What is Asperger’s Syndrome?
Asperger’s Syndrome is a developmental disorder on the Autism spectrum. It affects verbal and non-verbal communication (body language) social interaction, a dislike of change, an aversion to noise, inflexibility of thought and, quite often, an obsession with overstimulated interest.
Children with Asperger’s Syndrome usually have excellent memories, especially in the area of facts, figures, dates, times and statistics. Math and science are subjects of interest and children typically excel in these areas.
There is a broad range of severity of symptoms with Asperger’s. Children who have very mild symptoms often go undiagnosed for years. It is not unusual for children with medium seriousness to go undiagnosed until they start school, at which time the disorder visible in behavior problems and lack of social skills. Although girls do sometimes suffer from the disease, it is far more prevalent in boys.
Children who have Asperger’s Syndrome have trouble interacting with their peers but can carry on an intelligent and often animated conversation with the adult. They use language differently than non-Asperger’s sufferers and are often labeled odd and eccentric. Children with Asperger’s take verbal and written communication literally. They are happier when schedules are consistent and when they are in a rigidly structured environment. If bored, they may touch, talk out, or make noises to occupy themselves; most often they will concentrate on the activity or hobby of their preferred choice.
Children who have Asperger’s have traits that make them appear to be perfectionists. They love being the first and the best at things and find imperfection, losing and criticism very frustrating. Their ability to communicate their feelings often results in inappropriate behavior. Asperger’s children experience emotions that are overwhelming, which causes them to have a high anxiety level. They need to be around people who are patient, understanding, loving and supportive. Tender loving care (TLC) is required to help them reach their goals. These children flourish in this type of environment.
Problems coping will become less as the child matures, but as with all children, new ones will appear. Teenagers find the lack of friendship perplexing. They continually try to their best to cultivate new friendships only to see they don’t last. Parents need to teach Asperger’s children social skills that come naturally to non-Asperger’s children. If we teach kids social skills from a young age, it makes life easier for Asperger’s teenagers.
You can teach many skills to Asperger’s children. However, keep in mind that each child is an individual with his personality and characteristics. Difficulty levels, as well as levels of achievement, will vary.
Asperger’s vs. Autism
Asperger’s Syndrome is more common as Autism, though it is quite rare. Few people including healthcare professionals have ever heard of it. Fewer still have had any experience dealing with it, and even fewer understand it. Most health care professionals have some knowledge of Autism, though most refer children who suffer from it to specialists in the Autism field of expertise.
Asperger’s children have behavior as having a dash of Autism. Expert’s opinions differ significantly on whether Asperger’s Syndrome should remain on the Autism spectrum, or if it should be in a classification of its own. Autism has high-stress as a withdrawal from reality. Though this is not what Autism is, thousands of people, including some healthcare professionals, still view it as such.
The severity of Autism is much higher than that of Asperger’s Syndrome. Many times children with Autism cannot speak and only make a sound. Classic Autism brings many learning problems with it. The language of those with Asperger’s is most often clear, intelligent and usual. Their cognitive ability is almost always at least average and more often above average.
Violent, the similarities and characteristics of Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome are enough to put them on the same spectrum of developmental disorders. It is vital that any diagnosis be entirely clear, though this can change as the child matures. Traits of children on the high end of the Autistic spectrum appear less severe as the child more formal and learns to cope with his disorder and difficulties.
Areas Affected by Asperger’s Syndrome
- Narrow interests
- Social interaction
- Repetitive routines and inflexibility
Asperger’s children will experience both verbal and non-verbal communication problems. Though they often have very advanced verbal skills, spoken language is difficult for them to understand. Keep conversation precise and straightforward. They need to explain the metaphors to follow, as do similes. Asperger’s children tend to take your words literally and make interpretations concrete. Some Asperger’s children may experience delayed speech, but most do not. They tend to use phrases they have heard and committed to memory, although they frequently use them out of context. Parents of children with Asperger’s may need to translate phrases to decipher exact meanings.
Asperger’s children can, at times, speak in an odd way. They may be loud, talk very formally, or even in a monotonous tone. They may favorite an area of interest without realizing that the listener is experiencing intense boredom. Often they have trouble finding the right words to express what they are trying to say. They have the same problem expressing their feelings and may appear to speak “at you” instead of “to you.”
The Asperger’s child does not make direct eye contact, nor do they understand body language and facial expressions, though we can teach these things successfully. These children tend to have odd facial expressions and find the reading of facial expression and body language in others to be beyond their comprehension abilities. More formal tends to initiate further problems, including frustration and anxiety.
Teaching Body Language
The easiest and most straightforward way to interpret body language and facial expressions are through a fun game. Make a face and ask the child to guess its meaning. Continue playing this game for a few minutes each day until the child learns what you are communicating. Some examples are sad, happy, surprise and frown. Once the child has mastered facial expressions, play the same game to teach body language. Knowledge of basic facial expressions and body language gives the Asperger’s child a definite advantage when interacting with others.
It is not unusual for children with Asperger’s Syndrome to acquire outstanding reading skills at a very young age. The trick here is to assure the child understands what he is reading. Take time to read to and with your child and allow him to read to you in return. Talk about the meaning of the story and explain to the child how to get the most out of a good book.
A definite symptom of Asperger’s Syndrome is the child’s obsession with specific topics. Examples are trains, cars, trucks, airplanes and all other modes of transportation. Dinosaurs, science, computer, and maps also are subjects of high interest. Children with Asperger’s want to know how things work and how they are made. They tend to become preoccupied and obsessed with all things intellectual. These things will change as the child matures, but the intensity level is always extreme.
All of Asperger’s children have poor social skills. They do not read social cues, so cannot give a proper social response. They have no desire to share their experiences with others. These problems tend not to be as severe as parents or adults, but cause very definite issues when the child is interacting with peers. It creates difficulties when trying to make friends their age and results in high anxiety, frustration, and behavioral problems.
Children with Asperger’s often find themselves alone. Many are happy as loners; others are not. They are noticeably different when interacting with their peers in an unstructured environment such as a park or school playground. They are very naïve, which causes bullies and teases unless protected by an assistant, buddy or sibling. They focus on small areas of detail and almost always fail to see the overall picture of situations. This lack of skill can be similar to a tapestry. Where non-Asperger’s children see the entire tapestry, Asperger’s children tend to focus on each thread. It causes them to overlook certain aspects of situations, which can cause more frustration and anxiety.
Asperger’s children tend to limit themselves and those around them to rigidly structured routines. They want things done in a certain way and often, though not always, pick certain foods that they like to eat and insist on one of them at every meal time. As they mature, these routines change, and the child is more likely to listen to reason.
Because of their inflexibility children with Asperger’s often limit their creativity and imagination. The same things are done in the same way every time. They often memorize details and have a great rote memory, but learn without understanding. Asperger’s children need everything to be explained simply and in great detail. For instance, instead of telling the Asperger’s child to set the table, you need to be much more specific. Tell him to put knives, forks, spoons, plates, cups, and glasses on the table. It allows him to know what you expect of him.
Never assume that an Asperger’s child understands instructions just because he can repeat them back to you. Be sure to follow through and ascertain that the child knows what you want him to do. It makes it much easier for all involved and keeps the child’s frustration and anxiety to a minimum.
If an Asperger’s child is to attend a public school, it is vital that he has lots of support available. The best way to assure this is by supplying the school with a Statement of Special Education. It will give school officials advice on the needs of the Asperger’s child. Parents and a health care professional who specializes in Asperger’s Syndrome should give this advice. Obtaining a Statement of Special Education is a stressful and confusing process that can take more than six months. Contact anyone who may be able to help you with this process. It is essential that the Asperger’s child have this support in place before attending school, or as soon as possible after the diagnosis.
The school that the Asperger’s child attends must be willing to learn about Asperger’s Syndrome and the difficulties that both the child and teachers will face. Asperger’s children need a very structured environment if they are expected to excel. The more formal the school environment, the less behavioral problems will become evident. Check with several schools to find out what support is available.
A teacher with specific knowledge of the Autism spectrum should be assigned to give support to the Asperger’s child, the teachers, and the school. There is need to allocate a Special Support Assistant (SSA) for each child with Asperger’s Syndrome or, in Canada, an Educational Assistant (EA.) Other specific professions support, such as language and speech therapists should be assigned if applicable to ensure the child develops proper language and speech skills.
If you plan on homeschooling your child, speak to your Asperger’s health professional. You should keep a diary for communication, achievements, and problems. Homeschooling is not always the answer for children with Asperger’s, as they do need a lot of social interaction with children their age to develop communication skills. Only your Asperger’s health care professional can tell you if a collapse your child is the right for him. After all, the child’s well-being is the top priority.
Asperger’s children often have high-stress levels. Things overwhelm them quickly, and they don’t have the skills they need to control their emotions. Music may be nothing more to than noise to the Asperger’s child and can cause feelings to reach out of control levels. Overwhelming situations can result in meltdowns immediately or hours or even days later.
Meltdowns can result in the Asperger’s child going out of control. He may cry, scream, cry and scream, kick, throw things, pound on walls, or engage in other inappropriate behaviors. It’s challenging to determine when, where or why a meltdown will occur. When you ask the child what the problem is, the may give an off the wall reply, such as “I have no green toys,” when he has hundreds of green toys in his room.
Never punish an Asperger’s child for having a meltdown, which appears to be nothing more than a violent temper tantrum. Allow him a quiet time and once he is again in control, try to find out what the real problem is. It could be something that happened immediately before the meltdown, yesterday or even last week. It’s tough to determine why a collapse occurs unless the child learns to communicate his feelings.
Meltdowns often occur after a rough day at school, a disagreement with a sibling, a lost game, a sporting event or other activity. Be patient and supportive. Don’t shout. Let the child know that you support him and love him. It is not unusual for Asperger’s children to meltdown upon arriving home from school. A school day is very structured, and they try to be on their best behavior, so venting when they get home is quite natural.
Asperger’s Children and the Holidays
Asperger’s children are easily overstimulated. Their emotions overwhelm them, and it is up to the people around them to make life easier for them.
The holidays are especially difficult for children who have Asperger’s Syndrome. Remember, they are not social people. Crowds and noise overwhelm them. They do not cope well with the hustle and bustle of holidays, especially Christmas. It brings a lot of stress into the life of the Asperger’s child.
Some Asperger’s children may not want to join in when the family opens presents. He may be checking out the lights on the Christmas tree, trying to figure out how they work, or he may sit in a corner participating in one of his obsessive hobbies. Let him be. If you pressure him to join in, he will become overwhelmed and go into a meltdown. It will only result in upheaval and chaos for the entire family. Allow the Asperger’s child to check out the lights and open his presents in his own time. The holiday will be much more pleasant for everyone involved.
Asperger’s Stress Factors
- Noise. It includes the crinkle of wrapping paper, Christmas carols, singing and dancing Christmas decorations, or anything that causes sound on an ongoing basis.
- Having too many people around, crowds and the buzz of conversation can overwhelm the Asperger’s child.
- Being pressured in any way, such as to be on his best behavior, or to join in the festivities can cause overwhelming emotions in the Asperger’s child.
- Too many visitors at the same time. Remember, the Asperger’s child does not like to be surrounded by people and noise.
- Have a quiet breakfast on Christmas morning.
- Allow only one person to open presents at a time. It will alleviate the crinkle of wrapping paper and nose from the excited voices of siblings.
- Keep meals quiet. Do not allow toys at the table. Ask each child to talk about their favorite toy, including the Asperger’s child.
- Keep noise minimal. Do not play music for extended periods of time or it will become nothing but noise to the Asperger’s child.
- Encourage the Asperger’s child to enjoy himself and have fun. If this means he retreat to a quiet area where he can be alone, let him be. It is his way of coping and of enjoying the holiday. Never pressure an Asperger’s child to play with other children.
- Keep visitors minimal. Family members and friends should keep visits short, and they should visit at separate times. Be sure everyone knows when they supposed and how long they are supposed to stay.
Strategies for Coping
- Keep instructions simple and on a level that the child can understand.
- Use social stories to prepare Asperger’s children for new social experiences, the new school year, a move, and any other changes that will take place in their life.
- Be sure the child knows what others expect of him. Use simple language that he can understand.
- Sing or whisper words to young children to get their attention and to help them keep focused.
- Ask the child to look directly into your eyes when you talk to him. Praise him when he is successful.
- Limit choices to keep the child from being overwhelmed.
- Warn the child well in advance of any changes to be made in his environment, such as moving the furniture or rearranging his room. The child’s school must be made aware that moving his desk can cause behavioral problems.
- Asperger’s children are often immature. Never tell them to act their age. They have no concept of age-related behavior.
- Try to incorporate flexibility into the child’s routine at an early age. It allows him to realize and accept that things do change.
- Learn to identify stress triggers and avoid them when possible.
- Identify ways to cope with behavior problems. Hugging will help some Asperger’s children, while others don’t like to be touched. Get to know your child.
- Teach the child stress-busting techniques such as deep breathing or counting to ten. Many Asperger’s children find a stress ball beneficial.
- Give the Asperger’s child lots of support, praise, and TLC. Let them know that you love them and are there for them, always.
Remember, Asperger’s children are unique. They have their quirks, distinct personalities, abilities, likes, and dislikes. The only difference between them and any other child is that they look at the world differently. They need a little extra love, support, understanding, and patience from those who love them.