From Personality Traits to A Defined Condition
My son, from quite early on, had worrisome personality traits. Not that he was a problem-child or was not a good son. He just had some worrisome personality traits. He would not pay attention to his teacher, he would not do his schoolwork and usually would not take tests, but would crumple the paper up and throw it aside. He would sit and draw little things not related to the classroom, not even looking at the teacher, his books, or seemingly paying attention. Yet, rare as it was, he would sometimes at a whim actually do a brief exam. Then the teacher would look at the paper in amazement, realizing he had aced it.
As my son grew older, he didn’t mind talking very bluntly to his mother or to me. I was inclined to be inflamed over it a bit, but my wife took it just a little more in stride. Ordinarily, I would say she was not in the right, but looking back at our situation with my son, I believe she was right. Our son was not merely being disobedient, but was manifesting some of the traits of Asperger’s Syndrome (AS).
I will not discuss all the symptomatology of AS as I provide relevant references1 you can look up online, but I will discuss some of my son’s traits, and I will introduce a “surprise guest” at the end of this article.
Issues with Sensitivity and Communication
My son, now 25, has a thing with shoes. He should wear a shoe two-sizes smaller than he does, but if he did he would complain about discomfort, especially of crowding around the toes. There is no crowding, frankly, but one of the aspects of AS can be a heightened sense of touch. The same way with his trousers. He has to have them a bit oversized – not for style or some fad – but again because he feels too confined and he claims to experience discomfort. Although he’s better about it now, he doesn’t like to be touched, either.
One problem listed as symptomatic of AS is clumsy movement. While my son may walk fairly normally, he was afraid to ride a child’s swing and totally refused to learn how to ride a bicycle. Although he has tremendous ability at writing, especially clear and coherent, highly intelligent emails, he is sporadic in his speech and seems desirous of rushing through his words to get his thought out as quickly as possible.
As a young child, my son would not talk to anyone but to his family. Not a word. Now after a while, a friend of ours decided to make it into a game, and would say things like, “I’ll bet I can get you to talk.” My son would, of course, not talk at all, but he couldn’t help but grin. This performance was repeated a lot. As he got older, my son did say a word of two to our friend. And gradually, he has improved, though no one would accuse him of having the “gift of gab.” He answers questions and he can say one or two sentences. However, if you ask him about a personal interest, he becomes quite conversational, if a bit one-sided.
We once took my son to Kluge Rehabilitational Center in Charlottesville, Virginia. A young woman at first examined him, but a man who had a mathematics background, I believe, was asked to have an extensive private conversation with my son. After perhaps twenty or so minutes, they came back, and the man was shaking his head. He had been impressed. My son was twelve at this time. The man said, ‘How did your son know about the Iliad and the Odyssey?’ And so it always was.
I Introduce My Son to the Computer
Whether it was a mistake, or whether it was a moment of insight, I don’t know, but I introduced my son to my own latest fascination, the home computer. It was in the time frame when you had to adjust settings on your computer by hand to receive the Internet. In time, we succeeded in figuring it out, and my son, ever-since, as is the case with many who have Asperger’s Syndrome, has been hooked on computers. Not just hooked. Obsessed. It is much of his life, really. He enjoys discussing other of the cutting-edge technological concoctions, but mostly it is the computer.
I mentioned, early-on, that my son had some disturbing personality traits. As he got older, he was put in special education, and he would have arguments with the other children and the teachers alike, and would put on displays of temper. It got him into frequent trouble. If given the chance, he would calm down, but it was a difficult period. My son has largely grown out of such traits, but he still has that disturbing quality of lack of empathy. I know like the other characteristics of AS it is not deliberate. It is just part of what is wrong.
Recently I read an article where some feel Asperger’s Syndrome is nearly just a matter of choice, and that one should feel good about the differences in people, but this concept merely demonstrates a lack of understanding of the condition. It is nothing to rejoice about, celebrate, or brag about. It is a minor calamity. I know there are quite a few diagnosed with this condition, and doubtless it presents a financial challenge to the economic status of things, but to pass it off as part of the normal spectrum of personality difference is wrong.
Welcome, Please My Special Guest!
At this point, allow me, please, to introduce my special guest. It is none other than me. As a younger person, and really, to this day, I possess(ed) a difficulty with sound. Sound is another overly heightened sense in AS sufferers. Now I was not merely bothered by loud sounds. Sound has always been a major problem for me.
When I would try to sleep, if there was a wristwatch in the room, even if I covered it with clothing and put it in the dresser drawer on the other side of the room from me, I could hear it tick, tick, ticking until I had to get up and put it in some other room. No lie. I have had and still have a problem with sounds. Even the slightest sound and I am up. If it happens much, I become panicky and terribly upset. It is ongoing for me. It is not some minor problem. Likely I have a degree of AS myself. I will not bother to be diagnosed. I am 60. I have learned to do what I can to adjust. It is working.
Taking AS Seriously
Folks, if you hear someone has Asperger’s Syndrome, take it seriously. It is no game. It is a bit of a nightmare for the one who has it, and it is a difficult pressure on those the sufferer loves.
1 Disclaimer: I wish to draw your attention to representative references on Asperger’s Syndrome, but I do not claim the material on the sites I list as references to be accurate or even representational. To seek psychiatric care is something entirely personal, and I do not personally agree with all statements made by such professionals.