Monday, April 6, 2009
Growing up with Asperger's: Mother recalls welcoming beautiful baby boy
Brandon and his mom Melissa Wise as a toddler.
By Erin Pustay
GateHouse News Service
In the pictures that are nestled snugly beneath the protective film, the words shout silently up at her. She hears them now.
Back then, when she was the one behind the camera snapping away and capturing the memories, Melissa didn’t know how to interpret the thousands of words each of her photos was worth.
“I look back now and see that all the signs (of my son’s autism) were there,” Melissa said, excitement in her voice as she flipped wildly through the album pages. “I didn’t know it then. But now, even in the last 10 years, there is so much more awareness from the doctors and in society.”
Melissa peeled a photo from the sticky album page and handed it across the sofa. It was a picture of her son Brandon, now 10, who has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. At the time the photo was taken, the little boy was only 2 or 3. He was kneeling in a chair next to a long folding table, playing with some Christmas candy someone had given him. Focused, he was lining each one of the red and green candies in a perfect little row.
One by one, Melissa pulled pictures off the page and passed them down the couch. In each one, Brandon was focused intently on playing with a toy. If not playing, he was looking out a window or up to the ceiling or sky.
“Oh my gosh,” Melissa said. “Look at this.”
The photo in her hand showed Brandon, likely about a year old, lying on his tummy on the floor, wearing only a diaper and staring at the television.
“I have never seen babies sit and stare at the TV like he did,” Melissa said, adding that he would never get bored with a program or get fussy, looking for something else to do. He would just sit there – mesmerized – watching.
It’s impossible, from the photo, to tell what Brandon is watching, but Melissa knows right away. It was “Bear in the Big Blue House.”
He was obsessed with Bear.
“When it was over, he would freak out,” Melissa remembered. “I’d have to rewind the tape and I would sing the songs to him when I did. That was the only way to calm him down.
“And he was always taking his clothes off,” Melissa said, remembering how her son would tug off his socks and shirts and pants and run around the house wearing only his Huggies.
Yes, all the signs were there.
Brandon is Melissa and Jason Wise’s oldest son.
The Wises – as with all first-time parents – learned as they went along. They had nothing to compare Brandon’s behavior with. Nothing about anything he did raised red flags.
A year after Brandon was born, Melissa and Jason had their hands full with twins – daughter Gwen and son Logan. Two years later, the family welcomed another daughter, Josie, into the fold.
With four little ones running around the house, life buzzed right by them, and any peculiarities in Brandon’s behavior – from the quirks to the strokes of genius – didn’t alarm Melissa or Jason.
“He didn’t really talk until he was 4 years old, and when he started talking he started reading, too,” Melissa said. “He was really good with directions and maps. He could memorize things. He would look at maps and be able to follow them.”
It was Brandon’s preschool teacher who noticed all those peculiar little things for what they were.
“I remember he had to have the same seat every day. He refused to take his bookbag off and he used to run on the very tips of his toes,” Melissa recalled.
They were little things the teacher noticed, but they were tell-tale. They were signs that Brandon may have some kind of developmental disorder, such as obsessive compulsive disorder or even autism.
After months of testing and referrals to different doctors and specialists, Melissa and Jason had their answer. Brandon was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome.
“My biggest concern,” Melissa said, “was that he would be labeled as a behavior child. … I researched all kinds of stuff right away and was able to figure out how to help him (in school).”
The things she discovered were things she should have seen all along.
Reading the signs
Aultman pediatrician Dr. Mike McCabe said that Asperger’s manifests itself in a number of ways.
“Children with Asperger’s are extremely sensitive to tactile stimulation,” McCabe said. “Taste, smell, touch – they are more aware of the sensations. And how can you focus on something when you are feeling and hearing everything around you?”
Brandon is especially sensitive to touch – the feeling of something against his skin or even the texture of foods in his mouth. Seeing the pictures of Brandon in his diapers reminds Melissa that acts of defiance – like throwing his clothes to the floor in a fuss – were his way of reliving the uncomfortable sensation of the itchy, uncomfortable fabric against his skin.
Children with Asperger’s syndrome, like those with obsessive compulsive disorder, need structure, order and routine.
“They become obsessed with something,” McCabe said, “sometimes it’s patterns, other times it’s toys or even ritualistic behaviors.”
Those candies Brandon lined up on the table during the Christmas party were a subtle sign. The fits he would throw from his car seat when they drove the “back way” to grandma’s house were another. His obsessions with “Bear in the Big Blue House” and later “Thomas the Tank Engine” were proof of the disorder.
Today, Brandon’s obsession is video games.
Combined with how long it took him to verbally communicate, the way he would look away from the camera or not make eye contact when people talked to him, Melissa slowly began to see that the signs of Asperger's were there all along.
It took a while for Melissa to come to the understanding she has today. While Brandon may have “eccentricities,” he is not, by any means, held back by his disorder. In fact, when given the right tools for success, Brandon can and will soar to amazing heights.
“Some people think about autism as ‘there is something wrong with my child,’” Melissa said. “Brandon is, by all accounts, a healthy, happy normal child. He just sees the world a little differently.”
All the Wise family had to do was adjust.
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