Living with aspergers: The good and the awkward

The amount of words flowing from our son's mouth should have been a clue that there was something atypical about him.

Research in language development in young children show that girls (usually) use more words than sounds because they thrive on communication. Those same studies show that boys (at the same age) tend to make more imitative noises - growling, motor sounds, vrooms, animal calls, etc. It's not that girls are not capable of making noise, or that boys don't know how to talk; under normal circumstances, the genders tend to gravitate toward specific types of vocalizations.

Christian defied the stereotype. He was the exception to the rule. He quickly picked up a healthy vocabulary. As new parents, we taught him words like thuggin' and gluttony. When he was three, he was trying to sing the chorus to Under the Bridge. Once he learned to talk, he never shut up. Now that he's heading into the first grade, he still won't stop talking. Unless he's asleep.*

His verbose habits were apparent on his first day of preschool when he told his teacher that the water he drank went down his esophagus and into his stomach. She noted that they woudn't need to spend anytime developing his vocabulary.

But just because he excels at talking, doesn't mean that he is adept at conversation. Interpersonal communication is one of the many challenges that kids with aspergers face. Conversation with an aspie affected child are frequently one sided and can be strenuous. Often, these kids latch on to a special interest subject and are compelled to work that topic into any and every discussion. At the moment, Christian's special interest is art projects and Mario Brothers (also, art projects about Mario). If he has something that he is excited to tell you or show you, I can guarantee it will be about his video game or a picture he drew.

Attempts to change the subject are possible, but only with significant effort.

Because of Christian's asperger tendencies, conversations revolve around him. And (thanks to his extensive vocabulary and boundless need to speak) he rarely pauses long enough to allow typical back and forth dialog. I'm surprised that kid is able to breathe while he talks.

But we're working on that.

While most people that know anything about child development (or child psychology) would discourage exposure to television (or at least recommend limited use), for aspie kids it's a helpful tool.

They don't pick up conversational skills as easily as neurotypical children. Aspie kids learn differently so parents need different tools. TV can be one of those tools. TV and movies help these kids learn proper conversation through mimicry that can't be absorbed through the observation of family or peers. Of this practice, the author of one book about raising kids with aspergers wrote it "should be used to facilitate social interactions." **

Parents of kids on the autism spectrum call this "scripting." Kids recite lines from media and incorporate them into conversation. This skill is part of why kids with aspergers can turn out to be great storytellers, writers, or actors. They have amazing creative minds and can shine once they learn to apply their own imaginations to the scripts they learn from TV.

As helpful as this can be, it has it's downsides.

Christian recently scripted the entire Life Alert commercial to Bekah. He asked her the hypothetical question: "Mom, what if one day, you were cleaning the bathroom, and you slipped and fell in the bathtub and you couldn't get up. What would you do? That's why you need Life Alert." He proceeded to list off the benefits of the service with genuine concern that Bekah might be hurt and immobile in the bathroom and would have to wait for 8 hours until a neighbor finds her.

Irrational to you or I, but in his mind it made perfect sense.

Scripting can also be entertaining.

I treated the kids out to Burger King last night. I know, they're a part the evil and vile fast food machine that is the downfall of modern society. You don't need to lecture me. But they had air conditioning and a playground on which the kids expelled every ounce of energy possible.

The TV was on in the play area and the kids were paying more attention to the shiny moving images than they were to their chicken sandwiches. The TV was tuned to Cartoon Network, but was playing a show geared toward older children so I asked one of the employees if the TV could be turned off. She obliged and disappeared into the staff area at the front of the store. A few moments later, she paused the TV signal and a Dish Network logo started floating across the screen.

"It's Dish," Christian said.
"Huh?" asked his sister.
"They have Dish Network here," he said. I nodded that he was correct.
He continued, "Dish Network doesn't have very many HD channels." We don't have HDTV at home, so I'm not sure why this matters. But his reasoning sounded familiar to me - lifted straight from a DirecTV commercial.
But he still wasn't done. "I don't like Dish Network. I like Diwec TV." (He still has trouble pronouncing his R's.)

From there he provided a worthy DirecTV sales pitch as good as any TV advertisement. Note to DirecTV, he's available for hire... as long as you have a Wii with Super Mario Bros to keep him entertained between takes.

* edit: He has been known to mumble a few words in his sleep. He also laughs in his sleep, which is just a bit creepier than talking.

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