Shedding Some Light on Asperger’s

Justin’s Asperger’s has always been an open secret at his school — I don’t shy away from talking about it, but I don’t advertise it either. Like most parents, we wanted him to just blend in as much as possible. I know some parents were aware of it and I’m sure the grapevine has worked its magic, but I finally decided to get everyone on the same page. So, last week I sent this letter to all the parents in Justin’s kindergarten class:

“Dear parents:

I want to take this opportunity to explain a condition Justin has that affects the way he understands other people, talks with other people, and acts with other people.

As you may be aware, Justin has Asperger’s Syndrome. It’s the highest functioning end of the autism spectrum, which means that people with this syndrome can function pretty well in society. Like all forms of autism, Asperger’s includes difficulties with communication and social skills. People with Asperger’s have good grammatical skills and an advanced vocabulary, but they are very literal and have trouble using language in a social context.

People with Asperger’s have normal or high intelligence, but they have a hard time talking to and fitting in with other people. As children, they need special help at home and school to learn social behavior.

Some things that are difficult for Justin are:

– Reading body language and understanding other people’s emotions
– Understanding the unwritten rules of social nuance — he doesn’t always know how he’s supposed to act in new situations, and this creates anxiety for him
– Knowing when someone is joking — he generally doesn’t understand irony, sarcasm or slang, and will take everything very literally
– Transitioning from one task to the next — he sometimes gets “stuck” on a favorite activity

Some of Justin’s strengths are:

– Seeing and remembering details that other people miss
– Reading, printing and spelling
– Using computers

Justin loves playing with friends, but does require a little extra support at times. I would be happy to come along on any play dates to help out. I would also be happy to answer any questions you or your child have about Asperger’s and how it affects the way Justin interacts with people.

Thanks very much for your understanding.”

The main reason I finally decided to explain all this is because we’re now getting to the point where parents often aren’t involved in play dates, and I don’t think Justin’s ready to be dropped off at someone’s house with no support. He just has a few too many quirks that not everyone would understand. Or maybe I’m just being overprotective? I don’t want people to look at him differently because he has a diagnosed condition, but I also don’t want them to think he’s rude or inconsiderate because he misread someone’s facial expression or didn’t realize someone was kidding.

This parenting thing is tough. Sigh…