When I met Jonathan, he bumped into me (his way of saying hello). He was 11 years old. He didn’t speak much unless it was about one of the topics he enjoyed. He was not super social but never seemed to be bothered by being around people; he just wasn’t likely to initiate conversation with them. When Jonathan did speak, it was full of words I did not understand, not because they were gibberish, but because his vocabulary surpassed mine by leaps and bounds. Jonathan loves being educated. He has poured himself into any book put in front of him, devouring and soaking up the information. Jonathan knows so much about nearly every topic imaginable except people. Social intelligence is really his only weakness.
I knew when I met Jonathan he had Asperger’s. In my limited counseling education I had been introduced to autism, and Jonathan was a textbook case of this “disorder”. I knew I had to tell his father as it was becoming clear we would all be a family in the future. Let me just say, it doesn’t make for fun date night conversations – telling someone their son has Asperger’s. Fortunately for me, he believed me and took it quite well.
Testing and Diagnosis
Fast-forward about a year, and it was time to get Jonathan diagnosed. We all filled out paperwork about Jonathan, and he went to Waco Psychological for testing, and then results. I sat with his biological mom on a couch in the office of the psychologist who administered the assessment. She explained all of the aspects of his diagnosis and what that meant going forward. We were given some amazing resources (resources I will pass along today) and an honest explanation of our reality going forward. Jonathan would be just fine. His IQ was at the genius level. He would possibly continue in his pattern of rocking back and forth (which made me super jealous because by 16 that kid never worked out and had 6-pack abs), and we would need to teach him social intelligence on purpose and repeatedly. I know that is not everyone’s diagnosis. There are struggles for individuals all along the spectrum, and I know (as hard as it has been for us) it is also hard for others. More on Jonathan’s story later.
April is National Autism Awareness Month, and across the country people will be raising awareness and funding for a cause which is very near to my heart. Here are a few local and national events and resources as well as a link to an ADORABLE Autism Awareness tee from local creative mom CeCe Lively.
- The Asperkid’s (Secret) Book of Social Rules: Handbook of Not-So-Obvious Social Guidelines for Tweens and Teens with Asperger Syndrome. By Jennifer Cook O’Toole
- Freak, Geeks and Asperger Syndrome – Luke Jackson (written by 13-year old Luke who is diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome)
- The Autistic Brain – Temple Grandin (Autistic Author and Speaker)
- When my Worries Get Too Big! – Kari Dunn Buron (Children’s book for explaining Autism)
- Uniquely Human: A Different Way of Seeing Autism – Dr. Barry M. Prizant
- In A Different Key- Caren Zucker and John Donvan (History of Autism and Autism Advocacy)
- TED Talks – Homepage with search options
Resources: Autism Awareness Day/Month
- National and Local Walks and Fundraising – HOTAN (Heart of Texas Autism Network)
- Autism Awareness Tee from CeCe Lively
- Center for Children and Families
- Waco Psychological
- HOTAN Resources
- Central Texas Autism Center
A Little More of Our Story
Jonathan is excelling. He has joined the Air Force and taken those things he was most passionate about and turned them into a career. We spent the years between his diagnosis and leaving for basic training teaching him to walk again (with his head up and with a regular pace), to talk again (looking people in the eye, asking engaging questions, sharing openly and listening to others), and to interpret other people’s emotions from their words and behavior.
His freshman year we moved him from Midway ISD, which was amazing but large to Rapoport Academy, a local charter school. He went from having three friends to having more than 30 very quickly. Rapoport and the students there embraced Jonathan for exactly who he was which allowed him to develop even more. He was salutatorian, and in the week before he graduated high school he walked the stage at McLennan Community College having earned two associate degrees. We are so proud of our son. When I first met him I never would have imagined he would accomplish the things he has, and I believe his commitment to understand asperger’s right alongside us, to participate in the challenging social and emotional experiments we suggested, and to discover who he really wanted to be all led to his developmental success.
Autism has a spectrum. Our son is considered high-functioning, verbal. On the other end of the spectrum is low-functioning non-verbal. The spectrum exists because regardless of the level of function or ability to speak, autism is still the genetic reason behind an individual’s behavior. There is still so much more to learn about Autism and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): Why does it seen to affect boys and girls differently? Can it be caused by something in the environment? Will our grandkids have it?
This month, consider how you can help by learning something new about autism, donating to the research developments, sharing with others through social media about autism awareness, using the new resources provided, connecting with other parents of children on the spectrum, or participating in one of the many events taking place on a local and national level. Please share this post with anyone you know needing resources about autism. As always, please reach out if you ever need to talk!