Often Misunderstood and Undeserved
One of the most challenging, yet rewarding groups I have found to work with is Asperger kids and their parents. Often, when they find their way to my office, they have suffered through years of searching for answers. It is not uncommon to have a history of school expulsions or suspensions, as well as a list of professionals they have consulted.
When the new DSM-5, the diagnostic manual that mental health professionals use, is put into use later in 2013, this term will no longer be recognized, yet there will still be a group of kids out there with a unique set of symptoms. Currently, it is a sub-category that falls in the same grouping as Autism Spectrum Disorder. Yet there is such a difference in these kids with Asperger Disorder and the kid who has Autism. My experience has been that, due to the differences, we need to make distinctions to better serve their needs.
As a professional, I see this as a disservice to these kids. Diagnosis with them now is often hit and miss, leading to delay in finding help for them to reach their potential.
One mother told me of a three year search through psychiatrists and other mental health professionals before she got the answers she needed in my office. At the time I met this family, the young man was eight years old, and had been expelled from public school in the first grade. He had been diagnosed as anything from behavior problems to schizophrenic. The help offered through the public school system and the local mental health center didn't meet this child's needs. He had no friends, couldn't communicate in a normal way with others, and was scared of most everyone outside his family. It took me several weeks before he would remain in my office over a few minutes each session, and this was only after I bought a bag of sponges and fingernail emery boards because he had an obsession with them. I could go on and on about the strange behavior of this child, all clearly pointing to Asperger's. His diagnosis was easy, yet it had gone unrecognized during the prior three years of mental health care. Thankfully, two years later, he is now back in school, enjoys riding the school bus, and, while still not your typical kid, he is happy and making progress. And, he runs in to give me a hug when he comes to see me.
And, it's not just kids who have difficulty finding the right services for them. I did a mental exam and intelligence testing last year on a twenty-four year old man applying for disability. His treating psychiatrist had identified him as bipolar disorder and moderately mentally retarded. He had no friends, poor social skills, the typical "unique" way of interacting that is often seen with the Aspie, but my testing showed he had average intelligence. In fact, he had a drivers license, and had completed a two year community college program to train as an electrician. It's a shame his psychiatrist didn't delve into his history to learn about him. He wasn't able to work due the social issues and other Asperger symptoms, not the limited intelligence or bipolar that his psychiatrist had been giving him medication to treat for over a year.
This week, I was talking with a mom who is making good progress at learning to understand her Aspie son who has been coming to my office for four months now. She talked of how helpful learning what is "normal" for the child with Asperger's is to her. While I talk at length with parents, and have books to share with them, I realize that having a checklist might be helpful to others. I find it often the questions parents learn to ask, and their drive to keep on until the right diagnosis is found that helps their child. It may not be the first, or even second or third professional who helps them find the answers, but, thankfully, they keep on looking.
I found this checklist on the Internet tonight, and I consider it a good starting point to get a good look at what the person with Asperger's deals with:
I hope what it has to offer is helpful to you if you have come to my blog looking for answers. If you have other questions, I will be happy to talk with you.
Nona Owens, Ph.D.
580 Springridge Rd., Suite 4-A
Clinton, Ms. 39056