In the episode "I Hear You, I See You," the viewers begin to have a glimmer of what the world is like for those with Asperger's syndrome. Although the title of this episode refers to the communication issues between Max's grandparents, it's a perfect phrase to use to understand someone who has Asperger's syndrome. Max has tremendous talent for memorization - he knows the exact times, flights, dates, etc., of Jabbar's upcoming visit. Many individuals with Asperger's syndrome have this unique talent, being able to memorize intricate details about topics that interest them, such as geography, solar systems, animals, insects, etc. These intense interests are called "perseverative interests," and the subject material can range widely and last for years, or change daily or weekly. Although this strength for memorization may not carry over into everyday areas (such as remembering to complete all chores assigned by mom and dad, or memorizing rules for writing compositions), this incredible talent in areas of high interest should be seen as a strength that can be built upon for the future. We need to "see" this talent in Max and appreciate his ability with it.
Max also demonstrates a very concrete, literal manner of thinking. For example, he misinterprets Crosby's comment about not having anyone to hug (Crosby misses his girlfriend Jasmine), and immediately offers him a hug. This concrete thinking (something which many with Asperger's syndrome struggle) interferes with understanding social relationships and nuances. Max continually makes odd statements which give viewers insight into how he interprets the social interactions going on around him. Misinterpreting social relationships affects all avenues of life. Max clearly couldn't accept the cancellation of Jabbar's visit, and his behavior outburst shows his lack of coping skills. He needs help from his therapist Gaby, who gives him very specific, concrete steps to manage the situation. When changes occur, those that have Asperger's syndrome often need this type of behavioral strategy. Like most people who have Asperger's syndrome, Max doesn't process information in the same manner that others do; he needs help to see there are other options available. Often, individuals with Asperger's syndrome can better understand changes when they are broken down into smaller parts, written down (put in a visual format), and alternate solutions are offered.
So we begin to see the world through Max's eyes - he's a concrete, literal thinker and fully expects events to occur when they're supposed to. He can be quite comfortable when events flow as scheduled, but he can't understand the reasons why people change the set schedules. The ability to accept change requires a sophisticated understanding of social relationships, and why people act the way they do. This is at the core of social impairment in individuals with Asperger's syndrome.
Now that we can "hear and see" Max better, we begin to understand the difficulties he faces. It's important for his family to understand Max's information interpretation, so they can better prepare him for disappointments, and concretely teach him how to cope when Jabbar's visits or other events don't occur as they should.
Written by: Sheila Wagner, M.Ed.
Viewers interested in learning more about Asperger's syndrome and methods used to assist the learning process are encouraged to visit these websites: