The Cook O’Tooles are a young family of five. Each member of the household possesses an encyclopaedic knowledge on their favourite subjects: between them, the Cook O’Tooles know a huge amount about astronomy, monarchy, animal classification, ancient history and, um, Spiderman.The Cook O’Toole children go to a regular school and do the same lessons as other kids in their class, and the parents work in their own chosen fields. A pretty common family so far, but what makes the Cook O’Toole family a bit out of the ordinary is that they’ve all been diagnosed as having Asperger’s Syndrome, a higher-functioning branch on the Autistic Spectrum Disorder tree. In some cases, such as with any of the Cook O’Tooles, you could be talking to an “Aspie” and not even know it, as Asperger’s Syndrome doesn’t necessarily affect the intelligence, creativity or functioning of a person. For instance, the mother of the family, Jennifer, is a professional author who has written a successful book called Asperkids: An Insider’s Guide to Loving, Understanding, and Teaching Children with Asperger’s Syndrome, and this how-to book has attracted over fifty glowing five-star reviews on Amazon. Impressively, there wasn’t a single dud comment to be found.
Due to the fact that Asperger’s mostly impacts on a person’s social and interpersonal skills, the real focus in the Asperkid’s book is how to teach the many basic lessons that all young children with Asperger’s Syndrome need to be encouraged to learn and practice. This includes letting people get off the bus before you get on, not interrupting someone is in the middle of what they’re saying, and so on. These basic behavioural conventions need to be reinforced in the right way and Asperkids shows you how.
It’s difficult to accurately map Autism rates over the last three decades, as the diagnostic criteria have changed several times along the way. In 1983 the two most modern forms of Autism (Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified and Asperger’s Syndrome) hadn’t been recognised yet and the criteria for Autistic Disorder were far more restrictive. With help from more modern testing guidelines it’s now thought that Autism Spectrum Disorders affect a huge one in eighty-eight children, compared to the early 1980s when it was more like one in ten thousand. Of course, this shouldn’t be interpreted as a sudden leap in the frequency of ASDs, as the difference in numbers are certainly based on a general increase in the detection of existing cases. The broadening of diagnostic criteria would certainly have something to do with it, too.
If you or a friend have an Aspie in the family, then you might find the following links a good place to start learning how they experience and understand the world.
Giulia Rhodes, Sydney Morning Herald, 8th of November 2012