Written by Nick Dubin, who has Asperger Syndrome (AS) himself, this book gives both a personal and professional insight into the experiences of people with AS as they go through school and enter adulthood. The author recounts how, as a child in the US, he was humiliated by teachers, taunted by his neighbours, tormented by his tennis coach and ostracised by many of his school peers. As a result he contemplated suicide on several occasions.
This book is however more than a personal account of a troubled childhood. The author also provides a useful summary in chapter two of the nature of AS, which is concise and accessible to the non-expert. In addition to the standard descriptions of AS, Dubin adds personal accounts of his own experiences as a result of his increased gullibility, lack of dating experience (as a teenager), unusual use of language, and ‘cultural illiteracy’ where people with AS often spend more time on their particular special interests (he cites his own interest in interstate highways) than on pop culture, thus further distancing themselves from their peers. The example is given of a girl with AS who was singled out in her class for not watching American Idol and not knowing what being “voted off” meant.
The remainder of the book offers very practical advice on how the bullying of children with AS can be prevented. The focus here is on empowerment: of the victims, bystanders, teachers, parents and schools. In terms of the children themselves, Dubin speaks of the fundamental challenge faced by children with AS: as a result of their AS, it can be very difficult to make friends and relate to others in ways which might be considered socially appropriate. Moreover bully-prevention strategies often focus on the building of friendships with peers as the main pre-emptive strategy, the very thing which children with AS often find hardest. Dubin writes however that parents should be encouraged to find other opportunities for social interaction based on their areas of special interest, where their passion for a particular subject can be appreciated and nurtured, irrespective of the age of the other people involved. Dubin himself spent hours playing tennis at a club and was never bullied in that context, where he felt comfortable. The chapter on empowering bystanders complements the research of Salmivalli, Olweus and others in recent years who have identified the importance of encouraging peers to move from a position of passive support or indifference to one of prevention, intervention and defending.
The book concludes with an interview with the author’s parents who look back at their experiences of parenting a child with AS, even before there was a clear diagnosis. Interestingly, they note the importance of the diagnosis itself, and the reassurance it gave. Mom: “What I wish I could go back and change is all the pressure I put on you to socialise more while you were growing up. It made you feel that I didn’t love you for who you were and created terrible conflicts between us. The diagnosis gave me an understanding, which I previously lacked, and has finally enabled the love that we feel for each other to be uncluttered by my placing unreasonable expectations on you” (p.150)
There is much that teachers could learn from reading this powerful book.
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