“I know Asperger’s, my friend has a child with Asperger’s Syndrome” are usually the words I hear when I tell my friends my son was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome six years ago. Other words I hear are from friends who have a child with the same diagnosis, and who believe since our kids have the same diagnosis that our kids are the same person, will be “are you sure your son has Asperger’s Syndrome, my child doesn’t do that.” This can be very frustrating for me when my passion is to bring awareness to the subject, but a wise person once told me “at least they are talking about it.”
Does having a child with Asperger’s Syndrome make me an expert on the subject? According to my son, he isn’t even an expert on the subject. All it means is that I am an expert on my son who happens to have Asperger’s Syndrome, and even then, I am a secondary authority because he is the primary expert regarding himself.
What I can say is that according to the Center for Disease Control, Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) can be identified by the onset of non-verbal behaviors, and it distinguishes itself by an individual’s lack of eye contact, lack of facial expression, and peculiar body postures. The diagnosis itself is based on a list of symptoms (listed in the previous Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV-TR): impairment in social interaction, repetitive and restrictive stereotyped patterns of behavior, activities, and interests, significant social and occupational impairments, and delays in language; these impairments can lead to difficulties in making friends, having an awareness of non-verbal social cues, poor motor skills, narrow areas of interest, inflexibility in regards to changes in routine, and an inability to understand another person’s perspective. Other issues can be having a lack of direction, problems with loud noises and with large crowds.
The list can go on even more, so what if I had ten, male 17-year olds with Asperger’s Syndrome stand next to each other in a room – I highly doubt one of them would be the same. That would be like hanging ten of Van Gogh’s masterpieces next to each other on the wall and saying they were the same. They may be from the Post-impressionist era, they may all be from the same artist, and they may have similarities; but in the end, they will all touch us in a completely different way; therefore, I also see my son as a masterpiece and would never begin to lump him in with another person, nor would I want another mother to feel she needed to lump her child in with mine.
Instead of pulling apart a person with Asperger’s Syndrome to analyze what may be wrong with them, I wish more people would stop and look at everything that is amazing about them. Once we lift our children up and focus on their strengths, only then will they have the chance to soar and have the incredible life they were destined for.
For example, two years ago, my son decided he wanted to be a chef. This may not seem that unusual, but in his world it is. He doesn’t especially like food, or rather the taste of food. Since he was little, his taste buds were on sensory overload. His pediatrician had a great analogy; food is to his taste buds as extremely loud sounds are to eardrums. This has made it very hard for him to enjoy food or rather a wide selection of food; he tends to keep his selections to pork, chicken, fruits, and so on. He does not like if condiments are added to his food; a little ketchup to him is like pouring hot sauce on someone else’s tongue.
Despite his food issues, he is fascinated with cooking and loves to create new dishes. When he talks about culinary school, I always ask how he would get through it since he doesn’t like to taste his own creations. He quickly states, “That’s what taste testers are for.” To prove his culinary skills to me, he told me he was going to a friend’s house to create a dinner designed around my favorites. Not wanting to ever stand in his way, I agreed to come to his special dinner that night. When my daughter and I arrived, anticipating a delicacy of my favorite foods, I was not ready for what I saw before me.
At first it wasn’t that shocking, he had made a beautiful raspberry vinaigrette salad, he then presented us with bread sticks with grape jelly, but next to those foods was something odd. I couldn’t really explain it. It looked like a cross between eggplant and a giant mushroom. I smiled and said it all look delicious, but may I ask what the main course is. He was slightly irritated, and he asked me if I noticed my “favorites” theme. I said I wasn’t quite sure and maybe he could help me; after an eye roll, he gave in. He said he designed the meal after my favorite color: purple. What? A meal based on the color purple? I was in shock and not ready for his next statement. He said, “I made you purple chicken! I marinated the chicken in your favorite drink; diet Pepsi with purple food coloring. I was speechless as I saw my daughter trying to sneak out of the room. Not on my watch. We were in this together.
To our surprise, he had cooked the chicken perfectly and it tasted delicious, even though we had to close our eyes before we bit into it. He also surprised me with diet Pepsi with purple food coloring as my drink. We only learned about the purple food coloring when we saw our purple tongue and lips in the mirror afterwards. He finished the night off with a brownie surprise with a delicious purple marshmallow topping.
Having a son with Asperger’s Syndrome has taught me so much, but primarily that I may never understand what is going on in his head. What I do know is that whatever he is creating in his imagination is spectacular and the days he chooses to share those thoughts are among the greatest days I have experienced. My hope with my blog is not to lecture to anyone about Asperger’s Syndrome, but instead to enlighten others on how fantastic it is to have someone with Asperger’s Syndrome in one’s life. I cannot ever judge a book by its cover, it’s better to leave judgment at the door, and open the book and enjoy every surprise it has waiting.
With my son, life is never dull and always interesting, and I count my blessings everyday that he was born. Getting glimpses of life through his eyes is glorious, and my only wish is that others would learn to set down their critical eyeglasses and pick up a set that helps them see an entirely different perspective. Enlightenment is the entrance to a new, diverse world filled with great gifts beyond our own expectations.