Has my child got Asperger Syndrome?
Has my child got Asperger Syndrome?
What is Asperger Syndrome?
Asperger Syndrome (often just called ‘Asperger’s’) or Asperger Disorder is an Autism Spectrum Disorder- that is children or teenagers with Asperger’s show some ‘autistic’ tendencies. But what does this mean? Fortunately Asperger Syndrome is at the mild end of the autism spectrum, and usually children and teenagers affected can function pretty well in many situations.
Each individual will have their own pattern of Asperger ‘symptoms’ and it is very unusual for any child or teenager ( or adult for that matter) to have all of the ‘symptoms’ all of the time.
Children and teenagers with Asperger Syndrome tend to have poor social skills. For example they may
- Be socially clumsy, too friendly or not friendly enough
- Say the wrong thing at the wrong time, tactless
- Do socially inappropriate things without realising it
- Have difficulties in reading social situations
- Not recognise when someone is joking
- Take things such as ‘pull up your socks’ literally
- Not be aware of social norms or peer pressure
- Have difficulties in making friends
- Prefer to be alone or seek out adults for companionship
Children and teenagers with Asperger Syndrome may find it difficult to be ‘on the same wavelength’ as other people so they may
- Not find it easy to share interests with other children
- Not understand the point or moral of a story
- Be surprised that other people may see things differently
- Expect everyone to agree with them, all the time
- Not pickup what everyone else is doing and copy them
- Not be able to mimic or mime other people
- Not join in conversation but only talk about topics that interest them
Children and teenagers with Asperger Syndrome tend to be very rigid and inflexible so they may
- Dislike changes or surprises
- Be unwilling to try new things
- Like to keep everything familar, such as insisting on the ‘right’ plate
- Keep to routines or rituals that are unnecessary or odd
- Be very ‘picky’ about keeping things in the ‘right’ order
- Get distressed if things are different, such as toast cut the ‘wrong’ way
Children and teenagers with Asperger Syndrome are not good at picking up emotions so they may
- Find it hard to ‘read’ how others are feeling
- Not predict how others will feel in a given situation
- Not read facial expressions or non verbal cues well
- ‘Miss the beat’ and react strangely, for example seeming ‘flat’ and emotionless when strong emotion might be called for, or unduly upset over a small matter
Children and teenagers with Asperger Syndrome generally have an obsessional interest in a single topic which is often
- Much more intense than the usual passing interests of children of the same age
- Unusual, for example a passionate interest in telephone directories, street maps, cricket scores
- Remarkable in the depth and extent of information mastered
Children and teenagers with Asperger Syndrome may seem a little ‘odd’ or unusual when interacting with other people due to
- Poor eye contact, standing too close or too far away
- Seeming stiff when touched or cuddled
- Speaking very well, but with an odd accent or loud, flat tone of voice
- Using long words and sounding like a professor or ‘old fashioned’
- Talking about very specific topics, even if people do not respond or show any interest
- Using odd phrases or unusual word combinations
- Repeating some words or phrases over and over again
Children and teenagers with Asperger Syndrome may have unusual physical characteristics such as
- Being unusually sensitive to smells or textures of food or clothes
- Walking and running in a stiff or peculiar way
- Flapping or twirling hands especially when excited or upset
- Running in a set pattern or twirling on the spot
Tips for parents of children and teenagers with Asperger Syndrome
Asperger Syndrome: Parenting tip # 1 – Assessment
If you have not already done so, get a proper assessment to identify if your child has Asperger Syndrome and if so to what extent. A proper diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder should help you to obtain the appropriate level of services and entitlements. Your doctor or your child’s school should be able to help you arrange this.
Asperger Syndrome:Parenting tip # 2 – Balancing Act
Balance the need to ‘go along’ with your child’s quirky likes and dislikes with the need to help them to gradually adjust to the real world.
Your child or teenager with Asperger’s may have obessions and passions, allow these enthusiasms some expression, but don’t deliberately encourage or promote them. Look for opportunities to gently widen out what your child or teenager is interested in. Avoid building the obsession, for example don’t go out of your way to find presents that keep the obsession going, but see if you can find an alternative.
Depending on how flexible your child or teenager with Asperger Syndrome is, you may be able to limit the obsession to a block of time, for example ‘You can look at your Book of Records after dinner but right now I’d like you playing outside,’ or ‘You can talk about dinosaurs until I put away the iron, then you can change to another channel please!’
Similarly, gently try to widen what your child can tolerate in breaking rigid routines or dislikes. Rather like weaning a baby onto solids you will have to do this very gently and gradually. For example put your child’s special plate under the plate you want them to use for a change, try a new route to school which is a variation of the old one. You’ll need lots of patience with your child or teenager who has Asperger Disorder!
Asperger Syndrome:Parenting tip# 3 – Working with Teachers
Talk regularly to teachers, school can be very stressful for a child or teenager with Asperger Syndrome. Make sure that your child’s special needs are understood and that the teachers have a support program in place. Make every effort to establish a good communication system between you and the school so that both you and the teachers can quickly share any concerns and work out solutions before a problem escalates.
Asperger Syndrome:Parenting tip # 4 – Skills Building
Many children and teenagers with Asperger’s benefit from explicit teaching about how to ‘fit in’ socially. Social skills such as looking people in the eye, watching how other people behave, taking turns when speaking, starting a conversation and so on may not come naturally but can gradually be coached. At home you can use real life and TV to teach your child to notice ‘how its done.’ In fact realising that you can learn by watching is a very important message for children with Asperger’s Syndrome.
You may be able to find social skills groups or individual therapy through your local Asperger or Autism association or public health or education services.
Asperger Syndrome:Parenting tip # 5 – Treatments
Watch out for snake oil salesmen! Sadly there are always people out to make money from other people’s misfortunes. There has been a huge amount of scientific research into the causes and treatment of Austism Spectrum Disorders and your school, health providers and mainstream professionals will know what the latest studies show and base their advice on that. It is called ‘evidence based’ practice and this means you will only be advised to use approaches that are safe and proven to work.
However, untrained, or inappropriately trained ‘experts’ may offer you an apparently easy or quick solution (in exchange for your money) for Asperger Syndrome. Be very wary and do not enter into any treatment program without getting reliable advice first.
Asperger Syndrome:Parenting tip # 6 – Focus on Talent
Remember that many of the world’s most talented people have Asperger Syndrome- universities have more than their fair share on amongst their senior staff members! Whilst encouraging a wide range of interests recognise and value your child or teenager’s special talents.
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