Today I was welcomed into my son’s 3rd grade class (in public school) to read a picture book called “Understanding Sam and Asperger Syndrome” (by van Niekerk and Venter) and share some important information with the students. My husband and I requested this opportunity about a month ago because Ethan has been having some pretty huge challenges with classmates regarding friendship and social issues and we want to do everything possible to give Ethan (and his classmates) the tools they need to be successful in working through these complications. We are very open with Ethan about his diagnosis and the reason for many of his struggles and as a result he is also very open with others in his life so we felt this was a natural next step. During the pre-planning meeting with school staff held to discuss today’s visit, I was also told that we could send a letter home with the kids to help inform parents! I’ve been really excited as I have prepared for this opportunity and I absolutely loved spending 20 minutes with the children today.
For reasons not conveyed to me, the school staff chose not to send my full letter home with the students and decided instead to send an abbreviated version. While the abbreviated version listed some important information (and is of course a good start – for which I am appreciative), it didn’t convey a large portion of what we felt was significantly important...
With that stated, I hope that my letter in its entirety might help some of our readers here. It is printed below.
Today your child learned that one of his/her classmates – Ethan Wilcox – lives with Asperger’s Syndrome, an Autism Spectrum Disorder. In order to help the children understand why Ethan may act differently than they might expect in certain situations, I read a book called “Understanding Sam and Asperger Syndrome” aloud to the class and Ethan and I together answered some questions.
In case your child has questions or wants to discuss this further at home, I wanted to share some information and let you know where you might find more details if you should be interested.
Asperger’s Syndrome is often considered an “invisible disability” because it is impossible to tell if someone has it just by looking at them and unlike individuals with more severe forms of Autism, children with Asperger’s Syndrome are typically able to communicate clearly. Children with Asperger’s Syndrome can be very bright and even gifted in many ways (like Ethan) but may struggle greatly with making and keeping friends. Learning appropriate social etiquette and picking up on subtle social cues can be very hard and may come more slowly for children like Ethan. Classmates and friends with lots of patience and kindness are invaluable for children with Asperger’s Syndrome. While Ethan tries very hard to be a good friend – it may not always seem that way. He has to work to remain calm and handle frustrating or confusing situations with a positive attitude; but sometimes he gets over-stimulated or irritated and might say things that sound rude or insensitive without even realizing how it might make other people feel. We work with him every day at home (as do the teachers at school) to help Ethan learn from these difficult instances so that he might handle himself more appropriately in the future. Ethan has benefitted greatly from a special diet and numerous private therapies, treatments and interventions over the past 5 years.
Dr. Tony Atwood is an expert on Asperger’s Syndrome and wrote a very informative article about Asperger’s Syndrome HERE.
Ethan loves to play and build with LEGOs, read books, play Mario Bro’s games (on his Wii & DS), ride his bike, play the piano and he just started Cub Scouts this year. Ethan is very loving, funny and has a tremendous memory. He works very hard to learn from his mistakes and wants to be a good friend and have friends at school.
Thanks in advance for helping your child to be an understanding, patient and kind classmate and friend to Ethan. We enjoy having play dates after school and on weekends, so please send me an email or give me a call if you’d like to get to know us better or have any questions!
~Leigh A. Wilcox, Ethan’s Mom
I’d love to hear if you’ve had success reaching out to the students and parents at your child’s school? Have you ever written a letter like mine above? Have you found kids are more accepting, understanding, patient or kind with your child as a result? In my experience, when children (and most adults) understand that our kids work very hard to function as well as they do and why certain things may be challenging, they’re more likely to accommodate and accept.
My goal was to inform and educate and I’m hopeful that my intended message will make a positive impact in my son’s classroom and beyond.
Leigh Attaway Wilcox is Editor in Charge of the internationally acclaimed AutismSpot.com and her work can be found on many of the pLDNetworks sites. Leigh is the author of ALL BETTER: A Touch-and-Heal Book published by Piggy Toes Press in 2007 (now available for digital download via Moving Picture Books). Leigh lives in North Texas with her husband and young son who loves reading, LEGOs, Mario Bros. and also happens to live with Asperger's Syndrome, an Autism Spectrum Disorder.