As with any diagnosis that affects your child’s day to day life, learning that your son has Asperger’s syndrome can be a challenging and emotional time. As the parent of someone with AS, you may have initial worries about what this could mean for his future, whether he might be limited in his job prospects and most importantly, how his new diagnosis may affect his overall happiness and quality of life.
So what can you do to help your 10 year old son with Asperger’s syndrome? First and foremost, children with AS deserve the same start in life as any other child, and their complex behavioral patterns need to be met with patience and understanding if they are to thrive. Reminding your son of his values can give him the courage to cope with his limitations, and it is up to you and healthcare professionals to provide him with these coping tools.
It’s natural to have many concerns as a parent, but help and support for children living with AS is more widely available than ever before and like other disorders on the autism spectrum, Asperger’s has been given greater awareness in recent years. Thankfully, this greater public awareness of Asperger’s has removed a lot of the stigma for sufferers, but progress still needs to be made to fully understand the disorder, especially when young children are affected. Keep reading to find out how you can support your son following an Asperger’s syndrome diagnosis.
Understanding Your Son’s Disorder
In this section, we’ll help you take the first steps towards becoming familiar with your son’s condition and how you can learn more about Asperger’s syndrome together – starting with how to tell your son about his AS.
How to talk to your son about his diagnosis
While it’s natural to want to shield our children from uncomfortable truths, your son has a right to know what his diagnosis means and what he can expect to experience from having AS, since it will have an impact on his school performance, his social behavior and his general mood throughout the day. Based on your son’s maturity level at 10 years old, it is up to you to judge what he may or may not grasp about his diagnosis – you may decide that some things can be explained when he’s older.
On some level, your son may have noticed that he feels different compared to his school friends or has observed different behavior in others in social situations, and this is something you could ask him to break the ice. If you are unsure about where to start or what approach to take when explaining your son’s diagnosis it can be helpful to bear the following steps in mind:
Make him feel at ease
Children with Asperger’s and similar conditions on the autism spectrum can easily feel overwhelmed in unfamiliar situations and this anxiety can mean they struggle to process new information. If you’re planning to sit down and chat with your son about his AS diagnosis, it’s crucial that he is in a calm mood and that you are in a familiar setting and won’t be disturbed i.e. at home. To make him super comfortable, it might also help to have another family member he feels close to be present when talking about his diagnosis. If that person is you, great! But if they feel equally close to a grandparent or older sibling, it can’t hurt to involve them when you tell him about AS.
Use metaphors to explain his symptoms
As smart as your 10 year old may be, using terms like “cognitive inflexibility” and “functioning difficulties” is never a good way to help him understand why his Asperger’s diagnosis makes him different. Using metaphors is a much better approach for explaining his symptoms, since it will benefit not only your son but your whole family – especially if your son has younger siblings who can’t understand why he behaves the way he does.
In an article for Autism Spectrum News, clinical psychologists Shuli Sandler (specializing in children with Asperger’s syndrome) and Michael Rosenthal (an expert in child neuropsychology) shared their top suggestions for metaphors that can help parents and families following an Asperger’s diagnosis:
- Instead of having “executive functioning difficulties”, your son could instead relate to “a huge pile of papers that have no folders to organize them”
- Instead of experiencing “emotional dysregulation”, your son can grasp that “his emotions and feelings are almost too big for his little body” so it can be hard to keep everything inside.
- Instead of suffering from “social deficits”, your son might feel like he “is in a foreign country and struggles to understand the language and cultural differences”
- Instead of having “cognitive inflexibility”, your son feels “like his brain gets stuck and he is sometimes unable to move past something”
Highlight his strengths (and weaknesses)
To ensure that your son does not feel cast aside from the ‘norm’ or somehow viewed as less capable than his peers as a result of his Asperger’s diagnosis, you can start by teaching your son that no-one else in the world is perfect! We each have things we are good and bad at, for example, “Daddy is great at cooking but he can’t draw very well”. 10 year old’s with Asperger’s and other autism spectrum disorders can have a reading age equivalent to a high school student, but may severely lack math ability – recognize your son’s strengths and hold these up beside his limits.
Give him space to process things
You’ll know how much this news has been to process as a parent, so it’s important to let your son take in everything you’ve said in his own time and in his own way. Every child will react differently to their diagnosis – some may have hundreds of questions and be curious, even fascinated, while others may respond more quietly and prefer to be alone to reflect on things. Don’t be discouraged if your child doesn’t react in the way you hoped them to. All you can do is give them space to approach you (and the subject of Asperger’s) in their own time.
The Biggest Misconceptions about Asperger’s
There is unfortunately much stigma still attached to Asperger’s syndrome and indeed most neurological disorders, and this can be damaging for families living with Asperger’s. Here are some of the main misconceptions about Asperger’s that you may find helpful to remember when faced with the difficulties of raising a child with AS…
Children with AS aren’t normal – Some people can ignorantly assume that children with Asperger’s are not normal because of the way they behave, but this is damaging and incorrect, since human behavior is too complex to label anything incontrovertibly ‘normal’. According to Child Mind Institute, there are even some experts in the field of Asperger’s and autistic disorders that don’t view Asperger’s as a disorder at all, but simply as a “unique way of viewing the world” and that this should be something to “be embraced rather than cured”.
They lack empathy – People assume that because people with AS struggle to read social cues and certain emotional situations that they are themselves not emotional or lack feeling, but this is dangerously untrue. According to Swiss research conducted by Henry and Kamila Markram on the subject of Asperger’s and empathy, people with AS are actually known to feel too much empathy along with every other emotion. It is because of their hypersensitivity to emotions and new experiences that they withdraw when feeling overwhelmed – leading people to assume they lack empathy.
They choose to be antisocial – Children with Asperger’s and other autistic disorders experience an internal struggle in social situations, particularly if they are presented with something new and unfamiliar. It can be overwhelming for them to initiate conversation and this is certainly not a choice. Children with AS want nothing more than to interact and make new friends, they just don’t know how. It’s only through the support of parents and teachers and the understanding of other children that kids like your son can gently break through barriers where socializing and daily communication is concerned.
Steps to Help Your Son Overcome His Daily Challenges
Right out of the gate, your son is not going to be extremely well-equipped to deal with all the emotions and behavioral traits that come with Asperger’s syndrome. Learning to live with AS will be an adjustment for your child and yourself, but if you give him the right tools and patience to practice, his confidence will noticeably grow – both academically and in social situations. Below are some of the main challenges faced by Asperger’s and how you can help your son tackle them head on…
Sharpening his social skills
As we’ve mentioned above, social situations can be one of the toughest aspects of Asperger’s for your son to overcome, but by helping him recognize certain social cues and body language, he will gradually become more relaxed and more himself in social situations. Ask him to try out a few conversation starters at school such as “What’s your name?” or “Can I sit here?”. This will give them a simple and memorable way to speak to new people – starting is always the hardest part!
Helping him become more self aware
Children with Asperger’s can feel emotions so intensely all the time that they are not always aware of where these feelings are coming from, let alone how they can begin to manage them or consider how they might affect other people. You can help your son have greater self awareness of his own emotions by recognizing what they mean and most importantly, that they will pass.
Try showing your son a picture and asking how it makes him feel. You can then ask him if there are times in life when he feels this same emotion. As you encourage him to get in touch with how he feels in certain situations, he will begin to understand what kinds of things trigger him more than others. Emotions can sometimes overflow into anxiety and cause children with AS to have meltdowns, but recognizing these for what they are and practicing ways to manage his anxiety can bring on greater self awareness and more regulated emotions.
Giving him structure and routine
If there’s one thing children with Asperger’s and Autism respond favorably to in life it’s a solid routine, as it provides them with a feeling of emotional safety and security to know what is ahead of them. Life will always throw up curve balls we weren’t predicting, but there are still areas in which parents can give their AS child structure and routine. Your son may find it easier to cope with a busy day, for example, if he can see a written schedule of his daily activities far in advance.
You could put a daily chart of activities in the kitchen or on your son’s bedroom wall that acts as a personal calendar for him. So if he has a dentist appointment after school, he can see this has already been added to the schedule. You could help your son feel more in control by involving his input in the daily or weekly family chart, e.g. what to have for dinner one night or the best day to go for a swim or go see a movie.
Improving his problem solving skills
Every child can benefit from learning problem solving skills, but in the case of children with Asperger’s, lessons in problem solving can provide the key to handling one of the most challenging aspects of their diagnosis – managing their emotions. To help your son identify problems in situations and work on finding solutions, experts encourage keeping young minds active with daily activities and logical thinking puzzles that test these skills.
You could, for instance, read a story together and ask your son to identify the problem afterward. You could talk about all the different ways of solving the problem (or let him write his thoughts down if he prefers) and discuss which approach would work best. As well as using stories and riddles to help your son flex his problem solving muscles, there are many great toys and games you could try that have been specially designed for children with Asperger’s and autistic disorders.
Let your son practice problem solving regularly and he will come to feel more confident about identifying problems in real life situations, and when he does, he’ll be able to respond calmly and rationally.