The best way to keep a secret

At the dinner table last night, Kiddo#1 abruptly said, “Do I have autism?”

Back in April when we got his diagnosis, the neuropsychologist told us not to tell him until we had him in treatment with a trained professional who specializes in Asperger’s. Then we decided to move, and we all agreed that rather than starting him with one therapist and moving him, it would be better to move and then find a therapist. Since moving, we haven’t found a therapist. I was going to get that done this week.

I did what every parent does in this kind of situation: Why do you ask that?

He told us about the social skills class at his school. It was a funny story: in the morning, Mr. H asked him to remind everyone in the class to come to it, so Kiddo#1 dutifully went and reminded everyone to go. He said to me, “And guess who forgot to go?” 

Yep. Kiddo#1 remembered late that he needed to be somewhere other than his reading class, so he bolted out of there and got to class to hear everyone talking about “what they think autism means” and what it means to them. 

I was still in stalling-parent mode: what did they say it means?

He said they said it was a learning disability.

I said that actually, it’s a different way of thinking and processing. It’s not always a disability, and some people have discovered that their autism helps them immensely with the kinds of jobs they’ve chosen, and it gives them an important perspective on the world.

Then I told him that yes, he was diagnosed with Asperger’s. He was upset at first.

I went on and explained that the Asperger’s wasn’t really a bad thing. We gave him examples of things he used to do as a small child that were probably because of the Asperger’s, such as the way he could name the make and model every car on the road at age four (no kidding: he could tell you the difference between a Celica and a Corolla from half a mile away) and how he taught himself to read at age two. We explained that these things came easy to him because of the Asperger’s, whereas other kids have a hard time learning to read. And, I continued, some things will be harder for him than for other kids.

But it’s not a disability as much as a different skill set and a different perspective, I concluded.

He liked hearing about how things he knew were special about him were related to the Asperger’s. We talked about that for a while. He felt positive at the end of the conversation, and I gave him the book I’d bought for him explaining Asperger’s syndrome.

That worked out pretty well.

And then…

And then I went to the school’s website and wrote a letter to the school psychologist (cc’d to the principal) because that was so, so, so terribly not cool.


  1. blueraindrop

    oh wow….. definitely not cool.

  2. illya

    That was handled very, very well. May we all have that insight when dealing with young impressionable minds and egos.

  3. Jason Block

    Wow. You handled that brilliantly. He is a very cool kid. And Special too…in a very good way. And I was able to do THE EXACT SAME THING with cars when I was his age. You tell him so. My dad was an auto shop teacher, but still. Kindred spirit 🙂

  4. philangelus

    I don’t think we handled it brilliantly. We just stumbled through, but I know he’s very proud of some of the things he does, and to connect those to something he was afraid was a bad thing helped him frame it as a good thing.

    I know he’s looked at the book a bit too, so that’s a good thing.

    It got pushed on us, and frankly, I’d wanted to tell him anyhow. He seems so calm right now, too, like it’s a relief to know *why* he feels a little off-balance in social situations.

  5. Cricket

    I think you handled it exactly right. He was bound to wonder what all those tests showed (most people don’t get those tests) and why you weren’t telling him the results. Our tester told our son about his test results the meeting after she told us. (ADHD and poor visual memory. The pediatrician was right about the ADHD, but totally missed the rest.) She also told him the good things the tests showed. (If you remove the social subtest, he’s almost genius IQ. Great vocab and anything to do with math.)

    The fact that he took the incomplete description of Autism and recognized himself is good. It’s even better that he asked you about it, and got a more balanced description.

    You described it pretty much the way I would have. I’d also add that because you know it’s Aspergers, you know the tools in the Aspergers basket are more likely to be useful than those in the Down’s Syndrom basket. (Although it’s amazing how many tools are in most baskets.)

    I’d also tell him that not everyone with Asperger’s is the same, and how even people with the same sub-type aren’t the same. And that many “experts” have too narrow a view. That way, if he’s told something (good or bad) about all people with the same label, he can decide for himself if that describes him, or if he wants to try it. Imagine a counsellor, fresh from the texts, telling him “Because you have it, you should get a job doing this, which you hate.” Or “You have to study like this, don’t tell me it doesn’t work for you.” We give our son permission to run experiments (within guidelines), so long as he uses what he learns from them.

    Most of the advice for ADHD kids is visual reminders, which don’t help if you have low visual memory.

    I’m glad the school got the myths out into the open, but they should have corrected them. Our son’s social skills group didn’t discuss LDs at all, just did things that built social skills. One term was great, the second was over-loaded with kids who were no fun to be in the same room with rather. (We won’t mention the school’s social group, a teenager running board games.)

    Hugs and prayers!

  6. philangelus

    Well, I’ve spoken to the school psychologist. He was apologetic and wanted to make sure that I understood the topic of the group wasn’t “So, you guys are all on the autism spectrum!”

    He had to be real careful due to privacy stuff, and I understand that. But apparently it came up in conversation because a relative of one of the attendees had been diagnosed with autism, and the subject came up naturally. Kiddo#1 just recognized himself in the description, and that’s why he wanted to know. The kid is SHARP, so it doesn’t surprise me.

    I now have a lead on a social skills group for outside the school, and possibly a therapist. Once we have that lined up, I guess we’ll start the Prozac. (We’ve been having meltdowns again at home.)

    Cricket,good point about telling him not everyone with AS is the same. He was fixated on the fact that the wikipedia article said Aspies are fascinated by trains. He likes trains, but I wouldn’t say he’s fascinated with them. Not the way he was fascinated with cars, for example, or geology, or gas stations. **sigh** But he was trying to pigeonhole himself into the definition and decided clearly he must have been fascinated with trains.

    OVeralll this may work out for the best, but we’ll have to see. It’s done, and you can’t unring a bell.

  7. cathrl

    Thing is, everyone’s on the autism spectrum. It’s just that most people are right at the top end of it, at a point which isn’t worth measuring. Who hasn’t occasionally felt socially inept? Who isn’t fascinated more than his/her peers with at least one thing, whether that’s knowing everything about a TV show, or making perfect sponge cakes, or having a spotless house, or practicing a music piece until it’s perfect… I’ve looked at the Aspergers characteristics a LOT (because I have a small obsessive boy)…and I also recognise a lot of them in me. Do I have a problem? Nope, not really. I’m up the top end of the curve like most people are.

    The one thing you can say for sure about labelled stereotypes is that absolutely nobody fits them precisely. There’s always plenty that isn’t them, even if lots of things about it are them. That’s true whether the label is “emo”, “Christian”, “Aspergers”, “typical boy”, or whatever.

  8. Kit

    It is not easy to have this conversation – I did it last summer with my soon to be 11 y/o daughter, who is now in 6th grade. Middle school. Girls. Ugh. She’s flying high on the academic charts, but feeling the sting on the social side. It is so hard sometimes…

    Because she doesn’t have the academic struggles of many of her peers, teachers tend to worry less about her performance, don’t pay as close attention, and thus don’t necessarily pick up on the social struggles, which are magnified during this pre-teen – mid teen stage.

    It is a long way to college, which is when these kids really find their niche and hit their stride. Hopefully her self esteem will be intact and not dragging behing in shreds when the time comes!

  9. Cricket

    I hate the phrase “autism spectrum”. It makes it seem linear. It’s more like a web, or a really complicated Venn diagram. You can be off the scale with one set of traits, but completely normal in another, and off the other end with a third.

    I agree with having a therapist and group outside the school. Better funded. Able to concentrate on your kid without also dealing with the other kids. They don’t move around as much. I find here, though, that the private therapists don’t always understand the school. They don’t know individual teachers or classes or kids. (Wanting to hit G is actually completey normal, G’s that much of a pain.) Their interpretation of the forms and categories are different. And privacy rules are such that it’s almost impossible to get them to talk to each other. At least we didn’t get any with opposite theories.

    Sorry to hear about the melt downs. He’s had a rough few months.