Author’s note: This is the fourth installment in an occasional series of reports meant to separate Asperger’s syndrome myths from facts and assist those who love and care for AS-affected individuals.
Asperger’s syndrome (AS) is a neurodevelopmental, autism spectrum disorder that affects certain areas of the brain, mainly the parts that regulate speech and communication. Although the fifth edition of the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” (DSM-5) no longer classifies AS as distinct from other autism spectrum disorders, clinicians continue referring to children with symptoms like the ones described here as having AS, and the term AS is used throughout this report.
Because children with Asperger’s have on-time language development, they often go undiagnosed until they enter school. They usually have above-average intelligence and are sometimes (but not always) skilled or gifted in a specific area, e.g., reading maps, memorizing train schedules or playing an instrument.
Sensory processing disorder (formerly known as sensory integration dysfunction) often accompanies AS. Sensory issues are best described as an oversensitivity to touch, smell, taste, sound and visual stimulation. A child with Asperger’s might suddenly stop and cover his ears at the sound of a moving train. It is because he is super sensitive to the sound, and he literally can’t bear it. This is an example of a child on sensory overload.
AS-affected children may appear rude and disruptive. Many will interrupt while others are talking. Literature on Asperger’s reveals this is due to auditory processing issues, and people with Asperger’s say they don’t interrupt others to be rude; however, they know if they don’t answer quickly, they may forget what they were about to say.
Other symptoms of Asperger’s are overly literal and concrete thinking, inability to read body language, formal speech (known as little professor syndrome), difficulty with pragmatics (how you use language), unusual prosody (lack of inflection, monotone voices), and inability to be flexible and understand a perspective other than one’s own.
Asperger’s is a developmental disability, and children with Asperger’s are almost always bullied, teased and physically assaulted by other children. “Typical” (formerly normal) children zone in on the child with Asperger’s differences and know that something about the child is different, although the typical child cannot clearly discern the difference. Peers usually refer to the child with Asperger’s as weird, strange, odd, geeky or nerdy. AS-affected children are conspicuous because of their social immaturity, motor clumsiness, unusual speech patterns and naiveté.
Yet, children with Asperger’s are typically bright, get along well with adults, are good students, want friends but don’t know how to make them, and will study subjects that interest them in great detail. Treatment includes social skills groups, play (behavioral) therapy, occupational therapy (to help with sensory issues), and speech therapy (for pragmatics, prosody and conversational skills).
Following are suggestions for parents of AS-affected children:
Be patient with your child and love him for who he is. Let him know you accept, admire and cherish him. Stop trying to fix him and mold him into what you believe is
“normal.” Everyone is different, and your child has unique skills, talents and abilities that he would like to develop. Encourage and provide opportunities for this.
Work with your child’s teachers
Work with your child’s teachers in accommodating your child if he is in a general education classroom. Accommodations may be as simple as allowing him to be at the end of the line, so he won’t be bumped from behind. It could also mean allowing him to leave class a few minutes early before the bell rings, so he won’t react to the sound in front of his peers.
Give your child fair warning
Be sure to meet your child’s teacher before the school year begins. Also, take your child to visit the school, take a tour, and discover the location of commonly used areas. Children with Asperger’s thrive on routine and familiarity, so this will help her adjust for the new school year.
Homeschooling is an option
Homeschool your child, if possible, if you see a school is not working out after you and your child have made your best effort. However, be sure to find plenty of social outlets for your child like Boy Scouts, 4-H club, community/park district sports teams, chess club, homeschool co-op and homeschool support group.
Ease into social situations
Do not force your child into social situations she is not ready for, but do teach manners, appropriate greetings and how to politely make requests. Take gradual steps. Many people who don’t have AS are not highly social, so don’t try to force your personality or social preferences on your child. Some children with Asperger’s are social, while others prefer more alone time.
Focus on most needed therapies
Do not make your child take too many therapies at the same time. If occupational therapy, speech therapy, social skills group and behavioral therapy are all needed, focus on a maximum of two therapies simultaneously. More than this is overwhelming for your child.
Let your child be herself
Allow your child to grow and blossom into the person she was meant to be. Do this by lovingly and gently guiding your child. Many children with Asperger’s have intense interests, and those interests often lead them to successful careers and professions.
The writer served as an expert witness on Asperger’s syndrome.
Previous articles in the series:
Sources and resources:
“Understanding Asperger’s Syndrome,” Emily L. Burrows and Shelia J. Wagner, Future Horizons, Inc., 2004.