By JENNIFER JONES
Today I outed my family.
We’ve been a closet Aspie family for eight years now, with only close friends knowing that my husband and two eldest daughters are diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.
Asperger’s is so well known now so I don’t feel I need to go into a description of what it is, suffice to say that it is on the Autism Spectrum and we’re down the mild end, with my eldest being more the blurry Autistic/Asperger end.
My eldest was so much more obvious when she was little than my second daughter. She had the tell-tale spinning train wheels endlessly but not actually playing with toys, monumental meltdowns, the fussy eating (still continues), social impairment and communication difficulties plus myriad sensory issues. She also had seven movies memorised from start to finish which she would say word for word while walking around the backyard. And she could do a new 200 piece jigsaw at age two in about ten minutes.
Houston, we may have a problem!
Life was not easy when my eldest was a toddler. She’d fly into uncontrollable meltdowns if schedules didn’t go exactly like we’d said, which could last for hours on end. By the time she’d finished we’d both end up exhausted wrecks on the floor. There was a whole lot of what to dos and no understanding or answers.
Life gives you answers if you are silent enough and I remember one day going to the computer and just typing in Autism and bingo, there was my answer. My daughter checked off every single point on the checklist. And while we were looking at it, I looked sideways at my husband who was laughing and saying, “that’s me!”
And so our journey began.
The young years with my girls were devoted to therapy. I am and will be eternally grateful to all the people that came into our life and helped us. The very first angel to come to us was an occupational therapist who arrived at our house with a box of toys and all the answers to my millions of questions. She educated me. Right from the start, I took to the education part of this journey hungry for all the knowledge I could gain mostly to help my daughters, but partly because it sparked an fascination for the brain and human development. I started reading everything I could, even text books. Mostly I listened to my gut feeling and discussed this with the team of professionals I had painstakingly picked out.
The other very early person that came into our life was my eldest daughter’s first speech therapist. She wasn’t just a speech therapist but worked with a lot of kids on the spectrum who have something called Semantic Pragmatic Speech Disorder. This is where the children have the words but don’t know how to use them. They literally don’t know what language is for. It was a very hard concept to get my head around. The other thing she did was teach my daughter imagination. This was probably one of the most profound things I have witnessed. For six months this lady and I sat with a doll pretending to say “hello.” My daughter would look at us like we were mad. Why would a plastic doll talk? But we persisted through each mind numbingly boring hour of sitting there pretending the doll was talking. Then one day she picked up the doll and said “hello.” A breakthrough! And I can tell you in honest truth, from that day on she was off and running and is the most fantastically imaginative person now. We had actually witnessed the neurons in her brain connecting. I felt deeply moved by that experience.