Living a normal life with Asperger's
December 12, 2008 | Alisa Jenkins knew something was
wrong when she saw her oldest son, then 6, lie down
in the middle of a soccer game, curl up, and begin to
cry. It wasn't that he was sick, or unable to play.
It seemed as though any type of activity that included
running made him upset.
There were other signs that something was different,
such as his difficulty in getting along with other children,
his raging tantrums, his inability to ride a bike and
communication. Jenkins took her son, Spencer, to the
doctor to be tested, where he was diagnosed with Asperger's
Spencer, now 8, still faces the minor challenges that
children with Asperger's syndrome usually have, but
he has a loving family and able teachers and counselors
who support him. He goes to the local public school
and takes special education classes, where he gets to
learn at his own pace, Jenkins said. He also sees a
child psychologist at school and has occupational and
speech therapy. At home, he gets along well with his
4-year-old sister and two younger brothers, although
he needs more attention than his siblings when the family
goes out, said Jenkins.
"He doesn't play well with other children. He likes
to play games by his rules," Jenkins said. "He'd rather
sit and dig a hole in the dirt than play with anyone."
Spencer also has a hard time carrying on a conversation
unless it's a subject he is interested in, and has a
hard time reading emotions. However, he loves to collect
things and is very intelligent and creative with his
hands. Once, when Spencer was 4, he took pieces of paper
from a magazine and created a mosaic dinosaur that was
8 feet long, Jenkins said.
Spencer's symptoms are common to most cases of children
with Asperger's, a mild form of autism.
"Autism is a spectrum disorder," said Thomas Higbee,
Ph.D., a professor in special education and rehabilitation
and a professor at Utah State University. "There is
a broad range. Usually autism centers around three main
characteristics: problems with communication, social
skills and behavior."
Depending on the severity of the case, behavioral
problems could include resistance to change, repetitive
motor actions, such as waving of the hands, or could
even be as serious as aggression or self-abuse, Higbee
said. Higbee, who is a director of the Autism Support
Services: Education, Research, and Training (ASSERT),
has worked with autistic people of all ages and said
special education programs and therapies are very beneficial
no matter how severe the symptoms.
The best way to help them learn is to figure out what
they are interested in and what their learning style
is, said Dr. Glenn Huff, a physician at Primary Care
"These kids typically have something they can relate
to, one or several things thing are very interested
in," Huff said. "If you can figure out what they relate
to, you can use it to your advantage."
Huff said as a physician, the goal is to make all
his patients feel comfortable and to help them have
a positive experience. However, this becomes a little
more of a challenge with patients who have autism.
"When I have a patient come in who is autistic, I
need to spend more time with them and make sure they
feel comfortable," Huff said. "I have to find out how
they learn and understand the environment. Sometimes,
they are very perceptive to touch and sound. They are
usually very anxious and uncomfortable when they come
in, but if you find something they are interested in,
it helps them."
For Spencer, that something was found when his mother
enrolled him in the local children's choir last summer.
Not only did he enjoy it, but he sang a small solo during
one of the songs.
"He loves singing," Jenkins said. "It's one thing
he doesn't fight against, and ever since he started,
his attitude has been better, his tantrums have decreased,
and his grades have improved. We are so glad we put
him in choir."