Autism/asperger's?

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Question
I guess it's a little late to be asking this question. It's about my son who is now 31. I just want to try to understand how we can best 'connect' with him, if possible.

Our son was a great kid, bright and curious and affectionate up until about third grade. Then, by degrees he became more remote and hard to communicate with. He seemed to have trouble putting his needs into words. He would often walk with what we called a robot walk-- arms bent at the elbow in front of him and hands sort of limp.

He's always been very smart, but also very disinclined to vigorous exercise. He only turned over as a baby at age six months. But his school test scores came in a the very top end. While we were on sabbatical in Europe, I home-schooled him, concentrating only on math and reading while we traveled all over. He would be in a dream world with the small amount of desk work he did, and I would constantly have to get him back on task.

We came back to the US in fourth grade, and the dreaminess continued. He would fiddle with bits of paper at his desk and not do his homework. Grades began a long slide all the way through high school, but he did get accepted to college. But he dropped out after 2 years.

He's never been good at expressing deep feelings and cannot seem to express appreciation for gifts and things others do for him, which is frustrating for relatives. He's difficult to talk to, although he has begun to express himself better. Now he says that college simply frustrated him; too much pointless work given by bad professors.

My husband is a professor. I am an artist. We've been firm with our standards but I do not think ever cruel. These days we always tell him we love him when we talk, but it is still difficult to get him to talk. We ask all the questions, and he answers them willingly enough and without hostility.

We will be visiting him over the holidays-- he lives far away, and is married to a good and apparently patient gal, and has a decent job in writing software (having completed his degree after a year or so off). We do not want to unduly interfere with his world, but would love to know what might be the best way to connect with him.

Does this sound like Aspberger's to you? Can you make suggestions as to how we might improve our communication?

Answer
Hello Eleanor.

No, it is not too late. When adults receive a diagnosis, it can help the individual understand himself and for his family to understand more about the ways in which he responds to the world.

When your son was a child, there was not a lot known about the higher functioning end of the autism spectrum, so the odds of him being diagnosed then would have been slim. You do not need to worry that you missed something back then. In fact, you should be proud of the way you and your husband raised your son. He is doing well now. Even though people with Asperger's have intelligence levels in the average to above average range, far too many are unable to function independently as adults. Your son completed college, holds down a relevant job and is in a solid relationship. A lot of those positive outcomes likely are due to the guidance and support he received from his parents.

If your son was interested in the possibility of a diagnosis, he would not receive the label of Asperger's. The Diagnostic & Statistical Disorder of Mental Disorders is used most commonly in North America for diagnostic purposes. Currently, the 5th edition is in use. Prior to May, 2013, the 4th edition was used. In the 4th edition, Asperger's was a category. There was controversy and difficulty within the various labels under the autism umbrella, so in the 5th edition, the label is just autism, but with levels one through three. Typically, people who would previously have received the Asperger's designation would now be classes as level one autism.

Here are the diagnostic criteria for receiving a diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder: http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/hcp-dsm.html.

Autism is described as a "spectrum disorder" because of the wide range of abilities and severity. About half of individuals with autism also have an intellectual disability from profound to mild. Some people on the spectrum as so affected by the symptoms that they influence every aspect of their daily life; others are more mildly affected and able to function more independently and comfortably.

In the general population, the range of "normal" or typical is actually slim. Most of us are a little quirky and have strengths and weaknesses not always clustered around the norm. The boundaries get hazy though when you get to the outer edges of quirky. Just how quirky should you be before it's worth looking into the possibility of a label or disorder? Generally, when the characteristics interfere with you life it's worth considering investigating further. It's not that this investigation or a label will make these differences go away, but that once they are understood it is easier for others to get a feel for that individual's perspective and to help the individual learn strategies that will make it easier for him to navigate through life.

Some of the things you describe could possibly be related to autism:
- difficulty putting things into words
- difficulty controlling his attention
- difficulty with conversational skills (he may not be aware of the expectations of the other person and the unspoken nuances of conversation)
- frustrations with non-relevant college work (or non-relevant from his perspective)
- some mild developmental delays in the gross motor areas

But, with autism, the characteristics do not suddenly appear in later childhood. This is a lifelong condition. But sometimes, especially with bright kids, only children or first children, the more subtle signs are not noticed until the child enters school. In school, he'd have to rub shoulders with other kids, follow someone else's agenda, etc. Around third grade, some of the focus shifts from rote questions such as who did what, when... to more introspective avenues, such as character motivation, predicting what might happen if, drawing conclusions that infer some insight into the minds of others. These are all weaker areas for people on the autism spectrum.

Also, most people with autism spectrum disorders experience some degree of sensory sensitivities.

Whether or not your son ever decides to pursue a possible diagnosis, it might help if you understood more about how autism might affect a person. If you enjoy reading, here are a few suggestions. While there is a plethora of books written on the subject, my preference are books written by articulate adults who have autism where they talk about what it's like and the strategies that have helped them.

Jerry Newport is a man with Asperger's who has written an excellent book: http://www.amazon.com/Your-Life-Not-Label-Professionals-ebook/dp/B00TZN9NEM/ref=.

Likely the most famous person with autism is Dr. Temple Grandin. A few years ago HBO made a movie about her: https://www.amazon.com/Temple-Grandin-Claire-Danes/dp/B007Q35PLI/ref=sr_1_1/ref=sr_1_1?_encoding=UTF8&keywords=temple%20grandin&qid=1447259141&s=movies-tv&sr=1-1.

Temple also has a number of books: https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=temple+grandin.

You might want to think back to when your son was a teenager. Luke Jackson wrote this book when he was 13; he has a diagnosis of Asperger's: http://www.amazon.com/Freaks-Geeks-Asperger-Syndrome-Adolescence/dp/1843100983/r.

And, if you'd like to think back to his earlier years, I wrote a book about a five year old and the struggles/strategies at home and at school: http://www.amazon.com/Autism-Goes-School-Book-Daze-ebook/dp/B0085HN9HQ/ref=sr_1_.

Autism Speaks is an organization with branches all over. Since I don't know where you or your son reside, this website might be a place to research who might diagnosis adults in your city: https://www.autismspeaks.org/audience/adults.

Your son is lucky to have you as parents.

Best wishes,  

Autism

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Dr. Sharon A. Mitchell

Expertise

Sharon can help with parenting and educational concerns. She has worked in teaching, special education, counseling and consulting for over thirty years and gives workshops to educators and parents on working with kids with autism spectrum disorders. Sharon speaks from both the education and parent points of view, having an adult son with Asperger's.

Experience

Sharon has spent decades as a special education consultant with a school district and autism consult for the province's Department of Education, giving workshops and individual consults. Currently she works as regional autism consultant for a health district in between teaching university classes. She is an Amazon bestselling author or a series of novels, each depicting a child who has an autism spectrum disorder. Sharon's Master's thesis looked at the long-term outlook for persons with high functioning autism and Asperger's. Her Doctorate focused on strategies to help those with autism spectrum disorders.

Organizations
Website at http://www.drsharonmitchell.org and sits on Autism Today's Panel of Experts (www.autismtoday.com)

Publications
Author of "Autism Goes to School" - a novel about autism that that became an Amazon bestseller. Get this Amazon bestseller free at http://www.drsharonmitchell.org. In the next book, Autism Runs Away, Ethan is only in grade one and already has been kicked out of one school due to his tantrums and pattern of running away when in a panic. Now in a new school his mom remains glued to her phone, waiting for the call to tell her that they don’t know what to do with a child who has autism. Sara is about to learn if this new school is up to the challenge. (https://www.amazon.ca/Autism-Runs-Away-Book-School-ebook/dp/B01FCYQ7DC). Autism Belongs is the 3rd book. Manny's life has shrank to the confines of their house. His parents are desperate not to rock his world because the aggression has gotten to much worse. Where will this lead? Is there a chance that Manny could actually belong out in the world? You bet! Get a free sample at https://www.amazon.com/Autism-Belongs-School-Daze-Book-ebook/dp/B0184ZQMI6. Book four, Autism Talks and Talks, is about a 12 year old girl who has Asperger's. She's bright, inquisitive, highly verbal, but lacks social skills. Try a free sample at https://www.amazon.ca/Autism-Talks-Book-School-Daze-ebook/dp/B01IIUZH3S Book five, Autism Grows Up features Suzie, a bright, twenty-one year old whose life collapsed after she finished high school. Now, she lives in her mother's basement, spending nights on her computer, afraid to broach the world outside their door. Autism Grows Up is found at https://www.amazon.com/Autism-Grows-School-Daze-Book-ebook/dp/B01JB8QW3U. Prefer a boxed set? Get the first 3 books bundled together at https://www.amazon.com/Autism-Box-Set-School-Books-ebook/dp/B01KBEHJ08. Co-author of Amazon.com bestseller, The Official Autism 101 Manual (http://autism101manual.com/).

Education/Credentials
B.A. in Psychology, B.Ed. in Special Education, M.A. in Educational Leadership PhD. in Psychology Management, specializing in autism.

Awards and Honors
B.R.A.G. Medallion for the novel Autism Goes to School - Book 1 in the School Daze Series. (http://www.bragmedallion.com/medallion-honorees/2013/school-daze-autism-goes-to-school). Like Autism Goes to School, the third book in the series, Autism Belongs, also ranked #1 on Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Autism-Belongs-School-Daze-Book-ebook/dp/B0184ZQMI6). Manny is not like other children. He doesn’t talk. He doesn’t leave the house. His parents desperately try to arrange their world so that Manny does not get upset. Because, when he does, well, the aggression was getting worse. At ten, Manny was becoming difficult to handle.

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