Delays and atypical behaviors related to Aspergers (high functioning autism) are observable in the first 2 years of life. Some babies with Aspergers show less-than-expected interest and pleasure in other people. Infants with Aspergers may share interests and activities less and may even babble less than other infants. Your baby may seem less interested in communicating through sounds or physical gestures, and his speech may be delayed to some extent or robotically copied from books or TV shows.
Kids with Aspergers tend to display better attachment to parents than kids with more severe forms of classical autism. However, you may notice that despite your youngster’s bonding with you, he still has difficulty connecting with her peers. Later in childhood, he may be more likely to engage in conversation (although this often is one-way conversation) with you and other adults than with his peers.
One mother of an Aspergers child recalls:
“My daughter was very much in her own world and I rarely felt that she and I connected; it was an odd feeling.”
Some children with Aspergers often appear to prefer being alone to the company of others and may passively accept such things as hugs and cuddling without reciprocating, or resist attention altogether. Later, they may seldom seek comfort from others or respond to parents' displays of anger or affection in a typical way. Research has suggested that although Aspergers children are attached to their parents, their expression of this attachment is unusual and difficult to interpret. Moms and dads who looked forward to the joys of cuddling, teaching, and playing with their child may feel disappointed by this lack of expected attachment behavior.
How Parents Can Help—
What exactly is it that highly-skilled parents do that helps the Aspergers child form a secure attachment?
Being sensitive and responsive to very young children seems to be the key. This means you are there when the child needs you and that you can be counted on to meet his needs, especially social needs.
Parents who are responsive to young children respond quickly to their needs, and they respond in a way that is in tune to the child. The adults who develop secure attachments with their very young children respond to crying more quickly. They are also more affectionate when they respond than parents who have kids that are not attached. Secure children know that adults will take care of them. This makes them easier to be around and they are easier to comfort.
Sensitive parents are also careful not to over-stimulate their young children. Kids need lots of loving. And they usually enjoy playing with adults. But it is easy for them to get overexcited. Very young children cannot walk away from you when they have had enough. But they do give signals. If the child looks down or won't look at you, it usually means that he is tired and wants to be left alone. A sensitive parent understands this. The mother or father leaves the young child alone for a while to let him calm down.
A sensitive parent reacts to the child's signals. The interaction has turn-taking, like a game of ping-pong. First the child sends a signal. This may be a sound or a look or a movement. The parent notices and signals back -- by imitating the sound, touching the foot that moved, or simply telling the child what she just did. Then the young child responds again, and the adult responds back again. The child and the parent carefully react to each other. Very young children who receive this high quality interaction are more likely to develop a secure attachment. This type of interaction also helps develop children's thinking skills.
Watch yourself the next time you are attending to your young Aspergers child. Are you talking and playing with him while also tending to his needs? If the answer is yes, then you know that you are doing much more than simply meeting the child's physical needs. You are also helping the child learn to trust adults and to feel safe and secure. Taking the time to "connect" with the Aspergers child is vitally important.