Up until now I haven’t really talked a whole lot about Aidan other than to say that he is the most “normal” of the family. He has his own challenges though. Aidan was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome when he was 9 years old which makes him what is called in the world of Autism an Aspie. Ryland was the center of attention due to his severity, so Aidan’s quirkiness was dismissed as just that – quirkiness. It wasn’t until he hit 3rd grade and started having trouble in school that his teacher suggested that something else may be going on. He was tested, and it turned out he was on the spectrum. It answered so many questions for us as far as his behavior.
Like I said, Aidan had always been quirky. Think Sheldon Cooper from Big Bang Theory. When he was two years old he would put his shoes neatly beside his bedroom door. We thought it was funny but didn’t think at all that it could be an early sign of autism. Then he developed a ritual for putting on his shoes. Cross feet, right sock on, re-cross feet, left sock on, re-cross feet, right shoe on, re-cross feet, left shoe on. If any part of this routine was altered he would throw a fit. But again – no big deal. At age three, he developed the need to be fully dressed 24 hours a day. This included hat, shirt, pants, socks and shoes. Yes – 24 hours a day. He slept in a hat and slippers. Again, if he was not allowed to be fully dressed, he would throw a fit. We thought that was odd but actually got a little kick out of it. Yet again – absolutely no thought of autism.
As Aidan got older, he outgrew some rituals but always there was a sense of awkwardness about him. When he spoke, he would take deep breaths between words. If he made a mistake on his homework, he would start the whole thing over again erasing everything he’d already written or getting a new sheet of notebook paper. He seemed to be doing well in school – making friends and participating in class. His teachers all loved him. At the same time though, he would often keep to himself and play alone.
By the time he reached 3rd grade Aidan’s temper had started to flare. It stemmed from frustration at not perfecting certain tasks or with other students who wouldn’t follow the rules. He began throwing things – like his backpack or coat and beating his head on his desk. That’s when his teacher suggested the testing. He was doing well with his schoolwork but because it had to be perfect, he was very slow and sometimes wouldn’t finish the work in time. More frustration for him.
Once we got the Asperger diagnosis, it all started making sense. I, personally, kicked myself for not noticing something sooner. But as I said, Ry was such a focus that Aidan’s eccentricity didn’t seem that serious at the time. He began speech therapy and behavioral therapy through the school. What a difference it made! We also signed him up for Cub Scouts that year in hopes of helping with his social awkwardness and personal relationship skills. Looking back, Cub Scouts was the best decision we made for him.
With the speech therapy, the dramatic pauses between words ceased. The behavioral therapy helped Aidan deal with his frustrations at school and taught him how to express himself with words instead of throwing things or beating on himself. At home we reinforced the behavioral skills, allowing him all the time he needed to express himself and his feelings. Slowly his frustrations decreased, and he began to be happy at school again. He still tried to be the perfectionist with his school work, but he was granted extra time to finish tests and other bigger assignments.
In 5th grade, Aidan signed up for orchestra. He played the cello. It was then that we realized his propensity for music. He excelled! Band class followed in middle school and he began playing the clarinet, but his sights were set on playing the saxophone. After only a couple of months on the clarinet, his teacher agreed to let him play sax. Aidan was elated! He played the alto sax for the next four years.
When high school rolled around, his middle school band teacher encouraged him to enroll in the band program at a local high school under the school of choice program. He was nervous about his audition for the program but his talent won him a spot in the school and the prestigious marching band. Aidan quickly won the hearts of his fellow bandsmen and band directors. His freshman year in high school he was named Bandsman of the Year. His perfectionism was a great fit when dealing with his music. He was a natural. His junior year he switched from the alto sax to the tenor sax and continued to shine with his talent. He became section leader for the saxophone players his senior year.
Not only did Aidan excel with his music, he also excelled at his schoolwork. Over his high school career, he took a few AP science and math classes. He also was a member of the Chinese Language Honor Society having taken three years of Chinese as his language requirement. Although he wasn’t a straight A student he did consistently make the A/B honor roll. Considering all his other activities and his inclination to be slow at completing work, this was no small accomplishment.
The summer after his junior year in high school, Aidan took a trip with several classmates to Italy and Greece. The two-week trip was transformative for him. He came back with more confidence in his social skills than we had ever seen. Making new friends from different schools and getting to experience different cultures made a huge impact on him.
All this time, Aidan had continued with Boy Scouts. It was difficult to juggle scouts, school and band but he did it. He achieved the rank of Eagle Scout just before his 18th birthday. Eric and I can not express how critical scouting had been for Aidan’s social development! Years of being with the same boys in his den as a Cub Scout and then his patrol as a Boy Scout taught him many problem-solving skills as well as how to deal with conflict. As a Cub he learned how to be a gracious competitor when competing in Pinewood Derbies and Space Derbies. As a Scout he learned leadership skills as well as how to work as a team during camping trips and camporees. Scouting gave Aidan the tools to succeed in life.
Now Aidan is in college. He is still in marching band and majoring in music production. His dream is to one day work at Nintendo writing background music for games. So far, he is doing well. Once again, he’s already won over the hearts of his fellow bandsmen and made Bandsman of the Week a few weeks ago. If you’d like to get an idea of what life with/for Aidan is really like, watch the series “Atypical” on Netflix. He’s not quite as challenged as the autistic character in “Atypical,” but his thought processes are the same. Aidan said so himself. Words cannot express how proud we are of the young man Aidan has grown to become. With all that he as overcome, we couldn’t ask for a better son. He makes being Aspie look cool!