Offering Encouragement and Support
When a family believes such hurtful, insensitive stereotypes, the images conjured only reinforce their angst. The child with Asperger's is often inherently gentle and exquisitely sensitive. It is imperative that such negative thoughts and feelings not be projected upon the child or communicated directly in front of him. When this transpires consistently enough, a self-fulfilling prophecy occurs.
If you hear people refer to you only in disparaging, disrespectful terms, you believe it and, eventually, you become it. You reflect back what people project upon you because you believe it is what they expect. After all, it's how you've been defined all along. Being so sensitive, the child with Asperger's may naturally internalize, replay, and agonize over all of this to no end. So you see how easily a vicious cycle can result and even repeat itself over a lifetime.
A chance encounter with a wise stranger prompted Trieste, mom to a young son with Asperger's, to rethink how she perceived her son's differences:
At an autism conference I attended when my son was very young, I met another parent who shared with me words I have never forgotten. He said, “Don't ever make your child feel bad for who he is.” His words were an eye-opener for me, because at the time I was under the impression that the best thing I could do for my son was to eliminate all his “signs of autism” and make him as much like other children as possible. I began to wonder how much of the behavior modification we were constantly doing with him was actually making him feel bad about himself.
Negative thoughts and feelings should be shed in favor of positive perspectives. Your child is a child, first and foremost. A beautiful, entirely unique, magnificently gorgeous human being with as many faults and frailties as gifts and talents; the same is true of everyone. In childhood, your son or daughter will rely upon you and your family to provide a solid foundation of self-esteem. Equipped with a strong sense of self-worth — not self-loathing — your child will be better prepared to enter into a life that will likely present many challenges. Much of your time and energy will be expended in raising, counseling, and disciplining your child in ways that she will understand. It is important to try to equalize those occasions by reinforcing your love and appreciation of her gifts and talents.
It is speculated, although not confirmed with certainty, that some of the world's greatest thinkers, innovators, and artists have had Asperger's Syndrome. They include a long list of famous personalities: Ludwig van Beethoven, Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Edison, Vincent van Gogh, Emily Dickinson, Henry Ford, Mark Twain, Alfred Hitchcock, H. P. Lovecraft, Andy Warhol, Charles Schulz, Bill Gates, and Michael Jackson. (On the humorous side, fictional characters dubbed as Asperger's are Bert of “Bert and Ernie” Sesame Street fame, Lisa Simpson from The Simpsons, Mr. Spock from Star Trek, and the United Kingdom's Mr. Bean.) Suffice it to say, from a historical perspective, your child with Asperger's Syndrome is in outstanding company.
Linda, another mom of a young boy with Asperger's, shares thoughts about giftedness:
In reading the many books on Asperger's and autism spectrum disorders, I find that so many treat it as a curse. My son is very proud of his different way of viewing the world. He does not care that he is different. He says God makes fewer philosophers than typical thinkers. He is very proud of being one of the special few.
People with Asperger's Syndrome who possess great talent tend to fall in a spectrum of pronounced, gifted abilities, as demonstrated by the previous roster of brilliant thinkers and great talents. One end of the spectrum finds those who are naturally gifted at mathematics and numbers, computers and mechanical devices, biology and other sciences. The other end of the spectrum includes the artists, the actors, the authors, and the poets.
Think of the areas in which your child is naturally gifted. Does his comprehension of computer programs exceed that of many adults? Does he enjoy describing the exact alignment of our solar system's planets, identifying each by correct name, placement, and color? Does he assume the personality traits of a favorite cartoon character with uncanny accuracy, down to mimicking lines of dialogue? Or does he have the quiet reverence to render amazing watercolors? These passions are the areas of talent to recognize and encourage as uniquely your child's own.
Instead of feeling worn out by your child's intense interests, take a moment to indulge him and listen carefully. Or catch your child doing something amazingly gifted and praise him lavishly. Your outpouring of attention and genuine interest will come back to you tenfold.
As you would do for any of your children, at every opportunity, reinforce to your child with Asperger's Syndrome how special he is to you. Tell him that you are delighted when he shares his astronomy charts with you. Laugh at his impressions of The Backyardigans and tell him what a terrific actor he is. Highlight your child's gifts when talking with family and friends. Prominently display his works of art. You may be amazed at the long-lasting impact these moments will have as they buoy your child into adolescence and young adulthood.