November 9, 2012

MAINE COMPASS: Son with Asperger's syndrome coping with unseen difficulties

Leanna Kiesow

For most kids, mine included, Halloween is a night of excitement. We get to carve pumpkins, dress up silly and go trick-or-treating to get candy.

I had worked feverishly, staying up several nights until midnight the week before getting my kids' costumes ready for the night. I was just as excited as they were.

Finally the day came, and it was time to start the festivities of Halloween.

First up, pumpkin carving. I had cut the tops off and cleaned out the guts before my son even got off the bus. Last year, he had a horrible fit over the guts being on his hands. This year, I wanted him to enjoy the carving of the pumpkins. I let my son pick out his pattern. I had him help me poke holes in the pattern. He poked only a few holes before he was done.

Then it was time to carve. I showed him how to saw with the tool and handed it to him. He looked at me, near tears and said he needed help. So I held his hand, and we sawed together.

It wasn't long before he pulled his hand away and said for me to just do it. I finished it for him, but I couldn't help but see the disappointment in his face.

When it was done, I put a candle in it and lit it up. He was so excited. This is why I do this, I tell myself.

Next up, dinner before we headed out for trick-or-treating. I tell myself, this is not the night we need to battle over dinner, so I make him a bagel with his favorite cream cheese. He eats it right up.

Then we donned our costumes and headed out the door. My son said, "Mommy, I don't like the bumps in the hat. I don't like this costume."

My heart sank since I had worked so hard on these costumes. I told him to "just put on the sweatshirt and zip it up. Let me take a picture with the hood up and then you can leave it down."

That seemed to do the trick and we were off.

We make it to town and even run into some of his friends. He was excited to see them, but you really wouldn't know it. He has a strange withdrawn look on his face and he is looking around at everyone.

I wondered, "What is he thinking?" I ask him, "Are you OK?" He said, "Yes," and walked over to his friend and told him that they were going to walk in the parade together.

That they did, running and skipping and having a good time. my son was content just being near his buddy, but I am sure that his buddy didn't even know that my son was there.

Next up, trick-or-treating. We went house to house, and I could see the disappointment on his face when they didn't have plain chocolate or orange lollipops.

At one house, the man who came to the door wouldn't let my son have a piece of candy until he said "trick or treat."

The man went so far as to allow older children to go ahead of my son so he could see that he needed to say "trick or treat" to get a piece of candy.

My son just stood there, stone faced and eventually just walked off. My blood was boiling. How dare this man be so mean to my son. Couldn't he see that my son was having a hard time?

The answer was no, he couldn't. On the outside, my son looks just like all the other kids in his class. But my son isn't like all the other kids in his class.

He struggles in several areas, mostly socially, but he excels in almost all academic areas.

My son shows classic signs of Asperger's syndrome, a mild form of autism that is characterized by social impairment, isolation and what others consider eccentric behavior.

Autism is the fastest-growing developmental disability. The statistics are shocking: 1 out of every 88 children, and 1 out of every 54 boys, in the United States has some form of autism.

In 2008, an analysis showed that autism had increased 23 percent since 2006 and 78 percent since 2002.

Children who are afflicted with autism look like any other child but are very different.

It is our responsibility to understand that these children view the world differently and are just trying to make sense and function in a world that is very strange for them.

We need to help them navigate life so that they are able to cope in this very confusing world.

Leanna Kiesow lives in Richmond.

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