by RI Editors
Today’s guest essay in our Peculiar Minds series is by Kathy Ward.
When Ryan was 2 he loved toy cars. We collected them from garage sales and thrift stores. He had maybe 30. He would spend hours lining them up, making sure they were even and that the line had a nice sinuous curve. That is all, he didn’t make vroom noises, crash them, or drive them in any way, just line them up. If you messed with the line he would lose it, screaming and crying until all was back to the way it was supposed to be.
We have spent the last 14 years trying to help Ryan understand how to deal with people messing with his lines. When he was seven we moved from Las Vegas, Nevada to a very small town in Utah. It was a traumatic moment for him. We tried to prepare him; we talked about it incessantly, stressing how wonderful everything would be in this new place. The day we left, I took him by the school so he could say goodbye to his friends. He gave a speech to his first grade classmates, bequeathing the lead of his gang over to another boy and encouraging the others to remember him and treat each other well. He could have been a CEO giving a retirement speech. He seemed to do well with the move until school started. He was disruptive, loud, got into fights, and was disrespectful and mean to the other children. I got to know the principal very well, very quickly. Both his teacher and principal suggested I get him evaluated when the state children’s clinic came to our town again in a few weeks.
Ryan was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a pervasive developmental disorder, that is on the upper end of the Autism spectrum. We had been suspicious of autism of some kind since before the cars, but living in Las Vegas, which had the second largest and fastest growing school district in the years we were there, made us unwilling to find out for sure. We did not want him labeled and pigeon-holed before he even had a chance. We worked with his teachers and explained his quirks and things went mostly OK. Until the move.
Children with Asperger’s hate change. Not like most of us, who are comfortable and don’t like our routines being messed with, they HATE it. Change means the world is not as it should be. Serious changes, like moving, destroy the universe and leave the child with a jigsaw puzzle of a life. Ryan was not disrespectful because he was playing power games. He did not start fights because he was a bully. He was trying to regain control and make everything follow the rules again. If the teacher missed a child committing some sort of offense, he caught it. If another child didn’t play the games right, he wanted to fix it. The misbehavior was his attempt to make everything fit into his mental mold of a proper life.
We learned about the other things (not symptoms, he was and is not ill) that go with Asperger’s. He gets obsessed with things: computer games, fish, military ranks, and order. He is very uncoordinated, with bad balance and a lack of proprioception (the sense of the relative position of parts of his body). He sees objects before people and wants people to behave rationally, like objects. He desperately wants to have friends and be surrounded by people who love him. He does this by talking loudly about the things that interest him and expressing his thoughts as soon as they pop into his mind. He relates well to adults and to children younger than himself, but has difficulty with his peers. He hates loud noises, comedy based on humiliation, and odd food textures. He is blindingly intelligent.
He has also learned that people, especially his siblings, are not objects and will not follow his internal script. He understands that he needs to choose the time and place to talk. He thinks about social cues and tries to work out what is the right thing to do.
We are blessed. Our firstborn has Asperger’s.
He has led our family to focus on how we treat each other. We talk openly about noticing others. We don’t take any social situation for granted. Everything is fair game to talk about and explore. We share how we feel so that others can understand us. We explain the whys and wherefores of decisions, because understanding is important. We discuss star formation and Percy Jackson at the dinner table.
Ryan’s little sister Ellie is in 5th grade. She struggles with peer interactions, understanding what others want of her. She has proprioception and sensory issues. She worries about everything and needs her world to be just so. She does not have a formal diagnosis, but we see who she is and worry. A girl with Asperger’s presents differently, progresses differently. But the blessings will still be there for us as well.
I am confident in my children’s futures. I wasn’t always. But I have seen the progress they have made. I have seen the blessings come to them and our family as a whole. The Asperger’s is a part of them and to take it away would make them less. They have amazing gifts of focus and insight that come from not being in the center. As they learn to use their gifts and overcome their weaknesses they become more and more incredible every day.
Kathy Ward runs a small circus in San Antonio, Texas. Her six acts alternate growing too quickly and perfecting new tricks. When not managing chaos Kathy reads several books at once, wanders aimlessly around the city and avoids housework. She also likes cross-stitch and naps. She blogs at www.alibraryforme.
The Entire Series
- Forum – Is Mental Illness a Latter Day Plague?
- Resources (research)
- Resources for Help with Mental Illness by Paul
- Understanding PTSD by Robin Grosland
- Anxiety Disorders, Including PTSD (research)
- The Diagnosis by anonymous
- Understanding Asperger’s by Kathy Ward
- Understanding Dementia by Cassandra Jones
- Different Issues for Children (research)
- Asperger’s and Autism (research)
- Simply Depression by Jendoop
- How to Help Someone Who is Depressed: an LDS perspective by Sarah Hancock
- Forum – Does Committing Suicide Consign Someone to Hell?
- The Well of Depression by Cheryl
- Panic, OCD, Grandma and Me by NotMolly
- Understanding Panic Disorder, Agoraphobia, and OCD by Robison Wells
- Free at Last by anonymous
- Forum – No One Wants to Hear They’re Wrong
- Understanding P0rnography Addiction by Dr. Kevin Skinner
- What is Real? Living Without Diagnosis by anonymous
- A Reader’s Story of Hope by anonymous
- Understanding Bipolar II Disorder by Tresa Edmunds (Reese Dixon)
- What is Bipolar Disorder? (research)
- Choosing Treatment through Revelation by Bonnie
- Overcoming Anxiety and Depression Without Medication by Aaron Anderson
- How Do We Embrace Those with Mental Illness by Jendoop
- What is Schizophrenia? (research)
- Understanding Schizophrenia by Judy Hall
- Understanding a Roommate with Schizophrenia by anonymous
- Understanding Borderline Personality Disorder by Melissa Horsley
- My Path Down the Rabbit Hole by anonymous
- Mental Illness FHE Lesson by Jendoop
- Healing by Michelle
LDS Writers Interview Series
All Time Favorite Essays
- Overcoming Anxiety and Depression without Medication
- Women Giving Blessings in the Early LDS Church
- I Am a Sheep
- How To Help Someone Who Is Depressed: An LDS Perspective
- Sex as a Sacrament
- Understanding Panic Disorder, Agoraphobia, and OCD
- Experimenting on the Word: One Chubby Lady Tests the Word of Wisdom
- Embracing Imperfection
- “Lord, I Believe…”
- Integrating Young Women into Relief Society
- Thoughts on Spiritual Poverty
- Understanding Panic Disorder, Agoraphobia, and OCD
- The Cause of Christians
- To Mormon Moms Dealing with Depression or Anxiety
- Greater Love Hath No Man than This
- What is Modesty?
- Learning to Be Okay With (and Maybe Love) Mother’s Day
- Separating Culture from Doctrine
- Gay Marriage and Proposition 8, Part 1