When we received Lovebug’s diagnosis of Sensory Processing Disorder and ADHD, we were also told that it was “highly probable” that she had Asperger’s. The doctor said that she was able to find a couple things that kept her from diagnosing Lovebug with Aspergers, and that she was glad because she didn’t like to diagnose kids that young (5). She said that often the things that look like Aspergers are outgrown as they mature a bit. At the time, I thought the “couple things” she found weren’t accurate because Lovebug behaved differently alone with the doctor than she usually did at home and her regular settings. This doctor is also the one that performed Wechsler Intelligence tests and determined Lovebug to be highly gifted especially in her reading & verbal language skills. I knew from my research that there are a lot of similarities in the behaviors of gifted children and children with Aspergers, so it could be tough to tell the difference at such a young age.
Still, I wasn’t too sure, and we felt very strongly that we should approach her therapy, schooling, and general raising and discipline as though she had it. It explained so much that I was thrilled to have an “answer” for her behavior, resistance to change, and her rigid ways of thinking. Reading books, websites and talking to parents of Aspies gave me so much insight into my daughter, and so much of what they recommended worked so well for her.
I have to say though, that as she’s gotten older and more time has passed, I’m becoming convinced that she does NOT in fact have Aspergers. That doctor just might have been right.
I’m thinking that the things that made us look at Aspergers in the first place, are just who she is.
* She is extremely literal, she always has been. Even at the age of 2, she would correct me when I said “pants”, telling me “there is just ONE pant”.
* She’s very left-brained, notices details – all of them.
* She’s a rule follower to the letter. If I put 5 pieces of candy in front of her, told her she could have 2, and left the room, she would eat 2. No more, no less.
* She is obsessed…obSESSED…with animals. For the longest time (2 years) it was just elephants, so that made us lean toward the Aspergers diagnoses even more, but she gradually expanded to include more and more animals. She loves animals, but she also loves science, so maybe it’s just her “thing”, ya know? She may just grow up to be a zookeeper!
* Have a formal style of speaking that is advanced for his or her age. For example, the child may use the word "beckon" instead of "call" or the word "return" instead of "come back." —- She does speak formally at times, but I think that’s just because she reads advanced books, and she is used to reading that type of language, so it comes naturally to her.
However, there are things that are typical for most Aspies that don’t apply to her, like:
* Not picking up on social cues. —- I used to think this was a problem for her, but as she grows I think it was just immaturity. She actually does this very well now.
* Be unable to recognize subtle differences in speech tone, pitch, and accent that alter the meaning of others’ speech. —- Actually, she notices very subtle differences in vocal tones, and is very sensitive to me changing my tone as I speak to her.
* She’s really breaking away from her rituals and what I referred to as her “ocd” behaviors. A couple years ago we had a meltdown because I wasn’t going to let her say goodbye to each and every stuffed animal in a store. Seriously. The stuff she does now just seems like things most kids would do.
* Eye contact – she still doesn’t like to look me in the eye when I’m talking to her, especially when she’s in trouble, but she does it a lot more now. I think it’s more of a self confidence issue, actually.
* Limited range of interests —- She has quite a wide range of interests now. She prefers animals over anything, but she also loves karate, ice skating, camping, and other activities. She loves to read books about almost anything – science, nature, transportation, animals, mysteries.
A lot of Aspies deal with Sensory Processing Disorder as well, so those things also cause the lines to blur. The SPD affects her motor skills – both fine and gross – which lead to other symptoms.
Because she’s gifted in some areas, and challenged in others, it can further blur the line. This is a condition referred to as “Twice Exceptional” where people are gifted in some areas, yet have learning disabilities in others.
She is awesome at reading! She pretty much taught herself and was reading at a very early age. At the age of 6, she is reading on at least a 4th-5th grade level. Unfortunately, the content is not always age appropriate, so she reads a lot of books that are on her AGE level, but she goes through them lightening fast. She also loves math & science and is very good at both. Definitely takes after her Daddy!
On the other hand, she is very challenged with handwriting. It is beyond frustrating for her and we’ve both shed many a tear over it. We are taking it slow and steady, but we have a long journey ahead of us in this area. She also has some auditory challenges that come from her Sensory Processing Disorder that make it hard for her to follow verbal instructions because she often doesn’t hear all the words spoken to her, or all the surrounding sounds blend together which can be very confusing.
Lately, a few things have stuck out with me as I’ve really studied her these last few months. I noticed even more as we’ve gone through this entire move process. We’ve just thrown more changes on her in one month than some people experience in a decade, and you know what? She’s handled them like a CHAMP! She has surprised me in so many ways!
My child that I thought hated change, has embraced this life change with gusto. We have not had one single meltdown over the changes. Not one. Granted, we’ve done a lot to keep things similar for her, but not everything. We brought some of her bedtime things – her blanket, pillow and favorite stuffed animal. But lots of things are still packed away, and we’ve been living in a hotel for 3 weeks!
She has a light to read by at night, but it’s not HER light. Or HER clock. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve had to take those things on trips with us just so she could relax.
She also hasn’t asked even ONCE for us to write down what time she is supposed to get up in the morning. At home, we had a white board in her room that we had to use because EVERY. SINGLE. NIGHT she wanted us to write down what time she was allowed to get up. When we went on vacation a couple years ago, we had to write it on paper for her or she couldn’t go to sleep. I know those sound like little things for most people, but for the past few years, these have been HUGE, meltdown-causing issues for us.
Last week, I went to a women’s Bible study (I’ll post more about that soon) and she went into a room for homeschooled kids. A new place, a new building, a new room, a new teacher, and new kids. Any one of these things would have been enough for a meltdown in the past. I was fully prepared to not even make it to the Bible study in case I needed to stay in the room with her.
Turns out she didn’t need me at all! She immediately opened up and talked to the teacher, and made a friend before I even left the room. They struck up a conversation and were asking each other what they liked (they both love dinosaurs!) and having a great conversation.
She was a bit nervous when we went back this week, but only a little quiet nervous…not “I don’t want to go” nervous. Totally appropriate feelings for the situation!
Over the past several months, I’ve seen her growing by leaps and bounds in her social skills. She has been playing so much better with other kids, making friends quickly, and using appropriate words to communicate with them. It’s been a very long time since I’ve seen her growl at someone on the playground because she didn’t like what they were doing, or acting like an animal because she was nervous instead of just talking. She’s reading social cues, facial expressions, she’s extremely empathetic, and while she still interrupts – it’s now at an appropriate level for a young child, rather than because she has no clue that other people are talking.
She’s also FUNNY!!! I mean, she’s always been funny to me – singing silly songs, or doing cute things. But now, she has a sense of humor! She’s still very literal and doesn’t get some of our jokes, but she gets a lot of them. She even tells us her own – either ones she makes up, or ones she’s memorized from a book. Love it!!
So, where does this leave us?
I don’t know. It’s not like we need to do anything different, really. I find that when I focus strongly on her SPD, and take the steps to make sure she receives sensory “therapy” every single day – enough exercise, exposure to different textures, pressure techniques, massages, swinging, heavy-work – that she does incredibly well. When I slack off on those things, we see the negative results for sure. I’ll continue to work with her at home as we homeschool, do sensory activities, and basic therapy activities that I can do myself.