Should I Tell My Child That S/He has Asperger’s?
For the answer to this question, I turned to some information from Tony Attwood, a renowned expert psychologist in the area of Asperger’s syndrome. “The answer is a resounding ‘Yes.’” according to Dr. Attwood. After many years of clinical experience, he has found that explaining the diagnosis to the child with Aspewrger’s syndrome is extremely important.
By giving the child an accurate picture of Aspeger’s syndrome, you will be helping prevent inappropriate coping mechanisms (which may include reactive depression, too much use of imagination to escape reality, aggression/acting out, denial).
Dr. Attwood describes an exercise he goes through with the Asperger’s child and his/her parents. It’s called the Attribution Exercise. Picture a large whiteboard, or piece of paper. The therapist takes out this whiteboard or piece of paper, and divides it into two columns. One column is called “Qualities.” The other column is called “Difficulties.”
There can be a different large piece of paper for different members of the family. First, the mother or father can fill out their own piece of paper, identifying his/her own qualities and difficulties.
Qualities may include the following:
- practical abilities
- how this particular person expresses and manages their feelings
Difficulties can include any areas of growth/deficiences (for example, this writer struggles with ‘handyman’ skills, and with organizational skills: just ask his wife).
After the mother/father has done his/her turn, the child with aspergers can then do the exercise, with some support and encouragement from the parent. The therapist can comment on the child’s qualities and difficulties, finding areas of commonality with the diagnostic criteria for Aspergers Syndrome. Then, s/he can explain that scientists study different patterns in behavior, and when they find those patterns, they give the pattern a name. The therapist can then explain that, over 60 years ago, a doctor in Vienna, Dr. Hans Asperger, studied children with similar characteristics, and published the first clinical description that has come to be known as Asperger’s syndrome.
Next, the therapist, and you, can congratulate your child on having Asperger’s syndrome. Explain that they have strengths and talents (e.g., extensive knowledge about certain subjects, ability to draw with photographic realism, attention to detail, talents in mathematics or writing) , but that they also have a different way of thinking.
Next, I like to talk to kids and their parents, helping them understand that they have a lot of mental ’smarts’ (intelligence), but that it is equally important to learn “people smarts.” This is an opportunity to discuss emotional intelligence. I then frame myself as a coach, and talk to them about coming to coaching to learn people smarts to help them manage their emotions and make friends.
How about you? What has been your experience as a parent, teacher, or professional? Are there any topics or suggestions that I left out? I welcome your suggestions and feedback.