you can only change yourself

In the car, I suddenly realized my kids were discussing how they’d answer the question “If you could change one person, who would it be?”

This is an offshoot of Sunday at church where the priest gave some answers from kids who volunteered one thing they’d change about their mother if they could. Most of them wanted to change Mom’s fascination with a clean room. (As the mom who is NOT fascinated with clean rooms, I’ll tell you my kids have other things they’d like to change about me.)

The kids did want to change things about me, but then of course Kiddo#2 and Kiddo#3 turned on each other. In an effort to break it up, I said to Kiddo#1, “Who would you change?”

He said, “I’d change myself.”


“I’d make my Asperger’s go away.”

I was surprised, to say the least, because he seldom expresses any kind of dissatisfaction with the way he is. Although I express plenty of dissatisfaction with the hateful things he says to his siblings and the near-violent meltdowns he has when conditions align the wrong way, I don’t think that’s necessarily an Asperger’s thing as much as it’s a behavioral thing. Overcome that and I think the Asperger’s will be just a peculiar cluster of quirks he happens to have.

I said, “Really?”

He said, “Actually, wait. Isn’t the Asperger’s the reason I get obsessed with things? I don’t want to lose that.”

AS does frequently manifest in quirky obsessions. If you ever find yourself in a subway car holding an in-depth conversation with a five year old about the parts of an oscillating fan, you’ve probably met an Aspie. My son’s current obsession is space. Planets, stars, comets, spacecraft, you-name-it.  It began about a month ago and will probably run full-tilt until sometime in September. Thank goodness this time he’s obsessed with space during the summertime. During the winter, although it gets dark earlier, it’s just too cold to go outside to look at anything.

I said, “Everyone has obsessions. Yours are just a little more odd.” He was surprised. “Like the time you had to memorize all the gasoline prices in Angeltown every day.” Ah, yes, that lovely summer.  He agreed with pleasure that he remembered this.  “And the time you decided to memorize the make and model of every car on the road.”  (Yes, a child who at a distance of half a mile could tell you the difference between a Camry, a Corolla and a Celica, with bonus points if he could tell you the Camry was an early-model or a late-model. That’s not quirky. He was four.)

He agreed that his quirks were a little off-beat. But I think he likes them. And although it’s true the only one you can change is yourself, I’m glad he’s okay with his identity because everyone should be comfortable in his own skin.


  1. littlehouseofpenguins

    Wow, that makes me wonder about the two little boys I used to babysit for (especially the older). They were 5 and 4 at the time, and I remember one day they asked if they could watch “the fan video.” I had no idea what they meant, so they got it out for me. It was a video from their father’s company that explained how these giant cooling fans worked. They sat, enraptured, watching the video talk about oscillation and the like. Afterwards they chatted amongst themselves and to me all about strange mechanical stuff that I only vaguely understood (I was about 14 at the time). I thought they, especially the older, seemed likely to grow up to be engineering geniuses. The older boy did have some quirks as well, nothing too extraordinary. But I wonder if he had Asperger’s. Maybe the mother didn’t feel it necessary to tell me, or he wasn’t diagnosed (this was the early 90’s).

    That’s awesome that he’s able to view his Asperger’s in that way, though. That sure, it makes things harder in a lot of ways, but that it also has its perks. Obsessions can be a cool way of learning new things! And it’s great to be happy in one’s own skin.

    1. philangelus

      Weird obsession is only one of the characteristics of AS but it’s the most prominent. The kids may have been fascinated because it was their father’s company and they wanted to connect with him, for example. It’s the combination of the cluster of quirks that make for the syndrome, and yes, Aspies make terrific engineers because they tend to think in terms of systems. But their social skills — well, not so much. 🙂

      Asperger’s is a spectrum and there are different degrees. I wondered on this weblog a while ago if I don’t have it at least mildly, and it’s possible. My favorite quote though is “If you’ve met one person with Asperger’s, you’ve met one person with Asperger’s.” 🙂

      Also, bear in mind that most kids who get an AS diagnosis have gone through multiple other diagnoses first and therefore tend to be older when diagnosed. We didn’t get my son’s diagnosis until after five therapists, two psychologists, two psychopharmicologists, one neurologist, and finally the neurophyschologist who actually diagnosed him. He was ten, almost eleven. This was despite the fact that the pediatrician had said at age six that he probably did have it.

      1. cricketB

        Is it a spectrum, implying linear, or more like a web? Do some people have some traits very strongly and others weakly, or does everyone at Level 1 have the same traits to the same degree?

        What about (one idea, with the usual caveat of good, bad or ugly) treating social systems as an engineering systems problem? An incredibly fluid and complicated system, and many of the inputs are out of his control or even unknown, but often enough the effects of his input can be predicted and he can even “back-calculate” an earlier state given the current one. (Why am I channeling Asimov?)

        1. philangelus

          It’s just a cluster of symptoms, like a rainbow. A web is a good idea too. I need something three-dimensional for a better model, though. Kiddo#1 has worse meltdowns than usual, but he makes eye contact very well and works passably well within social systems.

          Other kids may never make eye contact and can’t figure out how to navigate the school system but never melt down. Just as an example.

          1. cricketB

            But, but…Eye contact is Diagnostic! So say half the local experts! (Including an excellent social skills group leader — I’ll take good personalized therapy over a label and associated politics any day.)

            In 2000 Leagues, the character considers taxonomy to be Real Science. He tried to place each creature into genus, phylum, family, species… That was typical of the time. (GregS found that, too, in stuttering research. Hundreds of sub-types. Possibly not the same decade, but similar attitude.)

            It might be a good thing for them to start subdividing that small again, rather than shifting huge chunks around.

            How about “mountain range” or “sand dunes”. “Tree” implies that all the leaves on this branch are on the same side of the tree. Maybe one of those dented plastic sheets they use to describe gravity in a solar system. Maybe “menu”. Fries: super size. Burger: small, with cheese. Drink: medium cola, minimal ice.

    2. philangelus

      Meant to add, there’s a good discussion of the positives and negatives of AS traits here:

  2. cricketB

    Hugs and kudos to both of you. He has a very mature and balance attitude. You’ve helped him build a great foundation.

    1. philangelus

      It’s also a break from his usual black-and-white thinking. Usually something is All Bad or it’s All Good. The fact that he can see both good and bad to AS is actually a little against the grain for an Aspie, or else it’s progress. 🙂

      1. cricketB

        Call it progress and take a Good Mommy point. You done good!

        It’ll be interesting to watch as that idea works its way around and through the rest of his awareness and subconscious. Two ideas: Shades of grey exist, and AS is grey.

        Kids with AS/ADHD seem to grow up faster in some ways than others. Most adults stumble when they find a part of themselves they don’t like, but AS/ADHD kids often accept and deal with it, balancing acceptance with working to reduce the problems it causes. Maybe that’s because we throw them into therapy, but it’s still much better than many adults ever do.

        1. philangelus

          Kids are used to failing because they’re still growing and therefore it’s not a blow to their self-identity to find a part of them needs to be worked on. THey spend their whole days in school because they don’t know everything.

          Whereas most adults feel comfortable being competent and whole and don’t like to consider not being so. (That’s also why adult violin students often give up. We don’t like failing so often!)

  3. loriendil

    Being 50+, I’ve never been diagnosed with AS, but I’d bet my bellybutton my dad had it, I have it, and at least three if not all four of my kids have it to some degree. I don’t think of it as something ‘wrong’ but mere quirks of personality.

    I’m glad kids can find out what’s “different” about them nowadays, and not just think they’re weird. I still can see kids sticking their faces in mine and telling me that and worse things.

    I’m super glad your kids have a such a great mom, Jane. Understanding and acceptance of a child as-is go such a long way.

    1. philangelus

      I guess I see AS as being an NT-personality-type-on-speed. It’s not *bad* just the way having a vivid imagination isn’t bad, or being good at math isn’t bad, or loving physical contact isn’t bad. Every character trait has good and bad fallout. He just happens to have a particular cluster of traits that has a name, and in his case, it happens to get in the way of ordinary functioning sometimes.

      And in his case, his frustration tolerance is very low and he’s on a hair-trigger with his siblings, and that’s the one thing we’re working hard to change about him. SImply because it’s verbally abusive of the siblings, and he can’t navigate life that way. You just can’t have a raging meltdown every time something goes wrong, not if you want to keep a job or keep friends or date someone for more than two weeks. 🙂

      I would make it “go away” too, but just lessen the severity. And right now, we’re helping him to do that with therapy, a social skills group, and Prozac. In time, I hope he’ll be able to wean away from all three of those and navigate his own way in the world.