Asperger Awareness and “Aha!” Moments

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By Dan Coulter

Autism Awareness Month is an opportunity for people with Asperger Syndrome.

What can awareness of Asperger Syndrome do?

It helped a mother I recently met understand that her daughter wasn’t just being difficult when she automatically responded to Mom’s suggestions with, “No!”

It helped a middle school student I know of move from dreading school to loving it.

It helped a father I know settle into steady employment after losing multiple jobs before he was diagnosed.

Asperger Syndrome is walking into public awareness. But it’s still on the outskirts. People get a glimpse every now and then. Programs like the Temple Grandin HBO biopic, the motion picture “Adam” and the ABC television show “Parenthood” are providing more realistic portrayals of the condition.

Awareness isn’t a magic bullet for acceptance and understanding. But it’s often a major step forward and a generator of “Aha!” moments.

Just this week, the mother I mentioned came up to me after a talk I gave about how having Asperger Syndrome had affected me and my career. Her teen-age daughter, who has Asperger Syndrome, was at her side. Mom said a light bulb had gone off as she listened, and she understood for the first time that her daughter wasn’t being intentionally difficult when she rejected advice from her mother.

Mom realized that, to her daughter, hearing suggestions was like having puzzle pieces thrust at her that didn’t seem to fit. In just the few minutes we stood talking, a possible way to get around this roadblock in their relationship emerged. Mom would work to remember that her daughter’s brain often generated an initial negative response -- and not insist on getting an immediate answer. Her daughter would try to respond to suggestions with, “Let me think about that.” This would give the daughter time to process the suggestion and really consider if it would work. And if she still didn’t like it, she could take a few moments to sort out her thoughts and share her reasons with Mom. Then maybe they could work out a compromise.

I learned about the middle school student, who has Asperger Syndrome, when his mother sent a letter to my wife and I describing how the behavior of her son's classmates had changed after seeing one of our awareness videos. Students who had teased her son apologized to him and insisted he sit with them at lunch and play with them at recess. And their changed behavior continued. We've received many letters over the years describing positive results, but this one stood out for the dramatic way that one awareness initiative changed this child's life. His mother later gave us an update to let us know that he was doing well as a junior in high school. She said he still runs into classmates from his seventh grade class who remember the video and the experience and ask how he’s doing. I met the father I mentioned while shooting a DVD about work. Diagnosis and disclosure had turned his life around, helping him understand and address his tendencies to talk people’s ears off and become overwhelmed at times. It helped his co-workers see that he wanted to know when these unintentional behaviors interfered with work. It also gave them license to use cue words that he came up with to alert him that he needed to give concise answers or take a break to calm down. Because succeeding at work enables him to support his wife and child as well as himself, he’s a big proponent of Asperger Syndrome awareness.

Portraying realistic characters with Asperger Syndrome in television programs and having expert interviews in the media are great. But neither of these has the impact of learning that someone you know has Asperger Syndrome. Watching him work to overcome his challenges and learning about his strengths and talents. Discovering that there’s more to her than appears on the surface and that she’s a person worth knowing.

Disclosure of Asperger Syndrome is a personal decision. Not everyone needs to disclose, and those who do disclose, don’t have to disclose to everyone.

But if you have Asperger Syndrome and you’re able and willing to share your diagnosis with people who you decide have a need to know, you can generate “Aha” moments that no television program could hope to match.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR -- Dan Coulter is the producer of thirteen DVDs about Asperger Syndrome and autism, including "Intricate Minds: Understanding Classmates with Asperger Syndrome" and "Asperger Syndrome at Work." You can find more information and articles on his website:

Copyright 2010 Dan Coulter All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission.

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