The photo above is an old photo of Brandon. It was about grade 4 or 5, so he would have been nine or ten years old. See the way he holds his mouth. He is trying to smile because the school photographer thinks all the parents will want their kids smiling in the photos. Since this was taken we have requested that when the boys have their school photos taken that the photographer doesn't ask them to smile. This is a "pose." Brandon is the type of person who only smiles if there is something to smile about. Most of his photos do not include a smile. I guess he takes after me. I am not a smiler either.
Yesterday I posted about Asperger's Syndrome because April is International Autism Awareness Month. Some of my readers asked some questions and I would like to address them, plus let you all know some of the problems that children with Asperger's Syndrome face.
First, I will address the questions. Someone asked if we connected Brandon's Asperger's to his vaccinations. He was six years old before he was formally identified. When he was little, about two years old, he had a fixation with Hot Whe*el cars. He would line them up rigidly. The line of cars had to be perfectly aligned. If one was out of line or if we moved them, he would put them back and line them up perfectly once again. At the time, we thought this was cute. Little did we know it was a sign that something was wrong. In hindsight we connect his twelve month needle with his autism. It is the measles, mumps and rebella needle, aka MMR. Today it is sometimes referred to as the "autism needle."
Brandon had a lot of problems when he was young. He had trouble making friends at school and still does but to a lesser extent. I think this is because he hangs around with other boys who likes the same things as he does. It gives him something to discuss and they play together. He also had trouble reading body language, which is typical of children with Asperger's Syndrome. We used exaggerated facial expressions and body language to teach him. We would frown, pretend to be crying, exaggerate our smiles and fold our arms across our chest. Then we would ask him what it meant and explain why we were acting as we were. By doing this, we taught him to recognize body language and facial expressions. He has a good handle on this now.
People with Asperger's Syndrome often have trouble recognizing sarcasm and cliches. Brandon does recognize sarcasm now, but still sometimes has trouble with cliches. Sometimes I'll say something to him and he'll ask me what I mean. I explain in simple terms and then he "gets it."
Another thing that we taught Brandon was to ask when he didn't understand something. At one time if he didn't "get it," he would puzzle over it for days. Now he asks what it means and we explain in simple terms. He is learning every day.
In November 2005, Brandon went into a deep depression. He would cry all the time and missed a lot of days off school. He said he didn't know why he was crying and we couldn't figure it out. One day in late November, he and Jordan came over to go sledding right after a big snow storm. As we were walking across to the park, his eyes filled up with tears. I stopped while hubby and Jordan went ahead. I told him, "Brandon, you have to tell Grandma why you are so sad all the time." He looked me in the eye (another thing we had to teach him because people with Asperger's Syndrome avoid eye contact) and said, "I'm afraid you're going to die."
It felt like I'd been punched in the stomach. I asked him, "Why would you think that?" He said, "I heard you and Mom talking and know that you have cancer."
I had a small cancerous growth on the bridge of my nose and I guess he'd heard me and Michelle talking about me having to go to have it removed. I explained that this kind of cancer would not kill Grandma and that my brother had had it for fifteen years. I explained that once it was removed, I would have a little red spot on the bridge of my nose for a few days. Then that would be it. Brandon seemed content with that and though he didn't get over his depression overnight, he improved greatly.
When Brandon's depression hit, he began to hoard garbage. He would hide wrappers from food and anything else in his bedroom closet. He didn't want anything to go into the garbage. His parents and I worked with him constantly and though he still hides stuff once in a while, he is 95% better. He was diagnosed with a touch of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, which can go along with the Asperger's Syndrome.
Brandon has improved greatly in the last four years, thanks to an understanding Vice Principal who worked with him for two years. She made a big difference in Brandon's life and helped us to teach him lifeskills that he needed. Before she was a Vice Principal, she had been a Special Education teacher and she definitely knew her stuff.
There is so much to Asperger's Syndrome that I could write on it for days on end and still not tell you all that we have learned. I will be glad to answer any questions and try to share my knowledge and that of Michelle in order to bring more awareness to Asperger's Syndrome.
I want to thank everyone for their comments on yesterday's article and their interest in becoming more educated about autism, yet I don't want to bore you. I have been studying the subject for the last six years and still don't know a great deal about it. Asperger's Syndrome is a definite mystery and people who have it perceive things much differently than the average person. It is likened to a tapestry where the average person sees the entire thing. Those with Asperger's Syndrome see every thread. It is hard to imagine sometimes what Brandon is seeing, but I do ask him to explain it to me. The more he tells me about what he sees, the more I can try to understand. Thanks for following this to the end. It is all quite complicated. ~Blessings, Mary~