My Son with Aspergers: Through the Eyes of a Father

I am the father of a son with Aspergers Syndrome and through the years of my wife and I raising him, it has had many challenges for me.  As a father I wanted him to take interest in outdoor activities, sports and other things that we could do together but while he was not interested in these things there were other items of interest that I had to adapt to in order to spend the most amount of quality time with him.

My Son: Through the eyes of a Father

While he may not have had interest in what I thought a young boy, now a man, “should” be interested in, he has opened my eyes to a different world that has brought us closer together over the years. I just had to be the one to approach his interests with an open mind and with the idea that these were things we could do as a father and son.

The many times that my son was being called names or bullied by his peers I had to be supportive and encouraging in creative ways, primarily to teach him how to ignore those and look forward to the future with special father and son times together.

Some words of advice from a father of an aspie:

  • Learn to be a listener;
  • Take interest in his activities, not those you think a young man should take interest in;
  • Find things to do outside the home that you can teach him and he is interested in;
  • Be supportive and patient, as typically those with Aspergers will find it difficult to relate to things we take for granted as well as conveying their thoughts in the same manner we are accustomed to;
  • Above all, be a father as well as a dad, they will never forget the times you spend with them and the memories you are making.

by Herb Allen

Sibling Friendship and Aspergers: When Childhood Friends Outgrow Each Other

I don’t know if telling this story will date me, but I guess it doesn’t matter that I grew up in the sixties. I remember as a child, that song and story about Puff the Magic Dragon. The special friendship he and Christopher Robbins had together, but then the boy grows up and Puff hangs his head and cries. (Or was that Tom Dooley and Winnie the Pooh? LOL) Anyway, my kids have been best of friends since the beginning of time and long before that. My daughter, Carmen, and son, Jesse, have a sort of love for each other that I pray every day never ends. They even have a secret language and I often hear them babbling away together and cracking each other up with their private jokes. My son looks at his sister and her funny little ways and I can see it in his eyes that she brightens his day, and he her’s.

childhood, siblings, friends

In just the last couple of years, this has been a growing concern for me. They are getting to an age where most siblings just can’t tolerate the sight of each other. Luckily this hasn’t been the case in my home, but I see something else occurring. My daughter has been developing in a more sophisticated way than my son. Her speech has greatly improved, her social skills are growing in leaps and bounds, and she is succeeding in general ed classes.

I am sad to say that in some ways, she is leaving her brother behind.

Mental Health in Your Community: Learning to Support Your Child’s Diagnosis

The community I was from is set up for autistic people, people like me, to fail. One of the big issues in a minority community is that mental health is not addressed and no one believes in it. The resources are usually not available or difficult to find for people in minority communities. There are also long-standing traditions of mental health denial because of a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality. Because minority communities have often faced severe oppression and suffering in many ways, they have built an ideology about being strong and not helpless or weak. This has had many adverse effects on the mental wellbeing of the people within those communities.

Your Child's diagnosis, becoming an expert

Since mental health was somewhat of a myth to the community, it was a struggle I endured in my entire life.

I’m an African American male who comes from a community where if you displayed behavior that is associated with a mental illness, you were punished. African American communities often believe strongly in going to church, and they will tell you to pray about it and not seek help from a mental health professional. If you seek help from a mental health professional, you are viewed as weak. They tell your child to “man up, it’s all in your head, you’re making it up, etc.”

It’s hard to accept a mental health diagnosis in the Black community because of traditions we have been taught with.

Nobody in my community accepted my autism diagnosis, and I was ridiculed for seeking help. It was not until I was 22 years old, when I had my third suicide attempt, that I received help and support for my autism and other disabilities.

Today, to help others avoid this struggle, I have composed a list of ways you can accept your child’s diagnosis no matter how severe it is. Remember, you can be victorious and become an expert and advocate for your child.

How to Expand A Picky Eater’s Diet: Feeding and Food Chaining

Since feeding involves all sensory systems (sight, smell, sound, touch, and taste), eating is the most difficult sensory task that children face. Feeding issues are especially common in children with autism, including those with Aspergers, because of difficulties with sensory processing. In many cases, this leads to eating challenges at mealtimes.

Little girl eating

“Food chaining,” from the book by the same name, is based on the child’s natural preferences and successful eating experiences—specifically the idea that we eat what we like. Food chaining introduces new foods that have the same flavors or sensory features as foods that are already preferred by the child, increasing the likelihood that the child will like the food.

A food chain consists of four levels that build upon one another. By following the levels of the food chain, the child will be able to build upon success with small changes.

For example, if your child’s accepted food is chicken nuggets, a sample food chain might look like this:

Level I Level II Level III Level IV
Maintain & Expand Current Taste & Texture Vary Taste & Maintain Texture Maintain Taste & Vary Texture Vary Taste & Texture
Other brands and sizes of chicken nuggets (i.e., strips/popcorn/bites, both fast food & home-prepared); fried chicken patties cut into pieces (fast food & home prepared) Different flavored chicken nuggets (barbeque, honey mustard, hickory smoked, etc.) Use sauces/dips to vary tastes. Chicken strips (not breaded); chicken leg/drumstick; chicken breast; ground chicken patties Breaded seafood (scallops, shrimp); breaded fish (fast food & home-prepared); breaded turkey breast; breaded vegetables; breaded baked chicken; crusted/breaded pork tenderloin; ground meats

Here are some other food chaining tips:

Fidgeting: Using Games and Exercise for Children with Excess Energy

Fidgeting is a common result of excess energy in children and can interfere with positive behaviors. Excess energy and fidgeting can be distracting and disrupt learning. According to an article on Autism Speaks, by Geraldine Dawson and Michael Rosanoff, “Increased aerobic exercise can significantly decrease the frequency of negative, self-stimulating behaviors that are common among individuals with autism, while not decreasing other positive behaviors.” Exercise is a positive outlet for children exhibiting these behaviors.

Physical activity will release some of this energy and in turn, promote positive behavior. Lack of time is a common barrier to fitness with therapy sessions, school, and doctor visits. To help facilitate this we have come up with some ideas for fun exercising regardless of a busy schedule. We have provided different options based on various children’s interests, in order to keep them fully engaged, as well as different variations depending on the level of comprehension in each child.

For those children interested in sports, you can set up “routes” or “bases” with cones for the children to run around.

At the end of each course, you can leave a football, baseball, or soccer ball for them to throw or kick to you. If your child comprehends and reads numbers well, you can label each cone and call out which number for them to run to.

Otherwise, you can use flashcards to label each cone, and you can hold up the matching card that you want them to run to. This will add some cognitive thinking to the exercise. Have them run these routes for about 30 minutes or until you feel they have released all their excess energy.

Especially in the summertime, some children might enjoy water sports or games. Water gun tag is an easy way to get the children involved in playtime outside to shed some energy. You can utilize a similar labeling system as the sport ideas mentioned above, but feel free to switch it up a bit and use some pool noodles or other water toys for them to run to.

You can incorporate colors to help the children engage in their visual senses. Motivate the kids to run to the next cone or noodle so they can get a nice and refreshing spray of water or spray you and any siblings with water. Again, play for around 30 minutes or until fatigued.

For children who enjoy a challenge, you can set up a fun obstacle course for them to run through.

Asperger Syndrome From Diagnosis to Independence Part 1: Diagnosis

San Antonio Public Library Informational Summer Series

The summer of 2017 Aspergers101 hosted a free informational series on Aspergers at the San Antonio Public Library. We have recorded each of these valuable sessions in video and powerpoint format so that you can have access to them at any time. Below, watch the first workshop from our Informational Summer Series on Aspergers focusing on diagnosis in childhood. First, Jennifer and Sam Allen discuss the initial steps of recognizing signs of Autism in a child and seeking a diagnosis. Next, Berenice de la Cruz, Ph.D., BCBA-D and COO of Autism Community Network, gives details on the diagnosis process and the medical terminology behind Autism and Aspergers.

The following checklist for Autism and Asperger behavioral signs comes from Jennifer and Sam’s powerpoint. This checklist is not meant to be used as a professional or standalone diagnosis, but rather as a helpful guide that can support you in your journey of diagnosis for your child.

Informal Childhood Developmental Checklist

Social Interactions

 The child prefers to play alone

 The child is rarely invited by others to play in the neighborhood or to participate in activities outside of school

 The child’s social interactions and responses are immature, not keeping with his/her age or his/her cognitive abilities in other areas

 The child has difficulty interacting in group settings

 The child does not play with other children as expected: he/she may not appear interested in their games, or may not know how to join in

 The child appears to be vulnerable to teasing, bullying and being taken advantage of by others

Behavioral Observations

Using Mini-Maps to Plan for Challenging Behavior in the Community

Mini-maps can be highly effective in dealing with work avoidance behaviors at school and at home. Let’s now take this same strategy and apply it in community settings. Remember, a mini-map takes an event or task and breaks it down into smaller, more doable steps.shopping mini-mapsFor a family that has difficulty with seemingly simple shopping trips, a mini-map might be a good tool for the Aspergers family member. Mini-maps help to stay focused on the task at hand while preventing intense preoccupation with specific aspects.

An Example of How to Use Mini-Maps When Shopping

A family would struggle when going to a store where there was a video section. The son would immediately take off for this area of the store as soon as they got there. He would stay there for long periods of time in spite of many verbal reminders on the way in the car.

This behavior would turn a short trip to the store into a long and almost painful event for everyone. Over time, this family might avoid these trips all together.

A mini-map for this situation might include a list of different departments in the store that they plan to visit. By adding either time limits or number of items to purchase at each part of the mini-map, their child might be able to flow through the strategy more successfully.

The following is an example of what this mini-map might consist of:

The Journey of Parenting a Child with Asperger’s with Powerful Successes

The Arc Towards Justice

When you raise children on the spectrum (and with other challenges) life is full of unknowns and uncertainties. Our son, Daniel, was not officially diagnosed until the 5th grade. We knew the way he reacted to situations and approached learning in school was not typical. Every year, as he moved through Elementary School, I would talk with the teacher about his differences.

I tried to make the teacher aware of his challenges and offer my support. The teachers were generally dismissive – I always had the feeling that they felt I was being too protective and was over involved; a helicopter parent.

Children with Autism Face Higher Risk of Abuse

How Aspies can Heal and What Others Can Do to Advocate for Them

As a person with Autism and having suffered tremendous amounts of abuse as a child, I believe that it is vital for the Autism community to understand how to deal with these issues. Being diagnosed with many disabilities along with Autism, I lived a childhood of often being rejected and treated differently. Having Autism and being non-verbal, I never told anyone about the trauma I went through because I felt no one would believe me or it may increase the abuse.

There are ways that the Autism community and supporters can be aware of possible abuses to advocate for those that cannot speak for themselves. Educators, family members, friends, and medical professionals should be keenly aware of the signs of abuse in those with Autism. There are also many ways that those who have suffered abuses can learn to heal and protect themselves. In this blog I outline the signs and results of abuses, as well as ways that those who have experienced abuse can rehabilitate.

Choosing Your Child Over the Judgement of Others

Like many times in life, you come upon a fork in the road. One choice leads you down a certain path and the other choice leads you down a very different road. Finding out your child has autism is complex enough, but eventually we all come to the same fork in the road. Do I choose my child or do I choose to please the surrounding neurotypicals, those judgmental people around me?

This sounds simplistic, but parents realize almost immediately after the diagnosis that you are judged, alienated, and sometimes even rejected by your peers and perhaps even family. It hurts because you know your child cannot help the ‘tantrums’ when the baby in the grocery store won’t stop screaming. Or that your child’s complete lack of athletic skills will never match the soccer mom’s expectation of a friendly neighborhood soccer game. So eventually you and your child are excluded.

When these and many, many other similar situations would arise I realized my son would elicit these judgmental looks from people as a certainty because the autism was not going to be going away. So, we chose our child over others’ perceptions of what we should be.

As soon as our family as a unit took that path everything became easier! I no longer worried about others’ lack of knowledge when it comes to sensory issues or brain function. We as a family would have our own fun. Quirky doesn’t bother me anymore, in fact it’s almost cool and definitely a relief.

Together our family is a strong unit accepting and excelling in my son’s unique interests. Our family weekends are no longer with people that make for awkward or unforgiving situations, but we welcome anyone who would like to be with us just as we are! Now, many years later, the same families who alienated us for the differences, have surprisingly praised our strong family unit, ’hiccups’ and all!

By Jennifer Allen