Why it was Time to Tell Our 7 Year-Old about Asperger’s

Yesterday, I received a phone call from the principal at my kids’ school.  My son made a really bad choice at recess, and it landed him in heap of trouble.  He regretted it, but it didn’t take it back, nonetheless.  My first reaction was anger: How could he do that? The anger quickly turned into frustration, worry, and finally empathy.

“The kids call me weird.”  “I don’t have any friends.”  “Why don’t they like me?”  “When will I make a friend at school?”  “Being around the other kids can be so hard!”

Those phrases, that my son has said over and over the past two years, floated around in my head.  I imagined my son, playing at recess, wanting to follow the rules of a schoolyard game.  I imagined the unfair calls, his arguing with the boys, the possible look of glee on the other boys’ faces when they saw that they were a team against my son.  I imagined the loneliness that my son felt in that moment when in the heat of passion he struck out against the boys, which is something he has NEVER done before.  I imagined his immediate regret and the feeling of dread as he walked inside to face the consequences of his bad choice.

I am not condoning misbehavior, or saying my son was right at doing what he did.  Scott and I like peace. We like calm.  We like clear heads.  However, in the middle of the busy playground, where McCartney was overwhelmed, I wanted to understand what would bring him to a place he has never gone before.

As the principal and I talked, I got emotional, I cried.  I tried to explain my son and his history.  I emphasized that this year has to be good, or our family is going to make some serious changes.  I tried to make a professional understand my child and who he is.  I also stated my concerns about his well-being and how he feels at school.  At one point, she didn’t want to hear excuses.  I didn’t care.  “I am not making excuses for my child.  I am explaining him to you and telling you things that I told the principal before.  I am hoping you will hear me,” I replied.

Upon picking up my kids, I had a tough job on my shoulders: I had to discuss this with my son, trying to emphasize that we are not happy with him, while also making sure he understands that he is not alone.  How does one support and discipline at the same time?  It’s not as easy as it sounds.  Oh, it doesn’t sound easy, well it’s even harder than it sounds too.

First, I hugged him and said, “We need to talk.”  I asked for his side of the story.  He told me, his head bowed.  We discussed it and wrote out what else he could have done and how would those things change the outcome of his day?  Second, I asked for his advice on how we should deal with this at home?  He threw the book at himself and came up with consequences far worse than Scott or I would have decided.  Finally, I hugged him again, and told him that I am worried.  I also let him know that I am here for him, I understand, and I am going to do everything I can to help him.  That’s when the tears fell down both of our cheeks and the emotions came out.

Of course, we had scheduled a community service project for an hour after school got out.  People were counting on us, and we showed up.  He served his community with a selfless heart and asked to do it again next week.  He is not a bad person.  He is smart and caring and compassionate, although he does not understand people the way other 7 year-olds do.

Later, Scott and I knew it was time.  Time to tell him that he is NOT weird.  Time to explain to him how amazing his brain is.  We told him, “Did you know there are other people like you that have a hard time understanding social skills?”

No one is like me,” he replied.

“Yes, there are people who have a hard time being with other people and knowing the right thing to say.  They are called people with Asperger’s.  You might have heart the word autism before.  You have Asperger’s.”

“There’s a name for people like me?”  For a second he smiled.  It was time to tell him, that yes, there is a name and that name is NOT weird.

17 thoughts on “Why it was Time to Tell Our 7 Year-Old about Asperger’s

  1. Courtney, this is so powerful. Congratulations to you for finding the right words and the right time to educate your son about Asperger’s. Thanks for being brave enough to write about it.

  2. Pingback: Getting Ready for the IEP | Our Small Moments

  3. All strength to you Courtney and to your beautiful family. It must have taken so much power and patience for you to make your amazing son feel welcome in a world that has very little tolerance for that which it does not understand. You are an amazing mom and I am so glad to hear he smiled knowing he is not alone and that he is special and wonderful.

  4. We told our son that he had Asperger’s while in line for It’s a Small World at Disney. No, this was not what we had planned. We had ordered a book prior to vacation that would instruct us how to tell our son that he had Asperger’s. It had not yet arrived, but even if it had I doubt it would have said, “Wait until the child is trapped in a really long line of strangers and then spring it on them for all to hear.” It would be too long of a story to explain why and how this happened, and that wouldn’t be the point anyways. I had been afraid of how my son would receive the news. Would he use it as a crutch? An excuse to not live up to his potential? Would he see himself as less than, damaged, the way so many in society viewed him? None of my fears were realized. Instead I found what you found, etched across my son’s face: relief. There was a reason for his struggles. It had a name. He wasn’t defective. He wasn’t weird. He had Asperger’s. It gave him power, (because, of course, for the Aspie, knowledge IS power).
    Today Nate is 17 years old, a junior in high school. Last year he was voted on to the homecoming court. Yay for the success of social stories and rule bound behavior! 😉 He has a GPA of 4.26. He takes 4 AP classes. And yes, he is happy, and yes, he fully identifies himself within the autism community and is proud of it, and also a fierce defender. Just last week a kid turned to him in class, after a child with more profound autism left the room, and said, “Did you see that retard?” Nate looked at him and said, “He’s not retarded. He has autism.” “Same thing. Those kids are weird,” the other kid said. “No, not the same thing, and we are not weird,” Nate explained. The kid looked a bit perplexed. Did Nate just say, “we”? “I have a form of autism called Asperger’s. We are not weird. We may not be exactly like you, but I like it that way. I think we’re better.” The kid shut up. Nate isn’t afraid of people knowing he has Asperger’s, and I think, in part, it was imperative that we give him the knowledge we did. Kudos to you for empowering your son. I wish you the best as you travel this road.

    • Oh, a happy story about an older Aspie! Stories like yours make me hopeful that the struggles we are dealing with now will be blips in the long, happy road ahead. Thank you!

  5. Wow, I have a 7yr old aspie and had that talk with him. It is heartbreaking to wonder how they handle recess, my son was bullied last yr and never hit back. However it has been a blessing in disguise. His dad (who was his best friend) died in June and my son has dealt with it amazingly. He understands that dad was sick. Yes, raiding an aspire is hard because often people are ignorant of it and do not know how to treat them without making them feel weird. Great job on this.

    • Wow! I commend you for your strength. Yes, we find dealing with an individual disability to be tough. I have to say, we try so hard to find the positives of Asperger’s. Take care, I hope for the best for you and your son.

  6. Okay. Wow. I haven’t had this talk with my son yet. He is 12, developmentally delayed due to bio mom’s medication, and he is on the Autism spectrum. PDD-NOS is his diagnosis. He doesn’t know. He doesn’t even realize that he is different… yet. His delays have thus far caused it not to trouble him, but I know that it will. He knows he struggles with things but as of yet doesn’t understand the why part. I’m really not looking forward to that/those conversations. I think you did well!

    • Thank you so much! I think it’s a blessing he doesn’t know he is different yet. Once you do have the conversation with him, remember, there is no wrong way to do it. Thanks for reading my thoughts.

  7. I have a 16 year old with Aspergers. Good for you explaining your son to the principal, I find doing this at the beginning of each year to be very helpful. I even have a brief article about Asperger’s that I provide any teacher or school employee that interacts with him. I didnt put him on an IEP for several years (long story) but I finally opted to do a 504 plan and would recommend any parent with a child on the spectrum do one or the other. Please continue to advocate for your son as he will often be misunderstood and will have difficulty advocating for himself.

    • That is a great idea! Next week, I am going to help talk to the class about what Asperger’s means in McCartney’s world. I will write it down and save it to give to his teachers. I appreciate the idea and your comment. I agree with you, I think a plan is necessary and I say that as both a parent and educator. Because as typical as they can be, it’s good to have a plan in place in case there is a struggle. Thank you for insight

  8. I’m sure he feels better knowing why he may feel out of place at school. I pray that he finds someone he can relate to at school as school can be a lonely place. He is a special little boy!

    • Thank you so much! I always think about how hard school was for me and I am a social being. I pray that he can find his place while we live in Fremont. I know he will be stronger because of his struggles, it’s just painful to watch them.

  9. Reblogged this on Our Small Autism Moments and commented:

    Somedays we get reminded that, yes, our son has Asperger’s. This is our story. We finally told our son about Asperger’s and how that relates to him. I am glad no one ever told me parenting was easy, because it certainly is NOT!

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