Asperger's Syndrome is a form of autism where the person is often highly intelligent but struggles with communication and social interaction. The condition is not widely recognized and undiagnosed children and adults may end up in work and school situations that are uncomfortable for them. Asperger's Syndrome is often detected when a child starts preschool. He will generally interact better with his teacher than his peers and may display silly, loud, aggressive or socially withdrawn behavior.
In some cases, Asperger's can be classed as a disability and appropriate help and resources can be sought.
In order for us to help people with Asperger's Syndrome, it is important that we familiarize ourselves with the symptoms and typical behavior patterns. I have met several people with the condition over the last few years and understanding the implications has helped me to relate to them in a better manner.
How does Asperger's Syndrome affect a Person
Asperger's Syndrome is characterized by problems in three areas and the level of difficulty experienced can vary greatly from person to person. The areas are social communication, social interaction and social imagination.
Asperger's Syndrome and Social Communication
People with Asperger's Syndrome often speak in a strange manner, with a flat monotonous tone. They also tend to speak slowly. Eye contact, facial expression and body language are a mystery to them and when talking to another person, they struggle to read signs of boredom, impatience or frustration. This means they keep talking and may gain a reputation for being insensitive and boring. The child may appear cold and unemotional, but it is not deliberate. He does not think about others and cannot understand the social graces that keep society functioning.
Aspergers's Syndrome and Social Interaction
Obsessions are common in people with Asperger's Syndrome and become apparent from a young age. A child often develops an interest in a certain area and this becomes an obsession. Common obsessions include computers, gaming, electronics, coin collecting, transport, dinosaurs and household gadgets. They are passionate about their interests and like to seek out other people to talk to about them. The conversation is usually one-sided – more like a lecture where they talk about their knowledge and don't allow feedback. Interrupting another person is a common problem as the child does not understand the social signals that allow conversation to move from one to another. Children with Asperger's Syndrome express their feelings in unpredictable ways. Sometimes they may seem emotionless and other times they may display extreme emotion that is not appropriate to the situation.
People with Asperger's Syndrome are often unaware of personal space and may stand too close when holding a conversation or queuing at a shop.
Asperger's Syndrome and Social Imagination
People with Asperger's Syndrome tend to take things very literally so communication needs to be simple and direct with no fancy figures of speech. The innuendos of language such as similes and metaphors, sarcasm and playful teasing are normally misunderstood. They have excellent thinking skills where things are concerned but are extremely poor at interpreting human relationships.
As children, they do better with logical structured play as opposed to make-believe and "let's pretend". They also find it hard to generalize. If taught that they shouldn't hit a child at church, they do not automatically make the connection that they shouldn't hit a child in the mall.
Bullying and Asperger's Syndrome
People with Asperger's Syndrome often fall victim to bullies. Their differences invite ridicule and mocking which may escalate into violence. This is apparent in the work place as well as schools. It is important that the victims are helped often as they do not know how to verbalize what is happening to them.
What other Problems are Common
Loud noises, school bells, sirens, unexpected noises, shouting and laughing and general confusion can be upsetting to people with Asperger's Syndrome. They may become disoriented and angry and it is best to lead them to a quiet location and allow them to recover.
Gross and fine motor skills are often underdeveloped, causing problems in sports and balance.
Is it Possible to help a Person with Asperger's Syndrome
There is specialized help available and it is possible to teach social skills. However, it is often a long slow process and may require parental intervention to repair damage when a child acts inappropriately. If friends and family are aware of the condition, they can also work with the child and implement the recommended therapies. Short stories can be useful in teaching social skills. Use one page visual aids that teach about listening to others and keeping quiet and still while they talk.
Older children may enjoy a club that centers its focus on their interest – for example electronics or stamp collecting. It gives them a valid outlet to pursue their passion.
What can I do to help
If you already know or meet someone in the future with Asperger's Syndrome, take time to talk to them. While it may be rather one-sided and uncomfortable, it will help validate their worth. If they monopolize the conversation, don't be afraid to steer it in another direction and share your thoughts and feeling as well. You may not feel it has been a fulfilling encounter but persevere and don't give up. Every bit of positive interaction has value in the big picture of life.
While Asperger's Syndrome imposes limitations, those who have the condition can lead productive and fulfilled lives. This is even more so when those around them understand the syndrome and can help them and guide them when they are struggling.