How to Approach Children with Aspergers: Advice for Parents, Teachers and Peers

How should people without Aspergers approach/treat people with Aspergers?

Advice for Parents and Teachers—

Aspergers (high functioning autism) describes individuals who show difficulties in interpersonal communication. They've problems in recognizing and using social cues, and thus tend to be awkward or inappropriate in social relationships. Consequently, they frequently come across as rude or obnoxious or insensitive.

They also are apt to have unusual hobbies and behaviors. Generally they may have strong interests about particular subjects that border on being compulsive. One picture of Asperser type tendencies may be the peculiarly British hobby of train spotting. This involves standing for long periods of time in train stations, taking notes of the serial numbers of passing trains, with the aim of "spotting" every train available. You can even find books published listing rows and rows of train numbers!

Asperser kids also have very firm ideas of right and wrong, and will not hesitate in arguing the toss with a teacher. They're typically not able to take into account shades of gray and may see all issues in black or white terms.

Now, none of those behaviors, by themselves, are so odd or bizarre!

The issue is that culture does not really know what to do with individuals like this. Equally culture is extremely inconvenient for short people (can't get to the desk) and tall people (must duck through doorways), so culture just isn't suitable for eccentric individuals who have an extremely different perspective of the world.

Especially schools, who like all kids to comply with their view of what kids should behave like. And thus these kids often rub people up the wrong way, and end up getting discouraged, irritated, and in trouble.

Previously, these kids were either tolerated as being strange or "loners", or else they wound up in significant conflict with authorities.

Nowadays they may be "diagnosed" with Aspergers.

What exactly does a diagnosis mean?

Once again, unlike in medicine where there's something clearly something wrong (like a germ causing disease), there's nothing "wrong" in Aspergers. At least, nothing that can't; be recognized with any blood tests, x-rays, etc.

A diagnosis of Aspergers is made purely on the basis of the descriptions of behaviors as provided by family, caregivers, educators, etc.

It is usually considered for you to be part of the Autistic Spectrum, which means as you go along the scale to more and more social difficulties, it gradually blends in with Autism. If you like, Aspergers is like a mild version of Autism.

So does it help, having a diagnosis of Aspergers?

That is the key question!

And the answer can be yes or no:

YES if, as a result, moms and dads and educators make the effort to learn about what it means and how best to adapt their behavior, and expectations, so as to best help the youngster to succeed.

No if, as a result, they are simply discriminated against as having "something wrong with them" or if people the think there will be some kind of treatment or cure for it.

Because, the reality is that the diagnosis truly should not make any difference at all to what individuals do - IF THEY ARE PROPERLY CLUED IN TO KIDS'S BEHAVIORS. (But they rarely are).

Why do I say that? Because assisting an Aspergers youngster calls for precisely the same principles as managing ANY youngster you get to know your youngster's individual character and learning style, you get to know what motivates or does not motivate him, and you adjust your techniques and expectations to that. If you do that correctly, you will come up with the right techniques for a youngster whether or not they have the diagnosis.

But the reality is that few moms and dads or educators are like that.

For them it may be beneficial to have a diagnosis so they can then think in a different way about how to help the youngster. They can, for instance, find some books about it, and read about strategies that do and don't work with such kids.

Because "treatment" of Aspergers consists 100% of modifying YOUR behavior and expectations so as to create an environment in which the youngster can flourish.

There is no medicine that will "treat" Aspergers (although some medications can sometimes be of some help with aspects of their behavior - see a psychiatrist about that.)

So, given what most educators are like, the reality is that these kids will most likely do best in an environment in which the educators have had previous experience of Asperser kids. These are the educators that can best adapt themselves to help the kids to succeed.

Also, the reality in this day and age, is that you may be able to get more resources and more funding if your youngster has a diagnosis than if they don't.

So, how do we put this all together? These, I believe, are the main points:

If an individual suggests that your youngster might "have" Aspergers, don't address it as some kind of insult or that your youngster is defective in some way.

Instead, go and get some books and read up about it. If, as you do so, the books seem to be describing your youngster, then you might learn some useful ideas on how better to help him. Share these ideas with the educators.

If, despite doing all that, your youngster still has difficulties in fitting in with "normal" expectations, then DO something about it. Don't just wait for the problems to go away, as they probably won't.

Doing something may include one or both of the following:

1. Getting an official evaluation to get the "label". Having the label may open doors to more funding etc. But don't fall into the trap of thinking that "having" the diagnosis means anything different than not having it. Either way, you youngster is still your youngster, and will respond to the right management. Just use the label as a tool to get the right school and the right support.

2. Changing schools to one that has more experience with kids like yours. That might mean special school. Do not put up with a school that is continually labeling your youngster as a troublemaker. The school is the single biggest determinant of how well these kids do as they grow up. Put them in a critical, punitive environment, and they will have major problems later on. Put them in a caring, understanding, flexible environment and the can do very, very well indeed.

3. Lastly, whether or not you have the official diagnosis, if you think your youngster might have Asperser type difficulties, read the books! Learn as much as you can about how they think and what they respond to. And then work hard to provide them the greatest possible environment that you can. It can be hard work, but it WILL pay off in the long run.

By the way, the principles of behavior management as explained in my e-book apply to kids with Aspergers just as they do to any youngster. By comprehending first the principles, and secondly the way Asperser kids think, you will be able to come up with some effective ways of handling their behaviors that will make a real difference to how they turn out in the long run.

And how do they turn out? Well, they will always be a bit "strange" or "different", just as tall kids will be tall adults. But with the proper assistance and reassurance they CAN find their own niche and live prosperous lives, even in contemporary society!

Advice for Peers—

1. Approach them slowly, and casually. If you see them in one spot every day, say around noon, start bringing your lunch to that spot, and sit next to them. Don't talk to them the first time …let them get used to your presence first.

2. Ask them about the people they are closest to in their lives and what makes these people special.

3. Ask them about their favorite activities, hobbies and sports and who they usually engage in these activities with.

4. Be observant. If someone you know displays signs of Aspergers, such as reclusiveness, being quiet, exhibits habitual behavior, is highly skilled or talented in a specific area or won't look at you in the eyes, understand that the person may be struggling with a neurobiological disorder.

5. Communicate clearly and openly. People with Aspergers are often unable to understand nonverbal communication. Giving them hints or thinking that they should read your body language won't work. Keep in mind that persons with Aspergers often interpret things very literally, so only say what you mean.

6. Consider approaching him and let him know you care and want to be there for him. Be ready to carry the conversation, as communication is an area where Aspergers sufferers have particular difficulty. Be patient. It may take a while before he develops trust in you.

7. Continue participating in activities and conversation with the person for the amount of time that is tolerable for them. This will continue to establish a bond and build trust.

8. Engage in a few activities that your new friend has suggested or seems to want to do.

9. Engage in a few brief conversations or interactions with the person.

10. Extend the types and longevity of activities based on the other person's comfort level.

11. Find someone who displays characteristics of Aspergers. You can't exactly do any of the other steps if you don't.

12. If they are acting strangely, tell them (if it dangers them or others). It's important to let them know. Don't say it meanly either, just say: "Most people don't do that"; or, "That's usually considered inappropriate"; or just "Please don't do that". If it's no harm to anyone, then leave them alone. It could be a comfort to them.

13. Introduce them to your other friends, and try to keep everyone getting along. They may act differently in the presence of your friends, or their friends. They may simply not get along. Don't try to force them to get along with your friends. They will probably be most outgoing when encountered one on one.

14. Keep in mind that Aspergers sufferers have a normal IQ intelligence. Although depression may be a symptom, it's often due to their lack of communication and social skills. Generally, they end up secluded since people are unable to relate to them.

15. Lay your emotions bare to them. Tell them how you feel, even when you think it's patently obvious, and ask them to do the same. They'll love you for it.

16. Offer up a compliment or ask for advice to soften things up once you've had a few initial interactions.

17. Read articles and books about Aspergers, preferably those written by people with the condition.

18. Realize that persons with Aspergers often hear sounds and see lights that no one else hears or sees. This is part of their neurological disorder.

19. Remember that above all, persons with Aspergers have the same feelings and emotions as everyone else and want the same things in life that every human being wants: to be respected, to be treated with dignity and to be happy.

20. Research Aspergers to develop a sound understanding of what the condition entails and how those close to this type of person is able to relate to them.

21. Start a small conversation. People with Aspergers are not very good at conversations, so you will probably need to lead them. You know, start by introducing yourself and asking their name …then ask them about themselves. For now you just want to get them talking, what about isn't really important yet.

22. Try to find some common ground, some activity that both of you enjoy. Agree to get together some time and do it. Show up for the get-together on time.

The Aspergers Comprehensive Handbook

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