by Rosalyn Lord, Coordinator of CASSEL, a support group in East Lancashire (UK)
Asperger Syndrome is a developmental disorder falling within the autistic spectrum affecting two-way social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and a reluctance to accept change, inflexibility of thought and to have all absorbing narrow areas of interest. Individuals are usually extremely good on rote memory skills (facts, figures, dates, times etc.) many excel in math and science. There is a range of severity of symptoms within the syndrome, the very mildly affected child often goes undiagnosed and may just appear odd or eccentric.
Whilst Asperger Syndrome is much more common than Autism it is still a rare condition and few people, including professionals, will know about it much less have experience of it. It seems to affect more boys than girls. In general terms they find making friends difficult, not understanding the subtle clues needed to do so. They often use language in a slightly odd way and take literal meanings from what is read or heard. They are happiest with routines and a structured environment, finding it difficult to decide what to do they fall back on to their preferred activities. They love praise, winning and being first, but find loosing, imperfection and criticism very difficult to take. Bad behavior often stems from an inability to communicate their frustrations and anxieties. They need love, tenderness, care, patience and understanding. Within this framework they seem to flourish.
Children with Asperger Syndrome are for the most part bright, happy and loving children. If we can help break through to their own little world we can help them to cope a little better in society. They have a need to finish tasks they have started. Strategies can be developed to reduce the stress they experience at such times. Warnings that an activity is to finish in x minutes can help with older children. With younger children attempts to save the task help – videoing a programme, mark in a book etc.
As the children mature some problems will get easier, but like all other children new problems will emerge. Some teenagers can feel the lack of friendships difficult to cope with as they try hard to make friends in their own way but find it hard to keep them. This is not always the case, many have friends who act as buddies for long periods of time. Social skills will have to be taught in an effort for them to find a place in the world … so take all opportunities to explain situations time and time again ….. and one day…….it may work!
Please bear in mind that booklets such as this do tend to detail all the problems which can be found within a syndrome but that does not mean every child will have all of them. Each child will also have different levels of achievements and difficulties. They are after all just as the others … individuals!
Is Asperger Syndrome The Same As Autism
The debate on this question still continues, some experts say that Asperger Syndrome should be classified separately, others argue that the core difficulties are the same, only the degree to which they are seen in the children actually makes the difference. One expert – Uta Frith – has referred to Asperger children as Having a dash of Autism.
Autism is often interpreted as a withdrawal from normal life – to live in the persons own fantasy world. This is no longer the real meaning of Autism. The severity of the impairments is much greater than in Asperger Syndrome, and often the child will have little or no language. Learning problems are more common in classic Autism. In Asperger Syndrome speech is usual and intelligence (cognitive ability) is usually average or even above average.
For the moment it is taken that the similarities are enough for both Autism and Asperger Syndrome to be considered within the same spectrum of developmental disorders. Whilst a clear diagnosis is essential, it can change through life. The autistic traits seen in young children can often seem less severe as the child matures and learns strategies to cope with his/her difficulties.
The main areas affected by Asperger Syndrome are:
??? Social interaction
??? Narrow Interests / Preoccupations
??? Repetitive routines / rituals, inflexibility
Children with Asperger Syndrome have poor social skills. They can not read the social cues and, therefore, they dont give the right social and emotional responses. They can lack the desire to share information and experiences with others. These problems are less noticeable with parents and adults, but it leads to an inability to make age appropriate friends. This in turn can lead to frustration and subsequent behavior problems. They find the world a confusing place. They are often alone, some are happy like this, others are not. They are more noticeably different among peer groups in unstructured settings i.e. playgrounds. Their naivete can cause them to be bullied and teased unless care is taken by assistants or buddies to integrate and help protect them. They can often focus on small details and fail to see the overall picture of what is happening in any situation.
Both verbal and nonverbal communications pose problems. Spoken language is often not entirely understood, so it should be kept simple, to a level they can understand. Take care to be precise. Metaphor s (non-literal expressions – food for thought) and similes (figures of speech – as fit as a fiddle) have to be explained as children with Asperger Syndrome tend to make literal and concrete interpretations. Language acquisition – learning to speak – in some cases can be delayed. They make much use of phrases they have memorized, although they may not be used in the right context. A certain amount of translation may be needed in order to understand what they are trying to say.
Spoken language can sometimes be odd, perhaps they dont have the local accent or they are too loud for a situation or overly formal or speak in a monotonous tone. If the child with Asperger Syndrome has a good level of spoken language you must not assume their understanding is at the same level . Some talk incessantly (hyperverbal) often on a topic of interest only to themselves without knowing the boredom of the listener.
Difficulties in using the right words or forming conversations is part of semantic-pragmatic difficulties. They appear often to talk at rather than to you, giving information rather that holding proper conversations. Body language and facial expressions of a child with Asperger Syndrome can appear odd (stiff eye gaze rather than eye contact) and find reading these things in others gives rise to further difficulties. Early age is known as Hyperlexia. Some children have remarkable reading abilities although you should check if they also understand the text. The ability to read fluently without understanding the meaning is known as Hyperlexia.
Narrow Interests / Pre-occupations
One of the hallmarks of Asperger Syndrome is the childs preoccupation (or obsession) with certain topics, often on themes of transport – trains in particular-or computers, dinosaurs, maps etc. These pre-occupations, usually in intellectual areas change over time but not in intensity, and maybe pursued to the exclusion of other activities.
Repetitive Routines / Inflexibility
Children often impose rigid routine on themselves and those around them, from how they want things done, to what they will eat etc. It can be very frustrating for all concerned. Routines will change from time to time, as they mature they are perhaps a little easier to reason with. This inflexibility shows itself in other ways too, giving rise to difficulties with imaginative and creative thinking. The child tends to like the same old thing done in the same old way over and over again!. They often cant see the point of a story or the connection between starting a task and what will be the result. They usually excel at rote memory – learning information without understanding, but it can still be an asset. Attempts should always be made to explain everything in a way they can understand. Dont assume because they parrot information back that they know what they are talking about.
If the child with Asperger Syndrome is to be educated in a mainstream school it is important that the correct amount of support is made available. In order to get the correct support a Statement of Special Educational Needs should be drawn up from the various advices supplied by you and the specialists. This procedure, when it begins, can take 6 months and be a very stressful and confusing time – dont be afraid to contact people who can help, this need not be a professional it may just be someone who has done it all before.
It is beneficial if the school of your choice is willing to learn about the difficulties that they and the child will face, some schools are better than other on this score. Looking at several schools will give a better picture of exactly what is available. The support currently offered in mainstream school is by Special Support Assistants (SSA) for a certain number of hours each week based on the childs needs in order to help the child access the curriculum and develop in a social setting. A support teacher with specialist knowledge of Autism should support the child, SSA, teacher and school in understanding and teaching the child. Other professional input may also be required such as speech and language therapy to help develop skills.
The home/school link is vital, a diary can prove invaluable giving two way communication on achievements and problems on a regular basis.
There are many things you can do to help your child better understand the world and in doing so make everyones lives a little easier. The ideas below are only suggestions which you may or may not find helpful.
??? Keep all your speech simple – to a level they understand.
??? Keep instructions simple … for complicated jobs use lists or pictures.
??? Try to get confirmation that they understand what you are talking about/or asking – dont rely on a stock yes or no – that they like to answer with.
??? Explain why they should look at you when you speak to them…. encourage them, give lots of praise for any achievement – especially when they use a social skill without prompting.
??? In some young children who appear not to listen – the act of singing your words can have a beneficial effect.
??? Limit any choices to two or three items.
??? Limit their special interest time to set amounts of time each day if you can.
??? Use turn taking activities as much as possible, not only in games but at home too.
??? Pre-warn them of any changes, and give warning prompts if you want them to finish a task… when you have coloured that in we are going shopping.
??? Try to build in some flexibility in their routine, if they learn early that things do change and often without warning – it can help.
??? Dont always expect them to act their age they are usually immature and you should make some allowances for this.
??? Try to identify stress triggers – avoid them if possible -be ready to distract with some alternative come and see this… etc.
??? Find a way of coping with behavior problems – perhaps trying to ignore it if its not too bad or hugging sometimes can help.
??? Promises and threats you make will have to be kept – so try not to make them too lightly.
??? Teach them some strategies for coping – telling people who are teasing perhaps to go away or to breathe deeply and count to 20 if they feel the urge to cry in public.
??? Begin early to teach the difference between private and public places and actions, so that they can develop ways of coping with more complex social rules later in life.
??? Let them know that you love them – warts an all – and that you are proud of them. It can be very easy with a child who rarely speaks not to tell them all the things you feel inside.
Remember, they are children just like the rest, they have their own personalities, abilities, likes and dislikes – they just need extra support, patience and understanding from everyone around them.
Aspergers Syndrome Guide For Teachers
by The parents of OASIS Asperger Syndrome Forum
The following guide was prepared so that families could have a short description of AS and its behaviors to share with their childrens teachers. Since all children are different please feel free to use those items which are appropriate for your child and/or make changes and additions as necessary. Cut and paste all or part, make it you own. The parents of AS children who put together this list hope that it will help teachers to better understand some of the characteristics of our children.
Written by the Members of the OASIS Asperger Syndrome Forum
Complied and Edited by Elly Tucker
Hello, we are ______s parents. Our child has been diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome, which is a neurobiological disorder on the autistic spectrum. Children with AS may have difficulty using and understanding nonverbal behaviors and developing appropriate peer relationships ,in part, because their interactions often lack spontaneous exchange. While they often have keen interests and skills in certain subjects, they also may have a great deal of difficulty with organization. AS children may appear to lack in empathy, have difficulty with sensory issues and very often strongly rely on routine.
You will learn that our child has many strengths. However, listed below are some issues that may become apparent to you as you work with . Many of the behaviors you will see are NOT under his or her control and they are not a result of malice or willfull misbehavior. At times our child simply does not innately know how to appropriately respond. No doubt, you will learn other strategies which will be helpful and we would appreciate your sharing with us. Please call us at any time if you have questions about our child or Asperger Syndrome. We can be reached at:
??? This syndrome is characterized by a sort of “swiss cheese” type of development: that is, some things are learned age-appropriately, while other things may lag behind or be absent. Furthermore, children may have skills years ahead of normal development (for example, a child may understand complex mathematics principles, yet not be able to remember to bring their homework home).
??? It is important to remember that just because the child learns something in one situation this doesnt automatically mean that they remember or are able to generalize the learning to new situations.
??? Our child reacts well to positive and patient styles of teaching.
??? Generally speaking an adult speaking in a calm voice will reap many benefits
??? At times, our child may experience “meltdowns” when nothing may help behavior. At times like this, please allow a “safe and quiet spot” where our child will be allowed to “cool off” Try to take note of what occurred before the meltdown (was it an unexpected change in routine, for example) and its best to talk “after” the situation has calmed down.
??? When it reaches a point that things in the classroom are going well, it means that weve gotten it RIGHT. It doesnt mean that our child is “cured”, “never had a problem” or that “its time to remove support”. Increase demands gradually.
??? Our child may have vocal outbursts or shriek. Be prepared for them, especially when having a difficult time. Also, please let the other children know that this is a way of dealing with stress or fear.
??? When you see anger or other outbursts, our child is not being deliberately difficult. Instead, this is in a “fight/fright/flight” reaction. Think of this as an “electrical circuit overload” (Prevention can sometimes head off situations if you see the warning signs coming).
??? Our child may need help with problem-solving situations. Please be willing to take the time to help with this.
??? When dividing up assignments, please ASSIGN teams rather than have the other children “choose members”, because this increases the chances that our child will be left out or teased.
??? Note strengths often and visually. This will give our child the courage to keep on plugging.
??? Foster a classroom atmosphere that supports the acceptance of differences and diversity.
??? Our child may repeat the same thing over and over again, and you may find this increases as stress increases.
??? It is more helpful if you avoid being pulled into this by answering the same thing over and over or raising your voice or pointing out that the question is being repeated. Instead, try to redirect our childs attention or find an alternative way so he/she can save face.
??? Allowing our child to write down the question or thought and providing a response in writing may break the stresses/cycle.
??? Our child may have a great deal of difficulty with transitions. Having a picture or word schedule may be helpful.
??? Please try to give as much advance notice as possible if there is going to be a change or distruption in the schedule.
??? Giving one or two warnings before a change of activity or schedule may be helpful
Sensory Motor Skills/Auditory Processing
??? Our child has difficulty understanding a string of directions or too many words at one time
??? Breaking directions down into simple steps is quite helpful
??? Using picture cures or directions my also help
??? Speaking slower and in smaller phrases can help.
??? Directions are more easily understood if they are repeated clearly, simply and in a variety of ways.
??? Our child may act in a very clumsy way; she may also react very strongly to certain tastes, textures, smells and sounds.
??? He may get overstimulated by loud noises, lights, strong tastes or textures, because of the hightened sensitivity to these things.
??? With lots of other kids, chaos and noise, please try to help him find a quiet spot to which he can go for some “solace”.
??? Unstructured times (such as lunch, break and PE) may prove to be the most difficult for him. Please try to help provide some guidance and extra adults help during these more difficult times.
??? Allow him to “move about” as sitting still for long periods of time can be very difficult (even a 5 minute walk around, with a friend or aide can help a lot).
??? Some AS children learn best with visual aides, such as picture schedules, written directions or drawings (other children may do better with verbal instruction)
??? Hand signals may be helpful, especially to reinforce certain messages, such as “wait your turn”, “stop talking” (out of turn), or “speak more slowly or softly”.
??? At times, it may take more than few seconds for my child to repond to questions. He needs to stop what hes thinking, put that somewhere, forumulate an answer and then respond. Please wait patiently for the answer and encourage others to do the same. Otherwise, he will will have to start over again.
??? When someone tries to help by finishing his sentences or interrupting, he often has to go back and start over to get the train of thought back.
??? At times, it looks as if my child is not listening to you when he really is. Dont assume that because he is not looking at you that he is not hearing you.
??? Unlike most of us, sometimes forcing eye contact BREAKS her concentration
??? She may actually hear and understand you better if not forced to look directly at your eyes.
Social Skills and Friendships
??? Herein lies one of the biggest challenges for AS children. They may want to make friends very badly, yet not have a clue as to how to go about it.
??? Identifying 1 or 2 empathetic students who can serve as “buddies” will help the child feel as though the world is a friendlier place
??? Talking with the other members of the class may help, if done in a positive way and with the permission of the family. For example, talking about the fact tha many or most of us have challenges and that the AS childs challenge is that he cannot read social situations well, just as others may need glasses or hearing aides.
??? Students with Aspergers Syndrome may be at greater risk for becoming “victims” of bullying behavior by other students. This is caused by a couple of factors:
1. There is a great likelihood that the reponse or “rise” that the “bully” gets
from the Asperger child reinforces this kind of behavior
2. Asperger kids want to be included and/or liked so badly that they are reluctant
to “tell” on the bully, fearing rejection from the perpetrator or other students.
??? This is very important to most AS children, but can be very difficult to attain on a regular basis in our world.
??? Please let our child know of any anticipated changes as soon as you know them, especially with picture or word schedules.
??? Let him know, if possible, when there will be a substitute teacher or a field trip occurring during regular school hours.
??? Although his vocabulary and use of language may seem high, AS children may not know the meaning of what they are saying even though the words sound correct.
??? Sarcasm and some forums of humor are often not understood by my child. Even explanations of what is meant may not clarify, because the perspectives of AS child can be unique and, at times, immovable.
??? Our child lacks the ability of remember a lot of information or how to retrieve that information for its use.
??? It may be helpful to develop schedules (picture or written) for him.
??? Please post schedules and homework assignments on the board and make a copy for him. Please make sure that these assignments get put into his backpack because he cant always be counted on to get everything home with out some help.
??? If necessary allow her to copy the notes of other children or provide her with a copy Many AS children are also dysgraphic and they are unable to listen to you talk, read the board and take notes at the same time.
A Final Word
At times, some of my childs behaviors may be aggravating and annoying to you and to members of his class. Please know that this is normal and expected. Try not to let the difficult days color the fact that YOU are a wonderful teacher with a challenging situation and that nothing works all of the time (and some things dont even work most of the time). You will also be treated to a new and very unique view of the world that will entertain and fascinate you at times. Please feel free to share with us whatever you would like. We have heard it before. It will not shock us or make us think poorly of you.
Communication is the key and by working together as a team we can provide the best for our child.