Friday was World Autism Awareness Day, and I’d like to take a minute to talk about that.
When my son, Charlie, was 4, he was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a type of high functioning autism. Until Charlie’s diagnosis, I didn’t know much about Asperger’s other than it is now part of the autism spectrum. It’s usually distinguished from other subtypes by strong verbal language skills and intellectual ability, according to Autism Speaks. That comes at the cost of social awareness.
While I was researching Asperger’s syndrome as we went through the process of getting Charlie’s diagnosis, I told my wife, Krystle, it was as though one report’s author visited Charlie for a week and wrote about it. Charlie exhibited just about every sign discussed in the article — he is incredibly smart, but he has trouble with social cues and he has several repetitive behaviors, such as standing and spinning for long periods of time or flapping his hands. His is very outgoing — I swear he’s never met a stranger — but he lacks awareness of social boundaries. He’s obsessive with specific subjects and with where certain objects are placed. He doesn’t always understand when someone is upset, but’s he prone to throw a tantrum where there’s even the slightest change in his daily routine.
That was actually what led us to seek a diagnosis for him. When Charlie was in kindergarten, he would go weeks without any kind of incident and then, bam, we’d get a phone call from the teacher telling us he lashed out, threw a tantrum or wouldn’t stop spinning when he was supposed to sit. He once tore a book in half, and we knew something was up then because Charlie loves books and he took care of them. The principal told us she was shocked by his lack of remorse even when she put the book in front of him.
Of course, by then Krystle and I had noticed that changes in routine often triggered bad behavior. So, I asked the principal what changed. Turned out that day they did a fire drill. And a few weeks before that when he acted up, his teacher was gone for the day and they had a substitute. Another bad day happened when they had assembly instead of class. Anytime the school day was different, Charlie acted out. After getting his diagnosis, his principals and teachers worked with us and with Charlie to better prepare him for changes in routine at school, and he didn’t have another incident for the rest of the school year.
School has remained a challenge, or at least it was while he was still in a classroom. He’s been remote learning since spring break 2020, but he’s returning to the classroom Monday. I have no doubt I’ll hear from the school at least once a week for the last nine weeks of the school year, but I hope he’ll lean back on the coping mechanisms we’ve taught him to help make it through the day.
Raising Charlie has been a frustrating, yet beautiful challenge. I am very proud of my son.
I hope you’ll take some time this month to learn a little more about autism.