Beyond the Special Needs Label: Boys Will Be Boys

We’ve always been up front with the kids about Justin having Asperger’s. Justin knows he’s wired differently. He has even accepted that Asperger’s is considered a disability.

Early on, when Justin was in a special program to help him learn social skills, Brayden wondered why he didn’t have to go to the same program. We explained that Justin needed extra help to learn some things that Brayden already knew how to do (talk to people, make friends), just like Brayden went to speech therapy to get extra help with some things that Justin already knew how to do.

Later, Justin would say something brutally honest, not out of spite, but because it simply didn’t occur to him that someone would take offence. (“Not every honest thought needs to be expressed” was a tough lesson to teach.) So we’d have to explain to Justin that the words we say actually do affect other people, and then we’d have to explain to Brayden that his brother’s brain just works differently.

Sometimes that means cutting him a little extra slack. Like the time we were in a restaurant in Disneyland and a guy was going around making amazing balloon animals for the kids. Brayden LOVES balloon animals, but balloons make Justin anxious, so Brayden knew he wasn’t getting one. Them’s the breaks.

But there’s more to a person than some label. Just because Justin has Asperger’s doesn’t mean he never behaves like a typical kid. He’s perfectly capable of pushing Brayden’s buttons and acting like the big brother he is.

Brayden explained his perspective to his teacher the other day:

BRAYDEN: Did you know my brother is really annoying?
TEACHER: (amused) No, I didn’t know that.
BRAYDEN: He has Asperger’s. That’s a form of autism.
TEACHER: So what does that mean?
BRAYDEN: It means he’s more annoying than most people.

Because he has Asperger’s? Or because he’s your brother?

As if it matters.