I live with a lot of things in my life—leading a church that struggles at times with deficits; joint pain from too many years on the tennis court; a driven personality that serves me well, and sometimes not so well; an occasional craving for Mexican food in Old Town, San Diego; the annual disappointment of following the Chargers; and a whole lot more.
But here’s something else, something I have not written about until now. Something that impacts my life almost everyday, that at times nearly pushes me to the edge—Aspergers Syndrome (AS). It impacts me, because I have a son who is an “Aspie”. The name comes from a pediatrician in Vienna, Hans Asperger, who in the 1940’s discovered that certain children have a unique set of character traits. He began to study them, and he noticed they had some of the following characteristics in common:
-they tend to have a low EQ, meaning they lack certain social skills
-they prefer to be alone
-they are very intelligent (“little professors” he called them)
-they see things in black and white, meaning they take things very literally
-they do not easily process information
-they miss subtleties, do not easily intuit
-they are very sensitive to sounds, textures
-they have an odd sense of humor—quirky fits here
-they do not easily read faces, tend to avoid eye contact
-they are not so sensitive to feelings—they do not easily empathize
-they can melt down if given too many tasks at once
There’s no conclusive data as to what leads to Aspergers. I suppose it is inherited, but I cannot point to others in my family. It finds itself somewhere on the autistic spectrum. All I know is that has been a unique journey, one Heather and I were not prepared for. We have had to learn as we go, as Nate has. Sadly, through his early education, most of his teachers had no idea what to do with a bright kid who was still processing Venus when they had moved on to Mars.
Up until recently, not much was written about AS. I have yet to discover a resource person who has been a significant help to my son, or me and my wife for that matter (it is not to say that those persons do not exist). We have chased down books, gone to a neurological clinic with its own unique, sometimes bizarre exercises. Most of what I have received is sympathy. But I am not looking for this. For the reality is, Aspergers is not a disability or an illness. It is not necessarily a negative. I happen to believe that if my son navigates through life successfully, he can use his uniqueness to do something amazing. They say that people like Einstein and Bill Gates and the girl with the dragon tattoo are Aspies. If so, he has joined a unique club.
Thankfully, there is beginning to be a greater awareness. From the movie Adam (as well as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), to the current series “Parenthood”, Aspies are becoming part of the mix of characters. My pastoral work is beginning to include parents and spouses who are learning to live with this neurological condition. I’m not sure where all of it is going, but I am certain God, who superintends over all, has an interesting set of chapters ahead. It is a reminder, as well, that God has made us all very different, and a very big part of the pastoral task is to slow down before making assumptions, avoiding any tendency to marginalize those who are different, writing off those who just might be essential to the work of the kingdom.