What is Asperger's Syndrome?

Hans Asperger, an Austrian physician, first described the syndrome in 1944. 

It is not yet clear whether "higher functioning autism"  and Asperger's syndrome are different. In fact, this is an area of controversy.

However, one difference is that the person with Asperger's Syndrome demonstrates more characteristics consistent with right-hemisphere deficits such as seen in a nonverbal learning disability.

Who Gets Asperger's Syndrome?
  • 4-8 times more common in boys
  • A family link
  • May be related to oxygen deprivation before or during birth
Current research is looking at the Gluten-Free and Casein-Free diets.

Some people believe that increasing incidents of the syndrome are related to environmental toxins such as the  mercury used in vaccinations.

Fortunately, the "refrigerator mother"  myth as a cause for autism has been dispelled.

Temple Grandin explains how having autism made school and social life hard, but it made understanding animals easy.

This guide explains the sensory systems, identifies problems with sensory integration, strategies for managing challenging behaviors, suggestions for sensory diets and more for the child on the autism spectrum.

Temple Grandin provides her perspective on the sensory and communication difficulties a child with Asperger's Syndrome faces and ways to cope and be successful. 

Lev S. Vygotsky introduced the term "processing" in conjunction with language over forty years ago. He stated that the relationship between thought and words is not a thing but a process.
He argued that speech is social  in its origins and that only as children develop does it become internalized verbal thought.

Adolescence is a difficult time for all young people, but especially for those with Asperger's Syndrome who struggle to fit in. The expectations to communicate with peers with increasingly sophisticated verbal skills increases with age.

Bolick's book focuses on how to help these children turn preoccupations and routines into positive strengths, manage unforeseen glitches, understand intimacy and succeed in school.

Grandin emphasizes how important career is not only for financial independence but to build self esteem and create social relationships based on mutual interests. Her concrete help for adolescents and young adults prepares them for the adult world of work.

Liane Holliday Willy describes what its like to be a mother with Asperger's Syndrome.

Asperger's Sydrome is sometimes called "higher functioning autism" because these
individuals are often very intelligent and can lead successful and rewarding
lives. At the same time they need to cope with one or more difficulties in the
areas  of:
  • Sensory sensitivities (and/or dysfunction in sensory integration)
  • Reading social cues such as body language, may avoid eye contact
  • Language (monotonic speech, difficulty understanding abstractions such as idioms)
  • Motor coordination (may appear clumsy or have poor fine-motor skills)
  • Persistent narrow preoccupations such as World War Two military leaders
  • Difficulty with Theory of Mind and lack of empathy
  • Inflexible thinking or extreme adherence to routines
  • Stereotypical movements such as hand flapping or body rocking
  • Failure to develop peer relationships/ lack of social or emotional reciprocity
It is also common for individuals with Asperger's syndrome to have anxiety and/or Attention
Deficit Disorder
. Anxiety may be manifested as an Obsessive/Compulsive Disorder with
symptoms such as repetitive and persistent thoughts or insisting that foods be eaten in a
certain order. Medication is often helpful to treat these frequently coexisting conditions.

The person with an Asperger's Syndrome diagnosis does not have a significant
impairment in language, cognitive development or self-help skills and fails to
meet the criteria for Schizophrenia or another Pervasive Developmental Disorder.

Some very famous and successful people may have or had Asperger's Syndrome.
autism einstein autism billgates autism isaac newton autism mozart autism andywarhol autism lewiscarroll
(Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, Isaac Newton, Amadeus Mozart, Andy Warhol and Lewis Carroll)

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Atypical Mind Development

Brain imaging techniques have identified structural and functional differences in
specific regions of the brain.
autism hansaspergerChildren with Asperger's Syndrome often prefer talking to adults, showing
their in-depth knowledge of narrow interests. They recognize that adults
are generally more tolerant of social differences and willing
to listen.

Hans Asperger described these children as "little professors".

What is Theory of Mind?
This refers to the ability to recognize that others have thoughts and feelings different
from one's own. A very young child has difficulty understanding that her parents
cannot know that the kitten licked her when they are not in the same room
with the child and kitten.

Typically developing children not only learn that others have different perspectives,
but how to interpret their thoughts and feelings by "reading" their facial expressions
and body language. For example, a
child learns that when she sees daddy watching
her gaze at a cookie, daddy will know that she
wants it. The father also realizes
that his child knows that he knows what she is thinking.
He may  hand it to her
or move it out of reach.
"Theory of Mind" helps us to understand and predict
another person's behavior.

When famed author, speaker and animal scientist Temple Grandin was asked
her take on Theory of Mind during a
National Public Radio interview,
she responded:

"Everyone gets into theory of mind stuff. And it's all about emotional theory
of mind. But there are other kinds. Normal people have incredibly bad visual
and sensory theory of mind."

Empathy is the ability to recognize and perceive another person's emotions.
A person
with Asperger's syndrome who lacks the skills to "read"people,
struggles to understand human behavior.

autism data
In fact, they may feel more like the Star Trek character
"Data" who  expressed a desire to experience empathy.

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What is Central coherence?
This refers to the ability to see the "whole picture". Autistic people may be better at
seeing the details or small parts than a non autistic person and have difficulty
seeing the gestalt or entirety. This limitation may impact the ability to use
context or to generalize from one task or setting to another. An example of this
would be a student spending all of his time on a science fair project, thus,
to do all other work, to the point of failing the course.

On the other hand, the ability to see the details is very useful for excelling
in math and computer science.

Dysfunction in Sensory Integration
Individuals on the autism spectrum may exhibit a variety of sensory sensitivities
to sound, vision,
touch, taste, smell and movement stimuli. They may find the
overload of loud, busy places
painful and crave deep pressure. Children will
often seek sensory environments (i.e. a sandbox)
that help them to "normalize
their engines". Adults may chose careers (i.e. working with animals)

that also fulfill sensory needs. Please read more about Sensory Integration
on this web site. 

autism squeezeboxTemple Grandin discovered how to use this squeeze chute- a
for holding an animal. It provides the gentle relaxing
pressure that
she craves. She built her own to use at school. The
effect was both
stimulating and relaxing at the same time.
Photo by Daniel Zwerdling
"Photo Courtesy of American RadioWorks"
American Radio Works

Auditory Processing or Central Processing Disorders
This is not a hearing impairment, but a term that describes a variety of
problems with
the brain that can interfere with processing auditory
information. A person with Asperger's Syndrome might manifest difficulty
  • Paying attention to and remembering verbal information
  • Carrying out multi-step verbal directions
  • Listening and need more time to process verbal information
  • Figurative language, jokes/riddles, multiple meaning words
    teasing and implied meanings
  • Too much auditory information that can be overwhelming
Helping people with Asperger's Syndrome

FutureHorizons a publishing Company that is devoted to selling resources
related to all
aspects of autism and Asperger's syndrome.
use code "pedia" for 15% discount on their products

There are countless books, articles and web sites with information on
interventions to help individuals with Asperger's Syndrome. A few are
described here. Please visit Autism for further resources.

Parents will often adapt their parenting style and child's environment
to help the
child cope and adapt. Fussy babies may need the more than
usual amount of nursing,
cuddling and rocking. Toddlers may
not adjust to the day care center with inflexible routines and
need more time home with a parent or nanny

However, it is important to expose children to social situations that
develop self-esteem,
confidence and social skills. Oftentimes, this is
best done (even with older children) in familiar environments, with a
limited number of
playmates and adult support available.

A sensory diet can be helpful both at home and at school. Teenagers
benefit from age appropriate proprioceptive and vestibular activities
such as lifting weights and skiing. Young adults with Asperger's Syndrome
are frequently relieved after years of clumsy high school gym classes
to engage in less competitive physical activities such as backpacking
or cycling. Occupational therapists can design a sensory diet for home,
school or work environments. Therapists can also suggest ways to help
children compensate for sensitivities. For example, wearing head phones
helps to muffle extraneous noise.

Psychotherapy may become increasingly important during the middle and
high school years as children's bodies and social needs change.
School demands for long term planning and organization also increase, often
creating stress and anxiety. These children are at risk for depression.
This may also be a good time to consider medications that decrease
anxiety and improve focus.

Intervention Strategies for Language/auditory processing difficulties
  • Use visual cues/models, limit verbal directions
  • Provide enough time to reply (This seems simple, but it takes conscious effort)
  • Provide written rules.
  • All directions for school work can be written on the board or in handouts.
  • Provide concrete directions.
  • Teach children to comprehend jokes, figurative speech and idioms.
Educational and Behavioral Interventions(many also address sensory needs)
  • Provide a "quiet space" to decrease sensory overload. This space might be
    dim, filled with cushions and squeeze toys.
  • Let the child transition earlier than the others. Give a warning to prepare
    for transitions. A timer may be helpful.
  • To avoid tactless blurting out, encourage whispering or "think-it, don't say it".
  • Role, playing, audio/video taping and social scripting can be used to help
    children learn when it is appropriate to say things out loud.
  • Provide a predictable, consistent environment
  • Assignments may need to be broken down into smaller units, that can be
    completed in the allotted time. School work load may need to be decreased.
  • Provide a "finish later" folder.
  • Use a check list to show which tasks have been completed and what remains.
  • Teach relaxation techniques.
  • Set aside a time of day to discuss topics of high interest.
  • Incorporate areas of high interest into academics.
  • Provide a written answer to be given upon frequently asked questions.
  • A small classroom is preferable.
  • Teachers should be well trained in the needs of children with this disability.  

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There are many children's books available called "Social Stories" that teach children how to
respond to confusing or challenging social situations.

Learning the Lingo

Author and speaker Liane Holliday Willy coined the term "Aspie" in 1999 and
people with the the syndrome might refer to one another with this term.

People who do not have Asperger's Syndrome may be called "Neurotypical" or NT.

Many "aspies" have found support, friendship and romance through internet sites.
As a group, they have contributed to a shift in perception that views autism not
as a disease that should be cured but rather a neurdifference that should be
celebrated. They encourage tolerance for "neurodiversity".

  1. Asperger's Association of New England

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