Asperger Syndrome and Attention Difficulties


My question is my 13 yr old Asperger daughter does not pay attention to what is going on around her. Like if something looks dangerous, she doesn't seem to mind…. does not really pay attention crossing road or in parking lots, gets in trouble at school for doodling rather than listening, and so on. Is this part of Aspergers?


In the past, kids with Asperger Syndrome (now called high functioning autism) would sometimes get an ADHD diagnosis when they just couldn't focus in school. Today, we know a lot more about the differences between Aspergers and ADHD. Still, there are many similarities that can be difficult even for therapists to straighten out.

Theoretically, the distinction is easy enough. Asperger Syndrome is a part of the Autistic spectrum with emotional, social and possible verbal/motor impairments. ADHD and others may also have social components, but they're executive function disorders that usually go away as the youngster grows up. They also don't have the autistic traits often found in Asperger Syndrome kids. Asperger Syndrome is different in that children often have an almost uncanny ability to apply laser-like focus on a topic of interest to the exclusion of everything else, such as a teacher. ADHD, meanwhile, may not be able to focus on the teacher either, but that's because the attention is bouncing around all over the place. Thus, Asperger-related attention problems are more about striking balance between interests, and especially the ability to prioritize what is necessary rather than merely what the youngster happens to find interesting.

Some folks like to joke that they haven't quite received a bill until they open the envelope, so they don't have to worry about it just yet. A youngster with Asperger Syndrome can disregard requests to focus on “uninteresting” things in a similar way, simply blocking it out. Or, it could be the inability to maintain focus despite good efforts (kind of like how it's impossible to stay clear-headed at 2 AM when your whole body is crying out for sleep). No more can you “will” yourself to snap into an alert and rested state than an Asperger Syndrome kid may be able to snap into focus on a dull subject instead of an interesting one.

Either way, this is not something the youngster can help, nor does scowling and lectures help. You're more likely to drive the child away – and do everybody involved a disservice. Instead, talk to your daughter and try to pinpoint the problem. Every case is unique, so you have to look for tricks that help you and your youngster get around those particular problems. The key here is to follow up and give reminders without losing your temper. You can't just say, for example, "Remember to feed the cat at 5:00 PM" …and then get angry when it doesn't happen on its own.

There are many other tricks that may be equally or even more helpful. Again, discuss the nature of the challenges with your youngster with the goal of figuring out workable solutions together. Finally, never lose sight of the fact that even the most perfect plan is bound to have slip-ups; this is not the fault of your child, and she is probably just as frustrated as you are even if she lacks the tools to express it properly.


•    Anonymous said... Describes my son, who is now 31, to a T. Wish there had been a support group back then. He continues to struggle with focusing attention. On some things, he can be hyper focused seemingly ignoring other things around him. Then there are other situations where he doesn't seem focused at all. No he does not drive. He worked for 6 years but no longer. He is highly intelligent & high functioning, but he often stays to himself.
•    Anonymous said... Exactly what I'm dealing with! Seems rare for my son to be thinking or talking about what is relevant!!! Drives me insane!!! I need to learn more about this and ways to deal and cope with it!
•    Anonymous said... I am mostly concerned that the educators are "chastising." Sensory breaks and quiet environment are crucial.
•    Anonymous said... I feel like this not only explains my own 8 year old aspie but also myself.
•    Anonymous said... I'm easily distracted... Oh a squirrel
•    Anonymous said... it is all part of autism spectrum disorder...they will have distractions and moments of behavior issues...
•    Anonymous said... it might be beneficial to get the school resource teacher involved to help w/the teacher & your son!! Our resource teachers helps w/all of my son's struggles & helps his teacher in a positive reinforced way & they all get along so well & are productive in class!! good luck!
•    Anonymous said... my 7th grader is having a lot of difficulty with this right now...she was doodling and when that was taken away from her she started pulling her hair out...after redirection and an increase in meds we are starting to see improvents.
•    Anonymous said... My child has HFA and ADHD combined type and always struggled with staying on task...
•    Anonymous said... My daughter is very smart but has a very hard time focusing on school work and homework or a subject on hand, down to chores. She already got three F's, even one subject with an A at the first quarter but now F.....frustrating but not giving up yet. Some testings are going to be needing to see how far she is doing.
•    Anonymous said... My son was given a squishy stress ball in class , at first to stop him from finding other things to fiddle with and less distracting for the others, it turned out to be great because he could concentrate more, his hands were busy so he was happy and listened to class , Melissa Buckel Rokusek sounds like the same thing for your son when drawing
•    Anonymous said... My step son was using his drawings as his fidget. One of the teachers decided to test how much information he was getting from the class, he passed with flying colors. I think that doodling focuses him on what is actually being said. He also doodles while watching movies (after he can repeat every word). So sometimes its not a bad thing.
•    Anonymous said... sounds a lot like my son. we're going to be homeschooling for a while to see if he can learn to focus his attention on schoolwork. he hasn't been able to function in a class room environment. such a bright boy, we just need to help him focus on the things he needs to focus on in order to do well. drives me insane too.
•    Anonymous said... Sounds alot like my son. He is in fourth grade and every teacher he has had has said that he is very intelligent. But his grades do not reflect that since he is too distracted at school to do better.
•    Anonymous said... sounds alot like my son. His teachers, aides, counselors all say he is super smart. But his grades do not reflect this because they say he doesn't pay attention in class most of the time. I don't think he does it on purpose, but I think his mind wanders. He is 10, but hasn't had an iq test yet.
•    Anonymous said... Sounds like my son.
•    Anonymous said... Stimulants do help with this in my experience with my son. Seems to improve his meltdowns too
•    Anonymous said... This describes my son exactly! We have been dealing with attention issues all through school. I am quite sure he would test as gifted, but his current grades do not reflects it. We always hear he needs to pay more attention, but so far have not found a solution. He reacts badly to stimulants. My son admits he has too many ideas in his head to concentrate.
•    Anonymous said... This is exactly my son!
•    Anonymous said... This just came up at our annual for my daughter. She needs to be redirected because she gets lost in her thoughts. Do any of you have any goals on IEP for dealing with this?
•    Anonymous said... This sounds very much like my 14 y.o. He's very intelligent, but his schoolwork suffers because his attention slips easily while in class.

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Anonymous said...

I wonder the same thing my 14 year old son does the same things, also with school as well just not able to focus.

Anonymous said...

YES. It's lack of safety awareness--if you have an OT, discuss it with them, if not insist the school consult with an OT to work on it. This is a HUGE problem with my 4 year old ASD baby, but it's also a problem with my 7 year old aspy (not as severe as his brother, but still present)

Anonymous said...

I would have to say yes, just for an example we went to a school carnival last week.While I watch my 10 y/o son dart from activity to activity he is crossing through others "playing area" for their booths, walked through family groups, and in between booths all while completely focused on where he wanted to be. When I called him on it, he said "sorry! I didn't see them." so ya I say it goes with Aspergers :)

Anonymous said...

My 14 same way.no concept of safety or concern.she's asperger too...little common sense.all part of aspergers

Anonymous said...

She has a bus aid n workin on safety next school year (high school) with an advocate.I would suggest advocate to you!

Anonymous said...

yep. Same with my aspie! He's 17 now. The awareness got better over the past 2 yrs. He will have to pay more attention now that he will be getting his license!

Anonymous said...

My 8 yr old ASD girlie is the same way...total disregard for parking lots, roads, etc. I can't even think of my daughter behind the wheel! :)

Anonymous said...

Same thing with my 10yo aspie son! Finally got crossing the road to get to our mailbox down (made it his job to get the mail everyday and reminded him of looking both ways every time for about a month and now looks on his own), but parking lots are still a huge problem and never seems to see people that are between him and his goal no matter how often we discuss it. Drivers license? Not sure if I'll live through that one, my older 2 non aspie kids were bad enough! :)

Anonymous said...

‎*yes* - even considering applying for a Special Needs Parking Permit - Parking Lots - keep me awake @ night - & our diagnosing psychologist - noted it in her assessment - he crawled right over her lap in order to give us a hug - & he as 5 at the time - like she wasn't even there - Stranger Danger? He doesn't have that - so we're making it a part of our Treatment Plan & starting to implement it in writing with our school(s)!
4 hours ago · Like

Anonymous said...

Same. 13 year old Aspergers son has NEVER crossed street carefully after continually reminding him. Drivers license? Sheesh!

Anonymous said...

I know exactly what u mean by stranger danger .... My son has no idea of dangers cars road etc... My son kisses and hugs complete strangers ... He some times even sits on there laps... And I'm like...to TO MY SON COME HERE DON'T DO THAT : / AND THEN U GET SOME ADULTS THAT DON'T EVEN KNOW U OR UR CHILD SAY...stuff HE'S ALRIGHT ... ITS NOT WORRYING ME... AND I'M THINKING .. WELL THAT DEFINITELY WORRIES ME..

Anonymous said...

My son's psychiatrist told us that the same part of the brain that prevents an Asperger child from being able to interpret facial expressions or body language, also prevents them from being able to decipher (or interpret) a dangerous situation, or possible dangerous person. My 12 yr old son is infamous for crossing the road or parking lot without looking, going up to complete strangers and starting a conversation or even offering a hug. He's gone up to a man in a parked Mustang convertible, and started offering him all kinds of facts about Mustangs. Thank GOD the man smiled and reminded my son that what he did was a dangerous thing to do! We have to keep a very close eye on him at all times when we go out.

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