By Dan Coulter
The reaction I received to my article announcing that I’ve been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome was gratifying.
I was struck by the difference between the many, many positive responses I got to this article, and the skepticism that I heard from a work colleague when my son was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome in 1997.
Then, Asperger Syndrome was a diagnosis that few had heard of. After describing my son’s behaviors, including his social awkwardness, my colleague asked, "But isn’t that just normal boy stuff?"
It’s hard to explain that normal boy awkwardness multiplied by five is no longer normal.
Twelve years later, the response to my own diagnosis has been overwhelmingly supportive. I shared the news, and a link to the article, with former corporate colleagues through an email Google group. While many responded that they would never have guessed, none expressed skepticism. A few asked to hear more about the symptoms and talked about family or friends who have, or who they suspect might have, Asperger Syndrome.
But the vast majority of replies I received to the article came from the autism/Asperger Syndrome community. I heard again and again from parents of children diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome who suspected that they or their spouses could have the same diagnosis.
It’s likely some do. And it’s great that people feel confident enough to come out and ask questions about the possibility.
For too long, people getting a diagnosis in the family that involved autism have been made to feel that they or their children were being fenced off and separated from normal folks and a normal life. I’ve seen parents resist getting a son or daughter diagnosed for fear it would drive a wedge between their child and his or her peers, often when the wedge was already there. Many parents have felt that getting a diagnosis of autism or Asperger Syndrome means having their dreams for their child crushed.
It makes me think of the movie cliché where the hero has a dream for the future and another character tells him it’s time to face reality and give up his dream.
But from what I’ve seen, dealing with the reality of an Asperger Syndrome diagnosis is the basis for making a dream happen. It can erase irrational fears of what might be and replace them with facts you can use to start building the life you want.
That’s because an accurate diagnosis can help you understand how your brain works. You can begin to grasp why you have behaviors that might interfere with your dream and work on modifying them. You can explain to others about the behaviors you can’t modify (or, at least, not yet) so they can understand and make allowances.
A diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome can help you understand why you’re so interested in some things and couldn’t care less about others. It can help you see that focusing on your interests and what you’re good at could be the secret to a successful career.
My wife and I noticed a long time ago that when our son with Asperger Syndrome was given a task that didn’t interest him, it was hard for him to concentrate on it. But when he was interested in something, he was a skyrocket.
For example, when he and I went to Space Camp, he was easily bored with some of the projects and tended to wander away from the group. But when it came his turn to be the pilot of the space shuttle simulator on a mission, his brain kicked into high gear. His eyes flashed over the manuals and controls like lasers. His communications with Houston control were crisp and accurate. His course corrections were precise and perfectly timed. In a maze of lights, knobs and switches, his hands were always in the right place at the right time. He got a higher score on his shuttle flight than any of the other kids, or adults, in our camp group.
Does that mean my son’s only option is to be a shuttle pilot? Nope, because that’s not his only interest. He also has a natural gift for math and loves spreadsheets. He got a degree in accounting and recently completed an accounting internship. While he has two part-time jobs now, he’s hoping accounting could become his career when the economy turns around. He’s also a good writer, so he has additional options there. People with Asperger Syndrome can be very different from each other, but most tend to have at least one special interest.
For the last nine months, my wife and I have been working on a DVD designed to help people with Asperger Syndrome find and hold a job. That DVD is now with our duplicators and will be available in a few weeks. For the program, we interviewed six successful employees who have Asperger Syndrome. All six are in positions where their interest in their jobs and aptitude for the work more than make up for the accommodations their employers are providing.
All are embracing the reality of an Asperger Syndrome diagnosis. All have disclosed their Asperger Syndrome to their employers and coworkers. All their bosses praise their work, and some bosses say their employees with Asperger Syndrome are among their best workers.
One of these employees described having lost ten jobs in eight years. It was only after he got a diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome that he was able to take steps to deal with it and secure a job with a software corporation that he’s now held for nearly five years.
So, if you’ve recently gotten a diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome for yourself or your child, you can look on it as a platform to help you climb toward a better future. If you’re thinking about getting a diagnosis but are concerned, consider the benefits of knowing – and using that knowledge to make your life, or your child’s life, better.
Not everyone who gets evaluated gets diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome. But for those who do, it might become anything from a platform to a launching pad.
Reality can be a great enabler of dreams.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR -- Dan Coulter is the producer of the DVD "Asperger Syndrome at Work." You can find more articles on his website: www.coultervideo.com.Copyright 2009 Dan Coulter All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission.