Monday, 7 March 2016

Parenting tips for kids with Asperger's, from someone who lived it

Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” ― Albert Einstein

I have aspergers.  I usually don't tell others that I have it because it is very misunderstood and I don't want to be judged.  But now I want to set the record straight about aspergers, and remove misconceptions. Aspergers kids are not disabled, they are just different.  They are normal like everyone else on the inside, but get lost in translation.  Especially for those who are more autistic and can't speak at all, it is very lonely. They are like everyone else but can't communicate.  Some of them have been helped by using a keyboard to type words. Aspergers is a less severe form of autism. Aspie's can speak but get confused about what to say or how to say it. They also struggle with body language.  Normal kids do this stuff naturally, but Aspie kids don't.  Thankfully these are things that can be learned. By my age, I've learnt enough that most people wouldn't notice I have Aspergers. When I was a little girl I couldn't speak to someone I didn't know. I would open my mouth to say hello and no sound came out.  So I'm telling you this to let you know it does get better.  Aspergers kids usually grow up to live a normal adult life.
Having asperger's as a female is somewhat different than for males. Girls and women with aspergers commonly go undiagnosed because they are more likely to socialise better than boys do.
I want to help children with asperger's by helping their parents understand them.
Aspergers is a high-functioning version of autism that affects about 1 in 50 people. The rates have risen from 1 in 88 reported in 2008. One of my theories for this is that aspergers hasn't increased, just the diagnoses of it has.  I also have another theory that it may be increasing because the world needs more aspergers people. ;) Then theres the possibility that vaccines may have contributed to it, but I wont get into that here.
How do you know if your child has aspergers?
Aspergers kids are less competent with social skills than other kids.  The brain function that is for communication (for turning thoughts into words or comprehending what someone else is saying) doesn't function like "normal" people.  They may be very shy because of this. For them it is like being in a foreign country and learning a new language.They didn't pick it up naturally like normal kids, but they can learn.
They may show no facial expression or body language and fail to pick up other people's expression or body language.
They are likely to have 1 or 2 really good friends (or no friends) rather than many acquaintances.
They think very deeply and may ask you deep questions or give very thoughtful observations about things.
They are often really interested or even obsessed about a particular subject, especially the boys. They may spend countless hours on their subject of interest and may talk about it non-stop.
They may talk in a strange way or say or do things that are socially inappropriate. They come across as weird or eccentric sometimes.
Their intelligence ranges from average to genius.  They may excel at subjects that interest them.  Their unique way of thinking makes them capable of working out creative solutions for things.  They may see patterns everywhere.  They think outside the box.
They have heightened sensitivities and thus don't like loud noises, scratchy clothes or overly stimulating environments.  They may be very fussy about things like foods, or anything really!
They are often introverted, they would rather be with 1 or 2 good friends and avoid parties. They find small talk meaningless and would rather have purposeful conversations.
In some cases they are mute, or just will not speak except in certain situations.  I was like that as a kid.  Sometimes it was because I didn't know what to say.  Sometimes I was scared of saying the wrong thing.  Sometimes I physically could not speak, like I would try to say something and the words would not come out. Don't worry if they are not talking yet, they will, just later than normal kids.
They may do this thing called "stimming" which is where they do some kind of repetitive movement which comforts them, like rocking back and forth or clapping their hands etc.  It is actually something they do for comfort, or simply because they like it.  They like patterns or order in things and so the repetition is comforting or enjoyable to them. This can be less obvious in girls and much less obvious by the time they are adults, because girls are often more self conscious.
They may have OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder).  They may be extremely tidy and organised to a ridiculous degree like everything has to be lined up parallel on their desk or placed just how they like it.  They may feel like they need to check things multiple times.
They are deeply emotional, whether it's overly ecstatic, or deeply depressed, or anxious.  But they might not communicate how they feel, they might keep it inside or act out. They don't express how they feel with body language or facial expressions like normal people.
Have a good sense of humor, but often for totally different things than what others find funny. They may not "get" your jokes and you might not "get" theirs!

Common misconceptions:
They are sometimes seen as stupid or disabled because they have trouble talking.  Obviously they have good intelligence, just trouble with communicating.
They are sometimes seen as rude, arrogant or uncaring by the way they talk.  They really don't mean to be rude. They just have no tact because of their communication issues, and lack skills with small talk.
They are seen as having no empathy or feelings.  This one really offends me, I have even seen some psychologists saying this.  They absolutely do have empathy and very deep feelings. It just doesn't seem so to some people.  One reason is because they have trouble expressing their emotions, they do not show any body language unless they have learned to.  It is a skill they can learn, but doesn't come naturally.  The other reason is because they are not always aware of what is going on around them.  They are often in their own little world in their mind and don't see what is happening. When I was a kid I didn't know when it's appropriate to smile or say certain things, it didn't come naturally at all.  Like I didn't know someone was talking to me if they didn't say my name. But I chose to consciously make an effort to learn these things for my survival.  I still have a ways to go but I have come a long way. Your aspergers child can learn too.
They are thought of as loners and not liking people. Obviously not true!  Most really want to talk and have friends but are either shy because of not knowing what to say, or they just really need time and space to themselves sometimes to recover from sensory overload.  They do like having friends and need friendship and belonging.
It has been called a disease or mental illness that needs to be cured, and I don't believe this is true either.  While they may be socially challenged, they have talents and abilities that others don't as well.  They are just different. They think, talk and act different.  We are all different, there are no 2 people the same in this world, and that is what makes us interesting.  We all have different strengths, gifts and weaknesses.  Think of all the famous successful people that have aspergers, would we really want to cure them?  I, for one, am grateful that I have aspergers, I like who I am, and I can't imagine being anyone else.  Statistically most kids that have aspergers grow up to lead normal lives as adults.  The social skills while not coming naturally to them, can be learned, so they are just late learners socially.
Aspergers is said to be caused by vaccinations.  This is just my humble opinion, but I don't buy this one.  As I have said I don't think it is an illness anyway.  I do however believe that the kids that already have aspergers get much worse after getting their shots because they are super sensitive to the toxic ingredients in them.  So while I don't think vaccines cause it, I think they make the bad side of it worse.  Remember that aspie kids have heightened sensitivity and avoid chemicals.  This gets better also as they grow up. I know my sensitivities are much better and my tolerance for things as well as I've learned how to cope.

Tips for Parents of Aspergers kids:
First off I want to say congrats for having an aspergers child!  They may be hard to understand, they may be challenging at times, but they are so special.  They are not disabled.  They are just different!  They may become very successful one day, so don't be sorry for them for 1 minute.  There are some famous amazing people who are believed to have aspergers, including: Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, Susan Boyle, Marylin Monroe, Beethoven, Vincent Van Gogh, Jim Henson, Isaac Asimov, Bill Gates to name a few.  With their creative thinking, aspergers kids have the potential to become presidents, scientists, artists or eccentric millionaires!  Please believe in your child and nurture their interests and talents.  So please accept them and love them as they are, and make sure they know it.  It is common for aspergers kids to develop low self-esteem because of ignorant people who put them out or exclude them for being different.
Stimming:  Let them do it unless it is overly annoying for other people.  If for example they are yelling or being a nuisance to others, try to redirect them to other ways of "stimming".  Work on it when you are at home in a safe place as practice before you take them out.  If you are out and ignorant people are judging you, please don't worry about them.  Be confident for your child's sake.  Show them how to be confident in themselves and not be concerned about what others think of them.  They really need this from you.
Keeping them healthy physically will help alot with their behavior. They are highly sensitive, so avoid anything toxic in their food and their skincare/bathroom products.  Give them fresh, "living" food like fruit, vegetables and unprocessed raw food often. You could also get them allergy tested to find out what they are reacting to.
Be patient.  Gradually exposing them to situations that stress them out, while building up their confidence will build their tolerance.  Be patient with their speech. Make it ok for them not to speak. This helps them to feel comfortable, which helps them to speak better anyway. Under stress it is harder for them to speak.
Teach them about facial expressions. Teach about what to say or how to behave in certain situations.  Start off simple, for expample: When you meet someone, you smile, you say "Hi, nice to meet you, my name is...." As a teenager I read a great book called "How to win friends and influence people" by Dale Carnegie.  It helped me so much.  I learned about smiling and being interested in other people. Your child can learn all these things.  But be patient, they will learn social skills later than other kids. They will probably be happy with just having a couple of good friends rather than many friends and that's ok.
Build up their confidence.  Teach them it's ok to be different.  Tell them how special they are. Bully-proof them in case they are teased about being different.
Don't define them by their aspergers.  They are an individual with a unique personality. Dont assume they wont be able to do things.  Always give them the opportunity and treat them like they are a normal person. Like all kids they want to feel like they belong.
Try to see the world through their eyes. They do get sensory overload and it overwhelms them sometimes. They may act up when they are overwhelmed and this isn't them being naughty on purpose, this is just them expressing their pain.  So be patient, and gently teach them appropriate ways of managing their pain while not expecting them to endure too much.

How to cope with other people's judgements:

Be straight up with people and educate them if they are open to it.  Otherwise, ignore them.  The most important thing is not what others think, but what your child needs.  I learned as a parent that when you can't force people to treat your kids right, it can actually be a good opportunity to teach your children how to cope.  It's hard, I know, you want to protect them.  It's not fair, but it happens.  So strengthen your child, make sure he/she knows how important they are.  Make sure they know why other people say mean things, eg. they are sick (mentally).  Let your child know it's not their fault, some people are just like that and it's not our fault.  We are ok. It's a good lesson to help your child cope for times when you aren't there.

Want to learn more about Aspergers?
There is a lot of info on the internet, but a lot of misinformation as well. I recommend hearing from people who have lived it. People like "Temple Grandin", she is a woman with asperger's who grew up to be a university professor. She has written books about it and there is also a movie about her.

Please comment below if you have anything to add or any questions... :)

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