Asperger’s, Autism, and Parenting
by Andy Dayton, guest contributor
Here’s a four-minute animation from StoryCorps with a touching conversation between 12-year-old Joshua Littman and his mother, Sarah. Joshua has Asperger’s syndrome, which is related to autism. His mother describes it as “born without social genes.” We get a sense of Joshua’s unique perspective and perceptiveness by the questions he asks his mother, including this weighty one:
Joshua: Did I turn out to be the son you wanted when I was born? Did I meet your expectactations, and …
Sarah: You’ve exceeded my expectations, sweetie. Because — sure you have these fantasies about what your child’s gonna be like — but you have made me grow so much as a parent, because you made me think …
Joshua: Well I was the one who made you a parent.
Sarah: You were the one who made me a parent. That’s a good point. But also, because you think differently than, y’know, what they tell you in the “parenting books.” I really had to learn to think out of the box with you, and it’s made me much more creative as a parent and as a person. And I’ll always thank you for that.
It made me think of SOF’s program “Being Autistic, Being Human” — a conversation with Paul Collins and Jennifer Elder, whose son Morgan is autistic. The show forever changed my understanding of the words “autism” and “Asperger’s’” — a conception that, for me, is now more of a sliding scale and includes many talented people that, if they lived today, may have been diagnosed with Asperger’s or autism. Here’s Collins on some of what he’s learned from his son:
Krista: Yes. I mean, how does living with Morgan and the way you’ve had to think about autism — how does that change the way you think about some of these great existential questions or, you know, what it means to be human? How does it change the way you live — think about yourself?
Paul Collins: I think I’ve become — I would hope, at least, much more patient and empathetic with other people when they’re acting in ways that I don’t understand. I think that in the past when someone seemed to be acting oddly or seemed to be sort of very socially awkward or just doing things that seems kind of unnerving or didn’t make sense to me, I would think, ‘Well, what’s that guy’s problem?’ and, you know, maybe avoid them. That’s, I think, a natural reaction for anyone to have.
Paul Collins: But at the same time, when I see that now, I actually find myself asking that as a genuine question. ‘What is that person contending with, you know? Or what is it like for that person?’