Asperger's Syndrome Asperger's Syndrome, according to DSM-IV, is one of the Pervasive Developmental Disorders.  PDD's are patterns of atypical development in children that result in significant differences in functioning which often cause problems in adaptive daily behavior.  Asperger's Syndrome is different from Autism in that the individual typically shows ordinary intellectual development and adequate language functioning.  However, individuals with Asperger's show severe difficulties in the areas of social understanding and functioning. 

These people typically have a lot of trouble noticing and responding appropriately to ordinary social cues.  This means that they overlook or misunderstand vital information such as that transmitted through changes in facial expression, voice tone and body posture.  As a result, from an early age these children have trouble interacting with both other children and adults. 

A striking hallmark of individuals with Asperger's is that they often have extremely focused and usually sharply limited areas of interest.  In these areas, the person tends to accumulate a great deal of information, often including minute details, facts and figures.  For example, a child with Asperger's might be focused on automobiles, being able to recognize and name an extraordinary number of makes and models of vehicles.  Another child might demonstrate this focus on dinosaurs or insects, cataloging and repeating facts with encyclopedic breadth and detail.  Unfortunately, this focus of cognitive energy often prevents them from developing a range of interests that is necessary for more adaptive functioning.  Additionally, the excessive cognitive focus tends to drive the person with Asperger's to talk almost exclusively about their particular area of interest even when others around them directly express no interest in the topic. 

Common behavior problems associated with Asperger's have to do primarily with cognitive rigidity and excessive reaction to ordinary frustrations.  Because these children share some features with other autistic spectrum disorders they tend to have difficulty dealing with changes in their environment and routines.  When they are required to change activities or to stop a preferred activity they often react with resistance tantrums and sometimes verbal or physical aggression.  Children with Asperger's also tend to run into problems working and playing with others.  Their low frustration tolerance and peculiar behaviors may put them at risk for teasing and bullying, while their poor social comprehension increases the chance that they will be manipulated and taken advantage of by others.  At this time there is no cure for Aspergers or the other autism spectrum disorders.  However, many of the most troublesome behaviors associated with the disorder can be reduced or eliminated through careful intervention.  

What to do about the symptoms of Asperger's Syndrome:

Provide these individuals with a reasonable level of structure at home and school, but do not allow their rigid habits to dictate the schedules and activities of those around them. 

Avoid the temptation to invest a great deal of energy preventing their outbursts in response to upset.  Instead, use simple rewards and restriction consequences to help the child improve his or her adaptive responses to frustration. 

Be sure to signal transitions using verbal, visual and physical cues

For example, you can use a picture board to represent the activities of the day, with a specific frame or pointer to indicate the present activity and later activities portrayed to the side of the current activity.  Signal the child verbally as you move the frame or pointer closer to the next activity.  It is often helpful to use gentle physical pressure to move the child from his current position to the next one, although some children react too strongly to direct physical touch. 

Work closely with all adults responsible for the person's care and education to coordinate interventions. 

Since these individuals typically require intensive repetition to learn new behaviors it is important for everyone to have at least a general idea of the specific skills to be focused on and the training methods being used with him or her.  Aim for maximal inclusion in the regular classroom, although it will likely be necessary to be able to quickly move the child to the more supportive and structured classroom if she/he becomes overwhelmed and begins acting out excessively.

Focus on helping the person learn to recognize and respond to age-appropriate social cues. 

Emphasize turn-taking in conversation and role-playing simple interactions, such as asking to join in groups, asking questions related to current topics of conversation and recognizing non-verbal indicators of emotion. (See Social Skills Breakthrough for more detailed discussion of ways to facilitate social skills.)

For older children (junior high and above) and adults, emphasize practical vocational training and experience. 

Take advantage of all opportunities for work experiences available through the school system.Also, seek out opportunities for the teen to shadow or spend several hours to a day following a friend or relative who works in a field that is of interest to the learner.  

Copyright 2004-2010 by Edward L. Coyle, Ph.D./ PsychPsyte.Com.  All rights reserved.May be reproduced only for personal use and may not be distributed without written permission under penalty of law.
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