Being weird… odd… strange… those are labels given unthinkingly to some children because they don’t “fit” the model, the idea of what children (or teens) are supposed to be. It’s not good to be different you see, it makes most people pretty uncomfortable. Different isn’t what we expect, what we know how to handle.
As the parent of a child who came within a hair’s breath of being diagnosed with Aspergers, I bleed for him each time I hear these words used to describe him. I remind myself daily that being different isn’t bad. It’s just different.
In fact, then there’s research that suggests Aspergers is more a different way of thinking than a disorder. Perhaps even the next step in our evolution. But when you first hear that diagnosis attached to your child it knocks you for a loop and shakes your foundations. It’s hardly news you shout from the rooftops. The future seems bleak and any hopes for a social life and family, independence and a rewarding career vanish into thin air.
Those preconceptions were soundly shaken recently with the recent announcement by U.K. singing sensation Susan Boyle that she has been diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome. It was the latest surprise from a woman who made her mark on the world back in 2009 by being so much more than she looked. Since her debut on Britain’s Got Talent Susan has sold 15 million albums but has also made headlines for erratic behavior and treatment for nervous exhaustion. Now we know why.
Today experts see Aspergers as more than “high functioning autism”, due to the less severe symptoms and the lack of a language delay. These children are not aloof or uninterested, in fact they want to fit in and interact, they just don’t know how. Socially awkward is a good description. Interests become obsessions and such children (or adults) often seem clumsy or uncoordinated. Lots of times teachers (or others) see the Aspergers child (or adult) as normal, but behaving differently than others.
Susan Boyle’s announcement will hopefully erase some small measure of the stigma attached to Aspergers, give hope to children and their parents. Yes there will be struggles, setbacks and lots of coaching, but with all that those with this condition can have full, rewarding lives. That kind of hope means everything to parents who are trying to prepare a child for life in the real world, outside the comforts and accommodations of a loving home.
In time, perhaps people will be less harsh to the children (and parents) of those who have Aspergers. Soon employers may be more willing to embrace the differences these people bring to the workplace and make reasonable accommodations so they can succeed. Maybe we’ll start to recognize that here kids (or adults) with Aspergers have incredible gifts to offer the world, and that we are the losers if we berate them or treat them as misfits.
Makes you think that the “weird” kid might just be the one to find the cure for cancer, discover a new kind of energy, or some other act of genius or greatness.