Parents guide to (possibly) Aspergers
May 15, 2012 3:22 PM   Subscribe

My nine-year old's teacher asked us to come in for a conference today and brought up the possibility that our son has Asperger syndrome. It's not really a surprise given his difficulties making friends and some of his behaviors, but I'm not sure what the next steps should be and could use any and all advice.
posted by saffry to Human Relations (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You should take your son to a psychiatrist who has experience diagnosing Autism-spectrum disorders (make sure they take the time to figure out if it's something else, like a learning disability or social anxiety: this is not a fast-and-easy diagnosis even for professionals.) The school district may have suggested providers, or there may be a well-regarded center in your area. My family members who were diagnosed with Autism got initial help from a center but they live in Canada, so I don't know how well their experience will translate for you.
posted by SMPA at 3:30 PM on May 15, 2012

I love teachers, I am a teacher ( just not currently in a classroom), unless she has an Ed psych degree, she doesn't need to be making a diagnosis. She spends a lot of time with your child and can advise you to seek professional advice but shouldn't raise the prospect of any kind of syndrome etc. YMMV but seek out an expert in the field. Best of luck.
posted by pearlybob at 3:32 PM on May 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

The first thing I would do would be to alert the principle of the school that he/she has a teacher that is pretending to be a doctor. I would then ask for a visit with the school counselor to get more information on how to proceed with helping the child.

My brother has symptoms of mild aspergers. It can be a challenging disorder. Even if your child doesn't have it, it sounds like you still need to work on socialization skills. Really take a close look at yours and your husband's parenting styles. Monitor diet- does your son engage more when he hasn't had sugar? Is he calmer when he has had a good night's sleep and hasn't watched much television?

My middle child was so terrified of people that, even as an infant, when moms that she saw every single day told her hi, she would start to scream. I found the few people that she liked and made sure that she saw them at least 4 times a week. One of them was our bank manager. He knew he was helping us and would run out of the bank to say hi if we didn't stop in. I eventually helped her grow her safe group and, last year, she went to camp on her own (age 8). She is now very friendly and does well, except for bouts of quiet. We discovered last year that she was nearly blind and that was why she was so afraid of everything. After $4000.00 worth of eye therapy, she sees almost normal. My point is, even without a proper diagnosis, it is possible to ease your child into society.

Find whatever holds your child's interest and helps him maintain calm and do as much of it as you can. Include other people in his favorite things as often as possible. Keep him on a schedule that allows him to be well rested and well fed at all times.

Best of luck to you.
posted by myselfasme at 3:54 PM on May 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Where are you? Services vary wildly from place to place.
posted by musofire at 3:54 PM on May 15, 2012

My third grade teacher adamantly insisted that I had a learning disability. Turns out that I was near sighted and just couldn't see the blackboard well enough to learn the material.

My point being to not to take the teacher's word for anything other than that your child isn't socializing the same way, or at the same rate, as other children. That is all she is qualified to speak for.

If it were me, I would take your child to a psychiatrist and mention the problems he's having, not including the teachers suspicions, and let them diagnose him.

Also, keep in mind that social awkwardness/nervousness may be just that. Your child is very young and may be a late-bloomer socially.
posted by Shouraku at 4:22 PM on May 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

Piggybacking on myselfasme's comment: my mother always says if my brother were a child nowadays (versus mid-eighties), he would have been diagnosed with a spectrum disorder. Savant-like puzzle solver that was completely in his own little world, no talking, minimally responsive. Took them until 4 to find out he was almost completely deaf. Many ear surgeries later, and he was a normal kid. Probably naturally on the introverted end of the spectrum, but has gone on to get a degree in computer science, a great job in which he is succeeding, and married a lovely woman. Imagine the damage of a wrong diagnosis, and proceed with caution.
posted by keasby at 4:22 PM on May 15, 2012

I'm going to assume that the teacher wasn't diagnosing him but as an adult that spends hours with him each day, felt compelled to tell you that she suspects something and that you should look into it.

1. Talk to your ped.
2. Find a psych with some austism expertise.
3. Relax.
posted by k8t at 4:38 PM on May 15, 2012 [14 favorites]

I have never been diagnosed with Asperger's but I had an extremely difficult time making friends as a child. It was so bad that I was suicidally depressed all through high school.

I taught myself how to read. I learned math and science very easily. But, learning social skills was a struggle for me.

I'm 51 now and have benefited a great deal from the training and development I've received from my high-tech employers. (I am an engineering manager). Probably the most helpful was NLP which broke human communication and interaction down into little bite-size pieces I could learn.

My point is not that your child has Asperger's or that NLP is the cure to everything, but more that maybe some kids have a hard time learning social skills and that perhaps some focused training can help them have a much happier childhood.
posted by elmay at 4:41 PM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nthing the above suggestions to get a good, comprehensive evaluation from someone who has experience in diagnosing autism spectrum disorders. This may be Aspergers and as several people have pointed out it could be something totally different, up to and including having a smart quirky kid. I work in the field, so may be able to point you to some resources local to you. Feel free to MeMail.
posted by goggie at 4:43 PM on May 15, 2012

Best answer: I am in a school setting an I am astonished by the animosity people are having toward this situation. The teacher spends a lot of time with this student. Their observations are in line with your own observations, OP. The teacher sounds like she cares about your son and that she wants to discuss different possible support systems. Treating her as the enemy and actually reporting her is not the way to go here.

My recommendation is to read up on Aspergers. I work with Aspies and can tell you a lot about them. They are really neat people who have a lot to offer the world and I am so glad whenever I have the chance to work with someone with Aspergers, especially young children.

Next, let your physician know that you'd like your son to see at least two specialists for a screening. This will give you more data to work with. Your son may be somewhere on the spectrum and he may just be having a hard time with making friends. Neither is damning, and neither is bad. To me, this is a good opportunity to sit down with a willing teacher that wants to help your son enjoy school as much as possible. Go at it from that angle. The teacher may be using the Aspergers term because that is what she has been told to use by other school staff calling this student support group meeting.

Treating a teacher like the enemy is definitely not the way to go.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 4:47 PM on May 15, 2012 [14 favorites]

Best answer: Yes to myselfasme's comment of alerting the principal. But, it might be easier in the long run for your kid, your kid's relationship with the teacher, and your own relationship with the teacher if you approach it calmly with the principal, instead of as an attack. It's the end of the year, and teachers are often encouraged this late in the year to keep mum about these types of concerns because there isn't time to evaluate the children before the end of the year. (Yes, it sucks and is unfair.)

It was, however, unprofessional and definitely outside of a general education teacher's scope of practice to mention such a specific, possible cause of the problem. (I'm in the school system, and we don't even diagnose Aspberger's--it's considered a medical term, and we would just say that the child fits the definition for a child with autism spectrum disorder.) The teacher could have described the concerns she has about your child (social issues, any sensory issues, etc.) but it's really wrong of her to mention the "A" word.

You, as a parent, have the RIGHT to request an evaluation for your child, at any time. You could even do this on the last day of school, if you pushed hard enough!! Typically, an initial meeting would be for the teacher and parent to explain their concerns. If Aspberger's is suspected, an Autism specialist, Educational Diagnostician, School Psychologist, and possibly a special education teacher would come together and determine if an evaluation is necessary.

Sometimes, a child can present with symptoms/concerns, but the school can say that it "isn't affecting them academically." Then, they could determine that an evaluation ISN'T necessary, even though there are concerns. This is where the teacher's words to you can come in handy and work in your favor. You can say, "On May 15th, 2012, at an after school conference, my son's teacher listed X, Y, Z concerns, and even explained that she suspects he may have Aspberger's syndrome." Then you can add a statement about your child's grades--if he is making any grades below a C, you can show that he is possibly being affected academically by his social/other possible needs. Or, if there are significant gaps in his highest and lowest subjects, you can use that to see if he needs testing for a possible learning disability in a certain area. Or, if he has difficulty participating in class or participating appropriately, you can use that information to support the need for an evaluation.

So, if you have concerns for your son, and you would like him evaluated through the school system, it's in your best interest to document what his teacher said, and to document concerns you have had throughout the year/in the past years. If your son has made comments about it being hard to make friends, or feeling different, or being emotionally vulnerable, those types of things are good to document as well to support an evaluation.

In my district, this first meeting would be called a "Child Study" meeting, where concerns are brought to the table. If an evaluation is determined to be necessary by the team, the team has 65 days to complete the testing, which may include academic testing, a review of the child's progress, a social history interview with parents/caregivers, and/or rating scales to examine behaviors in the classroom and/or at home. Within 65 days, the team would need to come back to discuss the results, and determine if your child is eligible for any special education services. This meeting in my district is called an "Eligibility meeting."

Please memail me if you think I can help, or if you just need help understanding the process, or if your principal tries to blow you off without the team meeting and tries to get you to wait until next year if you are really concerned and would worry about it over the summer.

Best of luck to you and your son!
posted by shortyJBot at 4:57 PM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Additionally, I just wanted to add that a diagnosis of Aspergers may not necessitate an IEP, particularly if your son does not have any academic issues. Instead, social counseling and extra support can come through a 504 plan, which many of my students use to great effect. Ultimately you need to do what's best for you and your son; I disagree that a diagnosis of Aspergers is a "wrong" diagnosis that can lead to unhappiness and a limited future, but you are the parent, and you will know what's best. And if you change your mind, you can get an advocate and approach your son's teachers in 5th grade. You are in control here. Nothing is set in stone. Nothing is negative unless you let it be.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 6:29 PM on May 15, 2012

The first thing I would do would be to alert the principle of the school that he/she has a teacher that is pretending to be a doctor

Holy Moses, people, let's all take a deep breath. I think we can assume that the teacher was not presenting themselves as a doctor, and that even if they shouldn't have been suggesting a specific condition, from the sounds of the OP, the teacher didn't present it in a 100-percent-sure-this-is-what-it-is-kind of way.

My advice is to start by talking to your school's councillor. They likely have very good resources to determine learning difficulties and social issues. If your school doesn't have these resources or doesn't have a full time councillor, the school district definitely does and you can arrange a meeting.

If you decide to go through your doctor, I would advise you to still talk to your school's councillor or learning support team. They can put resources in place to assist your son right away. Even small accommodations, like more time to write tests, print outs of notes or discussions, etc, can help a lot. I have students who listen to an audio version of tests on their ipods, and you would be amazed at the difference in their performance simply because I am accommodating for reading difficulties.
posted by Nightman at 6:38 PM on May 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

Please take your child to someone who is practiced in these kinds of diagnoses rather than simply a teacher. If Asperger's and autism had been the buzzwords fifteen years ago that they are now my older brother and I would undoubtably have been diagnosed by all sorts of armchair-psychs. In reality we were just cripplingly insecure and socially awkward and were tremendously weird, awkward children as a result. Getting older and making friends with other nerdy, socially awkard kids really sorted us out. Not all weirdness and unpopularity has a syndrome at its heart.
posted by Anonymous at 8:45 PM on May 15, 2012

Suggesting a talk/visit with a developmental pediatrician.
posted by kuanes at 4:00 AM on May 16, 2012

Start with the developmental pediatrician to rule out all the non-neurological possibilities for your child's behavior. Then expand your search from there, based on the ped's evaluation and the teacher's input.

Don't *start* with a psych specializing in Autism until you've ruled out the other causes (however improbable they may seem to you). Start by looking for horses, not zebras.
posted by canine epigram at 6:09 AM on May 16, 2012

I know this sounds off the wall, but look up the GAPS diet by Natasha Campbell McBride. It does wonders for a lot of kids with autism issues.
posted by Neekee at 6:55 AM on May 16, 2012

Response by poster: I kept my question vague on purpose to start, but I do want to follow-up on some of these answers.

It seems a Developmental Ped would be a great option for getting a proper diagnosis, or a non-diagnosis, but I believe the nearest to me would be 3 hours away. Should I still look there first for an initial screening?

Or go to a local Psychologist who may not have the expertise with children?

Or just proceed with a team from school. Drawbacks would be that his schoolwork is not suffering at this time, it's his social skills that are troublesome, so I don't think we'd be looking at an EIP. But I like that they have more opportunities to see him interact with other kids.

We're in a relavtively small school district in rural, northern New York. I think it is a great school, but with only about 100 kids per grade level, so it isn't going to have the services and experience of big city systems. The teacher had set-up the meeting primarily to discuss his handwriting, which is still atrocious after a year of OT, and to work on a 504 to get him exempt from having to continue learning cursive. As far as her bringing up the Aspergers, it was actually my husband there with her, so I'm not sure of how the conversation went. But I am glad she kicked us into gear to deal with problems we've been concerned about, and filled us in on some problems with his social interactions that we didn't know about.
posted by saffry at 7:17 AM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: saffy, I'm in a similar enviornment in a different country, my son is diagnosed mild-to-moderate Aspie and one of the key things in his happiness is the size of the school. There probably would be better facilities in the state system but all the advice we've received so far suggests that in a bigger school he would 1. be streamed/identified as a problem child with all the implications vis-a-vis peer groups and 2 he will identify with his peer groups and some of those will be trouble makers, streamed to lower performing classes because they have behavioral rather than developmental issues.
However you feel about that, or whether or not it is even applicable in your system, we observed it to be true.

Handwriting was a huge issue and was very frustrating to deal with because he simply writes much more slowly than other children, forms his letter's badly by comparison and since he was vocabulary-wise at age 18 (tested at 9yrs) the frustrations in not being able to write his answers to tests was awful. We pay a huge amount in the private system here so that the school will let him take more time over test answers, or verbally answer certain questions either taping his response, video-taping his response etc.,

I'm still really struggling to get good advice as the systems are mostly set up for the more severe children with ASD (and that's how it should be) and as each child is a Tapestry and has both strengths and areas needing development and help, so once you get your diagnosis (and I would definitely ask a paediatrician with a special interest to do the initial work-up)

Maybe we can set up a mini Mefite mild aspie support group! if that turns out to be the issue :)
posted by Wilder at 9:30 AM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Speaking as someone who wasn't diagnosed until much, much later, I would have given a lot to have had a teacher who was concerned about me in school. I do agree that the diagnosis would be best done by a professional, and there are certainly ways to get the school to foot the bill (with your permission).
posted by Wuggie Norple at 12:34 PM on May 16, 2012

I've just discovered (after my husband's formal diagnosis) that I should be talking about ASC, conditions, rather than ASD disorders. .
posted by Wilder at 5:55 AM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I really wish I hadn't posted this question so soon, because it was actually my husband who told the teacher he thought it was Aspergers, not the other way around. Could have saved us all a derail on this topic.

We met with the teacher, principal and school psychologist on Thursday. We going to do the paperwork to request a formal evaluation as soon as my son remembers to bring it home. There are still 4 weeks of school here, so we're hoping the psychologist will have enough time to do classroom evaluation before the end of the year. Still not sure if we should also see a Behavioral Pediatrician.
posted by saffry at 2:00 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

« Older What can I say in response to purposefully dense...   |   No one ever said tests were fun, but... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.