The Boy Who Couldn't Make Friends

A Parenting Challenge

The general lack of awareness of Asperger's syndrome is probably the chief reason that it's so hard to parent a child with the disorder. "My kids were kicked out of two preschools because they had lots of tantrums, and the teachers couldn't handle them," says Carol Wilkerson, of Edwardsville, Illinois, who has 12-year-old twin boys with Asperger's. "The message you get from schools, grandparents, and neighbors is that you're a bad parent."

Parents also quickly realize that the usual discipline techniques don't work with Asperger's children. "Before my son was diagnosed, I really thought that if I looked at him in a stern way and used that 'mom' tone of voice, he'd do what I said," says Patricia Romanowski Bashe, coauthor of The OASIS Guide to Asperger Syndrome (Crown). "But in fact, he didn't hear any difference in my tone of voice, and my threatening look meant absolutely nothing to him."

Obsessive behavior is another difficult thing for parents to deal with. Because these children don't understand the social cues that dictate how people interact, the world seems chaotic to them, Dr. Attwood explains. Cataloging information about their specific interests is a way for them to make order out of chaos and cope with stress.

Robert's obsessions have evolved over the years. "When he was 4, he loved tape measures," his mother recalls. "He liked pulling them out and then letting them snap back in." Over the years, he started collecting wire, ribbons, and metal rods, which he adds to a huge sculpture. In recent years, he's also become fascinated with Star Wars, spaceships, and cruise ships. His parents have their hands -- and their living room -- full because Robert's older brothers have their own obsessive pursuits. "You just do what you have to do in order to keep the peace," Laurajean says.

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