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What's the Difference Between Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism?

“I'm seriously confused! I have an 8yr old that was recently diagnosed with HFA and has been diagnosed with ADHD since he was 5 1/2yrs old. I've been trying to understand all the diagnoses and changes I've seen in my youngest child, but it's so confusing. Is Asperger Syndrome the same as High Functioning Autism? How are these two different from Autism? Please give me some insight as I'm losing my mind and already suffer from Depression. Thank you, Very concerned mommy.”

Asperger’s (AS), along with other autism disorders, falls along a “spectrum.” This spectrum has been called the autism 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. AS 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 those with AS. However, the symptoms of autistic kids are usually more severe, and their functioning is much more impaired (e.g., while a youngster with AS may have difficulty using language socially, a youngster with autism may be mute). Both AS and Autistic Disorders may involve:
  • difficulties interacting with others
  • difficulty using language socially
  • lack of understanding or interest in others' feelings
  • narrow interests or abilities
  • odd motor behaviors
  • poor nonverbal communication skills
  • social rejection
  • rigidity (as opposed to flexibility) in play

Autism is the more severe form of problems with social interaction, restricted behaviors and areas of interest, and impaired language skills (e.g., while a youngster with AS may have difficulty interacting with others socially and forming friendships, a youngster with autism may often avoid direct eye contact with everybody, dislike physical touch including the experience of hugs or loving touches, and may not develop verbal skills).

According to the present diagnostic criteria, children 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. On the other hand, children with AS probably did not experience delay or impairment in cognitive or language skills. Also, while children with autism show little interest in peer interaction, children with AS often seek such companionship.

Re: The difference between AS and HFA—

Many children identified as having High-Functioning Autism (HFA) had more pronounced symptoms of autism when they were younger. As they aged, the development of basic social skills, age appropriate cognitive skills, and verbal ability occurred. HFA is a term that was most often used here in the United States and often applies to kids who qualified for a diagnosis of autism when they were younger. Controversy still exists within the literature about the differences between these diagnoses. Some professionals use the terms interchangeably. At this point, the symptoms associated the two labels (AS and HFA) are considered to be mostly identical.

Re: The dual-diagnosis of ADHD and AS—

To complicate matters even more, there is also a significant overlap between the symptoms of ADHD and AS. More on that topic can be found here: The Aspergers-ADHD Overlap

Kids on the Spectrum and Their 'Pedantic' Style of Speaking

 “I read a lot online that children with Autism have a ‘pedantic’ style of speaking. Can you help me to understand what that means?”

While kids with ASD [High-Functioning Autism] may have begun talking at an appropriate age, they often used a rather 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 a child on the autism spectrum, this type of speech does not appear to be impacted by the environment (e.g., by the nonverbal cues of others), and therefore seems less conversational and more like a monologue.

In addition, kids on the spectrum often understand and use words concretely and literally. For example, a teacher discussed possible consequences for misbehavior with her autistic student. This child heard that if he did not complete his classwork when asked, he would receive detention. 
He became very upset over this perceived injustice. He didn’t 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, children with ASD can easily misinterpret the intent of others and respond in an unexpected and possibly inappropriate way. 
Thus, when speaking to these young people, it’s important for parents and teachers to be very specific (e.g., instead of saying, “You need to get ready for lunch” …be more detailed by saying, “Hand in your assignment, put your pencil and notebook away, and get in line with the other students”).

Dealing with the "Back-to-School" Blues: Tips for Parents of Asperger's Kids

Being out of school for a couple of weeks during the Christmas break is plenty of time to get children completely off schedule. With shopping, family get-togethers, and the late night on New Year’s Eve, most children have likely forgotten what it means to get up on time and get ready in a timely fashion.

Children of all ages often struggle to get back into the swing of things after being off for several weeks for Christmas break. They may not be ready to resume the frantic pace, start back up with classes, or dive into social activities. Even getting back on normal eating, sleeping and homework schedules can be very difficult. This is especially true for young people with Asperger’s (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA). At “back to school time,” these kids may feel concerned about their work-load and keeping up with homework, become physically sick with stress (e.g., headaches or migraines), feel pressured by what their teachers and peers expect of them, and feel sad or upset that the holidays are now over.

The good news is that getting your AS or HFA child back on track isn’t as stressful as doing the same after the much longer summer break. Below are some ideas that can help smooth the transition from school to home - and back to school - over Christmas break. Sufficient planning, reliable rituals, participation in school events, and a positive outlook can make the transition less difficult.

1. Help your AS or HFA child to avoid feeling frustrated or depressed about returning to school by making a short list of things he likes about school. Focusing on positive aspects of school will improve his mood and attitude. Your child can make note of classes, teachers, and extracurricular activities he likes, or meaningful friendships and experiences he values. Start working on the list a day or two before Christmas break ends, so the good memories are fresh in his mind when he returns to school.

2. Help your child ease back into school by reestablishing daily schedules and following them as closely as possible. Rituals promote a sense of security and stability. Consistent morning routines, regular meal times, homework study hours, designated recreation times, and bedtime schedules can help your child get back on track. Place a calendar on the refrigerator or in a central location so you can keep track of weekly activities (e.g., sports practices, music lessons, doctor's appointments, etc.).

3. Help your child to find ways to get involved outside of the classroom, explore her interests, and meet new people. She could join an academic club, attend a school-sponsored dance, go to a sporting event, try out for a school play, or join student council. Active involvement will help your child build strong connections with classmates, teachers and coaches. It's easier to get back into the routine after the holidays if your child has engaging and exciting activities to look forward to.

4. Adjust your child’s sleep schedule. Get started a couple days before he is scheduled to go back to school. You don't want your child to be falling asleep during class on the first day back. Start waking your child up at his normal school-time several days before he goes back – even if he stayed up late the night before. He will likely have no trouble going to bed on time on days when he woke up early.

5. Help your child to pack up his book bag the night before, and lunch if needed. Make sure she has packed everything. She wouldn't want to walk into math class on the first day, only to find that she has forgotten her calculator.

6. As part of New Year’s resolutions, encourage your youngster to set some school-related goals (e.g., raising a math grade by five points, making one new friend, etc.). As a parent, set your own goals as well (e.g., getting up a few minutes earlier each morning to have lunches packed before waking your child, giving yourself 30 minutes to meditate or exercise, etc.).

7. If your youngster is crying or throwing a temper tantrum because she has to go back to school, prolonging the return only makes the problem worse. No one likes to go to school, just like no one likes to go to work. Explain this to your youngster. There are just some things you have to do, or you get into trouble for not doing them. Ask your youngster if she wants you to get in trouble for her not going to school. Also, explain truancy (if you think that will work).

8. Earmark one of your youngster’s Christmas presents as a special one for the first day back to school (e.g., new shirt, new shoes, new backpack, locker decoration, etc.). Your youngster will be eager to get back to school to show the new item to his friends.

9. Keep school at the forefront of your youngster’s mind by talking about it each day of the holiday break. Ask her which friends she is looking forward to seeing when she goes back, which classes are her favorites, and so on. Read books off your child’s reading list, then ask her questions about the books. If your child brings her lunch to school, make a calendar with different food options for the first week when she goes back.

10. Help your child to avoid letting the post-holiday blues keep him from meeting his goals. A lack of motivation in the first couple weeks after returning to school can lead to a backlog of undone homework and an ugly list of incomplete assignments. Teach your child to start projects early, finish homework ahead of schedule, and prepare for tests and quizzes several days before testing dates. Reward him with treats (e.g., a special outing), and remind him of all the free time he has accrued since he didn’t procrastinate.

The end of the Christmas break is a time of mixed emotions (e.g., sad to be losing the freedom of sleeping in, playing all day and staying up late at sleepovers, family get-togethers, and the excitement that always prevails this time of year). Getting back to school after the break doesn’t have to be stressful though. Remember to stick as close as you can to the normal wake-up and bedtime routines during the break, but don’t worry about the times when the holidays keep family members out late – just get back on schedule the next day. Routinely engage your child in positive conversations about the return to school while he or she is still enjoying the break.

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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to read the full article...

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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My Aspergers Child - Syndicated Content