Thursday, March 13, 2008

Asperger's Syndrome: My Little Professor

Autism Advocacy Diary 1.1c

My oldest son (who has Autism Spectrum Disorder) and I had the opportunity to visit a college class (graduate-level counseling course) yesterday evening. Visiting a college class to talk about autism is my favorite advocacy activity and one of my son's favorite activities period (well, the visiting part anyway). He just loves to get up in front of a bunch of smiling faces and talk and talk and talk. He can go 40 minutes or more. He's my little professor.

We showed up at 5:30 p.m. at a building called Rowe hall. His little brother and I sat in the back of class as my oldest son took "the stage." He went right up to the front and asked if he could write his name on the chalkboard. He received permission and after he wrote his name, he introduced himself as Mr. Lorenzen. He also told them "his other name" (the one on the chalkboard.) Then he said:

"Ladies and gentlemen" he said. "We will begin this meeting and I will teach this class."

"The Little Professor." Those words can be found on some websites that explain Asperger's Syndrome and the children who have it. For example here is how the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes (NINDS) describes the signs/symptoms of Asperger's Syndrome:

"The most distinguishing symptom of AS is a child’s obsessive interest in a single object or topic to the exclusion of any other. Some children with AS have become experts on vacuum cleaners, makes and models of cars, even objects as odd as deep fat fryers. Children with AS want to know everything about their topic of interest and their conversations with others will be about little else. Their expertise, high level of vocabulary, and formal speech patterns make them seem like little professors.

Children with AS will gather enormous amounts of factual information about their favorite subject and will talk incessantly about it, but the conversation may seem like a random collection of facts or statistics, with no point or conclusion."

The way I describe it, my guy is like a little professor. However, he doesn't quite fit the NINDS' description of Asperger's Syndrome. Yes, he can talk on and on. But no, he doesn't usually bore people. Sometimes he actually does have a point or conclusion when he talks.

If you haven't ever met a charismatic person on the spectrum, then you haven't met my son. He's a smiley little charmer, who sometimes misses social cues. He also faces a certain degree of difficulty in getting just the right words out. Further, he has a lot of problems with small and large motor skills. Finally, my son's preference to be in charge puts him in the Asperger's end of the spectrum. However, at times I think he fits better in the Pervasive Development Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) category.

Unlike the little professor as described by NINDS, my son does not elaborate much about his favorite subject--froggys. He knows the basic life cycle of a frog, but is more likely to want to sing you his favorite song about frogs than discuss the scientific issues surrounding the creatures. (Yes, he did sing his song yesterday--to much applause. My little professor, who is also quite a ham, took a huge bow.)

The back story (please read on, there's a funny story buried here): A friend of mine, the director of the summer arts and music camp my son is a part of, had asked if he could help her out with a presentation for her counseling class. Knowing that my guy loves to get up in front of people, I said yes. I also warned her that he'd want to steal the spot light from her and her other helper, who happens to be Central Michigan University's Autism Impairment Certification Instructor. (She's also a friend of mine).

My son's job was to replay the role of a potential camper so that my friends could demonstrate the intake process that the two used last Spring to screen applicants for the free camp. They gave him some items like a Native American Talking Stick, some fur, etc, and asked him some questions about those items.

They also had him draw a picture (a froggy), tell a story (about froggys, of course) and smell some aromatherapy items my friend put before him. My friend asked him what is favorite scent from the camp was.

"Oh," he said. "I like all of them."

"Most people like this scent," she said, holding a tube of peppermint oil under his nose. My son hates peppermint and if she didn't know it then, she certainly does now.

"Ptooey!" he exclaimed to much laughter. It was the only scent getting that reaction from him. All the other scents were "good."

I had feared my little professor would be too much of a ham in terms of showing off. He did try to pull away from the two from time to time to start talking to the class. However, both demonstrators were able to work around his showmanship. Together the three of them pulled off an excellent presentation. I suppose my little professor's focus on being the center of attention fits the NINDS description of an obsessive interest. If he would have done everything perfectly with the two presenters, then people would have wondered if he was on the spectrum. His little spotlight grabbing preoccupation most likely dispelled any doubt the college students had.

As for my reaction, I put my head in my hands on a couple occasions (when he offered to give a tour of our house, for example) and giggled with my younger son at some of "the professor's" antics. Mostly, however, I was a pretty proud mama. After we left the classroom, my son (the professor) told me that the presentation was "the best meeting ever."


Anonymous said...

Delightful! From, Marie

Casdok said...

How wonderfull!! :)

Marla Baltes said...

Wow. I can not believe he speaks in front of a class like that. That is so cool. I would love to take his class!

Elissa - Managing Autism said...

How beautiful... you'd be very proud!!

ariane said...

fantasitc story :)