Well, it's official. We met with the psychologist yesterday and it seems that our 4 year old son almost definitely has Asperger Syndrome, Pervasive Developmental Disorder, or some other equally horrible sounding problem falling somewhere in the area of "Autistic Spectrum Disorders." What this basically boils down to is that our beautiful, brilliant, loving, and generally adorable child is going to have a more difficult life than he would otherwise.
It's funny. Up until recently, it would never have occurred to us that his being brilliant would count as a strike against him. While it's not something used to make a diagnosis, above-average intelligence tends to correlate fairly well with Asperger's. (And no, the intelligence assessment is not just the typical "my kid's the smartest one in his class!"; we had his IQ tested while he was being assessed and his verbal IQ is well over the 99th percentile).
I am well aware that this is not a death sentence and, unfortunately, far worse things happen to parents and children every day. But in no way can I think of this as a "good" thing.
At the same time, nothing has actually changed. Our son is still the exact same wonderful little person that he's always been. Even better, now that we have a better idea of what his strengths and weaknesses are (and we all have our own) we are in a much better position to try and help him. Working with the psychologist and his incredibly caring teacher, we can begin using those strengths (incredible memory, incredible language skills, and overall high cognitive ability) to help him work through his weaknesses. As an aside, if every teacher in the world was half as caring and passionate about their students as his is, the world would be a truly amazing place. Every day, I thank G-d for bringing her to us just as we're learning how badly we need someone like that right now).
So....He's having a problem understanding that his friends don't like him talking to them with his face only 6 inches away from theirs? Okay. We just have to get him to learn this. He may never truly understand why this is the case, but there's no reason at all that he can't be taught this just as easily as we all try and teach our children that there are "some things you just don't do." He's having a problem understanding how someone feels based on a subtle facial expression? Okay, we can help him to begin to simply memorize that "when someone's eyebrows are like "this," and their mouth is like "that," and their eyes are like "that," it usually means that they're feeling angry. (For example, I've been told that adults with Asperger Syndrome are sometimes sent to classes very similar to the ones that police officers are sent to in order to learn body-language, e.g., to help them know when someone is lying).
We know it's not going to be easy for any of us. But not only does he have good support from both his family and his teachers, he truly wants to learn these things. He's also engaging enough, and caring enough, that other children like to be with him, usually enjoy playing with him, and are almost always willing to cut him some slack when he's just "not getting it."
We're truly blessed to have him. And I sincerely believe that anyone else who allows him into their life is very definitely richer for having done so.