We have a tendency to formulate judgements about people from the moment we see them. We appraise facial expressions, tone of voice and body language before someone even expresses themselves.
People suffering from asperger’s syndrome find it difficult to pick up social cues and express normal human emotions like the average person can, which leads to increasing panic and anxiety when they make an effort to communicate and interact with others.
In Australia one in every 160 individuals suffer from Autism spectrum disorders like Asperger’s syndrome. It is three to four times more common in boys than in girls. The biggest dilemma surrounding this syndrome is that parents find it difficult to pick up the symptoms that their children might be exhibiting from an early age, which leads to a rising level of anxiety in the child. Additionally the strange mannerism and movements that these children show makes it difficult for them to make friends.
What is Asperger’s Syndrome?
Asperger’s syndrome (AS) is a developmental disorder, which is part of the Autism spectrum disorders. In fact children with Asperger’s syndrome share many features with “high-functioning Autism”.
This disorder was named after a Vietnamese paediatrician in 1944 that demonstrated the symptoms in some of his male patients. He noticed that these children had normal intelligence and language development but impaired social skills and communication abilities.
This syndrome is a lifelong disability that affects how people make sense of and view the world, how they process information and relate to other people. Asperger’s syndome (and sometimes abbreviated as ‘AS’) is a hidden disability because it is difficult to recognise a person from their outward appearance. Individuals with asperger’s face difficulties in three key areas referred to as the “triad of impairments”:
1. Social communication
These individuals experience difficulty in expressing themselves emotionally and socially. They have difficulty understanding gestures, facial expressions or tone of voice. They may face difficulty beginning or ending a conversation or finding topics to talk about. They may use complex phrases in their normal conversation but fail to understand what they mean. Their speech may be flat and hard to understand because it lacks tone, pitch and accent. They are very literal in what they say so find it difficult to understand metaphors, jokes or sarcastic remarks. In fact commonly used phrases like, ‘it’s cool’ may be interpreted quite literally by these individuals. They have a formal way of speaking which is much advanced for their age like using the word ‘beckon’ instead of ‘call’.
2. Social interaction
Although these individuals may be keen in socialising, they will face difficulty with initiating social relationships and further sustaining them. They are constantly struggling to maintain friendships because of many reasons. They fail to pick up some unspoken social rules like standing too close to a person or finding an inappropriate topic for a conversation or behaving in an inappropriate manner. They may appear withdrawn or aloof because they find other people unpredictable. They also seem to lack empathy and avoid eye contact.
3. Social imagination
Most people with Asperger’s syndrome will have problems with imagining the outcomes of social situations or predicting alternative outcomes. Because they miss out on the subtle signals sent out by facial expressions and body language, they find it difficult to understand other people’s thoughts, feelings or actions. Children with asperger’s syndrome may also face problems with pretend games because of their limited range of imaginative activities and prefer to opt for subjects rooted in logic like mathematics
Individuals suffering from Asperger’s syndrome suffer from fewer learning disabilities than those with autism, have fewer problems with language and speaking and have an average or over average intelligence. They may however have specific learning disabilities and other problem which include:
- dyslexia- a learning disability that impairs a person’s fluency or comprehension accuracy in being able to read
- dyspraxia- an articulation disorder that can affect speech sound production and oral non-speech movements.
- attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)- a developmental disorder that includes difficulty maintaining attention with hyperactivity
- epilepsy- is a common and diverse set of chronic neurological disorders characterized by seizures.
Characteristics of Asperger’s Syndrome
Apart from the triad of impairment, people with AS may have difficulties in these aspects of their lives:
1. Love of routines
In order to view the world as a less complex place, individuals with asperger’s adopt some rules and rituals that dictate their lives. Children with asperger’s may prefer to take the same route to school or sudden changes in dinner timings may be upsetting for them. Individuals with asperger’s set up a timetable for their life and any deviance can result in extreme anxiety.
2. Intense obsessive interests
Individuals with AS may have special interests and hobbies that they can obsess over. These interests can last for the rest of their lives or may be replaced by an unconnected interest late on. Some of them may work exceptionally hard to excel in their field of interest and such practices should be encouraged in such children.
3. Sensory difficulties
These problems can occur in any one of the five senses (sight, smell, taste, hearing or touch). These individuals may be over-sensitive or under-sensitive to these sensations, which differs from person to person. Bright lights, food textures, loud noises or overpowering smells can arouse intense anxiety in many individuals with AS. These individuals may lack having an awareness of body orientation in space so they may face difficulty navigating around obstructions in a room or standing at an appropriate distance from other people. They are also unable to carry out fine motor tasks such as tying shoelaces. Many individuals may rock and spin to correct their posture while standing.
Treatment for Asperger’s Syndrome
Although there is no definitive “cure” for this lifelong syndrome, the main treatment approach is to help the individuals deal with the three core symptoms of asperger’s syndrome: poor communication skills, repetitive/obsessive actions and physical clumsiness. Most professionals believe that the earlier the intervention, the better it will be. If you or a loved one is suffering from Asperger’s syndrome than the following treatment approaches can help you:
1. Social skills training: This focuses on the tools essential for interacting with other children.
2. Cognitive behaviour therapy: This is aimed to help children manage their emotions and curb the obsessive interests and repetitive routines.
3. Language therapy/speech therapy: This can help the child with their conversation and communication abilities and help them learn the pattern of normal give and take.
4. Specialised educational interventions: This provides extra support for the child that is experiencing learning difficulties.
5. Sensory integration training: This is performed by an occupational therapist on young children where they are desensitised to stimuli that they are over sensitive to.
6. Physical therapy: This can help them with developing the child’s motor skills.
7. Parental education and training: This is to educate them in behavioural techniques to be used at home.
8. Medications: Certain serotonin reuptake inhibitors and other antidepressants can help with the restriction of interests and repetitive behaviour.
If you or someone you know may be suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome, Australia Counselling can link you with counsellors, psychologists and psychotherapists who provide support for this distressing condition. Search the Autism and Developmental Disorders page or search for a counsellor or psychotherapist in your local area by location or therapeutic approach.
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