Net Exchange Response


Title: How to help a student understand his sibling with Asperger's Syndrome

Date Posted: 11/15/2005

Question: Help students understand Asperger's Syndrome -- "Does anyone have resources that I could recommend to a high school student regarding understanding his sibling's Asperger's syndrome?"

Response:

As one of its fact sheets for families, the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry has one on Asperger - see Http://www.aacap.org/publications/factsfam/69.htm

Our own preference is to simply take some of the introductory and definitional statements from various documents and rewrite them in a language that seems right for the specific siblings and parents involved.

For examples of some definitions and introductory statements, see our website online clearinghouse "Quick Find" at http://smhp.psych.ucla and on the alphabetized topic menu click "Educating Children with Autism" - or go directly to it http://smhp.psych.ucla.edu/qf/autism.htm

Or if you don't have time to browse, here's some exceprts:

  1. From "Autism Spectrum Disorders and Schools"
    "Asperger's Disorder
    The essential features of Asperger's Disorder are severe and sustained impairment in social interaction and the development of restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, and activities. The disturbance must cause clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning . In contrast to Autistic Disorder, there are no clinically significant delays in language (e.g., single words are used by age 2 years, communicative phrases are used by age 3 years). In addition, there are no clinically significant delays in cognitive development or in the development of age-appropriate self-help skills, adaptive behavior (other than in social interaction), and curiosity about the environment in childhood..."
  2. From "Asperger's Syndrome and Anxiety." by Meena Dasari, Ph. D.
    Asperger's Syndrome defined: "Children with Asperger's Syndrome (AS) have average intelligence, but have difficulty in grasping social interactions and in understanding emotional experiences. Asperger's Syndrome affects about 2 in 10,000 children in the U.S. Early intervention and treatment programs that combine behavioral, social communication, and family interventions usually lead to a better quality of life for children with Asperger's Syndrome..."
  3. From "Asperger and Autism Information" at http://maapservices.org , here's a brief excerpt from an article by Stephen Bauer:
    Asperger syndrome (also called Asperger disorder) is a relatively new category of developmental disorder, the term having only come into more general use over the past fifteen years. Although a group of children with this clinical picture was originally and very accurately described in the 1940s by a Viennese pediatrician, Hans Asperger, Asperger syndrome (AS) was "officially" recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders for the first time in the fourth edition published in 1994. Because there have been few comprehensive review articles in the medical literature to date, and because AS is probably considerably more common than previously realized, this discussion will endeavor to describe the syndrome in some detail and to offer suggestions regarding management. Students with AS are not uncommonly seen in mainstream educational settings, although often undiagnosed or misdiagnosed, so this is a topic of some importance for educational personnel, as well as for parents. ...

    ...most children with AS, at least once they get to school age, express a desire to fit in socially and have friends. They are often deeply frustrated and disappointed by their social difficulties. Their problem is not a lack of interaction or interest so much as a lack of effectiveness in interactions. They seem to have difficulty knowing how to "make connections" socially. Gillberg has described this as a "disorder of empathy," the inability to effectively "read" others needs and perspectives and respond appropriately. As a result, children with AS tend to misread social situations and their interactions and responses are frequently viewed by others as "odd." ...

    As the child with AS moves into middle school and high school, the most difficult areas continue to be those related to socialization and behavioral adjustment. Paradoxically, because children with AS are frequently managed in mainstream educational settings, and because their specific developmental problems may be more easily overlooked (especially if they are bright and do not act too "strange"), they are often misunderstood at this age by both teachers and other students. At the secondary level, teachers often have less opportunity to get to know a child well, and problems with behavior or work/study habits may be misattributed to emotional or motivational problems. In some settings, particularly less familiar or structured ones such as the cafeteria, physical education class, or playground, the child may get into escalating conflicts or power struggles with teachers or students who may not be familiar with their developmental style of interacting. This can sometimes lead to more serious behavioral flare-ups. Pressure may build up in such a child with little clue until he then reacts in a dramatically inappropriate manner.

    In middle school, where the pressures for conformity are greatest and tolerance for differences the least, children with AS may be left out, misunderstood, or teased and persecuted. Wanting to make friends and fit in, but unable to, they may withdraw even more, or their behavior may become increasingly problematic in the form of outbursts of noncooperation. Some degree of depression is not uncommon as a complicating feature. If there are no significant learning disabilities, academic performance can continue strong, particularly in those areas of particular interest; often, however, there will be ongoing subtle tendencies to misinterpret information, particularly abstract or figurative/idiomatic language. Learning difficulties are frequent, and attentional and organizational difficulties may be present.

    Fortunately, by high school, peer tolerance for individual variations and eccentricity often increases again to some extent. If a child does well academically, that can bring a measure of respect from other students....

    A major area of concern as the child moves through school is promotion of more appropriate social interactions and helping the child fit in better socially. Formal, didactic social skills training can take place both in the classroom and in more individualized settings. Approaches that have been most successful utilize direct modeling and role playing at a concrete level (such as in the Skillstreaming curriculum). By rehearsing and practicing how to handle various social situations, the child can hopefully learn to generalize the skills to naturalistic settings. It is often useful to use a dyad approach where the child is paired with another student to carry out such structured encounters. The use of a "buddy system" can be very useful, since these children relate best 1-1. Careful selection of a non-Asperger peer buddy for the child can be a tool to help build social skills, encourage friendships, and reduce stigmatization. Care should be taken, particularly in the upper grades, to protect the child from teasing both in and out of the classroom, since it is one of the greatest sources of anxiety for older children with AS...."


Submit a request or comment now.

UCLA Center for Mental Health in Schools
Dept. of Psychology, P.O.Box 951563, Los Angeles, CA 90095.
tel: (310)825-3634
email: smhp@ucla.edu ~ web: http://smhp.psych.ucla.edu