Aspergers (high functioning autism) 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 youngster often goes undiagnosed and may just appear odd or eccentric.
While Aspergers 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 and tenderness, care, patience and understanding. Within this framework they seem to flourish.
Kids with Aspergers are for the most part bright, happy and loving kids. 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 kids. With younger kids attempts to 'save' the task help - videoing a program, mark in a book etc.
As the kids mature some problems will get easier, but like all other kids 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!
There are many things you can do to help your youngster better understand the world and in doing so make everyone's lives a little easier.
The ideas below are only suggestions which you may or may not find helpful:
• 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.
• Don't always expect them to 'act their age' ...they are usually immature and you should make some allowances for this.
• 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.
• Find a way of coping with behavior problems - perhaps trying to ignore it if it's not too bad or hugging sometimes can help.
• In some young kids who appear not to listen - the act of 'singing' your words can have a beneficial effect.
• Keep all your speech simple - to a level they understand.
• Keep instructions simple ... for complicated jobs use lists or pictures.
• Let them know that you love them - wart's an' all' - and that you are proud of them. It can be very easy with a youngster who rarely speaks not to tell them all the things you feel inside.
• Limit any choices to two or three items.
• Limit their 'special interest' time to set amounts of time each day if you can.
• Pre-warn them of any changes, and give warning prompts if you want them to finish a task... 'When you have colored that in we are going shopping'.
• 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.
• Try to build in some flexibility in their routine, if they learn early that things do change and often without warning - it can help.
• Try to get confirmation that they understand what you are talking about/or asking - don't rely on a stock yes or no - that they like to answer with.
• Try to identify stress triggers - avoid them if possible -be ready to distract with some alternative 'come and see this...' etc.
• Use turn taking activities as much as possible, not only in games but at home too.
Remember, they are kids 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.
My Aspergers Child: How to Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums