Misunderstood? The Case of Asperger’s Syndrome
What is Asperger’s Syndrome? Although the terms pervasive developmental disorder (PDD), autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) are often used interchangeably, they are not the same. The common thread is that these conditions all share the triad impairments in communication, socialization, and behavior. In contrast, children with AS do not exhibit a clinically significant delay in speech, and in many cases use a precocious vocabulary at an early age. They will meet developmental milestones in most domains on time and appear to develop normally. They may be quite talented in concrete, academic skills such as reading, math, and mechanics. It is not until school age that the characteristics of AS become evident. One of the first things parents and teachers may notice is that the child’s preoccupation with special interests differs from his peers. Many children will not receive a diagnosis until much later and less than half will ever be formally diagnosed at all.
Even with a diagnosis, AS is not a “one size fits all” set of symptoms. To further complicate matters, some children will receive a dual diagnosis, adding ADHD, anxiety, auditory processing, sensory dysfunction, or a learning disorder to the mix. Regardless of how each child’s symptoms are presented, it is important for caregivers to recognize that AS is a neurological condition. In short, a child with AS may not experience the world in the same way that other children do and most will benefit from support in two primary areas.
In the case of AS, the brain often has problems processing, organizing and using information received through the senses. Where most people can filter background stimuli and continue to focus on what is important, children with AS may be hypersensitive to noise, lights, touches and smells can lead to an overwhelming feeling, which may quickly develop into anxiety and frustration.
Children with AS may experience considerable challenges in navigating the maze of ever-changing social rules and interpreting social/emotional cues in others. The ability to understand that others have desires, ideas, and feelings that are different from one’s own is referred to as Theory of Mind (ToM). ToM also includes comprehension of social pragmatic language and social problem-solving skills. The child who is lacking ToM may experience difficulty with establishing and maintaining friendships. Due to their immature social development, they may also be at risk for teasing and bullying.
Although it would be impossible to generalize the needs of each individual, there are a few supports that seem to increase success for children and families who are facing AS.
• Parent support and training to provide networking opportunities and empower parents to feel more confident in advocating for their child’s needs.
• Multi-disciplinary team planning to ensure communication between home, therapies, and school.
• Training in Theory of Mind, Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), cognitive restructuring, and the development of an “emotional toolbox”.
A child’s success in school and the community can depend on being understood. Keep in mind that the child is not always in control of his behavior and will respond more appropriately with guidance and strategies. When children with AS are supported, their humor, creativity, intelligence, passion, and unique talents can be fully appreciated.
The free Asperger’s Parent Support Group meets on the 3rd Thursday of each month at noon at 6215 Lorraine Road, Lakewood Ranch, FL.