Holden’s Syndrome: A Story of Learning About Asperger’s

There are many kids in the world whose parents have experienced the singular frustrations and confusions that my son and I have been through. This brief outline of our lives together may not be as unique as it seemed to be in those first years, and maybe it will shed some light on readers in the same situation who haven’t yet found the answers that we have. I met Holden when he was two. He always seemed to be in his own world and he hardly spoke. I became his mother when he was four, his father and I moving our new family to another state. It was there that Holden started talking non-stop, he became more “car” than “boy,” he kept running away, and we realized that there was more to him than it seemed.

Obsession, Selfishness, Disrespect, and Innocence

He was my first four-year-old and I just thought that he was being a mischievous normal boy. The fact that he wouldn’t quit talking about, pretending to be, or making the sounds of automobiles didn’t register as overly unusual to me. A lot of little boys liked cars. Then I remembered: On a walk to the park he was pretending to drive a car, and when I stopped at the curb and said, “Holden we’re crossing a street, I need your hand please,” he made the motion of manually rolling down his window before poking his arm out to hold my hand. I didn’t know many kids who did that.

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I also remembered that each time he ran away we found him either pretending to drive a parked rider lawnmower, or someone found him pretending to drive their vehicle parked in their driveway, or he had “borrowed” a neighbor kid’s toy truck and was found playing with it in another kid’s sandbox three blocks away. Always driving, making those uncannily real sounds, and trespassing in order to do all of this. He was obsessed.

It was when we enrolled him in Head Start that we realized that there was something unmistakably unique about Holden. His interaction with the other kids was disruptive and selfish, even to the point of having kicked a boy in the head before laughing as though he’d just played a harmless prank. He was constantly in his own world, and wouldn’t look at anybody who spoke to him. Granted, though, by then he was only five. Maybe he just needed the guidance to learn better.

Diagnosis: Some ADHD, Gifted Brilliance, and No Filter

We moved again when Holden was five. He started kindergarten and we saw some more difficulties arise. He was getting distracted and frustrated beyond the teacher’s ability to function. Holden was disrupting the whole class by throwing fits when he had a hard time with an activity. Punishments and consequences, where he sat in class, change in academic level; none of it altered his behavior. We limped through that year and still didn’t have a clue about his issues when it was over.

He changed schools for the next few years, and we enrolled him in a program for gifted kids. We had discovered that he was particularly bright, and could do a wonderful job academically if only he’d pay attention. Oddly, his greatest friends were the teachers and aides rather than fellow students. Finally, at the suggestion of his overwrought second-grade teacher, we had him seen by a child psychiatrist.

Diagnosis: attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. That explained the lack of attention span and the restlessness, walking on the balls of his feet, and hysterical laughter at little things. But I still noticed the unexplained phenomena of Holden ignoring friendly kids at the park, and instead approaching the parents who sat nearby, proceeding to take up impressive conversation with them. One man said to me, “He will make a great politician someday! He walked right up to me fearlessly with a handshake and introduced himself with his full name!” I also caught him telling people about where we live, his father’s drinking habits, my yelling and sending him to his room, what kind of car we have, and the fact that I drove through a stop sign and got pulled over… Holden had no filters.

A Syndrome by Any Other Name

We finally moved to our current home and an overall better life. Wanting to continue the medications that helped him to focus and learn in school, we saw our first psychiatrist in our new state, and the words out of the man’s mouth were, “Holden could be the poster child for Asperger’s Syndrome.”

A light went on as I read about it: Not socially inclined toward his peers, doesn’t register social cues while in conversation like facial expression or turning away, won’t maintain eye contact while talking, and has a deep interest in one main subject. The anxiety, ADHD and tendency toward a view of “black-or-white” in any situation were also hand-in-hand with this diagnosis. Pieces were coming together and we had a plethora of guidelines to work with as we found many articles about Asperger’s syndrome. At eight years old, we let Holden know that there was a name for the difficulties he was experiencing. He had a problem with one thing, though. “I don’t like that name. Can we just call it ‘Holden’s Syndrome’ or something instead?”

We have traveled a bumpy road in order to find the smoothest ride through Holden’s life experience. We also know that despite the common label and cures for “Asperger Syndrome Kid,” each child is different, so we work with it moment by moment. Most of all we emphasize that it’s not a sickness, and it’s doesn’t have to be a disability. It’s simply a challenge with great opportunity to shape a wonderful and unique person.