Asperger’s Syndrome is known as an invisible disability and generally speaking from a personal point of view there is a part of it that is. However when I look at my son sometimes I wonder how much of what he does is really invisible, how much of his disability is really invisible. Is his disability really invisible or simply misunderstood or ignored?
J has extremely high anxiety levels. He shows his anxiety via his OCD. He panics with every tiny bit of dirt that touches him or is near him, he asks us, “Do you promise I’m not dirty now,” quite literally more than 50 times a day. He washes his hands constantly, I mean constantly, he’s actually got really sore hands at the moment, his knuckles have all cracked and even started to bleed due to him washing them so often. Sometimes he just refuses to touch things or go near things because he thinks they’re dirty or “germy”. Germy is his new word, his new phobia………………and ofcourse anything at all related to school is school germy. He’s been told by someone , (I don’t know who but I’m guessing it was someone at school because it wasn’t us and he doesn’t see anyone else), that some germs can make you very ill and so he now thinks that if he gets dirty or “germy” he’ll be poorly or could even die!
Another sign that J’s anxiety levels are rising is his chewing, bouncing, flapping and random one or two word answers/sentences. He chews toys, his fingers (another reason why they get sore), clothes and the inside of his mouth. He gets a fair few mouth ulcers due to his chewing. His bouncing and flapping can be due to excitement as well as anxiety however you can usually tell which it is by assessing the situation he’s/your currently in. For example if he was bouncing and flapping down a beach it’s kinda obvious that it’s excitement………..see what I mean? And his speech can become quite sporadic, he can randomly say just a word or two, sometimes he’ll make a statement of some sort, again that’s completely random and often if he’s asked questions when he’s anxious he’ll give just one or 2 word answers…………usually yes or no. Ofcourse when those anxiety levels boil over J often has violent outbursts.
J has a social disability. For J, as a 6 yr old child this means he struggles in social situations. He doesn’t have any friends at school, although he’ll play with whoever will play his games with him at playtime. He doesn’t understand why other kids don’t want to play his game everyday, he doesn’t understand that with friendship there has to be give and take and sometimes he has to play the games of others and sometimes he’s going to lose. He came home from school last week on 2 separate occasions with minor injuries that other children had done (a whole other post!), and said that another child had accidentally punched him etc because he doesn’t understand that it’s wrong for someone to do that. He does however understand that he can’t hit back because it’s against the school rules to hit back. He just quite simply doesn’t understand how to “act” in and respond to some social situations.
J has a communication disability. I think the level of his communication disability is often misunderstood. J has excellent language skills, he uses words in his speech that children his age usually wouldn’t use, words that older children or even adults would use. He understands what most “big words” mean, for example at 3 he told his preschool teachers that they were ignorant because they didn’t listen to him. He can read almost everything that’s put in front of him, (provided it’s of interest to him). However J is incredibly literal, he doesn’t understand sarcasm, metaphors or at times even the words that are said to him and interprets them in his own way. This is the same with the written word, the school rules are a good example of this. One of the school rules that are written down and displayed throughout the school states once you are outside you must stay outside. So the majority of children would tell someone if they need to go in to go to the toilet or to get a tissue for example or they would just go in and then return to the playground but not J. If he needs the toilet and is already outside he won’t go back inside, instead he’ll hold it in and wait until he comes home or until the next playtime (if he remembers before he goes outside), because the rules say once outside, stay outside! When people say things to him or make suggestions to him he takes them as instructions, things he has to do. For example if a teacher suggests he try eating his apple peel rather than throwing it away, his understanding of that was I can’t eat apple at school anymore because I have to eat the peel and I don’t like it, so I simply can’t eat it anymore! He’s extremely fearful of getting into trouble at school and getting “told off” by his teachers and so he struggles to tell them if he doesn’t like something or if he can’t do something etc and due to this fear and lack of trust in his teachers, he releases those fears when he gets home. He tells us that he had to do something (handwriting is a biggy!) even though it hurt his hands or he didn’t know what he was supposed to do and when we ask him if he told his teacher this, he responds with “I couldn’t, I just had to do it or I’ll get in trouble!”
J also has difficulty at times processing what has been said to him. Often if something isn’t said directly to him, he doesn’t understand that he is being spoken to and may need instructions etc repeated. Often if there is alot of other things going on around him he struggles to focus on what is being said to him because unlike you or I, he can’t automatically block everything else out and focus on just that one person speaking.
I could go on and on. The point I’m trying to make is yes, Asperger’s Syndrome is a hidden disability but invisible? I don’t think it’s an invisible disability, some of his difficulties are hard to spot, hidden even but alot of his difficulties and how he displays them are so visible it shocks me that people (and I’m directing this at schools, you know those people who are supposed to educate our children!) can be so blind to them. So I’m left asking is it really an invisible disability or are Aspie needs just ignored and misunderstood?