I’ve heard many mothers tell me their Asperger child has temper tantrums, throwing things and slamming doors, in public places and at home, yet many other children with Aspergers are the opposite in temperament.
My son never threw temper tantrums. As a child, he was very quiet and well behaved, yet he did have poor motor skills. I believe he was in kindergarten—maybe the first grade— when I was told he walked down the stairs like a baby, placing one foot on the lower step and keeping it there while the second foot came down.
For years, his sister and I worked to get him to walk down the stairs properly. Only after both feet were safely on a stair would he move to the next step. It took a lot of practice, but he eventually succeeded. He now walks down the stairs like the rest of us unless the stairs are steep and he is carrying objects in his hands. Being told by his teacher of his poor motor skills was the first indication of Asperger's, yet Patrick remained undiagnosed for many years.
In elementary school my son came home one day disturbed, telling me he couldn’t run as fast as the other children. Because he wasn’t good at running, he was one of the last chosen to play competitive sports during recess. At home, he began trotting around the yard, trying to increase his speed, yet his gait remained awkward and he couldn’t keep up with other children. His handwriting was never scribble, but I’d describe it as scrawl. His first poor grades came in penmanship. To this day, he still writes with a mad hand, yet he’s learned to slow down and practice making his words more legible.
It was poor depth perception and a weak sense of balance that inhibited him from learning to ride a bicycle. We laugh today at how he somehow managed to flip his bicycle numerous times in spite of its training wheels. Today, he looks back and laughs at himself. Back then, when chaos was his shadow, it wasn’t so funny. It was confusing to both of us.
He loves football and retains statistics of numerous athletes. He doesn’t play, but he is the biggest football fan I’ve ever encountered. When I cleaned his closet last week, I discovered an entire stack of sports pages from newspapers, going back for years. He can probably tell me every game score and every statistic listed in those articles.
From an early age, he had an advanced vocabulary. Because of his vocabulary and his intelligence, he fell through the cracks in the school system. None of the teachers thought he had a learning disorder. When problems arose, they determined he lacked self discipline. Eventually, in high school, a couple of literature teachers realized he excelled only when he was challenged. Boredom was like arsenic in his brain.
Stephen Hawking was a favorite read of his for much of his childhood. Although he still enjoys reading Hawking, long ago he moved on to the classics.
While a high school student, Patrick diagnosed himself with Asperger's. He knew better than anyone that he was different, and true to his nature, he began researching his symptoms. Later, after several days of intense testing at the Georgia Board of Regents Center for Learning Disorders, his diagnosis was confirmed. But by then— by the time we had an official diagnosis— he was in college. That’s where he is today.
Because of his diagnosis, he is eligible for some accommodations. He doesn’t tap into those resources unless he must, but a diagnosis of Asperger's was a confirmation to him that even though he’s different, he’s gifted. He’s not the lazy boy he feared he was when he couldn’t run even half as fast as the others in elementary school.
Next year he’ll be leaving Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton, Georgia for Valdosta State University in Valdosta, Georgia as a vocal performance major with a minor in English. For the first time, he’ll be living away from home. I know he will face more challenges, but I know he’ll find success in his own way.
He’s an amazing young man. You should hear him sing!