"When did you find out your son has learning difficulties?" asked the reporter from my local newspaper.
"He doesn’t have learning difficulties," I replied. "He has Asperger’s Syndrome. That’s different."
"Oh," she said, "Okay."
I assumed it was a slip of the tongue. So I continued to talk about my book – a memoir of motherhood and Asperger’s Syndrome – but didn’t pause to explain exactly what Asperger’s was.
Then, I read the article. The theme? My son’s "learning difficulties".
I screamed. And then I cried.
"Ms Case said it wasn't until a school counsellor recommended her son have an IQ test that she knew he had learning difficulties," the article read.
My son Leo started school knowing how to read and write. He would read chapter books in his Prep class while his classmates chanted the alphabet.
In the schoolyard, things weren’t so easy. He often played alone. He would wander in late from lunch, or sit on the outside of a classroom circle, reading while he was supposed to be listening to the teacher.
The journalist wrote that I wondered whether my son was gifted, or if he struggled at school. But it wasn’t an either/or proposition.
It turned out that these two things were connected. The school counsellor suggested we test Leo for being gifted – and the resulting profile of strengths and challenges spelled out Asperger’s Syndrome. An official diagnosis later confirmed it.
Asperger’s is characterised by the very presentation Leo had: advanced skills in some areas, like language and memory, and being behind in others, like social comprehension.
Someone with Asperger’s Syndrome learns social skills intellectually rather than intuitively, meaning that they need to process every social interaction as it happens. Though they can and do learn social skills, it requires extra time and effort.
Emotional management is a challenge. People with Asperger’s Syndrome feel emotions intensely – and can react when upset, angry or frustrated, with "meltdowns". They can learn to recognise triggers and take themselves out of emotional situations before they melt down.
Another characteristic of Asperger’s Syndrome is a special area of interest, which will dominate a person’s thoughts, free time and conversation. These interests can be arcane, like doorknobs, or they can be normal interests for their age group, pursued with an unusual intensity. Often, they can lead to careers, or become a way of making connections to others who share those interests.
When Leo was diagnosed, aged seven, his special interests were Lego and AFL football. These days, he’s immersed in film – and his You Tube channel. He has nearly 700 subscribers, has been invited to join a select group who receive monthly payments for their work (at the moment, he makes twenty dollars per month), and has made friends all over the world, who he communicates with daily. He also has a tight-knit group of ‘You-Tuber’ friends at school.