What a Conversation About 'Hamilton' Reminded Me About My Son With Asperger's
“Mom, do you think Alexander Hamilton had Asperger’s?” my 12-year-old son asked while we drove and listened to the soundtrack of the musical, “Hamilton.” At first his question surprised me, I’d never thought about it. There were no diagnoses back then for autism.
I responded, “Well, Jack, what do we know about him?” We talked about the things we knew about Hamilton and his life: how driven he was, how stubborn he was, how keenly focused he was.
The “Hamilton” soundtrack has been playing continuously in our home, car, and iPods for the past 10 months. My son, Jack, who has Asperger’s, has embraced the musical and Alexander on a deep level. That’s what a good musical does — it touches something inside of us. What was remarkable to me about this particular conversation was hearing how my kids described the positive characteristics of Hamilton, because it aligned with how they think of themselves.
Jack, who was diagnosed at the age of 7, has known about his diagnosis for several years. He accepts his autism. For him, it’s like having blue eyes — a feature of who he is. But this was not how we started off; at the beginning, I felt it was a lot harder for Jack to acknowledge his disability. Due to circumstances that led up to Jack’s diagnosis, he thought he was a bad kid. When we told him he had Asperger’s, he took it as, “something was wrong with him.”
He was not alone in seeing his differences. Prior to his diagnosis, I was jotting down, examining and reporting to the many professionals how Jack was different. His differences were highlighted at school and at home. Unknowingly, we were making him feel the pressure of trying to be someone he was not. Once we had a diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome, professionals could now help him understand his internal wiring and address the underlying causes for his behavior. Once I saw the full picture of Jack, I educated myself and found compassion and understanding. My anxiety lessened, and I could see his strengths. In so many ways his differences were not deficits, they were assets.
Fast-forward to the present moment, after years of learning about his diagnoses, (autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, sensory processing disorder and dyslexia), he has integrated these features about himself, pulling out good things. What he sees in Hamilton — he may see in himself. He’s driven, perseveres through challenges and says what’s on his mind. He’s passionate and has a profound belief in right and wrong. We were not really diagnosing Alexander Hamilton, but talking about him was a way for my son to see worth in himself.
I can see how Jack has reached a level of self-awareness and self-acceptance that seemed like a dream three years ago. It’s a powerful example of how we can change our perspectives on how we view differences by shining a light on the positive aspects. I believe this has given Jack confidence and permission to be who he really is — an amazing young man with endless possibilities.
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Photo credit Hamilton: An American Musical Facebook page