Aspergers Meets Middle School

Last night was one of those nights when I was reminded that Trio Man is in that awkward spot between special needs and typical. Or perhaps, more accurately, in that small group of kids who are a little special needs, a little typical, gifted enough to be awkward, and in middle school.

Already isolated by Aspergers. Already isolated by giftedness. And then there’s the middle school scene.

It was one of those nights that I just wanted to hold him all night and protect him for the rest of eternity.

You see, things didn’t go as planned. Well, not as he had planned. And Trio Man plans everything in his head.

It was the Christmas party for the church youth group (which, as he would point out, is not technically a “youth group,” but that’s the most widely known way to explain the kind of group that’s he is in at our large church).

Trio Man thought that they were going to eat and socialize all night. Instead, they socialized for a while and then started playing games. I don’t know what kind of games. It doesn’t really matter. Because in his mind, playing games was not in the plan.

And it was noisy.

And they were not in their usual small groups.

And no one was as excited as he was about the Family Favorite Chocolate Chip Cookies that he brought to the party.

They really are the best chocolate chip cookies, and Trio Man wanted everyone to enjoy them as much as he does. I made a double batch. Only 5 cookies were eaten at the party, and three of them were eaten by him! His feelings were hurt.

He called, and I picked him up early.

His feelings were complicated. “Nothing goes as I plan! Not my birthday party. Not my gaming party. Not tonight. I really want everything to go as I plan.”

“And I really haven’t told anyone this, but the kids are bullies.” Which kids? The kids in youth group.

I don’t know if the kids really are bullies or are just typical middle schoolers trying to figure out “their group.” I have some investigating to do.

But I do understand how he feels. I remember how much peer pressure was in my youth group. It doesn’t seem right that there is jockeying for position and cliques and unkindness in a church gathering, but in reality it is just a normal part of life.

Sometimes we parents have to remember that. As much as I want to protect him, and as much as I want to be “gung-ho” about church, I understand that we Christians are as human as the next person.

But I did tell Trio Man that he doesn’t have to go to youth group. Or, the next time that the youth group plans something that’s different from the weekly meeting, we can ask for more information about what’s planned for the evening so that Trio Man can align his plan with the group leaders’ plan.

And he can always plan to leave early.

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Is it Aspergers or Is it Giftedness?

How Do You Tell the Difference and Does It Even Matter?

In an IEP meeting, the Director of Special Ed (who was also the Principal at our small charter school) said that Trio Man’s issues have more to do with his giftedness than his Aspergers.

Say what!?!

I knew Trio Man was gifted. That’s not what I was reacting to. What I was reacting to was the thought that his giftedness was affecting his behavior.

So I started researching giftedness.

Giftedness Behaviors

I found what you would expect.

  • Gifted kids often get bored in class.
  • Gifted kids talk like adults but have the maturity level of their age peers.
  • Gifted kids don’t have many friends because they talk like adults rather than kids.

I learned a few things that are more obvious but that I hadn’t given much thought:

  • The over-achiever may end up being the teacher’s assistant because she is always the first one done with her work.
  • Other gifted kids (usually boys) will choose not to do their work because it’s “so boring” and instead think about things that are interesting to them–which means they look like they’re daydreaming.
  • Some gifted kids might even have behavior problems because they will act out rather than do their “boring” work.

But the Director of Special Ed couldn’t have been talking about that. Certainly there was more to her statement.

Then I found a book titled Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Children and Adults: ADHD, Bipolar, OCD, Asperger’s, Depression, and Other Disorders.

Huh?

It never occurred to me that a neurotypical kid–that is, not Autistic, not ADHD–would have behaviors similar to my boy with Aspergers.

(Now that I’ve read what I wrote, I realize that giftedness would not be classified as neurotypical, but that’s another blog post…)

Aspergers AND Giftedness

So I skipped right to the chapter about Aspergers and giftedness.

Here’s what stopped me in my tracks:

“It can be difficult to differentiate between some gifted children and children with Asperger’s…. In fact, there may be a gradation rather than Asperger’s… being a discrete category” (p. 100).

They’re suggesting that Aspergers and Giftedness are on a spectrum!

Wow! How ironic is that?

How are Aspergers and Gifted behaviors similar? Take a look at the graphic.

Comparing Aspergers and Giftedness

However, “if the child can convey to others some of the joy that he finds in his hobby and spontaneously seeks to share it with others, then there is a decreased likelihood that an Asperger’s Disorder diagnosis is appropriate” (p. 101).

JUST Aspergers

But what about Aspergers and not gifted? Read the rest of the graphic.

“May,” “less,” “more,” “almost,” “tend”… All these words indicate that someone with Aspergers is closer to these descriptions and someone with Giftedness is further away from these descriptions–But it’s not black-and-white. On a spectrum, remember?

Misdiagnosed? OR Dual Diagnosed?

Is Trio Man misdiagnosed or dual diagnosed? On his good days, I’d say he’s misdiagnosed. On his bad days, I’d say he’s dual diagnosed.

How about your son or daughter?

Does It Even Matter?

For our situation, no. It doesn’t matter.

Trio Man’s IEP says that he has Autism. Because of his Autism, he gets special educational services that he needs, particularly during the first 2 months of the school year because he has a hard time transitioning into the new year. By the end of the year, you would think that he is misdiagnosed.

But, frankly, Trio Man wouldn’t be doing as well as he’s doing without the support of the special ed teachers and the accommodations by the regular ed teachers.

The difference is that now I know that some of his behaviors are not just from his Aspergers but also from his Giftedness.

But, no matter what…

Trio Man is amazingly and wonderfully made.