Test photo

Christopher Yeager, 8, can read at a fifth grade level and knows practically everything about cars, but has trouble socializing due to Asperger syndrome, a form of autism.

â Family holding fundraiser for eight-year-old son who has Asperger syndrome

BEEKMANTOWN --Christopher Yeager loves cars.

Ask him anything about automobiles -- about NASCAR, about what kind of vehicle you should purchase -- and he will probably come up with some sound advice and lots of facts about his favorite subject.

But at 8 years old, Christopher faces a lot more challenges than picking the winner of next week's Nextel Cup race. He suffers from Asperger syndrome, a form of autism that features a marked deficiency in social skills and an obsession with routine.

"He's very, very smart but has no social skills," said Christopher's mom, Karen Yeager, as Christopher played with his 3-year-old brother, Alex, on the living room carpet. "He has big issues when his routine is changed.

"He's gotten a lot better. If there was a plant on the table and you put it on the TV, he would have cried and cried. Now, with a lot of therapy, he's learning to deal with that kind of thing."

Karen and her husband, Jay, first recognized something unusual when Christopher was less than a year old.

"He would line things up all the time," she recalled. "He'd have all his cars lined up in a row."

His hearing was also very acute, she added, noting that he could hear voices from people talking in rooms at the other end of the house.

He was very sensitive to touch and would only wear soft clothing. Temperature changes and even the texture of certain foods were also unsettling for him, she said.

"He'll pretty much eat the same things over and over," she said. "He'll eat more now, but there are certain things he still won't touch."

As a special-education major, Karen felt something was wrong because of these oddities. Her pediatrician felt that Christopher would "grow out of" the habits, but the Yeagers wanted to make certain and brought him to a specialist in Albany when he was 2.

After a year of testing, the specialist confirmed the diagnosis of Asperger syndrome, though it took the Yeagers a couple of years to officially accept the diagnosis.

It has never been difficult for Christopher to learn new things, especially if they involve math or reading, but he still has a problem when it comes to writing.

"I'll say something, but I can't spell it," he said as he took a moment from his play, obviously aware that his parents were talking about him. "I'll have to ask the teacher (about the spelling of a word)."

Christopher has always shown an acumen for learning things, which is one of the reasons his parents believe he gets so frustrated from his weaknesses with writing.

"He's taught himself so much," Karen said. "He's 8 years old and at a fifth-grade reading level. It's amazing what his little head can do. But he can't figure out what to do with writing. It's out of his grasp of numbers."

Although his parents keep him actively involved in Cub Scouts, sports and other activities, Christopher has not done well with making friends.

"He has his ups and downs," Karen said. "Academically, he's doing very well (in 2nd grade at Beekmantown), but behaviorally he's not doing so well."

He is extremely shy around strangers but will talk with anyone about cars, she added. In fact, he spends a lot of his spare time reading about automobiles in the monthly installments of "Consumer Reports."

He does well playing with Alex and is also good with the family's three pet cats. With that strong affection toward animals, the Yeagers have looked into a program that utilizes trained dogs to help children with autism improve their social skills.

"Christopher doesn't get along with his peers well at all, and that's very heartbreaking," Karen said. "These are fully trained dogs that can help a child improve social skills. Except for school, the dog will spend the entire day with him and can sense when the child is about to lose control."

The Yeagers have gone through the preliminary steps of obtaining a service dog and have collected two-thirds of the $6,000 they need to secure a trained animal. They're holding a fundraising dinner at Elks Club later this month in hopes to reach their financial goal.

"He's quite an amazing guy," Karen said of their first-born child. "Life skills are the big issue. We're sure that this (service dog) will be a huge benefit for him."


Recommended for you