My 8-year-old daughter, Kaede, is warm, friendly, caring, empathetic, has a wonderful sense of humor … and she has Asperger Syndrome. We’ve often heard, “She’s too social to have autism.” Her personality and delight in pleasing adults has sometimes overshadowed the black-and-white diagnostic criteria of autism spectrum disorder. Yet, even as she fluttered around like a little social butterfly she has faced challenges. For years she has had periods of excelling as she is highly focused on pleasing others, followed by an inability to manage in the school environment and deterioration of her behavior. She seems to be driven by high expectations of herself and the desire to please others – until she reaches her limit and hits overload. Yet throughout her struggles, Kaede continued to maintain her optimistic view, “Everyone is my friend,” she exclaimed cheerfully. She carried a seemingly unshakable sense of who she was, “I’m really smart!” and “I am great at drawing!” … until this year!
It has been painful to watch my daughter lose both her rose-colored glasses and her sense of self. A new Kaede emerged: wary, uncertain, anxious and depressed. And very, very sad. Initially it didn’t show up at school: she continued to do well academically and to generally be cooperative. Meanwhile at home there were daily morning meltdowns before school, which grew to include nightly meltdowns due to her anxiety over school the next day. She’d sleep fitfully, tossing and turning.
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