Sunday, June 01, 2014

Writing to my son's teachers about his diagnosis

Five days ago, I wrote to all of the teachers my son has had this year in his first year at a new school.  I also included his counselor, the learning specialist, the division head (like a principal for grades 4 and 5), and the psychologist who performed his evaluation and gave us the diagnosis.  I thought I would share in case any other parent would find it helpful as a model for explaining Asperger's.

Hello everyone,

I am writing to C's teachers from this year because I wanted to share a little bit about what we recently learned about C's learning differences.  Earlier this month, C was diagnosed with mild Asperger's Syndrome.  To be more accurate, since the new DSM-V does not include Asperger's as its own diagnosis, he officially has autism spectrum disorder.  Again, it's very mild, but it is a definite neurological difference, compared to most of his peers, that helps explain so many of the challenges he's faced all his life.

In C's case, we see the Asperger's Syndrome most clearly in the following areas:
- low frustration tolerance (when he becomes overwhelmed, he shuts down -- his brain does; it is not a choice)
- slow processing speed (this is not an indication of intelligence, just processing)
- problems with motor coordination (especially with writing)
- deep interest in certain subjects (tsunamis, ships, World War II)
- being behind his peers in some social interaction skills (this includes not being able to pick up cues that people don't have time or are not interested in hearing about his specialized interests, and also talking like a "little professor" about the things he knows a lot about)
- emotional reactions to unexpected situations (abrupt change in routine, being caught off-guard, not feeling like he has control over choices, being embarrassed by not being able to do the same things the same way his peers do)

Please understand that autism and Asperger's are not caused by parenting mistakes or a child's choices.  It's a different neurological layout of the brain's wiring.

C knows about his diagnosis, but he doesn't fully understand it yet.  We've been working with him to explain when things come up that encourage conversation about his differences and how they are a part of his Asperger's, and not his or anyone else's "fault."  We don't really know yet how he would feel about discussing it with anyone at school.

A friend and fellow educator recently pointed me to a video she had just shared with her sixth grade students to help them understand a classmate who has autism.  I wanted to share it with you, as well as a link to a blog post I wrote the day we learned C's diagnosis.

The video is by a young man who himself has Asperger's/autism:
(He actually has about 175 videos on his YouTube channel, so I've got summer homework.)

And here's my blog post from May 10th, the day we got the results of his evaluation:

Since you've all been an important part of C's life this school year, I wanted to give you some information that, although we got it late in the school year, can help explain some of the things we didn't completely understand earlier.  And you will, no doubt, meet more students like C (though Asperger's and autism present differently from one person to another), so well-informed is well-prepared.

Thank you for all you've done for our son this year.

No comments: