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"As a parent of a child with Asperger syndrome, I am appalled by Don Burke’s words."

As a parent of a child with Asperger syndrome, I am appalled and saddened by Don Burke’s alleged un-diagnosed Asperger Syndrome, being used as a contributing factor for his abhorrent behaviour.

Firstly, Asperger’s Syndrome is a DIAGNOSED neurological condition on the higher functioning end of the autism spectrum. Secondly, individuals with Asperger Syndrome experience difficulty with social and communicative skills, quite contrary to what Don Burke speculated in his interview with Tracy Grimshaw on A Current Affair.

Individuals with Asperger Syndrome are often viewed by their peers as “odd”, and are frequently a target for bullying and teasing. They are highly unlikely, to engage in bullying behaviour themselves as a result of the condition, which was Don Burke’s cowardly defence. I know this because my son was a victim of bullying. He would come home and say things like “I don’t deserve to live”, “I am an idiot” “Why am I here?” Hearing these words as a parent were debilitating. With support we were able to help our son through these dark times. We are so proud of what he has achieved thus far, for his kindness, honesty and resilience.

LISTEN: The Revolution Has Come For Don Burke. On this bonus episode of Out Loud, Holly, Rachel and Jessie discuss Don Burke and ask the question – what happens next? Post continues after audio.

In addition to individuals diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Asperger Syndrome being socially and emotionally challenged, they can also experience difficulties interpreting audio and visual stimuli. As a result, they can become overwhelmed with sensations which can result in meltdowns, as they struggle to understand and relate to everyday environments like the doctor, the hairdresser or the supermarket.

During what I thought would be brief visits to the supermarket to buy bread and milk, my son would have meltdowns as a result of experiencing sensory overload. His anxiety would heighten particularly when he would approach the checkout, due to the high pitch sound of the scanner. The advice I was given from our support team was to prepare him for what to expect. Together we read books, watched videos, and engaged in role playing activities.

Some people diagnosed with Asperger's experience sensory overload with too much visual and audio stimuli. The app 'Let's Go Shopping,' helps them to adjust.Image supplied.
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This preparation and continual rehearsal helped my son to overcome many hurdles. From personal experience, the more information and sensory exposure you can offer your child, will equip them with the knowledge and skills to encourage them to be less anxious and stressed. With practice change can happen. As a parent and an extremely proud mother of an eleven-year old son, I wanted to pay it forward. I wanted to help other children develop the confidence to explore every day environments, and take ownership for their learning by making connections between experiences, concepts, and processes, working towards supermarket shopping being a pleasurable experience for the whole family.

Together with my son, we have developed an app called Let’s Go Shopping. It's designed to assist children to become familiar with the many auditory and visual sensory challenges of a supermarket environment. Children will feel in control, as they select a character, create their shopping list, and hear the sounds at a volume of their choosing. Children can explore the depths of the app, through putting items into their trolley. The names of the items are displayed under each picture to introduce children to spelling through image recognition. Children are rewarded with a star for successful completion of each level. For more information you can go to letsgoapps.com.au.

Don Burke has certainly demonstrated his ignorance and clearly needs to take responsibility for his actions. More importantly he needs to get his facts straight before randomly making such absurd and hurtful accusations. How are these individuals supposed to successfully integrate into society with people like Don Burke slandering their reputation by linking Asperger Syndrome to such underhanded behaviour? Furthermore, he states in his interview with Tracey Grimshaw, “I am an Asperger’s person and have a lot of other failings.” How are we supposed to dispel the stigma that surrounds mental health with Don Burkes comments? I am deeply offended as I am not of the opinion that my son’s diagnosis is a “failing”.

It makes him the person that he is and that is to be celebrated.