Guest Author - Bonnie Sayers
It has happened again. This past weekend in Orange County, California a young teen killed two neighbors before committing suicide. He had not worked since graduating high school two years earlier. It sounded like a bizarre mystery to me when I first learned of this through the news outlets. I figured the fact that this person did not have a job was a factor in the outcome. It seemed like depression and rage took over.
Today when driving to our social skills and feeding therapy appointment the talk radio station I listen to had an update on the young man who committed the crimes. It was stated that he suffered from Asperger's Syndrome. On the one hand I was quite surprised to hear this since I do not recall those with Asperger's Syndrome being violent.
Over the years I have heard that there is a suicide risk among those with Asperger's Syndrome. Parents, families and teachers need to keep a watchful eye on the emerging teenager who has Asperger's Syndrome. Know the warning signs and learn about the three D's = drugs, depression and dangerous activity.
Some refer to Asperger's Syndrome as the Geek Syndrome, with many referring to themselves as an Aspie. The term NT means neurotypical, another way of saying normal. When having an internet conversation these terms are often utilized. Children, teens and adults get diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome. Usually a child will get the diagnosis of autism, where the age varies for AS. I personally have heard of many being diagnosed as a teen or young adult.
The major component differentiating autism with Asperger's Syndrome is the language deficits are in Autism. Both those who are higher functioning with autism and those with Asperger's Syndrome have socialization difficulties. They lack reading social cues and empathy. They may have fleeting eye contact and perseverate on interests and hobbies. They are also literal and visual thinkers to some degree or another.
The incident that took place here in Southern California is a tragedy all around for the community and families involved. The parents to the boy did not know he had a gun. It was reported that he was crying out on the internet seeking a friend. I know from our personal experience that children on the Autism Spectrum are often friend-less. My son would love to have a playmate and enjoy a sleepover.
He will use the phrase "best friends" whenever he has finished having a conversation with someone. That is his new best friend, even if he has no clue to the kids name. The last day of the autism day camp this past summer he and his friend were having a hard time saying goodbye. I was quite surprised when I saw Nicholas lean over and give the boy a hug and was happy that he made the gesture.
They publish a directory with the data for the families each year. Nicholas has already drawn a birthday card for this boy. Each year on the last day of camp they give out framed photos of the child. This past summer the photo for Nicholas has the two of them walking hand in hand on one of their outings. This does concern me somewhat because they are 10 and 11 and I wonder how others in the community would perceive "tweens" holding hands.
A lot of the gestures, movements and body language my son has developed could be misconstrued by teenagers once he hits middle school and high school. This has me very worried, so I am learning all I can now about the teenage years for children on the Autism Spectrum.
I do not know why kids with Asperger's Syndrome are more prone to suicide than those with Autism. I do know that high functioning autism and Asperger's Syndrome are not the same thing. They have different codes in the DSM-IV.
I believe another issue to be on guard to is Bipolar Disorder. From what I have read this is developed around the same time - teenage years through young adults. My kids also have a 50% chance of becoming Paranoid Schizoprehnic during the same time period due to their Father having the same disorder.
I am in no rush for my kids to mature and get into those years. I think Matthew is prime for Bipolar and not sure why I have this feeling. There is also Alzheimer's Disease in my family genes and hope it does not afflict me the same time the boys might be emerging with other issues.
I have no qualms about snooping if it is warranted as Nicholas gets older. From what I have read the signs to note are:
personal hygiene has changed
sleeping patterns are out of whack
clothing styles drastically change
eating less or more
gaining or losing weight
sleeping in class
not taking their meds
disinterested in sports/hobbies that were once a major importance
Children start experimenting with alcohol, sex and drugs at this phase of their lives. A child on the Autism Spectrum might go with the flow if they are trying to fit in and making new friends without following body language. Their quirkiness might be looked at as something of interest by the Neurotypicals and they could strike up a conversation that seems innocent to the young person with Asperger's Syndrome or Autism.
Communication and a watchful eye by the parents are necessary at this time. Having a trusted adult around when school gets out, even being at the school to pick them up or watch from afar if they are taking the bus is worth looking into. Attending conferences and discussing anything out of character with teachers, aides, therapists and counselors is a must. Note any change in sleeping and eating to these professionals that work with the young person at school and maintain communication via email.
Bullies are not just boys either, and a child on the Autism Spectrum might miss the fact that a girl is interested in him when she starts picking on him and becomes aggressive. Children might be experimenting with smoking or inhaling substances. Spend time each day or night with your child and discuss all these issues ahead of time. Prepare them for the locker room drama, role playing with family members.
***UPDATE*** - 2/20/2008
Washington, DC - 2/18/08 – The autistic community mourned the loss of Genevieve Edmonds, a UK-based advocate and author on the autism spectrum who committed suicide this past week. Genevieve was a leader in advocating for increased visibility and support for adults on the autism spectrum. She authored four books:
The Asperger Social Guide: How to Relate to Anyone in any Social Situation as an Adult with Asperger's Syndrome,
The Asperger Personal Guide: Raising Self-Esteem and Making the Most of Yourself as a Adult with Asperger's Syndrome
Asperger Syndrome And Employment: Adults Speak Out About Asperger Syndrome
A Self-Determined Future with Asperger Syndrome.
Her work with the ASPECT group at Sheffield Hallam University resulted in numerous strides forward in autistic representation and a comprehensive study on the needs of adults with Asperger's Syndrome in the United Kingdom.
Those wishing to express their condolensces to the Edmonds family can direct their thoughts to http://www.blackpooltiggers.co.uk/contact.pl
The Autistic Self Advocacy Network - ASAN
***UPDATE*** - 4/27/2008
Earlier this year I was very despondent over the Rosacea and Eczema that had taken over my body, especially my face. My google searches led me to a forum that I perused over and felt like it was a comfortable place.
Suicide Forum - This is a non commercial support forum for people in crisis.
Teenage Suicide: Identification, Intervention and Prevention
Asperger's Syndrome, Disability or Different Ability?
Freaks, Geeks and Asperger Syndrome: A User Guide to Adolescence
Depression, Stress, and Suicidal Materials
A Directory for Asperger Syndrome Support Groups and Organizations
Asperger Syndrome and Adolescence: Helping Preteens & Teens Get Ready for the Real World
Teens with AS and their families
My 10 year-old wanted to die - ABC News, March 12, 2008 - Loving an Asperger's Child
Help, I want to commit suicide - Teengrowth.com article
Covenant House: 800-999-9999
National Hotline: 800-SUICIDE
Youth Crisis Line: 800-HIT-HOME
Educational Autism Tips for Families 71 page resourceful ebook for families entering the school system with a recent autism diagnosis. Find out what issues take place over the course of a school day and meet these challenges head on.