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I don't recall ever hearing the term Asperger Syndrome or at least never paid much attention to it. Like most things in life we tend not to realize a problem until it affects us personally. Such is the topic of this article. After our congregational meetings on this Sunday, 18 October 2009, we had a “Youth Fireside” for all teenagers and their parents. This meeting was presented by the father and mother of a teenage young man of their own who happens to have had the Asperger Syndrome diagnosis since he was seven years of age. The purpose of this article is to give some facts and a perspective from someone who engages in at least a weekly interaction with this youth. For myself the presentation gave new light and perspective into this very real brain dysfunction. From here henceforth this young man shall be referred to as “Adam”.
For ease of reading Asperger Syndrome shall be referred to as “AS”. Individuals afflicted with this condition lack those social skills that we take for granted. The ability to connect and understand one another that most of us learn at a very early age is just not in the function of the brain. They are, however, very aware of their own feelings even though they are dealt with in varied ways from what the rest of us may cope. They are seen as eccentric and peculiar which is a target combination for a young person. It often leads to them being taken advantage of by those who view them as easy and fun targets of practical jokes. They are naïve in the simple understandings of the world and in relationships. Common sense, as well, is lacking and their ability to problem solve is strained. In a demanding society as what we have today AS individuals can easily find themselves confused and stressed as their ability to cope with the changing world around them can be overwhelming.
Interesting though, in contrast AS persons are usually intellectually well above-average and have superior rote memories. Oftentimes in order to make a success out of one's own AS difficulty they develop a strict focus or path in life. Once they do that they often excel immensely at it. There are many famous individuals who fall under the category of AS. The following are just a glimpse of individuals who have had either high functioning autism or Asperger Syndrome or is believed may have had: Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, Tom Hanks, Robin Williams, Abraham Lincoln, Alexander the Great, Socrates, Henry Ford, Bill Gates, Charles Dickinson and a host of other noteworthy individuals. The brain is so complex and it takes only the smallest default to make them different. Ironic, however, is that later in life these individuals can acquire a focus and turn out to be a resounding success.
Adam has always been loved by our congregation. Yes, at times he is even viewed as odd due to his condition. Adam has a passion to always do what's right. That is another characteristic of AS. For Adam he does not have the capacity of malice or mischief in any dishonest way. It is just not in him. Incredibly honest he is as he hasn't the capacity to understand the role or application of lying. Interesting, huh? We now begin to get a very different view of this illness. In many ways even with all their inability to interact on a level the rest of us do they have achieved certain marks that we strive throughout our entire lives to reach. We wish we had the ability to not lie. We wish we had very high intelligence. We wish there was no malice in our hearts. Truly interesting and from my own opinion and perspective those with debilitating handicaps are placed upon this Earth, by and large, for the benefit of the rest of us. Many are here for us to learn and foster understanding and compassion.
Adam is learning focus though. He has been in the martial art, Taekwondo, for several years now. Normally he is rather clumsy and off balance which is another symptom of AS. However, when focused he excels and does quite well at this art. Certain concepts and physical moves he still struggles with but it is his focus and will prove to be a great asset down the road. In this martial art he also learns virtues and values that are taught and stressed. He learns structure in a structured environment. Those with AS revel in sameness and the lack of change in their lives. Without change there is little complication and they are more apt to cope with their surroundings.
Blunt correction for an outburst, inappropriate action or excess action should not be viewed as overbearing or insensitive. Again they lack the comprehension of the feelings of others. Usually when they might make a compulsory remark or action that others may find repulsive, mean or insensitive it is done completely oblivious of the ramifications of what they just did. It does not process in their brain in a correct manner. Likewise when they are corrected outright they tend to get the message and will calm down. It is important, however, to acknowledge them when they excel or do something right and correct. Open recognition helps them be a part of society and helps them to cope with where they are in life. So it is important for parents, associates and educators of those with AS to be forthright and blunt in their correction. Not mean but in a straightforward way.
One of the main things Adam is known for is his unique ability to offer extended prayers. A normal young man or woman rarely has the attention span for a long presentation let alone a long prayer. Adam, however, given the teachings of his parents and his church has grown to love his God and coupled with his condition tends to draw out a long, but heartfelt, prayer. Instead of an impediment this should be viewed as a blessing and something we can all learn from.
It is a privilege and a gift to be associated with Adam. Through this fireside meeting I have become more humbled in my understanding of those with AS. It has helped tweek my responses from now henceforth in my interactions with Adam. We as a society need to remember and view many with handicaps as not a judgment of God against them but rather a judgment and blessing of God to the rest of us that we may learn and adjust our love and compassion accordingly for these needy brothers and sisters.
What are we to learn from all this. There are a host of sites and references out there regarding autism and it's many spectral categories including Asperger Syndrome. I encourage all to research and study them. If we are truly to live in peace and understanding with one another on this beautiful little blue planet than we must accept our ignorance and lack of knowledge for the many brain dysfunctions out there. In order to include them into society as human beings with a future we need to be open to readjusting our own reactions and coping skills in our interactions with these precious individuals.
I look forward to Adam teaching me a lot in our future relations.
Update after Two Years
After two-and-a-half years of this publication I am happy to report strides in the young man with Asperger Syndrome and also myself. It is a dual growth of learning and understanding.
The counsel given in the meeting is that we correct him right off. Don't hold back, but rather politely and compassionately teach him the proper actions in certain situations. I've done this much to my own discomfort out of fear of offending. However, this young man appreciates the correction. Though stressful these young minds want to fit in and to be a part of a normal world. Of course we must remember that normal in their eyes isn't always what's "normal" in the eyes of the rest of us.
This young man is now way taller than myself and is a staunch supporter of Ron Paul. He loves to learn the news and I'd bet he'd love to be on a presidential campaign trail. I continue to look forward to furthered growth in the both of us.