Aspergers and Sibling Issues

Question

Our youngest son has been diagnosed with Aspergers and demands a lot of our attention. What can I do to reassure his two elder sister's that we're not neglecting them?

Answer

Explaining Aspergers (high functioning autism) isn’t easy no matter who you are talking to. It’s not something that can be described in a single sentence. There are problems, because you cannot tell just by looking at someone whether or not they have Aspergers. Also, because the causes of Aspergers are yet to be clearly identified, it can sometimes be difficult convincing people that the condition actually exists.

You could try explaining to older kids that children with Aspergers basically have problems in three major areas of interest. This is usually part of the criteria for diagnosing Aspergers. These areas are:

1. Imagination—This is the ability to think about things that aren’t real. Kids with Aspergers tend not to be interested in games that involve pretending to be someone else (like cops and robbers). Some kids with Aspergers can be very interested in things that aren’t interesting to other kids or exclude social interaction. They may like collecting items that seem dull or unusual to us.

2. Social Understanding—This means knowing what to do when you are with other people. Children with Aspergers have difficulty understanding social relationships. They do not understand all the rules involved in social relationships. As we grow up, we learn how to behave appropriately in certain situations, for example we learn not to say things to people like “you look fat” (unless we are deliberately trying to be hurtful). A person with Aspergers usually doesn’t mean to be rude, even though it can sometimes appear so. It’s because their understanding of how to behave is confused.

3. Social communication—This means knowing what to say to other people and understanding the meaning of what they are saying to you. Just imagine how many times a day the basics of social communication come into your youngster’s life; at the shops, at home, at school, in the street. Children with Aspergers can have problems when talking to other people as they can take things people say literally. An example would be if you say to someone with Aspergers “I laughed my head off” – they may become alarmed believing that your head really did come off of your body. It can be very hard for children with Aspergers to understand when someone is joking, and that is why they may become angry or upset by something you have said that wasn’t meant to be hurtful.

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