google-site-verification: google17a9d9ae14f90c1e.htmlThe Joys and Challenges of Parenting an Asperger’s Child | Skhumbuzo Foundation

I think becoming a parent for many is one of life’s greatest achievements. But unfortunately society looks at the kids we have and also uses them as a measuring stick and ticks off our achievements. Married, tick. House, tick. Job, tick. Kids, tick…and the list continues. For many having kids isn’t easy as we face various challenges and obstacles. In my opinion, there is no book ever written that has all the answers as our experiences and our children are all so different.

I have three kids, two boys and a girl in the middle. My eldest was born in the UK and the younger two in South Africa. Often when people ask me what my kids are like, I tell them that my eldest boy is going to draw the car, my youngest boy is going to build the car and my daughter is going to drive that car. I think that’s the best way for me to describe them because they are so uniquely different and special.

When my eldest son was born he was just perfect. He looked perfect, a beautiful baby, there was no reason to doubt that it wasn’t so. But as he got older, I should have seen the signs as he did little things that were out of the ordinary and different to other kids. He liked order, his order. At two he was frustrated that he could not read and yet by eight, he was still struggling to ride a bike and kick a ball.

We moved from the UK to South Africa when he was three. He started preschool and did well, always having an enquiring mind. The preschool principal suggested he progress to the next level as she felt he was academically advanced and needed more challenging work. He became the youngest in the class to his peers. I trusted her judgement as she knew his capabilities in the classroom and had many years of experience. Our problems started when J started Grade R, at Primary school.

On the recommendation of the preschool, we asked if J could start primary school in Grade 1 and not grade R but they declined because he was only five years old. That first term the Gr R teacher told me he was naughty, disruptive and a bit of a handful in her class and suggested I take him out of school two weeks earlier before the Easter holidays. I was horrified! I thought there must be something really wrong with my kid if a teacher is suggesting such drastic measures. But my husband and I decided to approach the school principal and see what could be done. 

J was assessed by a clinic psychologist. She reported that he was above average academically but was on the autism spectrum, diagnosing him with a mild form of Asperger’s Syndrome. That day we got back from the appointment, I read everything I could about Aspergers. My husband went into denial and said there is nothing wrong with his son. He was right, I guess. There is nothing wrong with our son; his brain is just wired a bit differently. 

After the assessment J was promoted to Grade 1 on the psychologist’s recommendation. She felt that academically he would cope but emotionally he was immature and might struggle with that aspect when interacting with his peers. He did struggle to make friends that year but I put it down to the fact that he got into his class late, a whole term, when the other kids had already made their friends and had their cliques. But he excelled academically.

Maths was his thing and the new teacher understood him. She was a more mature teacher with years of experience and gave him more challenging and stimulating work. She put him in the chess group and entered him into maths competitions. He flourished and throughout his school years he excelled at maths. In Grade 7 he achieved first place in the Western Province Maths Olympiad and continued doing well in high school. 

But things were not always easy. His father never acknowledged that his son was diagnosed with Aspergers and claimed he did not want labels for his child. It caused many arguments between us as I was of the opinion that if people knew they would know how to deal with J. Up to the time that we got a diagnosis, we also thought that we had a naughty child and he should be punished. After the diagnosis, his behaviour made more sense to me but it was never something his father acknowledged. We never told our son. 

Asperger Syndrome (AS), also known as Asperger’s, is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterised by significant difficulties in social interaction and nonverbal communication, along with restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviour and interests.

J always had difficulty with social interaction, slight physical malfunctions as his motor skills were not developing relevant to his age. He almost seemed clumsy in a way but then because I had tried to inform myself about Aspergers, I knew this was one of the characteristics of the disorder. Learning to ride a bicycle was a nightmare and his father got angry because this should be a simple thing to grasp. Kicking and catching a ball, things we take for granted, was difficult and I guess that’s why J never liked sport. But he swam well and became quite good at chess.

I wish I had done more for my son in a way that people knew he had Aspergers. I wish I had told him that he had been diagnosed with it. All through high school he never knew and we never had him assessed ever again but J himself must have known he was different as he put various coping mechanisms in place for himself. However these didn’t always have the desired outcome. I remember he used to take a stress ball into the exams so that he could use it and keep his mind focused on what he supposed to be doing and not drift away. The school confiscated the stress ball and when he told us, his dad said he didn’t need it in any case. 

My son has a very mild form of Aspergers. You would not know it because he looks and behaves like any other kid his age. However there are a few giveaways. He always needed to put things away in the same place, he would latch on to one person and that was his friend forever, and he would become obsessed and have an all absorbing interest in a particular activity or hobby. At age five to about 10, it was Harry Potter, then it became Magic the Gathering which is a table top and digital collectible card game.

After all the years that his father denied the fact that J had Aspergers, I believe he eventually told J. J was upset as he felt we should have told him so that he could understand why he always seemed a bit different to other kids. 

J is only mildly afflicted and one would not really know if you didn’t say anything. However, a slight affliction is as bad as a big affliction. Our schools are still not geared for kids that have academic challenges. Our education system is not geared for kids that are academically challenged or even academically strong. Either way our system is flawed. Unless you are financially able to get the diagnosis, the treatment, and the best schools with small numbers in each class with individual attention, you are definitely going to be lost in the system.

Recently there’s been a better awareness that students need assistance in the form of reader and scribes, extra time, etc. but it’s still not enough. Underfunding, overcrowding, no resources and the list continues, does not help the child. My son was an academically strong student and is finishing his 3rd year at UCT completing his studies in computer science. But I often wonder if things were different, if I had more money, if I had sent him to a different school, if the teachers knew, if his friends knew, would it have been different for him? Would he have turned out to be the next whatever because he was nurtured to his full potential? I don’t know. What I do know is that he is healthy and he is loved…no matter how he is wired. 

The End

Thanks to – Melanie Uhuaba

Skhumbuzo Help Chat
Send via WhatsApp