websites, blogs, research papers, and books.  Lots of books.  Books from the library, PaperBackSwap, and my local bookstore.  There are so many books out there on Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD), an umbrella term including Asperger’s Syndrome.  Many are written for parents with children far more affected than my younger, but the number on High Functioning Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome are impressive, if not downright overwhelming.  I’ll not claim to have read of all those in the second, somewhat smaller category, but I will share what I’ve found to be helpful for me. Some I’ve owned for a number of years, long before my son’s official diagnosis.  The books I’ve acquired and borrowed chronicle his road to diagnosis, both the unofficial point I knew it AS and the official moment the psychologist saw what his father and I had known for years.I've dogeared and marked up this book over the years -- it's the best on gifted, ADHD, and Asperger's

After exhausting the general baby/parenting section of books (by age 3, for my younger guy), I headed toward the special needs section.  The Out of Sync Child, by Carol Krenowitz, one of the first books written on the sensory processing disorder for the layperson.  I’ve not looked back to the “Parenting Neurotypical Children” section first.  (Okay, I’ve never seen it called that, but it seems to largely be written for parents with children who, well, aren’t like mine.)

My first foray into ASD-specific literature was Deirdre Lovecky’s Different Minds.  This weighty and well-footnoted tome explores the differences between gifted children with ADD and ASD and their more typical academically wired counterpoints, while also exploring the variances between the gifted child without ADD and ASD and those with.  While more descriptive than prescriptive, Lovecky’s book opened my eyes to the challenges that my kids faced.  Each chapter does include some ideas for assisting these twice-exceptional, or 2e kids, as they’re known on list serves and circles of families who have children with intellectual gifts and learning disabilities.  I’ve returned to this book many times over the years, each time coming away with a kernel or so to chew on, often one that deepens my understanding of a trait one of my boy’s exhibits.Atwood's book is my favorite general Asperger's guide.

A few years later (yet three years before my younger’s ASD diagnosis), The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome by Tony Attwood hit my nightstand.  Like Different Minds, Attwood’s Guide is a lengthy read with 22 pages of references at the end.  His exhaustive descriptions of the Asperger’s mind left me with little doubt that, despite the lack of definitive diagnosis, Asperger’s Syndrome was the best fit for my younger guy.  Attwood offers plenty of resources for families of children with AS and a fair amount of advice while maintaining a positive tone about the diagnosis.  Not a sappy, “Isn’t your child’s neurodiversity such a joy?” sort of pap, but a more matter-of-fact look at AS, treating it as difference requiring assistance for comfort in life rather than disorder to be cured.  It’s also beefy enough in citations and research to meet this science-oriented mom’s test.

My next purchase was Knowing Yourself, Knowing Others, by Barbara Cooper and Nancy Widdows.  Subtitled, “A Workbook for Children  with Asperger’s Disorder, Nonverbal Learning Disorder, and Other Social-Skill Problems,” I bought the book in hopes of sparking some self-and-other awareness for my then 6-year-old (still with no diagnosis except possible PDD-NOS).  We completed just a few of the 40 activities — collages of faces depicting happy, angry, worried, and anxious were as far as we ventured.   Looking back, I can see my son was a bit young and far too unaware of the feelings of himself or others to use the book.   Paging through it again today, I can see it as a decent tool for developing social skills for my 9-year-old.

Marriage problems pushed many parts of our family life aside, and my explorations into explanations for my son’s difficulties waned as I struggled to save my marriage.  Somewhere between separation and divorce, I found Asperger Syndrome and Difficult Moments:  Practical Solutions for Tantrums, Rage, and Meltdowns, by Brenda Smith Myles and Jack Southwick.  To me, the highlight of this book is the description of the rage cycle along with suggestions for assisting kids during the rumbling, rage, and recovery stages.  A light went on when reading through this shorter, more focused book:  my son’s ever-increasing tantrums made more sense, and when NOT to talk to him became more important than WHAT to say to him just before, during, and after these rages.  Myles and Southwick didn’t make the rages go away, but at least I found some relief in knowing that my prior attempts hadn’t worked simply because his wiring made my usual tantrum-coping techniques not only useless but often inflammatory.  I wish I could say I manage to always refrain from trying to teach my son when he’s rumbling, raging, or recovering (and for a few months, it seemed he was perpetually in one of these stages), but I remain human and overly wordy, even when silence would be a better road.

My bookshelf, computer, library card, and I knew, or at least strongly suspected that my younger son, nine and a few months at this point, had Asperger’s Syndrome for the last several years.  The professional world had yet to formally acknowledge with a label the source of his struggles.  Reading autism materials before he had that label brought forth no small amount of guilt and doubt.  Perhaps this was all poor parenting.  Perhaps he was just an obstinate, out-of-step child, that with the right mom/dad/therapist/medication/school/world would blossom into a more typical guy.  Or perhaps not.

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