And What About Aspies? Counseling Gifted Children With Asperger’s Syndrome (Part I: Accepting The Situation)
In the last 30 years I have met a few dozens of children with Asperger’s syndrome – more than any “sub-group” of gifted children with any other Syndrome/disability/disorder/illness. Four of them were girls; all other – young or adolescent boys. The parents of these children set the counseling session with me, in most cases, because it was hard for them to accept that their gifted, talented and in some areas – high-intelligent child was an Aspie. They usually said: “Maybe you will be able to help my child. We are sure there has been some mistake during the diagnosing process or in understanding the findings. We just cannot believe that such a gifted child is autistic.” In all other cases the parents came to me hoping that I would be able to understand how gifted their son was, and then tell the school-counselor/psychologist/headmaster that there was no need to diagnose him. They wanted me to “help” the teachers to deal with the child, instruct them to “explain” the child’s peers that they “had” to be nicer to him “because he is so talented, he is different from everybody else”.
Unfortunately, this wishes were not realistic. There is no way to “persuade” children to accept anybody as a friend. The severe handicap of every Aspie is a visible characteristic that cannot be ignored. Furthermore: this disability becomes more noticeable with time, it is “in the way” of forming social connections even at a very young age, and it cannot be “cured”. When the Aspie is extremely talented the gap between his cognitive abilities, sometimes his actual achievements – in chess or math, for example, and his deficient social skills is already substantial at age 4. Thus, in addition to the difficulty of accepting the fact that one’s child is “on the spectrum”, a difficulty every parent finds hard to coop with, the parent of an extremely gifted child who is “on the spectrum” has to deal with what seems a huge contradiction between the child’s problematic behavior and his understanding and knowledge which might amaze all adults concerned – either in the family and friends circle or at school.
I have recently met a family with a 17-year old boy who was diagnosed as being “on the spectrum” more than a decade ago. In spite of the fact that the parents had a long time to get used to the fact that their son was not going to “heal” they never gave up, and the mother scheduled the meeting with me in order to know “whether there was no mistake” and her son had “some other problem” that was ignored. She still believed that there was such a mistake, and as a result, the intensive treatment he had been receiving during all these years “did not help”. I asked the mother to send me some of the young man’s work; she sent about 50 documents: school work in math, school records that showed his math achievements, papers he had written in a variety of subjects, etc. All of these documents were intended to “prove” that this young man was gifted “rather” than having Asperger’s syndrome. I felt very sorry for this mother; I was also quite angry with the diagnosticians/institutions/psychologists/counselors who did not understand that the first step after “saying the word” – and it does not really matter if the word “Autistic”, the “’more neutral” Asperger’s, or the evasive term “”on the spectrum” is used – was help the family to accept the bitter truth. This was not done for 10 years.
Right after the parents came into my office the mother said: “I have very good news to tell you”. I was wondering what could this be, and after the next two minutes came the answer. “Yesterday I made a phone call to one of my son’s peers and the friend came over and spent the whole afternoon with my son. Isn’t this a very good sign?” I looked at the mother’s face, turned my look at the father’s, who did understand the situation, and had to bite my lips in the effort of not saying: “don’t you understand? Don’t you know that you are 10 years behind the age when parents stop arranging the social life of their children?” Apparently, she failed to realize that the “proof” she gave in order to show that her son did not have Asperger’s Syndrome showed indeed the opposite.
Hanna David received her PhD, "magna cum laude", from Ludwig Maximilians Universität, München and was a college lecturer in Psychology and literature. Dr. Dav
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