By Daniel J. Vance
"Jason" became personally acquainted with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) when his child, "Tommy," was diagnosed at 4. Jason, which wasn't his real name, reads this column in a Florida newspaper. He wanted a pseudonym to protect his son's identity.
In a telephone interview, Jason said, "(Tommy) was in preschool at the time of the diagnosis. He was getting frustrated and upset a lot and thought he was being treated unfairly (by teachers). My wife thought he needed more discipline. Then my wife heard of a free testing service our county had for certain disabilities. At first, they said he had pervasive deficit disorder, before changing that to autism spectrum disorder."
According to the National Institutes of Health, ASD is characterized, in part, by persistent deficits in social communication and interaction, restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior, interests or activities, and a clinically significant impairment in a major life function, such as school.
Jason said, "In school, if (Tommy) felt like he was getting behind or the teacher was moving too fast, he'd call out in the classroom at the teacher to stop. He was anxious he wasn't going to be able to do what he was supposed to do."
His son's school gave Tommy a full-time aide, someone to calm and slow him, and help him stay focused on matters at hand.
"His intellectual capacity wasn't the problem, it was (mainly) his anxiety," Jason said. "He used to hate school because he was afraid he wasn't going to be able to get his assignments done."
Jason said his son wasn't wired to perceive, nonverbal feedback, often talked non-stop about certain topics, and held parents and teachers to their literal words, such as when they promised to do something for him "in a few minutes." His son kept himself on a rigid after-school schedule to get his schoolwork done in order to manage his anxiety.
Tommy's diagnosis used to be Asperger's syndrome, which technically no longer exists as a diagnosis, but has been lumped in with ASD. Tommy is now 20 and attending a community college to learn computer-assisted drafting.
In terms of advice, Jason said, "Work with your school to get your child whatever care they can offer. With us, (Tommy) had a helper to keep him calm. When he got distracted at school, the helper helped him know what to do."