Wise Counsel Interview Transcript: An Interview with Timothy Kowalski, MA on Asperger's Disorder
Dr. David Van Nuys: Welcome to Wise Counsel, a podcast interview series sponsored by CenterSite, LLC covering topics in mental health, wellness, and psychotherapy. My name is Dr. David Van Nuys. I'm a clinical psychologist and your host.
On today's show we will be talking about Asperger's syndrome with my guest, Timothy P. Kowalski.
Timothy Kowalski is a licensed speech-language pathologist, and nationally known expert on Asperger's syndrome and high-functioning autism. Currently, he's a consultant to private and public schools and provides diagnostic, therapeutic, and consultative services to children and adolescents with psychiatric and behavioral disorders in his office. Mr. Kowalski has worked in a variety of settings, including home health, nursing homes, hospitals, and schools.
He obtained his Master's degree in speech communications from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio and earned his Bachelor's degree in communications disorders from Connecticut State University in New Haven, Connecticut.
Mr. Kowalski is the author of "The Source for Asperger's Syndrome," a practical resource for anyone working with this population. Mr. Kowalski's experience makes him a skilled and knowledgeable instructor. Now, here is the interview.
Timothy Kowalski, welcome to Wise Counsel.
Timothy Kowalski: Thank you.
David: I found you through an educational flyer sent out to psychologists around the country, and I saw that you do workshops all over the place on Asperger's syndrome, which is a very interesting syndrome. Most of the people that I have on my show are psychologists. You are actually training psychologists-among others-on Asperger's, but you are not a psychologist yourself. How did you develop this expertise?
Timothy: Well, I first started working with the classic autistic population. I kept gravitating more towards the higher-functioning individuals. This was way before we had the term Asperger's Syndrome around.
I found the higher population to be more challenging mentally in terms of trying to help them. We got them better; I got them academically doing very well; but everybody hated them because they were socially ineffective and inappropriate in terms of using their social skills.
So I started to work more and more with this particular population. Then we came around with the label of Asperger's. I continued with my love of this particular population, wrote a book, and from that developed a quote-unquote expertise that people have been using.
My target population is all sorts of disciplines. I've had psychiatrists and pediatricians come down to parents and grandparents--and everybody in between.
David: What's your professional background, your training?
Timothy: My background is a speech-language pathologist. So when I do assessments on these individuals, I am assessing what's called social communication skills. So the best diagnosis I give is a social pragmatic language disorder, and I tell people that I'm suspicious that we may be seeing Asperser but I cannot give you that label.
So when we have people come into my office, we are very very specific that they are aware if they're looking for an Asperger label, this office can't give it.
David: You refer them out then, to get formally diagnosed, to either a psychiatrist or psychologist. Is that right?
Timothy: That's correct.
David: Ah, OK. It's interesting that you're working with the high-functioning Asperger's people, and I'm surprised to hear they're frustrating in some way. I know there are some very famous high-functioning Asperger's people out there that maybe you could talk a little bit about. I know of one who has even written a book, Dr. Temple Grandon. You know her?
Timothy: Yes, some people say she has Asperger's and some people feel she is more of a high-functioning individual. I differentiate between Asperger's and high-functioning individuals.
David: What do you mean, high-functioning individual?
Timothy: High-functioning autism.
David: OK. I didn't realize there was a distinction between the two. Maybe you could talk about that.
Timothy: What is I usually tell people is there's two debates. There's two groups of individuals. One group says that high-functioning autism is synonymous with Asperger's. I subscribe to the group that disagrees with that philosophy. I think they have two different populations.
Timothy: I think the biggest area of feature difference between the two is the relative degree for desire for social interaction. I find that high-functioning autism-whether I have you as a friend or don't have you as a friend my life isn't going to be impacted that much. However with Asperger's, they typically really really do desire to have a social friendship, to have a relationship with other people, but they are very very ineffective at going about that, and so they alienate themselves.
Timothy: That to me is the big difference. If you look at Temple, she is brilliant in her area of expertise-- which is slaughterhouse design--and ability to get up and give a talk on autism. She is excellent at those skills. She has improved dramatically in her ability to use public speaking, but if I'm correct, Temple still says that whether she develops a relationship is not of interest to her. And I would say that that is the biggest differentiating factor as to why I would say Temple is more high-functioning autism as opposed to Asperger.
David: OK. She invented something called her hug box. Maybe you could describe that for our audience?
Timothy: Her hug box or squeeze box -whichever term that you've used - was a technique that she used. She has some sensory processing difficulties, and she found that deep pressure helped reduce some of her anxiety and some of her stresses that she was experiencing. She developed this type of box out of wood that had compression. She noticed it was from the slaughterhouse design again. That the cows that were going through, when they were under deep pressure, seemed to calm them down.
So she tried developing this on her own, and she has a device that allows her to control the relative degree of pressure that's presented. So she kind of gets inside this thing. It looks like a glorified refrigerator box laying on its side. She lies in it, and the two sides compress, and she can control the degree of pressure that's there. And it provides her with the relaxation technique that she needs. It helps her in terms of organization.
David: That's so interesting. So, in a sense, she is getting a hug, but it is a very impersonal hug.
David: As you point out, she has no real need for people to be involved.
Timothy: That's my recollection. Every time I've been around Temple: a very brilliant individual, but still very aloof in terms of how she engages with other individuals.
David: Now, are there other authors or people in the public eye that come to mind who are like Temple? Who are what you describe as high-functioning autism?
Timothy: Not that I can think of off the top of my head. I know that there's an individual by the name of Luke Jackson. He was 13-years-old when he wrote a book describing Asperger's. And I know that he's one of five siblings in the same household that has autism-spectrum type labels. In his situation, he's pretty coherent in terms of how he expresses things like dating and school and personal hygiene. It's wonderful.
David: OK. Do we know anything at the physiological, biochemical level that would differentiate the Asperger from the high-functioning autism?
Timothy: Not that I have read. I know that they're doing a lot of studies in terms of structural differences with the brain. They're looking at frontal lobe regions. They're looking at the verbal regions. Eric Courchesne is doing a lot of research in that particular area. But I haven't read of anything specifically as yet, in terms of the etiological aspects. And I'll also be honest with you, as a speech pathologist, it's not an area that I can really deal with, shall we say. So I'm not spending that much time in that area either.
David: Right. Right. So how does one recognize and identify the behavioral symptoms of Asperger's Syndrome? I know that's one of the things you cover in your workshop, and obviously, you can't go into as much detail here.
Timothy: Well the things that I usually look for is a relative degree of difficulty in terms of initiating conversations with other individuals, or what are the three triads: the social interaction, the social communication skills and the social-emotional regulation. Their interaction, how they engage with others leaves a lot to be desired. And typically in a preschool environment, you're going to see signs of more aggressive-like behavior and inappropriate interacting.
The individual may go up to another child whose playing peacefully on the playground and whop them one in the back, and he tears off. And what usually happens is then the child who just got hit chases after him. So the child with Asperger's perceives it as "I'm interacting. We're having fun", yet the child who just got hit doesn't see it that way. So how he engages that other individual leaves a lot to be desired.
As they advance in years, they become a little more savvy to certain things, however they're perceived as being odd and idiosyncratic. Newsweek, a couple of years ago, ran an article called "The Geek Syndrome", and they said that Silicon Valley would not be Silicon Valley if it weren't for all the Asperger's out there.
And when you start to look at some of the things that those individuals may do, most people perceive those types of behaviors as very odd and idiosyncratic - the classic 'geeky' type of individual. So what happens, inadvertently, is that they have a tendency to make themselves stand out from the crowd in a manner that's not perceived as being positive, and so social isolation develops. They don't perceive it as being an isolating type of thing, and as a result, it perpetuates the whole cycle.
Then the other area that I look for is the communication. There's a thing in Asperger's that's called 'pedantic language', and that is also known as the 'little professor'. It's the quality where I give you everything that you needed to know about Glade Plug-ins and then some more. So it's way too much, above and beyond, what we would expect.
And there's a classic phrase in Asperger's that goes "Don't be blinded by the brilliance." Because a lot of parents may perceive their six-year-old holding quantum physics discussions and can tell you everything about the celestial bodies, but they absolutely have no friendships whatsoever. They become blinded by that child's ability to be so brilliant in that one particular area, but fail to see the whole picture of what's happening with this child.
Timothy: So that's the other area that I look for, and their emotional regulation. And typically, it's been my experience that people with Asperger's have three areas of difficulty, and with the little guys especially, they just don't know what their body is telling them. You and I know when we're getting stressed out that there are certain things that we have to do. We have to start to compose ourselves, relax, use some deep breathing techniques and things of this nature, even getting up and taking a walk.
But a lot of the individuals with Asperger's have a hard time recognizing what their body is telling them because they simply just don't know what it means, and as a result, they have a meltdown. Then you have the other individual whose starting to recognize, but unfortunately, has a very, very limited ability with which to apply stress-reducing techniques, and then as a result, he also has a meltdown.
And then the third one is what I call the guy whose just plain pig-headed. He knows what he needs to do but he refuses to admit that he's got this particular problem and then he just has this meltdown. So the emotional aspect is a thing that a lot of these individuals have.
David: When you talk about these meltdowns, it makes me think that maybe as kids, they might get misdiagnosed as hyperactive.
Timothy: One of the first questions that I'll ask parents that are inside my seminars is, "When was your child first labeled as Asperger? When was he first labeled as anything?" And then I ask, "Was it usually ADHD?" Because typically, a preschool child will look more ADHD than he will Asperger, and the reason for that is that certain social skills don't develop until you're age eight. And so as a result, I tell people that you have to have a large enough population of pro-social skills to compare your abnormal skills against, and most preschool kids don't have that great a command of social skills.
I had one kid come into my office that was labeled. Somebody gave him a label of Asperger's and he was two years of age. I was like, "Whoa that wasn't by me." As I say to people, what are the pro-social skills of a two-year-old? I don't think that they have any.
David: So that's really too early to tell.
Timothy: Yeah. To me, I think when you start to hit like third grade, that's when you really start to see a lot of the social difficulties that are coming in. You also get a lot more of the academic differences in terms of inferential things.
David: I have a friend who has a little girl that's only about a year and a half old, somewhere in that range. And it seems like she's very much more interested in things than in people. Now is that too early to be a diagnostic sign or not?
Timothy: Let's say it's a red flag, as I tell parents. When I do my presentations, I tell everybody whether your individual ends up being Asperger, high functioning, bipolar or a host of other labels, they're still going to have these social difficulties. And so the approach that you would use, for whatever label it is, is still going to be the same.
So what I tell a lot of parents is at this stage of the game, let's just start working on some of the behavioral interventions that we need to do to help this person develop better coping strategies that fall within what society deems as appropriate, as opposed to letting them do inappropriate social skills. And so I don't really get hung up so much on the actual diagnostic labels, especially with that age group.
David: Yeah. Among other things I am a ham radio operator, although I'm not active right now. But a few years ago, I got back into the hobby and really threw myself into it in a big way. I met this other amateur radio operator who was technically very, very talented and was able to help me solve various technical problems that I was working on. He let me know upfront that he had Asperger's, and that was letting me know that if his responses didn't jive with my expectations that I shouldn't expect anything other. I guess I try to use a fair amount of humor in my interactions with people, and he would never laugh at anything that I said - try as hard as I might.
Timothy: Classic. That's one of the things that adults tell me with spousal relations. He remains aloof. He's uncaring. The big one is don't confuse tact with rudeness with these individuals.
Timothy: They'll just pop out with these statements. I had one child that was sitting maybe two feet away from me and he was giving me eye contact, but he kept gravitating towards my hairline. He would look up at my hairline. I was ignoring it and the mom was wondering what's going on. I finally asked him, "Is there something wrong with my hair?" He says, "Yeah, you've got this piece of hair that's hanging out." "Thank you so much for telling me."
David: Yeah. Well I had a similar experience with this guy - it's interesting your observation about rudeness and tact. I had actually worked my way up to the black belt of ham radio, there are different classes of licenses, and so I had made it up to the extra class license and he, essentially, told me, "You're the dumbest extra I've ever met".
Timothy: "Gee, thank you."
David: Yeah, it was just out there; it was just flat, you know. It was an observation and I couldn't debate. I mean, there were just certain ways in which, yeah, I felt a little bit like a pretender because I didn't have all of the technical knowledge that, maybe, should be associated with that level of licensing.
Timothy: One of the things I try to let them know is, "You know, when you say it that way". It's not what you say, it's how you say it that gets us into trouble, and that affects everybody. I tell people it's classic spousal relations, right there. Unfortunately when you have Asperger's, it seems to pop out much more frequently.
One of my guys looked at me one time...he was just so upset about something...and he crossed his two index fingers and made and an ex and looks at me and thrusts them in my face and says, "I ex you out".
Timothy: I was persona non grata; I was gone.
David: Oh, wow. Yeah.
Timothy: And he just ignored me from that point in time. I thought it was a pretty interesting self-coping strategy, but one that would be perceived as odd. [laughs]
David: Was that a child or an adult?
Timothy: He was, probably, adolescent.
David: OK, OK.
Timothy: I'd say, maybe, eleven, something like that.
David: I notice one of the bullet points in your brochure says, "techniques used in pragmatic language assessment". What is that referring to?
Timothy: Well, pragmatics is the field...there's four components of language. The first one happens to be phonology; that's the sound system. Every language has a set of sounds that you use to produce it. The classic...I'm here in Florida so we have a large Hispanic population as I'm sure you do down in California. So, it's like, Meester Keem instead of Mister Kim. The Spanish language doesn't have those short vowel sounds so it's very, very easy to hear the difference in terms of the sound system. For an English speaker trying to say Spanish, there's only one sound in Spanish that's not found in English, and that's that trilled "r". That's the phonology, the set of sounds.
Then you have this area called semantics which is vocabulary, which isn't just simply a listing of words, but it's the juxtaposition of these words. Because white house and White House are not the same thing. Then you have the syntax or grammar. How you string your words together.
The last one is this area called Pragmatics, the use and the function of language. How I engage with other individuals. It's knowing how I'm supposed to interact with other people. The problem is that there are very few instruments that are out there that are standardized. As a matter of fact, I can't think of any that are really all that great, that look at your ability to interact with other people using social communication skills.
The problem with public schools is that, to access into special ed service delivery many districts require you to have two standard deviations from the norm using the standardized tool. The problem is, when we get into the Asperger population where their predominant area of difficulty happens to be in this social communication area, the pragmatics, there are no instruments that they can use. So it really makes it difficult for our population, the Asperger population, to receive this service delivery in the school system.
So that's what I try to teach people is, how do we go about assessing social communication? What tools can you use and what methods are going to produce the information that you need?
David: That makes me wonder if some of the traditional psychological projective tests would be of any value there. I'm thinking of something like the Thematic Apperception Test. I don't even know if it's used anymore, but when I was in graduate school...it's a set of cards that shows a variety of social situations. If an Asperger's person were asked to describe what was going on in that card, I'm wondering if there would be a qualitative difference.
Timothy: Well, I don't know about that instrument, per se, but I know that if you hold up a bunch of cards of facial features to these individuals, it's my experience that the majority of them will be able to identify the majority of these cards. That this person's angry, this person's irritated, upset, etc. Right on down the line.
David: That's interesting.
Timothy: The transference of that into functional usage remains off. One of the things I'm working on right now is an assessment...a research on idiomatic expression. Everybody including me in my book says that people with Asperger have a very, very difficult time with idiomatic expression. If you say things like, "It's raining cats and dogs" and they look out the window. "I don't see any."
No one's done a formal assessment on this.
Timothy: I figure this is a shoo in. I used a particular subtest from a standardized language tool that looks at an A/B fashion. It goes like, "Raining cats and dogs" mean these four choices and what does this mean? And you have four idioms with which to choose.
Timothy: My hypothesis was that these guys were going to bomb. What I'm getting are standard scores of 9, 10, 11, 13 and 15, which means it's normal to gifted in terms of structured, very rote regurgitation, but practical application is a whole other thing. The problem that I find is that formal assessments often lend the evaluator into thinking we've got false negative, so that the individual thinks that the person has this skill when functionally they don't use it. They may know it, but they don't employ it so, as far as I'm concerned, it ain't there.
Timothy: Does that make sense?
David: Yeah, it does. It does.
Timothy: That's why I really tell people, "Be careful about your standard tools." They don't tell us what we need to know. As a psychologist, you know that the WISC, Stanford-Binet and McCarthy scales aren't going to tell you that your guy has Asperger.
Timothy: Likewise any of the speech and language tests that are out there, that are standardized, don't tell me that I have Asperger's either. So...
David: So I imagine you'll keep plugging away at it trying to develop a test that will make that discrimination.
Timothy: Well, I did publish a paper that was called, "Assessing Communication in Asperger's Syndrome", and I presented it at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association's convention here in Miami Beach this past November. It's been published in the Florida Journal of Language. What I usually do is, I tell people to access that journal article, because it's in PDF fashion, and they can see what sort of things I talk about. How I go about doing it to be a better evaluator of that social communication deficit.
David: Yeah, good. So once you've come up with the diagnosis, and you know that either a child or an adult is suffering from Asperger's, what sorts of interventions are available?
Timothy: Oh, a lot of it ends up being compensatory strategies. I strongly believe that an individual needs to know that they have Asperger. If you don't know that you have diabetes and you go over to the buffet table, and just gorge on all of the pastries, you end up in diabetic shock. Knowing that you have diabetes helps you combat the diabetes. Likewise, knowing that I have Asperger helps me understand what my Asperger does to me.
One of my guys...he's high school...I said, "So what's the Asperger's do for you?"
He looks and he says, "Well, I have a tendency to really know a lot about geography."
"Well, I'm really, really good with geography, I know all these capitals and states and countries and gross domestic products etc"
"Well, I know that a lot of my friends don't like that."
"I try not to talk about those topics with my friends."
So it's knowing that he has this tendency to really get interested in this particular area helps him understand how he needs to curtail that interest when dealing with other people. Or, as I tell most of my people, every day you're presented with different challenges and options and things. You have to know what sort of filter to apply. So right now I have my "talking to a radio announcer" filter on where I'm going to present myself differently than "talking to my wife" filter...
Timothy: ..."going for the job interview" filter. One kid comes to see me and I asked him, "What sort of thing do you plan on seeing yourself doing for a job and stuff when you get out of here?" He was in dual-enrollment high school and community college at the same time.
He said, "Well, I can't see myself doing manual labor. I just can't get involved in that. So I see middle management." So I held up the mirror and I said, "Do you see anything that would preclude you from doing middle management?" because he had four days' worth of bed-head. And he said, "Well, I see your point." Then he looks and says, "You don't understand, Mr. Tim. I just don't care."
And I said, "Well, here's your problem. I know that you don't care, but the problem is: you don't know how important that is for achieving middle management. You're not going to get it if you look like this. You have to have that... you know." As I tell people, "Most blondes don't like the dumb blonde jokes." So knowing what you can say with certain people helps you engage with those individuals, how do I interact.
The other thing that I teach my people is to draw upon other individuals. So, if you go to your spouse's Christmas party, you may not know anybody there. But the chances are you can get in and out that evening without irritating too many people because how you act is dependent upon how everybody else is acting.
You know there's a certain code of dress that I'm going to have to use, there's a certain presentation style that I'm going to have to do, and you're able to slip in and slip out. You may not enjoy your evening, but you're able to do it with relative ease. People with Asperger's don't have that ability because it's one-size-fits-all.
David: Right. Well, what you're saying makes sense and sounds very rational, but how well are they able to accommodate and accept this advice? Can they really learn these skills and apply them or is there something underneath that sort of drives the behavior and makes it very difficult to change?
Timothy: I see two kinds of Asperger individuals who are out there. There's those that recognize that they want to be a part, and recognize that I have these areas that I need help in learning how to fit in. And then there's the other ones that are absolutely adamant that "I am not going to change in any way, shape or form." And I think with the latter person the success ratio was not good because they just have no interest or desire and no matter how much you try to tell them that what's happening isn't going to work....
You know, one of the things I use is a visual and it has a little arrow flow-chart type of thing and up at the top it says "Problem." And then I have an arrow that loops from the left side and makes a curve and it says, "Is it fixed?" And then you have an inverted "V" that says "Yes" and "No". And typically what I say, "Here's the problem: Joey irritates you so you go berserk on Joey. Does he stop irritating you? No. Here's the problem: this guy does this; you do this. Does it solve your problem? No."
"Do you want your problem to be solved? Do you want it to go away? Yes. Then we, you and I, need to figure out a different strategy. I'm not telling you that what you're doing is wrong. I'm just saying that you're not getting the results that you want."
And when I show them that visual, it seems to help them understand to a better degree that there might be a different way to do it than what I'm doing. And all I'm doing is offering another suggestion. Now, that's if the individual wants to get to some change, but if he's absolutely satisfied with staying in his realm, just playing his computer games the whole time, and has no interest to ever get out and do anything, that's a much more difficult type of individual to work with. Because he's so aloof and so reclusive, I don't know how you would get him to change. I think that's also a learned pattern of "I've been so incompetent at developing social skills that I'll just hole myself up into this realm and not do anything and not have to worry about shooting myself in the foot."
David: Right. What do we know about the etiology of Asperger's?
Timothy: Well, they're doing all sorts of research right now, but nothing that I've heard of is really popping up as far as what's occurring. I know that they're looking at funnel regions and then they're also looking at XY chromosome types of things.
Timothy: I know that they did a study over at some place in Israel where they looked at older dads when they fired the children that they seemed to have a higher incidence of autistic spectrum disorders, but I'll be honest with you: I don't have a clue. I do know that certain families, sadly, have what I call "the whammy gene" where you can see just a high propensity passed right on down through the gene pool and it just goes from grandpa to dad to kid and ongoing.
David: So, that would suggest there's some genetic component involved?
Timothy: Correct. Well, in certain families there is, but it doesn't mean that if I have full-blown Asperger's that my child will have Asperger's. It's not like that.
David: Yeah, yeah. Now, are there motoric differences? Because I noticed on your flier there was a reference to fine motor and gross motor, so I wondered what's going on around that.
Timothy: Well, yeah. In the DSM it talks about motor responses where it says that you might have those sorts of things, but it isn't a salient feature. But it's my experience that many - not all - have definite issues when it comes to gross motor skills: skipping rope, learning how to ride a bicycle, running - you see their gait is a little bit off.
P.E. is notoriously difficult for a lot of these guys, but most of the P.E. programs in the United States, at least, center around the major sports of basketball, baseball, football, kickball in elementary school - things of that nature - volleyball, that are very, very social. And my person doesn't know to engage and use that trash-talking that's done a lot of times.
Timothy: Add on the fact that many of them have sensory difficulties where they perceive sound in a manner that you and I don't, so the echoes in the gyms are very, very difficult and also those touch issues where you're bumping into me - "Uh! I can't deal with that" - so they have a lot of meltdowns.
Timothy: Now, fine motor skills, it's almost a given that the majority of these people have horrific penmanship. And some of them, though, do have calligraphy, but the problem is it takes too long to really write in that case because they're perfectionists. And what I find a lot of times is that many individuals with Asperger actually start cramping up after about five or ten minutes of writing. So it's actually a painful procedure for them.
So you'll see that the handwriting... typically, they don't have any problem in terms of muscle control, but rather it relates more towards motor planning, of how I'm going to follow through and do this process. And so it's just horrific penmanship. It seems to be more the norm than the exception.
David: I'm starting to get diagnosed into the category now, as you're talking about penmanship and difficulty writing, but we won't go into that. But what about video games and computer games? Would they tend to do better at that?
Tim Kowalski: I've seen wizards with computer games. That seems to be a definite rule. Not everybody likes them, but if you have your 20 dollar bet, bet that this kid is an exceptional video game person. He can probably get to the 12th level of god knows what game. I personally hate them; to me they're all the same.
Timothy: But these guys, they're very good at it. Of course, it gives them immediately feedback and they're able to control it and it's very consistent. If I push this button this way, this happens; if I do it this way, that happens. That's not how life is, you know.
Timothy: If I say one thing, it's not always going to be the same thing back. So that's why I think they gravitate towards that; it's much more predictable.
David: Yeah. Computer programming as well. I guess we're getting back to that geek-factor that you were talking about at the beginning. I would think that computer programming would come easily.
Timothy: Well, I think that it's an area that they have a tendency to excel at. That doesn't necessarily mean that they're all going into computer programming, it's just that they have a very high percentage. You know, look at these cities: Orlando, Houston, Seattle, San Jose, Huntsville, Alabama, Boise, Idaho. They all have very large Asperger populations and they're all high-tech corridors.
Timothy: So, you see a very large population. I remember doing a presentation in San Jose and they said there were three teachers from the same school were there and they said, "I don't think we have that many more from our school than from any other school." And a third grade teacher said something like, "I have 15." The other one said, "I've got 17", "I've got 19 and the other class has even more."
Most schools don't have that many kids in the entire school; they're lucky if they have three kids with Asperger's in the school population. And San Jose, they've got a very large percentage. Of course, they're smack in the middle of, as Newsweek said, "Geek Land".
David: Right, right. So, what's your recommendation for someone who thinks they or someone in their family may have Asperger's?
Timothy: Well, if they're school-age individuals, I suggest strongly that they get a label of Asperger from the appropriate individual because then we can start to do some accommodations in their schooling, whether it's with a section 504 or whether it's with IDEA. I like the IDEA program better than the 504 because there's more meat behind it.
David: Now, what are those? I haven't heard of either one of those?
Timothy: A Section 504?
Timothy: That's the Americans with Disabilities Act, so we'll put into accommodations. But infractions aren't spelled out, whereas if you don't provide the services and you have an IP, there's a lot of legal ramifications that can result, OK? But accessing into special ed through the IDEA program - that's the Individuals with Disabilities Educational Act....
Timothy: It's basically all special ed in the public schools. You have to qualify for a particular handicapping criteria. Now, many individuals with Asperger's have been labeled "twice exception", "gifted", "LD" - that type of stuff - or they may be receiving speech and language problems. Or they may be under behavior disorder, which is the one that I hate because my guy does what he does because he thought he was typically doing the right thing to begin with.
And, you know, if I throw something because I'm in a fit of rage, you can hit, typically I would say that you're more collateral damage when you're dealing with Asperger, but a classic behavior disorder child was aiming for your head. So I don't like my people to be in the classic behavior disorder classroom - seriously, emotionally disturbed, whatever term they use in your community.
I like the individual to be labeled more as "autism/high-functioning" because that, to me, is going to tell us a lot more in terms of these emotional outbursts that they're going to have. It's going to relate more towards their penmanship issues, their P.E. difficulties. If you just say the kid has a difficulty in terms of communicating effectively, he has a pragmatic language problem, then why does he need adaptations for written materials? Why is he having all these comprehension difficulties that are out there in terms of the social aspects? It doesn't relate to the global picture.
So by having an IP, we have a lot of assurances that the school isn't going to suspend him for everything that he does. And some of the things that these people will say, they're just brutally honest. And a teacher will perceive it as being insubordinate and he's not insubordinate; he's just honest.
Like, there was a third-grade teacher who was reaming out the ninth grade class in the lunchroom and my student was sitting there. And she turns away and he says under his breath - or, at least, he thought it was under his breath - "You're not my teacher." Well, she heard him and became irate and just started ripping him out. And the principal, who happens to have a kid with Asperger, tells her, "You have to understand; he has Asperger's." "I know all about this Asperger's. He's going to show me respect." There's the classic phrase.
So I'm over there and I said, "Well, what did he say that was incorrect?" "What do you mean?" "Well, are you his teacher?" "That has nothing to do with it; he has to show me respect." Don't confuse what he said - it's the delivery style, again, that people take offense at. And so, the first thing that I try to let educators know is: forget about the delivery style; just listen to the words and treat it as if it was a Western Union telegram. Don't look at the fluff. The fluff is going to misread a lot of stuff and, as a result, people get very, very upset.
Timothy: And by having those IPs, by having him labeled that way, the educational system won't be slamming him for everything that he does. Does that make sense?
David: OK. Yes, it does. Well, this has been very informative. It's about time for us to wrap our discussion up. In case there are other professionals listening, I want to let them know that you're offering CE-unit workshops. You're going to be doing some in California in the month of April. I see you're doing them in Sacramento, Fresno, Oakland, San Jose - you'll get lots of Asperger's people there - and San Francisco during this coming month of April. And I'll put a link to the organization that you offer those through, which is Cross Country Education. People can go to that website if they're interested in attending one of your workshops.
Timothy: I appreciate that.
David: Yeah. And what's the title of your book, in case somebody wants to follow up with that?
Timothy: It's called "The Source for Asperger's Syndrome" and it's published by LinguiSystems.
David: OK. Well, Timothy Kowalski, thanks so much for being my guest.
Timothy: I appreciate it. It was enjoyable.
David: I hope you enjoyed this conversation with Timothy Kowalski. As you heard in the interview, he's conducting workshops around the country on Asperger Syndrome and these are open not only to professionals but to the public as well. If you're interested, you can find the schedule at www.crosscountryeducation.com.
Beyond this, if you or someone you know has Asperger's, you can certainly find out more by reading his book which is titled "The Source for Asperger's Syndrome." It is available from amazon.comwww.socialpragmatics.com.
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