March 30, 2011

The "A" Word

Cussing. Cursing. Swearing. Whatever you call it, my kids are totally obsessed with it. Only I won't let them use the actual words. The first time Peabo dropped an F-bomb on me, he got a 30-minute time-out and a stern talking to. What I hear now is three kids hollering about "the bad 'F' word," "the bad 'B' word," and even "the bad 'O' word."

The bad "O" word. That's a new one.

And that's why I'm talking to my kids about Asperger's Syndrome. I don't want it to be another word we never say.

I read a few autism mom blogs by better informed moms with better therapies and better strategies for working with their kids. And I know many of them have been open and honest with their kids from the get-go, giving Asperger's a name.

I don't think I've been dishonest with my kids, though. I mean, Peabo's in seventh grade, and he's a bright, bright kid. He knows he's different. He's been through endless testing and retesting, through OT and PT, through tantrums and suspensions. When he was mainstreamed, he had a full-time aide and different testing and time in the Resource Room. But it took us forever to get the label. Peabo was identified at the age of three by his very astute preschool director, but despite ongoing, persistent effort, we didn't get a formal diagnosis until he was in 5th grade. So our conversations were not about labels but about differences. About how some people need more help than others. About how everyone has things they do brilliantly, and things they do poorly. About how what works for him doesn't always work for his siblings.

We just never used the word.

For years, I've watched my two younger kids struggle with their big brother's more challenging behaviors. There's the talking and the talking, and the repeating and repeating. There's the tantrums and the threats and the hating to lose. And his siblings have responded ... mostly with fingernail scratches and the occasional kick to the shin.

Not okay.

Veggie Girl's been talking to someone from time to time about her feelings. When this someone heard about the fingernails, she suggested a book: Autism Through a Sister's Eyes: A Young Girl's View of Her Brother's Autism.

So we started talking about autism. And Asperger's Syndrome. We used the words.

There's already one bad "A" word. We don't need to have two. Or three.

I told Peabo about his Asperger's over dinner one night (because the dinner table is where all the best conversations happen). He said, "Asperger's? Huh. May I have more bread, please?"

Since then he's learned from many of his friends that they have Asperger's too. He - and his siblings - have learned more about what that means. We've started the conversation.

I kinda hope it means the kids will stop beating up on their brother. Though, being that they're siblings and all, that's seriously unlikely.

Oh and hey, if you happen to know what the bad "O" word is, do tell. They've totally stumped me with that one.

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