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Aspergers Teens Talk About Their Struggles

Teens with Aspergers Talk About Their Life-Challenges:

Your older teenager or young “adult child” isn’t sure where he is going in life, and he is asking you for money every few days. How do you cut the purse strings and teach him to be independent?

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Help for Neurotypical (non-Aspergers) Siblings

Caring for an Aspergers (high functioning autism) youngster takes a tremendous toll on the whole family, and neurotypical siblings are no exception. As moms and dads, our exhaustion, stress, and uncertainty about how to respond to the needs of other children can leave us feeling guilty and drain our reserves — and might tempt us to downplay or ignore the impact a youngster's disorder may have on his siblings. By being aware of what neurotypical (i.e., non-Aspergers) brothers and sisters are going through and taking a few steps to make things a little easier, moms and dads can address many issues before they unfold.

Family routines and dynamics naturally change when a youngster has Aspergers, which can confuse and distress neurotypical siblings. In addition to fear and anxiety over the disorder, they often experience the feeling of loss of a "normal" family life, and loss of their identity within the family.

It's normal for neurotypical siblings to:
  • worry about the Aspergers sister/brother
  • fear that they or other loved ones will catch the sibling's “disease”
  • feel guilty because they're “functional” and can enjoy activities that the sibling cannot
  • be angry because moms and dads are devoting most of their time and energy to the Aspergers sibling
  • feel neglected and worried that that no one in the family cares
  • resent the sibling who may never have to do chores
  • resent that the family has less money to spend now because the sibling is receiving services and/or treatment
  • be nostalgic for the past (wishing things could be like they were before the Aspergers sibling came along)
  • feel residual guilt for being "mean" to the sibling in the past
  • experience generalized worry or anxiety about an uncertain future

The way brothers and sisters express their needs will vary considerably — some may act out, some may try be the perfect youngster, and many will do both. Most studies find that siblings of a youngster with Aspergers or Autism are not at any increased risk for mental disorder, although they may be at greater risk for behavioral and emotional manifestations of their distress.

Pay attention to any changes in children' behavior, and talk to them frequently about how they're doing and what they're feeling. The more room children have to express their emotions, the less emotional turmoil and fewer behavioral problems they're likely to have. Signs of stress in children can include any changes in sleep patterns, appetite, mood, behavior, and school functioning. Younger kids may pick up on parental stress and show regressed behaviors (i.e., doing things they did when they were younger and had already outgrown). Even if you don't see any signs in your children, you can be pretty sure that changes to their routine and seeing their moms and dads and other family members upset is likely to be causing them stress.

While you may not be able to take away the source of your children's emotional pain, you can help alleviate their stress and make them feel secure, cared for, and supported. These suggestions will help, but it's also helpful to seek support (e.g., through counseling) to help you take better care of all your kids:

1. Accept the situation for what it is. Realize just as you may mourn the loss of a more mainstream child, the Aspie’s brothers and sisters may also be sad they don't have the kind of sibling-relationship that other siblings enjoy. Let them talk about those feelings.

2. Be patient and attentive. Have a lot of patience with regressive behavior, especially on the part of neurotypical children, who may have trouble making sense of emotions. At a time when moms and dads' nerves are frazzled, it can be hard to stay patient and attentive, but it's essential for siblings. However, it's not a good idea to let children behave inappropriately or get away with behaviors that you would not have allowed before the Aspie received an Aspergers diagnosis. Rather than make a youngster feel relaxed, this can increase anxiety, jealousy, or feelings of abandonment.

3. Become informed. Fully educate yourself about your Aspergers child and then inform his brothers/sisters on an age-appropriate basis. Know that Aspergers kids find it very difficult to pick up on social cues and often have intense, narrow interests. Even a young sib can understand that, "Michael gets upset when we stop talking about trains, but we're working on ways to help him."

4. Include siblings in the treatment and care. Including neurotypical children in some of the treatment sessions can help demystify the disorder. They also can benefit from connections to other client’s' siblings. In addition, giving neurotypical children specific, non-threatening "jobs" can help them feel like an important part of the treatment process. Encourage their involvement in a variety of ways, and let them tell you how they'd like to be involved — maybe helping with social skills training to keep a the Aspergers youngster connected to life at home and school. Many treatment centers offer sibling counseling groups, workshops, and other programs that can help your neurotypical children feel less alone.

5. It's OK to have fun. Enjoying yourself and having fun can go a long way toward relieving stress and recharging your battery. In addition to trying to maintain a normal schedule of activities, whenever feasible set aside some time for your children to spend with friends and family without focusing on the disorder. You also can set aside one-on-one time with your neurotypical children where the focus is on them and everything that's going on in their lives other than their sibling's disorder.

6. Keep it "normal" as much as possible. Try to maintain continuity and treat your children equally. Stick to existing rules and enforce them. In addition to minimizing jealousy and guilt, this also can send a strong optimistic message about your Aspergers youngster's progress. And try not to fall into the trap of relying on neurotypical children as caregivers before they're ready. Accept help so that your neurotypical children can stick to their typical routines as much as possible. Also, do not coddle the Aspergers child any more than is necessary. He will need to learn how to hold his own in life, and dealing with siblings is a normal part of gaining this independence.

7. Keep the lines of communication open. Pay attention to siblings' needs and emotions. Encourage them to talk about their feelings — the good, the bad, and the guilt-inducing — and try to read between the lines of their actions. This can be difficult when you're exhausted and stressed due to caring your Aspergers child, but a little attention and conversation can let your neurotypical children know that they're important and their needs matter.

8. Look forward – not back. If you find yourself feeling guilty for not being a perfect parent to your neurotypical kids, don't beat yourself up — dwelling on the past is not productive. Instead, try to make a point of recognizing your children' feelings and needs now, and move on from there.

9. Say yes to help. Accepting help with transportation, meals, childcare, and other daily activities can take some pressure off of you so that you have the emotional reserves to be there for your family. You'll also be teaching your children a valuable lesson about accepting generosity from others.

10. Understand that Aspergers is an "invisible" disability. Siblings may be embarrassed in front of their peers when, for example, their brother (who looks no different than any other child) can't stop clenching and unclenching his fists.

Can you treat the child with Aspergers the same way you treat his siblings? Unfortunately, you can’t. The Aspie will probably need a lot more support than his siblings do. But at the same time, there are many things you can try to limit the amount of jealousy that the siblings will feel because of this inequality.

My Aspergers Child: Preventing Meltdowns and Tantrums in Aspergers Children

Autism Spectrum Disorders and the Brain

"A lot of literature on autism says that the brain of a child on the spectrum is 'wired differently'. Can you elaborate of this difference?"

Over the past few years, a number of studies have been published linking differences in brain structure and function to Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). For example, researchers have noted that:
  • At a certain point in post-natal development, ASD brains are larger
  • Certain parts of the brain may function differently in ASD children
  • Certain portions of the brain, such as the amygdala, may be enlarged in ASD brains
  • “Minicolumns” in the brain may be formed differently and be more numerous in ASD brains
  • Testosterone may be linked to ASD
  • The entire brain may function differently in ASD children

What all of these brain findings have in common is that they point to ASD as a disorder of the cortex. The cortex is the proverbial "gray matter" (i.e., the part of the brain which is largely responsible for higher brain functions, including sensation, voluntary muscle movement, thought, reasoning, and memory).

In many ASD children, the brain develops too quickly beginning at about 12 months. By age ten, their brains are at a normal size, but "wired" differently. The brain is most complex thing on the planet, so its wiring has to be very complex and intricate. With ASD, there's accelerated growth at the wrong time, and that creates havoc. The consequences, in terms of disturbing early development, include problems within the cortex and from the cortex to other regions of the cortex in ways that compromise language and reasoning abilities.

Minicolumns (i.e., small structures within the cortex) are also different among children with ASD. They have more minicolumns, which include a greater number of smaller brain cells. In addition, the insulation between these minicolumns is not as effective as it is among typically developing children. The result may be that children with ASD think and perceive differently and have less of an ability to block sensory input.

ASD really impacts behavioral function in the brain very broadly. It affects sensory, motor, memory, and postural control – anything that requires a high degree of integration of information. The symptoms are most prominent in social interaction and problem solving because they require highest degree of interaction. In fact, ASD children are socially/emotionally far more delayed than anyone ever thought, even if they have a high IQ.

While social and communication skills may be compromised by unique wiring in the brain, other abilities are actually enhanced. For example, ASD children have a really excellent ability to use the visual parts of the right side of the brain to compensate for problems with language processing. This may be the basis for detail-oriented processing – and may be a decided advantage!

ASD children think differently because their brains are wired differently. They think logically and predictably, but differently. It's as if they're colorblind. You wonder why someone doesn't stop at a red light – because they can't see it. Teachers need to be taught this. When the teacher says, "Close your books and hop over to the door" …and the child hops, the teacher feels mocked. But she hasn't been mocked – she's been obeyed.

Understanding differences in the ASD brain may also provide hints for better communication. For example, since it may be harder for a child with ASD to process multiple ideas, or to multi-task, it makes sense to (a) say less, (b) give the facts, and (c) don't give a lot of tone of voice, gestures or distractions. You'd be surprised how many behavior problems are related to that. Remember that the child is dealing with facts, not concepts.

In ASD brains, circuitry is developing into adulthood – but it's not developing in the right way, and it stops developing too soon. With the right treatment, though, it can be pushed.

Animal scientist Temple Grandin has an extraordinary mind. Probably the world’s most famous person with autism, she “thinks in pictures.” Overall, the right side of her brain dominates. Grandin’s enlarged left ventricle is a sign of abnormalities in her left hemisphere, which typically handles language, and may account for the difficulties she has with processing words. To make up for this, the right hemisphere sometimes overcompensates, which can lead to special abilities in music, art, and visual memory. Grandin’s amygdala (the almond-shaped organ said to play an important role in emotional processing) is larger than normal. This is not a surprising finding because among other functions, this region processes fear and anxiety, which are emotional states often affected by autism. Her fusiform gyrus is smaller than normal – also not a surprise, since this region is involved in recognizing faces, which is a social skill that autism may disrupt.

2011 Seminar on Aspergers (High-Functioning Autism): Transcript of Q & A Session

Question #1: Can you give us just a basic summary of Aspergers for those of us who are not familiar with the disorder?

Generally, Aspergers is understood to involve problems with social skills and relationships, nonverbal communication difficulties, restricted, repetitive behaviors, narrow areas of interest, and adequate development of language skills and intelligence.

Since 1944 when Hans Asperger first wrote of the symptoms he observed, professionals have included different groupings of the following symptoms in their definitions of the condition:

• compulsive adherence to nonfunctional routines
• delayed motor skills
• lack of delay in speech or language comprehension skills
• motor clumsiness
• narrow interest
• nonverbal communication problems
• normal intellectual development
• odd speech
• preference for solitary activities
• preoccupation with parts of objects or nonfunctional aspects of toys, tools, machines, etc.
• problematic peer relationships
• repetitive routines
• restricted interests
• social impairment
• stereotyped behaviors

The following symptoms were required for a DSM-IV diagnosis of Aspergers:

• impaired social interaction
• lack of delay in cognitive skills, age-appropriate adaptive or self-help skills
• lack of significant delay in language skills
• limited, habitual, stereotyped patterns of behavior, activities or areas of interest
• presence of curiosity in the outside world or the environment
• the first two symptoms must lead to problems in social, occupational, or other types of functioning for the individual
• the symptoms are not related to a diagnosis schizophrenia or another pervasive developmental disorder.

These criteria attempt to describe individuals who:

1. Appear to experience a lack of reciprocity in social interactions. This means an individual who does not understand nonverbal communication (e.g., gestures, facial expressions) and, for example, may continue a conversation even though the individual he is talking to is looking at his watch trying to get away. The individual with Aspergers has difficulty recognizing and understanding others’ use of facial expression and gestures during conversation. Their lack of response to this type of communication creates great difficulty for them in social relationships. Similarly, an individual with Aspergers may not use nonverbal communication and may appear expressionless in most conversations or interactions with others.

2. Have an area of special, sometimes obsessive interest. Many times, individuals with Aspergers develop this interest as a way to overcome fear - however this does not always have to be the case. Weather, especially tornadoes and hurricanes, can be fearful or even terrifying. A youngster with Aspergers may develop a preoccupation with weather to cope with this fear. He might watch the Weather Channel continuously, read the weather report in the paper numerous times across the day, or read about different weather phenomena and be able to share details of past storms when the weather worsens. Trains are often a focus of interest for many kids with autism. Video games and computers also appear to be strong interests as the younger kids mature.

3. Have great ability to attend to detail and recall detailed information about their areas of interest. While individuals with Aspergers can amaze others with the amount of detailed information they have stored on certain topics, they often have difficulty using and applying this information constructively. They can experience difficulty recognizing the “big picture”, or recognizing the forest from the trees. The relevancy of the information they know is often limited.

4. Have unusual speech patterns. While individuals with Aspergers may have begun talking at an appropriate age, they often used a rather pedantic, long-winded and sometimes rather concrete or literal style of speaking. Pedantic describes speech that is overly focused on the details of its topic. It is speech that appears to list details about a topic one after the other. In an individual with Aspergers, this type of speech does not appear to be impacted by the environment (such as by the nonverbal cues of others), and therefore seems less conversational and more like a monologue. Individuals with Aspergers often also understand and use words concretely and literally. An example could be when a teacher discussed possible consequences for misbehavior with a student who has Aspergers. The student heard that if he did not complete his homework or class work at any one time, that he would receive a detention. He became very angry over this perceived injustice. He did not understand that the teacher had meant that when she saw a pattern of incomplete work, she would provide the consequence of a detention. With such a concrete way of understanding others, the individual with Aspergers can easily misinterpret others’ intent and respond in an unexpected and possibly inappropriate way.

5. Lack a theory of mind (the ability to understand what another person may be thinking in a given situation). They have difficulty imagining or understanding how someone else’s thoughts, experiences, knowledge, or desires could influence their behavior. This concept has also been called “mind blindness”.

6. Tend to prefer routine, repetitive activities and to avoid and dislike transitions and change. They have been described as often having a “one track mind”. They can have a plan, and if it fails, will continue with it until it does work.

Question #2: How is Aspergers “related” to Autism?

Aspergers and some other disorders are believed to fall along a spectrum. This spectrum has been called the autism spectrum, and also the pervasive developmental disorder spectrum. Whatever it is called, Autistic Disorder (or autism) would fall at one end of the spectrum, while “average” or “neurotypical” functioning would be found at the other end. Aspergers has been conceptualized as a mild, less problematic form of autism that falls between average functioning and autism on this continuum.

This means that kids with autism experience many of the same symptoms as individuals with Aspergers. However, the symptoms of kids with autism are usually more severe and their functioning is much more impaired. For example, while a youngster with Aspergers may have difficulty using language socially, a youngster with autism may be mute. Both Aspergers and Autistic Disorders may involve social rejection, lack of understanding or interest in other individual’s feelings, difficulties interacting with others, some rigidity (instead of flexibility) in play, difficulty using language socially, poor nonverbal communication skills, odd motor behaviors, and narrow interests or abilities.

Question #3: How is Aspergers “different” from Autism?

Autism is the more severe form of problems with social interaction, restricted behaviors and areas of interest, and impaired language skills. For example, while a youngster with Aspergers may have difficulty interacting with others socially and forming friendships, a youngster with autism may often avoid direct eye contact with any individual, dislike physical touch including the experience of hugs or loving touches, and may not develop verbal skills (a more severe expression of impaired social skills). According to the present diagnostic criteria, individuals with autism usually experience significant delay in the acquisition of language skills (e.g., the youngster did not use single words before the age of 2; communicative phrases were not used until after age 3). Cognitive skills are also often impaired. In contrast, individuals with Aspergers should not have experienced delay or impairment in cognitive or language skills.

The differences between autism and Aspergers can be summarized as:

• “visuospatial development” - which means skill at processing and understanding visual, nonverbal information (in some kids with autism this could be a strength, whereas this was never addressed by Asperger)
• cognitive skill (Asperger wrote about kids with normal intelligence; research has demonstrated that the majority of kids with autism are cognitively impaired)
• differences in motor ability (original descriptions of kids with autism did not suggest any motor difficulties, while early descriptions by Asperger did)
• language ability

Others have suggested that while individuals with autism show little interest in peer interaction, individuals with Aspergers often seek such companionship.

Question #4: What is the difference between Aspergers and High Functioning Autism?

Many individuals identified as having high functioning autism (or HFA) had more pronounced symptoms of autism as kids. As they aged, the development of basic social skills, age appropriate cognitive skills, and verbal ability occurred. Tony Attwood, a psychologist who has much experience and expertise in Aspergers, has written that HFA is a phrase that is most often used in the United States and often applies to individuals who qualified for a diagnosis of autism as kids.

Controversy still exists within the literature about the differences between these diagnoses. Some individuals use the terms interchangeably. At this point, differences between the two labels (HFA and Aspergers) have yet to be effectively clarified.

Question #5: How is Aspergers treated?

Different symptoms of Aspergers can be treated with the goal of reducing the problems they create for the youngster or individual. Treatment can include medication management of problems such as anxiety and depression, conditions that often occur as a result of the difficulties experienced by the individual with Aspergers. Medication has also been used to manage the obsessive (recurring, bothersome thoughts) and compulsive traits (behaviors used to get rid of the bothersome thoughts) that can be exhibited. Historically, these individuals have been incorrectly diagnosed with other types of disorders including schizophrenia, personality disorders, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Medications, such as anti-psychotics, have been prescribed. The problem with this approach is that although individuals with Aspergers may experience obsessive thinking, repetitive thoughts or interests, or exhibit unusual social behavior, their symptoms are best reflected by the criteria for Aspergers rather than these other diagnoses.

Behaviorally, interventions targeting skill development tend to be the most common and can be affective at any age. Early intervention with young kids often relies on behavioral principles. Kids are taught new behaviors and rewarded based on their ability to engage in that behavior with increasing frequency. Consequences may also be applied to decrease negative behaviors. Interventions for older kids and teens focus more on educating them about their diagnosis, developing new skills, and providing opportunities to practice those skills. Moms and dads, educators, and / or therapists can all play a role in this process. Often however, there needs to be some intervention at school if a youngster is going to successfully learn new behaviors. Moms and dads need to talk to school staff (educators, administrators) to determine what resources are available for their youngster within the school (such as counselors, special programs, teacher assistance, etc.). Therapy also provides a means of learning new skills. Individual therapy helps address emotional difficulties that may arise as a result of the Aspergers. Social skill training can be a part of this work. Group therapy offers a chance to learn new skills in a setting designed to offer the chance to practice and receive feedback on what is being learned.

Question #6: What is the difference between a “disorder” and the normal range of abilities and personality?

It is important to remember that all behaviors fall along a continuum or spectrum. At one end of the spectrum is “normal” behavior, or abilities, traits, and individual characteristics that are considered appropriate (or typical) on the basis of an individual’s culture, age, gender, etc. At the other end of the spectrum are groups of behaviors that, when exhibited regularly by an individual, create problems for that person in terms of his or her functioning socially, emotionally, or occupationally.

Many individuals have certain eccentricities, including unusual hobbies, anxiety or awkwardness in social situations, or clumsiness. This is considered well within the range of normal behavior. However, when these behaviors coincide, form a pattern across time, and negatively impact an individual’s ability to function, then they are viewed as “clinically significant”, and as requiring diagnosis and treatment.

There is a lot of controversy about the diagnosis of Aspergers. Added to the mix is concern that individuals with poor social skills are being “pathologized”. Put another way, the “loners” are now qualifying for a diagnosis. Our society expects individuals to be social. When they are not do we view them as disabled? Simon Baron-Cohen explored this argument and looked at both sides. He suggested that many of the behaviors associated with Aspergers represent a focus on things rather than on individuals. If placed in a different environment, he believed that Aspergers would not be seen as a “disorder”. He also pointed out that kids with Aspergers tend to meet the majority of developmental milestones on time, and emphasized the typical or “normal” aspect of their development. In contrast, he also discussed two reasons for continuing to consider Aspergers a “disability”: (1) so that individuals with this diagnosis could have access to support at school (possibly through special education services) and within the community (some insurance companies will pay for an individual with Aspergers to get treatment in outpatient therapy); and (2) because lack of empathy (or theory of mind) can create significant problems emotionally for individuals with Aspergers.

Question #7: Do females experience Aspergers differently?

Yes, however far fewer females are diagnosed with Aspergers than males. Earlier, the ratio was believed to be one girl to every ten males was diagnosed with Aspergers. Currently however that ratio is believed to be more in the range of one girl to every four males. As professionals become more familiar with the diagnostic criteria, more females appear to be receiving the Aspergers diagnosis.

Generally, it is believed that females experience a much milder form of the difficulties associated with Aspergers. American society emphasizes and pushes females to develop strong social skills at an early age. This may benefit females with Aspergers by helping them learn compensatory skills or address any deficits earlier in life. Alternatively, it has been suggested that females use different coping strategies when dealing with social situations. Females tend to hide in social situations, and remain on the periphery. This allows them to observe the behaviors of others, and once comfortable with the process, to mimic those behaviors (e.g., facial expressions, gestures, tone of voice). Doll play allows younger females to re-experience social situations, replay them, alter them, and learn from them. Females also often have invisible friends - a safe tool to use when practicing social skills. Among females, Aspergers may express itself more through immaturity. Topics of special interest also may not be as intense as the interests exhibited by males. Females’ areas of special interest seem to be different from those of males. Their preoccupations center more on animals and classical literature. The long-term prognosis for females with Aspergers also seems better than for males, largely because of the females’ ability to hide their difficulties from others over time.

Question #8: What other problems may an individual with Aspergers experience?

A number of difficulties can accompany the behaviors that define Aspergers. As individuals with limited social skills and awareness of others, who tend to have areas of unusual or intense interest, a strong need for routine, and unusual mannerisms, individuals with Aspergers often experience emotional difficulties, including depression, anxiety, and anger. Social interaction and negative feedback from others creates stress. Individuals react differently to such stress. Some individuals internalize distress through the experience of feelings of low self-esteem, hopelessness, helplessness and sadness. Some internalize the distress through feelings of anxiety. Others externalize the distress through angry, aggressive, destructive, or rule-breaking behaviors. These reactions can be triggered by teasing, perceptions of being treated unjustly, frustration and confusion in response to certain situations - many triggers can exist and depend solely on the individual. If any of these additional problems (depression, anxiety, or anger) affect the individual’s ability to function and are pervasive, they may require diagnosis and treatment as well.

Other conditions can also occur with Aspergers, but are not part of the criteria for the Aspergers diagnosis. Problems with attention, concentration, and/or impulsive, distracted, or hyperactive behaviors might suggest a possible diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The occurrence of motor and verbal tics could suggest problems associated with Tourette’s Disorder. For individuals who experience these problems as well as the difficulties associated with Aspergers, a dual diagnosis may be necessary.

Question #9: What are the advantages and disadvantages of having the label Aspergers?

The advantages tend to be personal and emotional. For moms and dads, the diagnosis and label provides them with a sense of relief. Many moms and dads of kids with Aspergers say that they have known that something was “wrong”, but felt that they could not get “the problem” properly identified. When such difficulties are identified and labeled, moms and dads and individuals are better able to understand the nature of the problems and how to remedy them. By labeling the disorder, it is easier to address any problems that are associated with it, and allows moms and dads and individuals the opportunity to maximize the positive aspects of the disorder. Individuals with Aspergers often have a unique ability to focus, and to catalogue detailed information about their areas of interest. In many situations, these talents can be put to very positive, constructive uses. One only needs to look at the celebrities who some suggest may qualify or may have qualified for an Aspergers diagnosis to realize what talents can be associated with what is called a “disorder”.

Other advantages to “labeling” include providing moms and dads and educators with a way to learn about a youngster’s behaviors. By learning about Aspergers individuals can better understand its implications so that parental, teacher, and community expectations of the individual are realistic, reasonable, and do not require that person to meet standards that are outside his/her range of abilities. Additionally for kids, the diagnosis qualifies the youngster for assistance in the schools as defined by IDEA. This means that the schools are required to provide special accommodations for the youngster’s education. The accommodations need to be tailored to the youngster’s condition so that they help create a learning environment that is best suited to the youngster’s abilities.

Disadvantages associated with the label of Aspergers are similar to the disadvantages associated with any label, and generally refer to individual’s tendency to think in stereotypes. Labeling an individual gives others the ability to “pigeonhole” or make assumptions about the individual based on the diagnosis, or their understanding of the diagnosis. This can lead individuals to make decisions and judgments about the individual based on the diagnosis rather than on the needs and characteristics of that person.

It is always important to remember that no person is a diagnosis, and that no diagnosis is an individual. Aspergers is merely one quality of an individual. That person will have many other traits, characteristics, and aspects of his/her personality. Readers are encouraged to learn about the individual first, then to explore the way the Aspergers diagnosis affects his/her functioning.

Question #10: What is meant by “impaired social interaction”?

Essentially, this means that the individual with Aspergers experiences difficulty developing relationships, responding appropriately, and interacting with others with ease. Certain qualities of human interaction are very difficult for individuals with Aspergers. Individuals communicate with each other through verbal (e.g., speech) as well as nonverbal (e.g., eye-to-eye gaze, gestures, body posture) communication. While verbal ability is often a strength for individuals with Aspergers, nonverbal communication is usually an area of difficulty. Individuals with Aspergers have trouble understanding the nonverbal communication of others. They overlook or don’t recognize the meaning behind another person’s gestures or facial expressions. This means that they frequently miss the cues they are given that an individual wants to leave, is getting bored, or wants to say something herself. The individual with Aspergers can also have difficulty using nonverbal communication, for example: hand gestures do not fit with what is being said, or there is an absence of gesturing or a complete lack of nonverbal communication.

Impaired social interaction also means that an individual has difficulty making and keeping friends. As can be imagined, interacting with someone who does not understand or use nonverbal communication can be unsettling and uncomfortable. As a result, many individuals avoid the individual with Aspergers and relationships do not develop. When friendships do occur, they are usually built on a shared area of interest. That interest is typically the focus of the intense interest and preoccupation of the individual with Aspergers. Maintaining such friendships can be difficult because the individual with Aspergers can be rigid and inflexible regarding the area of interest. In other words, their conversation rarely addresses other topics, and they tend to be the center of any conversation about the topic (leaving the other youngster to listen rather than contribute to a discussion). Because the individual with Aspergers is so focused on this interest, s/he often knows a great deal of detailed information about it. This can often be intimidating to other kids who do not feel as much an “expert”.

Lastly, impaired social interaction also encompasses the distressing social situations that many individuals with Aspergers encounter. The term “playground predator” has often been used to describe kids who appear to purposefully, intentionally, and vindictively single out a youngster with Aspergers for teasing and taunting. Bullies often do pick on kids who are “easy targets” or vulnerable. With their difficulties understanding nonverbal cues, and having limited social support, individuals with Aspergers are often the targets of bullies.

Question #11: What is pedantic speech?

Pedantic describes speech that is overly focused on the details of its topic. It is speech that appears to list details about a topic one after the other. In an individual with Aspergers, this type of speech does not appear to be impacted by the environment (such as by the nonverbal cues of others), and therefore seems less conversational and more like a monologue. This includes the individual’s likely idiosyncratic, or unusual use of words, e.g., a “Hoover for the face” being used for razor, or tendency to make up words to communicate their thoughts. The volume of the individual’s speech may be off - either too loud or too quiet for the environment or situation. The individual with Aspergers may also vocalize his or her thoughts rather than keeping those thoughts to themselves.

Question #12: What is “theory of mind” or “mind blindness”?

It has been suggested that kids with Aspergers (and autism) lack a theory of mind (the ability to understand what another person may be thinking in a given situation). They have difficulty imagining or understanding how someone else’s thoughts, experiences, knowledge, or wishes could influence their behavior. This concept has also been called “mind blindness”.

Question #13: What are “stereotyped behaviors”?

Stereotyped behaviors are those that are repetitive and unvarying. They are behaviors that do not have to serve any apparently useful, constructive purpose, but instead have only personal meaning to the individual with Aspergers. They reflect the individual’s adherence to a routine way of behaving.

Question #14: What are “stim behaviors” and why does the individual with Aspergers do them?

Stim behaviors refer to behaviors that tend to appear in response to an anxiety-provoking situation or experience, they are repetitive, and often times appear unusual or inappropriate socially. Kids with Aspergers often become obsessed with the need for sameness or routine. When changes occur in their environment that deviate from that sameness, anxiety is produced and repetitive, ritualistic behaviors restore some of the sense of “sameness” that was lost. These behaviors are the way the individual with Aspergers copes with change, unpredictability, and anxiety. Attempts by educators, moms and dads, or significant others to stop these behaviors may lead the individual with Aspergers to feel panic, anger, and/or extreme anxiety and can results in extreme behaviors (screaming, temper tantrums) that are often less desirable than the stim behavior. In these instances, it is often best to try to help the individual with Aspergers learn an alternative, more socially acceptable behavior to achieve this same goal.

Question #15: How can I find out if my son has Aspergers?

Currently, awareness of Aspergers appears to be increasing. While this is positive, some confusion continues to exist among professionals about diagnosing the condition. For this reason, it will be important to work with someone who either has some pre-existing knowledge of Aspergers, or who is willing to learn more about it. Physicians, psychologists, therapists, and educators are usually among the first individuals to identify Asperger symptoms. Consulting with a trusted person in any of these fields would likely be a good first step. They can then either help you directly, or can refer you to someone else within the community who can.

Accurate diagnosis often involves testing by the use of questionnaires, check lists, clinical interview, psychological tests and possibly medical examination. Different professions emphasize different means of identification. If you believe you or your youngster may qualify for a diagnosis of Aspergers, or another autism spectrum disorder, taking that first step of contacting a trusted professional will be very important.

Question #16: When is it good to look for help for my Aspergers child?

The earlier the better... interventions targeted at young kids can help them learn social skills and ways of interacting with others that will help them avoid the social difficulties (such as teasing, bullying, social rejection and isolation, and social anxiety) that affects older kids, teens, and grown-ups with the disorder. Alternatively, older kids and grown-ups can benefit tremendously from learning about the disorder, and ways to address its negative aspects while maximizing its positive side. The key is to seek help. Without knowledge of the disorder and proper diagnosis, many individuals can continue to experience difficulties that can affect them for a lifetime.

The Aspergers Comprehensive Handbook

My child has been rejected by his peers, ridiculed and bullied !!!

Social rejection has devastating effects in many areas of functioning. Because the ASD child tends to internalize how others treat him, rejection damages self-esteem and often causes anxiety and depression. As the child feels worse about himself and becomes more anxious and depressed – he performs worse, socially and intellectually.

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How to Prevent Meltdowns in Children on the Spectrum

Meltdowns are not a pretty sight. They are somewhat like overblown temper tantrums, but unlike tantrums, meltdowns can last anywhere from ten minutes to over an hour. When it starts, the Asperger's or HFA child is totally out-of-control. When it ends, both you and your child are totally exhausted. But... don’t breathe a sigh of relief yet. At the least provocation, for the remainder of that day -- and sometimes into the next - the meltdown can return in full force.

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Parenting Defiant Teens on the Spectrum

Although Aspergers [high-functioning autism] is at the milder end of the autism spectrum, the challenges parents face when disciplining a teenager on the spectrum are more difficult than they would be with an average teen. Complicated by defiant behavior, the teen is at risk for even greater difficulties on multiple levels – unless the parents’ disciplinary techniques are tailored to their child's special needs.

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Older Teens and Young Adult Children with ASD Still Living At Home

Your older teenager or young “adult child” isn’t sure what to do, and he is asking you for money every few days. How do you cut the purse strings and teach him to be independent? Parents of teens with ASD face many problems that other parents do not. Time is running out for teaching their adolescent how to become an independent adult. As one mother put it, "There's so little time, yet so much left to do."

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Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism

Two traits often found in kids with High-Functioning Autism are “mind-blindness” (i.e., the inability to predict the beliefs and intentions of others) and “alexithymia” (i.e., the inability to identify and interpret emotional signals in others). These two traits reduce the youngster’s ability to empathize with peers. As a result, he or she may be perceived by adults and other children as selfish, insensitive and uncaring.

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Highly Effective Research-Based Parenting Strategies for Children with Asperger's and HFA

Become an expert in helping your child cope with his or her “out-of-control” emotions, inability to make and keep friends, stress, anger, thinking errors, and resistance to change.

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