Saturday, January 28, 2006

Dan Akroyd -- am I the last to know?

I was just doing some curiosity research about aspergers on the internet the other day, and I came across one of those "lists" of people who have Aspergers, and noticed that Dan Akroyd has said in an interview that he was diagnosed with "mild" asperger's and Tourette's when he was about 12 years old. For me, knowing this about Dan Akroyd has really impacted my thoughts about the subject.

I think that anyone who has Asperger's or is related to someone with Asperger's has heard of the various lists of people who may or may not have the syndrome -- such as Thomas Jefferson, Bill Gates, Einstein, Steven Spielberg, etc., etc. We can all sit around and speculate about these people and their supposed "aspie" traits, using their lives as a standard for the possibility that a person with asperger's can lead a healthy, successful life. And, besides, I guess that it makes for good chit chat.

But, for me, hearing about Dan Akroyd is different. First and foremost, he very casually mentioned asperger's in his 2005 NPR interview. He, himself, talked about it -- there's no speculation involved. Secondly, I have watched Dan Akroyd's career for years and year -- through his first Saturday Night Live skits to the time period where he was doing a lot of movies like "Driving Miss Daisy". Not only were his later movie choices good, solid "classic" movie choices, but his acting was really quite impressive. His shift over to movies seemed fairly flawless, like he was always meant to do it, whereas Bill Murray's choices (although brilliantly funny at times) have been spotty. I also think that Dan Akroyd is involved behind the camera in some way. But probably what intrigues me the most is that he has been married to Donna Dixon for YEARS. To have a successful marraige as actors is absolutely amazing, but then when you throw in the Asperger's, and all the stuff we've heard about the "problems" with relationships, this seems like a man who deserves some interest.

I just like the idea of a guy like Mr. Akroyd who is just a regular guy in many ways, very unassuming, very charming, super bright and interesting, who has done some extraordinary things in life, and can stand up as a great example that people with Asperger's do have good lives, happy lives, and more importantly, happy families. Listen to the NPR interview, and you'll know what I mean.


Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Lack of Self-Consciousness Part II

Continuing on this thread of a lack of self-consciousness being a good thing --

This weekend Will went to a bowling birthday party for a friend from church. He has attended this party for the last three years, and it's a party where he is the only boy that doesn't know all of this friend's other friends (who are from his class at school). Well, not knowing everybody else is never a problem for Will -- he just kind of drops himself into the fray, and acts as if he knows everybody else (sometimes this is good, sometimes this is a little bit weird). The bowling birthday party is a good idea, because it gives all of these boys a common thing to focus on, and it makes it very easy for them to socialize.

This year was different. This year, the friend invited four other boys from church as well, and fewer school friends, but the mix of church friends to classmates was about 50/50. Will did his usual thing -- we arrived, he got his shoes and his bowling ball, and he just dropped into the social fray as if he knew everybody. The other church friends, though, were somewhat intimidated by the fact that they did not know everybody. They were in a social situation where they felt they were at a disadvantage, and they didn't quite know how to act. But, oddly enough, this is one of those situations where Will's ability to NOT be self-conscious comes in very handy, and gives him an advantage.

How cool to have something that's part of Asperger's that is a social ADVANTAGE!


Thursday, January 19, 2006

Lack of Self-Consciousness

Neurotypical people often have a very healthy sense of self-cousciousness. This helps us to socially "fit in" to society, knowing that we shouldn't talk too loud, we shouldn't run around naked, we shouldn't make politically incorrect statements, etc. Socially, this makes life much easier for us. We can go about our daily lives with a certain sense that we will not offend anyone or embarrass ourselves if we merely adjust to each circumstance in which we find ourselves.

People with Asperger's syndrome often lack the self-consciousness that neurotypicals feel, or they come by this self-consciousness by years of effort and practice. After having experienced the fact that one should not tell a peer that they are fat because you've told ten different peers they are fat, and each time you have lost that friend because they considered your statement as rude rather than as a statement of fact, eventually you learn that maybe telling someone they are fat is not the best way to keep a friend.

The flip side of this is that it can be very healthy to lack self-consciousness. Many neurotypicals care far too much what others think, and therefore they do not develop a good, healthy sense of self. They measure themselves by other's outlooks, they hold themselves back because other's opinions are too important. If a genius listened every time some other "genius" told him that his experimentation was faulty, that his reasoning was off, that his theory would never amount to anything, then we would have a serious lack of scientific accomplishments in this world. The fact that Asperger's people don't really care about another's opinion of their work may be the very reason why they can accomplish great things, while us neurotypicals hem and haw and fuss over many things we have no control over, and then accomplish nothing.

This lack of self-consciousness can be rough when one is young, in that a child may not realize what they are doing is weird-looking or out of the norm. My son LOVES to sing. He's good, too. But singing Green Day music in the middle of Walmart or in school on the playground may not be the most socially appropriate thing to do. And yet, having said that, I love that he's not self-conscious. He does some very charming things that, ultimately, as he grows, other people may find charming as well, if I don't mentally "beat" the lack of self-consciousness out of him!

Yesterday we went to Boy Scouts. I'm the den leader, and we have three boys other than Will. As all the boys sat down, and we began the meeting, Will comments somewhat loudly -- "Here we all are, four best friends sitting together!" In my head, I'm thinking that none of the other three boys would have made such a statement, and for that reason, this may come off as weird. But on the other hand, all I could think was that the statement was charming, and what may not be cool right now, just possibly might be cool when he's sixteen -- he may be pegged as the constantly cheerful guy, always thinking that everyone is his friend. I've seen neurotypical kids like this, friends of my older son, and everyone seems to go with "their" flow -- they go along with this cheerful guy's vision of life. It may be a little off, a little different, but hey, it's better than most people's vision!


Friday, January 13, 2006

Individual sports

Like many of you out there, we have tried multiple different team sports with our children. Soccer for everyone, basketball, baseball, volleyball, and softball (for our girl). Only our girl was proficient in sports, but for all three of them, it was an attempt to socialize them and to get to know people in whatever was the latest area we had moved into. We did not ever expect any of our children to be professional athletes in any way, shape, or form.

We have given up on team sports for Will. Early on, when nobody understood the rules of soccer, it was OK for Will to be on a team. But then as he grew older, and his teammates grew more saavy about the rules of the game (while he did not), we had to come to grips with the fact that, although his teammates were nice to him, they were just beginning to get frustrated when he would miss kicking the soccer ball in the appropriate direction. So we decided that he had done enough, and we would concentrate on something else (like music, for instance).

The irony of this is that if the athletic climate was like it USED to be, when my husband was a child and they didn't even begin playing organized sports until they were 9 years old, kids like Will might have a shot! Now, and especially in our area (which is extremely sports dominated), kids in kindergarten work out on their football teams every single night for hours! I actually think that now, or maybe in a year or so, he could play soccer and enjoy it, because his awareness will have caught up to the game. But now is too late -- we don't dare put him back into that situation.

So, when the weather is good, we have Will playing golf with his father. It's low-stress, learn at your own pace. He's good at it (he came in second in a large group of kids at a miniature golf game), and he can learn over time how to get better. There must be other things similar to this that our kids can do, such as track, archery, etc. The learning curve is at a more normal, less intense rate. I'm sure that the asperger ability to focus on something if one's interest is piqued would come in handy in some of these more individual sports -- imagine the tendency to learn in pictures coming in handy on a golf course. They could envision where the ball should go better than some other people. This is possibly a sport someone with Aspergers can excel at, and there definitely has to be others as well.

If you think of others good individual sports, let me know!


Thursday, January 12, 2006

Politically Correct Deception

Today -- Dad takes Will out to the bus stop to wait for the bus. While they are out there, Dad picks up the newspaper and whacks Will repeatedly, just for fun. Will is punching Dad, they're having a great time, but Dad (5'10") is obviously more successful at getting his whacks in than Will (4'10") is.

So Will says to Dad, "Hey, Dad! Look over there at that huge squirrel!" [FYI -- there is no huge squirrel. . .] Dad resists looking at first, and then gives in and Will is able to get a good punch into the gut to Dad.

THIS IS HUGE! He's never done this before.

I'm guessing that the average age of neurotypical kids to do this is about seven years old. So Will is doing this two years later -- hey, it's the beginnings of learning how to be funny, sarcasm, understanding that others don't always say what they mean, and how you can use that kind of thing to your benefit. All VERY IMPORTANT skills for middle schoool. Hooray!

Is it weird that I'm applauding Will learning how to be deceptive, especially since I tried to make sure my other two kids NEVER did that?

Yes and no . . .


Tuesday, January 03, 2006


Mine, not my son's, amazingly enough.

To you parents out there -- do you ever get over the anxiety of dropping your child off on the first day of school? Or at a birthday party? Or at a friend's house? You probably know the anxiety I'm talking about. This is not the anxiety that might come with dropping off a neurotypical kid on their first day of kindergarten. This is the anxiety with your Asperger's child every time something new happens, worrying will they be OK, will they do something that causes them to have a difficult time with the other kids, etc.

With the end of Christmas vacation comes the end of a sort of idyllic time for us. We've had a week and a half where we can relax, no school, no social skills classes, time to concentrate on games or movies or family activities that WE like doing with Will. No pressure to act a certain way, no pressure of a routine.

Then I drop Will off at school after Christmas break, and I always wonder if because of the break in routine, will Will have a hard day? Are we back at square one (i.e., the beginning of the year, usually a hard time)? This is the anxiety I'm talking about. Man, I hate this feeling.


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