Interview with Temple Grandin about her life, living with Autism


by K. Thompson

What is Asperger’s? Well, I guess it’s many different things to many different people. To me it is making sure my son has lots of socks, making sure we have lots of time when buying new shoes or getting a hair cut, not playing little league baseball because you have to wear a glove, bringing earplugs to the movies, being very specific when talking and being loved more than I ever knew possible.


My son Drew has Asperger’s. He is the most caring, compassionate and kind person I know. He was officially diagnosed when he turned 11 years old. He was first tested at 2 years old. He has always had it but it didn’t truly effect him until 5th grade, so I had him tested again.


Sure enough, Asperger’s. Being diagnosed didn’t change our lives at all. However, now at school he has some extra help to make him successful and the teachers do not refer to him as lazy anymore. He is bright, loves to read and loves learning, though only the things that truly interest him like science.


Drew was born 3 weeks early. He was healthy and a good weight. One month later, after not gaining enough weight, he was diagnosed with acid reflux. He couldn’t hold down breast milk or formula. We had to weight it down with cereal. He soon gained weight and became one of those chubby, cute babies we are all use to seeing. Not long after, I started noticing the symptoms of Autistic behavior.


I would brag that I had the most well behaved and the easiest baby. Drew rarely cried. He played with his toys for hours, never getting bored. He wouldn’t complain when his older sister would take something from him, he’d just move on to something else. He would smile and laugh, but rather than be a part of what was going on he was usually a spectator. His first word came around 2 ½ years old.


We used to say it was because his sister talked so much that there wasn’t anything left for him to say. That still may be true! Drew also didn’t start crawling until he was close to a year old. He must not have liked crawling much because he was walking within weeks. I sometimes think this was because of his sensitivity. Drew is very quirky about the way things feel to him.


I would sit and watch him while he looked at his books. He was only a toddler but you would swear he was reading them. He would take in every page very carefully and not move on to the next until he was sure he had totally absorbed it. I have no idea if that was what he was actually doing, but it seemed to be at the time. When he got a little older he started taking things apart and fixing them. I don’t know how he did it and he could never tell me how but they began to work again.


Drew also would come up with the most curious questions. Once on the way home from school, he was 5, he asked me why had I named him and his sister with the first letter of the month that each of them was born in. Until then, it had never occurred to me that I had. Drew was born in December and his sister, Sydney, was born in September. Drew’s questions and observations have always amazed and often stunned me. And they still do.


Drew was 4 months away from his fourth birthday when he started school. He was enrolled in a Montessori program. He flourished during those first 2 years in school. When we moved, the new school didn’t have a Montessori program. He was placed in a standard class. His first 2 years, kindergarten and first grade, were alright but I think that was more because of his teachers than anything else.


During the middle of his second grade year he started to have problems. While he was still excelling academically, his writing skills were suffering tremendously. Homework was starting to be a challenge and there were more tears and frustration than anything else.


Third grade was when everything started going down hill for us. This was the year when we started hearing words like “lazy”, “daydreamer”, “off task” and “sloppy”. This was when Drew started to hate going to school. We struggled through third and fourth grade. We tried different things like organizational skills and different kinds of study habits which only frustrated him more. I finally got him a tutor to help him. It didn’t help, but it was never about how smart he was. He continuously scored commended performance on all his standardized tests. It was classroom work and homework that was our nemesis! I felt helpless. I didn’t know how to help my child.


The fabulous fifth grade! The grade most parents cringe about. It is said to be the hardest grade, the transition grade. We were scared. Fifth grade started like any other grade for us. Before long it was the same thing, “Drew’s not completing his homework.” “Drew’s not being productive in class.” “Please come in for a conference.”


But this time it was different. There were no standardized test this year. WHAT? The standardized testing is what helped Drew pass the last 3 years. This was not good. I sat there in his classroom, not far from his desk, with his teacher and suddenly felt lost. We’d tried everything. What were we going to do now? This was not like the other times though. This time his teacher heard me.


I confided in her what I had thought all along; autism. She agreed. I let out a breath like I’d been holding it in for the last 11 years. This angel of a teacher agreed with me! I’m not crazy! It was a major step towards Drew’s future. She then told me a story of her nephew who has Asperger’s. How she saw him everyday when she looked at Drew. She pointed out the similarities the two had. I don’t know how we lucked out on getting her for a teacher this year, but she is what every parent hopes all teachers to be.


I scheduled an appointment for Drew that same afternoon. Unfortunately, we had to wait 3 months to get in. But the doctor was highly recommended and had been the one who tested him at age two. I was leery about going to the same one, but after reading many articles about how some Asperger’s symptoms are hard to see at such a young age, we went ahead. Meanwhile, his teacher had taken it upon herself to use some of her experiences with her nephew to help Drew. He started to like school a little more.


The big day came and anxiety swelled for both Drew and me. He asked me question after question while we sat in the waiting room. I felt horrible not being able to answer his questions to his satisfaction. I read about some of the test but I didn’t know how to exactly answer him. Drew likes his answers to be very specific and doesn’t like surprises. He begged me to come in with him but I couldn’t. I knew everything would be alright but I couldn’t find a way to ease either of our anxieties.


He would be in there for 2 hours. I fidgeted, then paced, then finally walked around the hospital for awhile. I went to the cafeteria and bought a cup of coffee. Drew was going to be thirsty too, so I got him an apple juice. Drew was probably going to be hungry when he got done. I got him some fruit. Oh, look! Drew’s favorite, pound cake. I got him that too. Guilt for not being able to go with him. Then I went back to the waiting room and waited. I was only gone for 15 minutes?! Needless to say, I was a wreck.


When he finally came out he looked fine. No bruises, no bleeding, no tears. He was fine and still in one piece, even smiling! Now it was my turn with the doctor. We went into an examining room and sat down. Well, she sat down, I squirmed. Then she said it. Your son has Asperger’s. It was like talking to his teacher all over again. “I’m not crazy!” I felt a cloud lift and it was like all my questions being answered. She explained some of the things we could do to help him at home, at school and socially.


She gave me websites, handouts and names of support groups. Then she said that he also has ADD. Ouch! Didn’t see that one coming. She explained that it wasn’t uncommon for children with Asperger’s to also have ADD or ADHD. She suggested that we put him on a medicine to help him focus. Of course I said absolutely not. We were in there another 45 minutes discussing that. She explained how the new medicines work and how we don’t live in the “Ritalin” world anymore. In the end she won.


I do say that in jest, because whatever is best for Drew is worth giving a shot.

Drew and I walked out of the doctor’s office that day in good spirits and ready for some Popeye’s chicken. As I sat across from him eating lunch, I looked at him with new eyes. Finally I knew why my son does what he does the way he does it. He’s not handicapped, he’s not slow, he’s not defiant. He is Drew, his own unique self. I wouldn’t change a thing about him.


I still live with the guilt everyday of not having him retested earlier. I had convinced myself that it wasn’t autism, but rather the way I was raising him. Drew’s dad left before he was born. So it’s been Drew among the girls, mom and sister, all his life. Add the fact that he ended up being a high risk pregnancy towards the end, doesn’t help. I thought I was going to loose him; everyday I am so thankful I didn’t.


So, with or without Asperger’s, I’m just glad he’s here. When I look at my children, I don‘t see the child with Asperger’s or the child without it. I see two totally different and unique people who I couldn’t live one single day without. And without people like them, the world would be quite a boring place.

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