Kids with Asperger's are often, not always, very bright. In respect to their area of special interest, their encyclopedic knowledge may make them appear to function at the genius level. This will present some problems for you as a Dad (or Mom). Problem you say? Who doesn't want a genius in the family? Let me share with you some of what I know and have experienced.

Gifted children share some traits in common with Aspie's. Gifted kids often have special interest areas. They are bright and usually verbally gifted, like Aspie kids. Your Asperger's kid will probably spend some time in gifted classes and probably do pretty well there most of the time. However, there are big differences between gifted and Asperger's kids. Your Aspie, is missing the social aptitude and empathy that the other kids have. He misses the social clues so obvious to everyone else. Asperger kids often have very concrete forms of thinking. Abstract thinking and writing will be much more difficult. Your child who is a genius in math class or history, becomes a mere mortal in English class. Imagine reading those great classics in middle school, Dickens for example, while having little natural empathy. The Asperger's kid does not understand the child in the desk next to him and now we expect him to understand why some guy wants to kill a white whale?

Perhaps the biggest problem will lie with teachers (friends and family also) who see only the intelligence. When your child has a meltdown at school over something which seems inconsequential to everyone else, they will want to know why such a smart kid is behaving so poorly. If your 10 year old can read Hawking and understand it, why can't he behave? Why doesn't he understand our rules? The teachers will often then assume that this must be willful bad behavior. In fact, most of the time it will be the Asperger child having trouble with anxiety over a new situation or failing to understand some interaction.

One tactic I have used with teachers, is to explain the manner in which my son is different. What are the universal commonalities amongst teens and pre-teens? Music and friends have to be at the top of the list. I pointed out to teachers that my son had no interest in music and essentially no friends his age. I point out that he is emotionally handicapped compared with the other kids. Most teachers really get this approach. Teachers like having bright kids in class, so once you give them the key to understanding your child, most will respond very positively. Many will become good allies. I have found the people least likely to accept this stuff about Aspie's, is actually family. That is where you are most likely to get the bad parents stuff, or, that kid just needs more discipline, after all, he's smart enough.

Your experience with your Asperger's child will make it clear how important communications and empathy are for all of your children. After the Bell Curve was written, people seized upon IQ as the major determinant in people's success. Economists like Heckman have shown that other qualities are just as important. Self-discipline, motivation and empathy (again) matter a lot. We all should know this from our day to day life anyway. How many of us think our boss is the smartest guy? Think of all the really successful people we know. How many got there just because they were smart? I have told many of my medical students that it does not matter how smart you are, if you cannot communicate well enough with your patients to get them to follow your advice.

This "curse" of intelligence is obviously not all bad. Your Aspie kid can use his/her brights to learn the rules of social interaction. That prodigious memory can be used to store away the meaning of those social cues. Have hope. It will just take a while. While they are getting there, enjoy talking with your kid. You never know where a chat with an Aspie will go.

Steve




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