WHILE most boys are playing football during lunch time, Robert tends to walk around the perimeter of his school yard thinking about one of his favourite things.
The electronics fanatic also wears a beanie a lot, so he can pull it down around his eyes and ears to block out light and noise when it bothers him.
Robert, 9, has Asperger’s syndrome – a developmental disorder on the autism spectrum that affects how his brain processes information. The condition means he lacks some social skills and finds it hard to read people’s facial expressions. He also has a heightened sense of sight and sound and focuses on particular things obsessively.
Like many unique children, Robert has been teased at school and left out of group activities because children don’t understand him. However, a new book designed to teach children about Asperger’s is starting to turn his world around.
His mother, Letizia Faba, said after the book, My friend has Asperger’s, was read at Robert’s school, his peers started focusing on his interests and strengths, rather than his weaknesses. The changes have been subtle – for example, one child offered him Pokemon cards because he knew Robert liked them – but for Ms Faba, these actions mark a shift.
”It’s fantastic, it has created interaction,” she said. ”Before that, I don’t think a lot of kids understood his differences.”
The book, which was sent with a letter to parents of other children at the school has also got them talking about Asperger’s, creating more support for Ms Faba and her family.
Amanda Curtis, author of the book and mother of an Asperger’s child, said she wrote it because her son was being rejected at school for hitting people, invading their space and talking too loudly.
”It broke my heart,” she said. ”They would move away from him, not hold his hand in line and tease him. He would come home saying that he was called a ‘freak’ or an ‘idiot’.”
In response, Ms Curtis, a qualified primary teacher, got together with psychologist Sophie Banfield to write a book detailing the characteristics of Asperger’s. It explains why children behave in certain ways and what can be done about it.
It also teaches children about the qualities Asperger’s can bring, including intense concentration, logical problem solving and attention to detail that helps some excel at particular things.
Ms Curtis, who is launching her book on Wednesday, said she hoped schools would adopt the book because it had had a dramatic impact on her son’s peers.
”The results were amazing,” she said. ”My son’s classmates changed from excluding and teasing him, to helping him pack up, playing with him and supporting him. The parents at the school finally understood what Asperger’s meant and now support me.”
Murray Dawson-Smith, head of Amaze, the peak body for autism disorders in Victoria, welcomed the book, saying there was a dearth of knowledge and understanding in the school system, which governments were working on.
”The book is a good resource,” he said. ”Anything that helps children have a better experience at school is a good investment.”