Like Fat Ther, like Son; Asperger Syndrome: Mike Was Diagnosed with the Same Condition as His Son Thomas
Byline: LESLEY GIBSON
Around a quarter of a million people in the UK have Asperger syndrome, aform of autism which affects their ability to relate to people. While the causeis unknown, there can be a genetic link. Five years after Jane Sales'sfour-year-old son Thomas was diagnosed, she discovered her husband Mike alsohad the condition. Here, Jane, 44, and Mike, 57, who live with Thomas, now 12,and Genefer, nine, in North Cheam, Surrey, tell their extraordinary stories toLESLEY GIBSON. Jane says:
MOST toddlers have tantrums, but Thomas's were so awful I often felt likerunning away.
Once, I nearly did.
We were in Sainsbury's and he was running around screaming, clearing tins fromthe shelves and throwing them everywhere.
I felt angry and embarrassed, chasing him around, trying to put everythingback, and just lost it. I carried him to a cashier and said: 'Please take mychild for a moment, or I'm going to kill him.' She was astonished. 'We don't dothat,' she said. But I insisted, saying: 'You have to. I need to calm down.' Ibundled him screaming into her arms and ran outside while other shopperswatched in horror. I managed to compose myself before going back for him. Afterthat, I had to strap him in his pram whenever we went shopping.
At home, if there was any change in his routine, he'd have spectaculartantrums.
The only thing that calmed him was looking at numbers. He was obsessed withthem and precociously good at recognising them, even aged two.
Mike seemed to understand him better than I did, and it was he who came up withthe idea of warning Thomas about any changes to his routine five minutes inadvance. This helped calm him down.
At Thomas's two-year development check, the health visitor laid out the numbersone, two and three and asked what came next. Instead of saying four, he readthe numbers as 123, and said: '124.' She was astounded.
I assumed Thomas was exceptionally bright. Yet in communication skills andimaginative play, he lagged behind. His language was good but, unlike otherchildren who'd babble away, he spoke formally, like an adult. He'd use unusualwords; aged five he would say: 'I'm looking forward to that with alacrity.' Andhe was often overly polite and sounded like a butler.
Facial expression, tone of voice and body language baffled him: if I becamecross and raised my voice or frowned, he simply laughed. Nor did he seem ableto empathise if someone was sad.
When Thomas went to nursery at two-and-a-half, I told the teachers my concerns.They called in an educational psychologist, who said he probably had Aspergersyndrome. It was actually a huge relief for me to have my fears over Thomas'sdevelopment confirmed.
His formal speech, difficulties understanding body language and obsessivelearning of numbers were all characteristics of Asperger syndrome. So was hisdifficulty accepting changes in routine. His tantrums, the psychologistexplained, were probably down to frustration at communication problems.
We were shocked but relieved to finally know why our son was different,although Thomas wasn't formally diagnosed at this point as his development hadto be monitored over the next few years.
Fortunately, his special needs were recognised when he went to school agedfour, and he was assigned a classroom assistant. At seven, he was formallydiagnosed, which is still relatively young.
Unfortunately, there is no medication or cure, but we were told Thomas could dowell at school and lead a normal life with the right educational support.
His classroom assistant was wonderful.
She would pull faces and say: 'This is how a happy face looks; this is how asad face looks; this is how I look when I'm angry.' Our daughter has alsohelped enormously with Thomas's social skills. Although she is two yearsyounger, Genefer has taught Thomas how to play and get on with others. …