One parent's search for answers to a particularly distressing school situation led her to characterize the plight of her 9-year-old Aspergers son like this: "The good news is he's bright, and the bad news is he's bright!"
This revealing description makes a sadly accurate statement about an educational system that not only fails to understand the Aspergers (high functioning autistic) youngster – it also fails to recognize that such understanding is in fact necessary if positive change is to occur. An analysis of what this parent meant by her statement gives one a window on the sometimes bizarre world of Aspergers.
In most disorders, a descriptor like "high functioning" is an excellent indicator of potential success – thus, the good news. How then can intelligence be considered bad news? The answer to this question lies in the paradoxical nature of Aspergers itself.
Kids with Aspergers are cognitively intact (i.e., they possess normal, if not above-average intelligence). This creates an expectation for success. Furthermore, the pursuit of their restricted range of interests and activities often results in (a) the amassing of impressive facts, and (b) an expertise beyond their years. This is a potential problem!
Given their enormous strengths and the expectations that they generate – and given the fact that intelligence is a highly-prized trait in our culture – the intellectual prowess in Aspergers children virtually eclipses the social-emotional deficits that are at the heart of the unusual behavior associated with Aspergers. Unmindful of their neurologically-based weaknesses, parents and teachers get blinded by the strengths of these kids. This situation inevitably leads to a mind-set that can be summed up as follows: "If he is that smart, shouldn't he know better?" The answer to that question is a resounding "no". In fact, because of the social-emotional deficits, as well as the presence of symptoms unique to the Aspergers condition, these kids cannot "know better" until they are “taught” to know and understand.
Consequently, in order to create a hospitable environment for kids with Aspergers in a world that is often inhospitable to their needs, it s vital that parents and teachers employ direct teaching strategies to address the following specific areas:
- Executive dysfunction (i.e., problems in organizational skills/planning)
- Problem solving
- Reading/language comprehension
- Socio-communicative understanding and expression
Together, these target areas constitute a kind of “life-skills curriculum” for the more able youngster/student. Their inclusion in the youngster's Individualized Education Program (IEP)) can help to ensure that each of these important skill areas gets the attention it deserves. After all, life skills are far too important to be left to chance!
The Aspergers Comprehensive Handbook