Aspergers: Early Childhood To Young Adulthood
What Is Asperger's
Asperger's syndrome is a disorder named for Hans Asperger, a Viennese pediatrician who identified the core symptoms during his practice in the mid-twentieth century. His honor was received posthumously upon renewed interest in his work after 1980. The pattern of behavior Dr. Asperger identified included:
- lack of empathy
- impairments in social interaction
- intensely absorbed with one particular interest
- clumsy subtle motor developmental delays
Asperger's is considered a mild form of autism, or high functioning autism at the end of the spectrum for AS disorders. It is a communication disorder that causes problems in socializing and forming relationships. It is important to be aware of the symptoms and treatments for Asperger's syndrome if you, a family member, or close friend are a victim of the disorder. Support and specialized training in social and communication skills will be needed to live a normal and productive life.
Early Symptoms Of Asperger's
Like other Autism Spectrum Disorders, the Asperger's condition is congenital, or present at birth. Unlike Autism, the language development and intelligence of AS children is usually normal. In fact, parents and significant others may not notice any symptoms until the child joins a play group or enters preschool. Caregivers and teachers may report problems 1) interacting with other children, 2) difficulty taking turns, 3)participating in conversations, 4)inability to read others' body language and facial expressions.
A look of displeasure at their behavior may seem to be ignored. They may be unable to recognize changes in voice tone. An obsessive interest in one area like dinosaurs may begin to develop and they will begin to sound like little experts on the subject. The child will engage in mostly one-sided conversations.
The young Asperger's child may show a degree of motor development delays. Difficulty learning to ride a bike, throwing and catching can be clues. Certain stimuli- sounds,smells, textures that others hardly notice may be really irritating to the Asperger's child. They will feel safer with routines and may become agitated if the routine is broken.
Asperger's Symptoms Checklist
AS individuals will display some of the following:
- monopolize conversations
- enter in a conversation at the wrong time
- difficulty staying on topic
- innapropriate facial expressions and posture
- stares or avoids eye contact
- difficulty understanding jokes,sarcasm
- difficulty understanding and expressing emotions
- intense interest in one thing
- pendant, or constant formal speech
- slight motor development delay (early)
Asperger's In Older Children And Teens
The AS child's social problems worsen as they get older. Peers become more aware of their inability to establish reciprocal social interactions. Their difficulty in understanding the feelings of others is interpreted as a lack of empathy.
Some improvements in pragmatic language, or mannerly speech will occur as the AS child gets older. Teens can better understand the condition and teach themselves strategies to cope. However, they have new problems to face. Their continuation with a restrictive interest may make them appear "nerdy". For example, they may be the computer guru or science lab geek. They may get teased and bullied. Unlike the withdrawn autistic teen, the Asperger's teen does not want to be a social outcast. He just doesn't know how to join in with a circle of friends. This can lead to depression and anxiety.
Parents will have a new set of problems as well. Frustrations will cause these teens to have meltdowns. Parents then worry with cars and driving making alcohol, drugs, and suicide thoughts worrisome. Loneliness can cause them to be lured into criminal activity easily. Not being able to pick up on subtle sexual innuendos may make them naive and vulnerable.
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Differences in Asperger's Symptoms
Although the core symptoms of Asperger's Syndrome are the same, symptoms will vary from child to child. Some may engage in stereotypical autistic behavior (eg. hand flipping) or repetitive speech. Some will stare at people while others avoid eye contact.
All teens may not feel isolated and lonely. Some may be content to retreat into their own world to pursue their talents and interests. Some AS teens will have "old souls" and not care about fads or trendy clothing. They may collect old music from the past or dress Gothic style or in military gear. Some may neglect hygiene to the point where parents will need to intervene.
Some AS teens may like to hang out in chat or gaming rooms on line. The comfort of just words on a screen with no face to face encounters may be comforting to them. Still other teens will seek adults to hang out with.
Teaching Strategies For Asperger's Students
- provide structured environment
- visual and verbal clues
- outlines,graphc organizers
- help in problem solving
- cooperative or paired learning groups
- use of peer tutoring
- direct and incidental teaching of social skills
- role playing
- monior and supervise unstructured time
- pragmatic language therapy
- self analysis through video taping
- setting up examples to solve problems
- schedule social skills assessments frequently to monitor progress
Diagnosing And Treating Asperger's Syndrome
Children, teen and young adult disabilities should not be addressed at home without the input of agencies. By law, a free and appropriate public education is available for children with disabilities in the form of an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). They have the right to be served from age 3-21.
The Local Education Agency is also the best resouce for diagnosing and supporting the AS child. Diagnosis of Asperger's is conducted in two stages: 1) develpomental screening for wellness by a pediatrician or family doctor. 2) second stage includes a comprehensive screening by team members from different health fields. The individual is sreened in 3 areas. 1) social interaction 2) verbal and non verbal communication 3) areas of their interests to detect presence of a restrictive one.
Teachers and parents can use the AS child's need for structure and routine as an advantage for teaching basic skills (academics) and the direct instruction of social and communication skills.
Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) including AS are mostly visual learners. Teaching strategies are based around physical structures- time, schedules and task organization. The two most common teaching methods currently used are ABA and TEACCH.
TEEACH is an acronym for treatment and education of autism and related communication of handicapped children. The approach was developed at the University of North Carolina in 1964 and began as a research project. Strategies target the underlying reasons for the AS behavior and not directly on the behavior itself. These reasons will include lack of understanding and how to express needs and feelings.
An advantage for using the TEACCH method with AS students is adaptability for inclusive settings. TEACCH is based on the elements of behavioral therapy combined with cognitive strategies. Strategies can be adapted that can be used by all for whatever degree of support is needed. Many AS students will not require a self-contained class.Students must be placed in their least restrictive environments. Because individualization is emphasized it does not distinguish between high and low functioning students.
ABA stands for Applied Behavior Analysis. ABA, often used with autistic students is proven to be an effective method with AS students. ABA uses observable and measurable learning objectives. Teaching strategies are used that manipulate the environment to increase or decrease behaviors. A task analysis is conducted to determine components needed to teach the targeted social and communication skills. Cues and modeling are used to modify behavior along with reinforcement of the desired behavior. The prompts are then thinned or faded. Generalization strategies will help the student use the skills learned in another setting.
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Adults With Asperger's
It is very possible for AS young adults to begin an independent and productive life. The best course of action begins as early as a diagnosis is made. The diligent parents of AS children will make sure the child has an appropriate IEP throughout school. They will work closely with schools and agencies to help the student understand and cope with the disorder.
Parents need to pay particular attention to the AS child during the teen years. Don't allow them to retreat into an on line chat or gaming room. Use it more for a reward for keeping a good balance. Since they like routine, help them establish times to socialize with peers. Teach and encourage flexibiliy in their range of interests.
Some AS young adults may be immature and indifferent about the future. Play up their strengths and encourage a career for them in that area. Center discussions around how good it will feel to be independent. Give them the option of carrying a card explaining their disorder.
College may be better attended by living at home but with planning it is possible for the AS teen or young adult to attend college away from home. Consider a room with no roommate for quiet retreats.
As more sophisticated language skills become expected the AS adult may often be confused by certain jokes or non literal speech. It is possible for an adult to self diagnose in adulthood if they were not in childhood. The individual is then empowered with realizing an explanation for their disorder. It gives them a chance to revisit failures and relationships to begin a new start.
An official diagnosis is needed for SSI or accommodations for employment under the Americans With Disabilities Act.