MY DAUGHTER & ASPERGER SYNDROME (ASD)
Life with a child inflicted with Asperger Syndrome disorder (ASD) is like a roller coaster ride. When my daughter was still a baby, she threw so many tantrums that lasted for hours. We even videotaped one of her crying/screaming spells and I jokingly told my husband, “let’s show this to her when she’s grown and tell her this is the reason why she’s the only child,” never realizing the truth in those words. I remember my husband saying, “This is not normal.” Additionally, she woke us up many times during the wee hours of the morning (more than usual based on other parents recount of their babies’ early morning episode), which lasted ‘til she’s 5 years old. Other than that, we thought our daughter is just like other babies.
Born and raised in the Philippines, I wasn’t aware of any mental disorders other than the severe types like schizophrenia, paranoia, delusions, and other psychosis. ADHD, ASD, PDD, Bipolar Disorder, Autism, and Dyslexia were all Greek to me. And since my daughter looks normal and speaks normal, we didn’t think she has any type of mental disorder. Although we noticed she’s quite immature, we just thought it’s to our advantage for her not to grow up too fast so she’ll stay with us longer. Can you blame us for wanting to be with our child for as long as we can? After all, she’s our only child.
My daughter showed early propensity for math. Although her grammar was horrible when she’s very young, we didn’t think of it as abnormal since her reading skill was fairly advanced. It’s only when we found out she has ASD that we realized why. ASD is a neurological disorder and it affects the sufferer’s communication skill to a certain degree. Their brain circuitry is wired differently that’s why it’s hard for them to translate their thoughts into words. It was hard for us to carry lengthy conversation with our daughter, but she eventually improved when she reached college. All of a sudden, I noticed there’s nothing to edit on her essay. I gave her a gold star, meaning – I praised her generously for her progress. Lately, she’s the one correcting my grammar. I can’t believe it would ever happen - the way I used to dissect her essays.
When our daughter was in elementary school, we decided to let her take an advanced science class to challenge her academic skill. That’s when we realized there’s something wrong with her. How can you not after receiving a conference request from her advanced science teacher. We were told that our daughter wasn’t listening during class lecture, refused to switch seating arrangement, her grammar was awful (so was her handwriting), she played by herself during recess, and worst - the teacher wanted her out of the advanced class. I was furious with that teacher. More so, she didn’t show any sign of sympathy. My protective nature wanted to shield my daughter from this cruel world, but I know we had to do something to fix the problem, and smacking the teacher is not one of them. I took her to her pediatrician, and I was given a set of questionnaires about our daughter’s behavior to be answered by the teachers and me and my husband. The doctor’s conclusion was: Our daughter has ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). Her ASD remained undiagnosed until she turned 21. Why?
After a heated argument with the medical assistant of my daughter’s psychiatrist regarding scheduling miscommunication and repeated irrational charges, I decided to look for another doctor with my husband’s approval. I went with my daughter on her first session with this new doctor. 10 minutes later, I was summoned to join them in the patient room. The doctor told me she has a suspicion that my daughter has ASD. My heart sank but I wasn’t too surprised. She gave me a set of questionnaires to be answered by me and my husband. It was indeed a déjà vu. We turned in the questionnaires and the verdict was expected: My daughter has ASD.
Flashback when we found out our daughter has ADHD: The doctor prescribed a drug to see how our daughter would progress. After only a week or so, we made a decision to discontinue the medication when we noticed she’s getting thinner. Her appetite was strongly affected. She’s already thin to begin with, that she’d end up emaciated if I continue to give her the medicine. The right protocol is to consult your doctor, whether to continue or discontinue medication. I don’t encourage anyone to follow our decision as every case is different, but I chose to follow my instinct as I am keenly aware of what’s happening to my child’s body – more than her doctor. Additionally, my husband and I have some medical background to support our inclination. Your physician is only as good as what you tell them. Our daughter’s physician is good – just not good with personal interaction with parents. He’s quite impatient with our ignorant questions and made us feel stupid the way he responded to our concerns. My husband and I frequently argued on who would call the doctor. We wanted to change doctor, but he’s good (he always knew what’s wrong with our daughter) so we opted to stick with him for our daughter’s sake. We eventually told her doctor our decision and he concurred.
My child got through elementary and high school without the aid of ADHD drug. Yes, we went through difficulties but we managed. Homework was so frustrating to deal with our daughter. It’s painful to listen to her argue with her dad when they’re working on math problems. Picture this: a child who’s only in elementary school arguing profusely with an adult, who is a Chemist and a Biologist, on how to solve math problems. That’s how stubborn our child is. I’m not sure whether it’s due to ASD or she inherited it from her parents who are both stubborn (chuckle!). I guess it’s both. There was a time when we hired a physicist with master’s degree – just to help our daughter finish her extremely difficult homework in a timely fashion. At times, we drove many miles to take our daughter to the person we hired to tutor her. That’s how tough these home assignments were. We advised her to take many advanced classes in high school to help her prepare for college. Little did we know that it’s taking a toll on her already strained young mind.
Kids can be so cruel with classmates who are quiet, a bit off, and nice. My daughter told me she tried to make friends by trying to participate in their games during recess, but they pushed her away. She tried many times until she finally got tired of trying and just retreated to a corner of the play area in solitude. At other times, some mocked her as having four eyes when she got a pair of corrective eyeglasses. Some took away her candies, and some called her names when she won’t respond to their ridicules. She didn’t fight back just to keep peace with everybody and quietly dealt with their unkind behavior. These experiences traumatized her deeply and developed fear of approaching her classmates. It’s not that she doesn’t know how to make friends. In fact, we had to restrain her from greeting cheerfully a complete stranger. But what can a young mind do when you try and try, and no one will play with you? And what can a parent do when your child doesn’t tell you all these things ‘til she’s out of that school?
A breakthrough happened when our daughter was in middle school. She finally met a child who appreciated things she likes, who tolerated her peculiarity, and who stood by her when other kids try to bully her. You see, bullying was unknown to me then when I was a young parent, because I was a very tough child growing up. My childhood environment taught me how to be a spitfire. That’s why it never crossed my mind that my child might be a victim of bullying, because I thought she’ll be like me even though she got the mild manner of her dad. I learned early on that if you know how to stand up for yourself, and show mean kids that you can’t be pushed around – they leave you alone. Having three brothers also reinforced my tough façade. My husband kept telling our daughter, “Why can’t you be like your mom?” We now know it’s not a good thing to say to your child, especially when their self-esteem is so fragile.
There were times I felt guilty that I may have been overboard in protecting my child, that I may have embarrassed her when I stormed the school and/or wrote the teachers regarding kids who mistreated her, that’s why she kept things from us – most of the time. I never got a straight answer from our daughter whenever I asked her why she didn’t tell us soon enough. If I knew then what I know now, I may have considered home school for my child. Parents who are aware of their child’s mental disorder have the option of whether to allow your child to experience what it’s like out there in the real world, or keep them home schooled where they would be safe from other children’s dysfunctional behavior. Unfortunately, home school wasn’t an option at the time, because my husband and I were working full time.
Not too long ago, I had a conversation with another parent who has an autistic child. I Mentioned that I probably would have home schooled my daughter had I known she has ASD when she’s very young. She asked me, “Don’t you think it’s better for your child to be with other kids since ASD is a social developmental problem?” Good question. My reply was, “Yes and no.” Yes – because I do want her to learn to adapt with other children, and no – because I don’t want her to go through the emotional trauma of feeling like an outcast. I’m not sure if it would have been better for my daughter that we didn’t know she has ASD when she’s still a child or not. It may be selfish for me to say it would have saved me many frustrations had I known my daughter’s mental disorder early on. Would we have deprived her of having the ups and downs of the social experience she had - the very same social experience that caused her emotional trauma, had we kept her at home? I guess we’ll never know.
Every child is unique. Circumstances are different for everybody. Just because my child went through unpleasant early school experiences, it doesn’t mean your child would be the same. Things may have been different had I known my daughter has ASD while she’s still very young. Or would it? Many years had passed, and my daughter just now told me that kids at her school had rather played with someone who was infested with head lice(Scientific name: Pediculosis Capitis) than her. Kids normally stay away from other kids infested with head lice as it is highly contagious. I had an “aha” moment. I asked her the ethnicity of the children who didn’t want to play with her. She said they’re of the same ethnicity as the girl with head lice. It suddenly dawned on me: It’s not just my daughter’s ASD and ADHD that was the problem: It‘s also my daughter’s ethnicity, because she’s half Caucasian and half Asian. But, that’s just my perspective. I don’t want to inject racial issues because it’s another ball game. I’m just grateful that she goes to a University where the student population is widely composed of diverse culture.
My daughter is now 23 years old and she’s still in college, because she switched major from mechanical to computer engineering. Yes, I said engineering: A course only suited for people with high math skills. It is possible to have ASD and ADHD - and still thrive academically, because their mental faculties are not severely affected by these disorders. She has challenges and struggles like everybody else with some handicaps, but she has learned to cope, and became resilient with every twist and turns that life throws at her, because she knows we are always there for her. We made sure that she is acutely aware that we love her immensely and unconditionally, and that we are available for support any which way we can - for the rest of our lives.
- Don't Call Me Stupid Just Because I Have ADHD
This is another article I wrote which is closely related to this hub.