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Asperger syndrome

Asperger; aspergers; syndrome; autism; spectrum; disorders; obsession; social; problem; behaviour; communication; asperger's; school; preschool; high; secondary;;

Asperger syndrome is not a disease or illness. A person does not 'catch' it or 'recover' from it. It affects people all of their lives. People with Asperger syndrome have problems with social skills, communicating with others and with behaviour.
Children, young people and adults with Asperger syndrome can think well and learn about lots of things as easily as other people, but they have problems:

  • when they try to communicate with others
  • with social skills
  • with behaviour.

As they get older, they may find they are better able to manage their behaviour, and become more skillful at communicating with others.

To find out more about Asperger syndrome have a look at:

Better Health Channel (Victorian Government)
http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au

Autism SA (South Australia)
http://www.autismsa.org.au

More information

Contents

Parents are usually aware that their child is developing differently to other children for some time (often several years) before other people recognise how different the child is. Often a child will be school-age before Asperger syndrome is diagnosed.

Some babies who later are diagnosed as having Asperger syndrome are 'difficult' babies who cry a lot. Others are placid, 'easy' babies.

The effects of Asperger syndrome can vary from mildly unusual behaviour to quite aggressive and difficult behaviour. Some people who are said to be eccentric loners may have Asperger syndrome.

There appears to be an increase in the number of people who are diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. This is probably because more is known about it nowadays and people who used to be thought of as strange and antisocial are now being diagnosed as having Asperger syndrome.

There is much more detail information in the topic 'Asperger syndrome - more information'.

Sometimes others in the family will be a bit odd, or have Asperger syndrome, or autism. Asperger syndrome is considered to be part of a range of development problems called 'Autism Spectrum Disorders'.

Communicating with others

People with Asperger syndrome can hear what others say to them, and they know what the words mean, but they may not pick up the 'non-verbal' part of communication, so they may not get the full message.

  • They may not understand the feelings of other people and they may not be able to read body language. For example a person with Asperger syndrome may not know that people are showing that they are cross when they are frowning. However, with time, they can learn a lot about 'reading' others.
  • They may talk a lot about the things they are interested in and not realise that other people are not so interested.
  • They are often unable to understand that communication involves listening as well as talking. 

With time they can often learn more about communicating.

Social skills

  • They may have problems making friends. They often want to have friends, and they can feel very lonely, but they don't know how to be a friend.
  • They may have trouble understanding the feelings of other people. For example, a person with Asperger syndrome may not realise when they have hurt someone's feelings, or when someone doesn't want to listen to them.
  • Children may choose to play alone and stay away from other children, or talk to adults because being with other children confuses them.
  • They may like to work on a computer rather than be with other people, as they don’t have to communicate socially with the computer.
  • They may find it hard to understand the feeling behind a facial expression. They may think that if someone smiles at them in a friendly way, that person wants to be their best friend. They can then be very disappointed when the person wants to be with someone else.
  • They may take a long time to understand the ‘rules’ about not interrupting when someone is talking, or how to take turns, or how to share.
  • They may think that other people have done something deliberately to hurt them when for example they have accidentally bumped into them.
  • They can be targeted by bullies because they can easily be upset. 
  • Some children may do the wrong thing to try and make friends and this can get them into trouble. They might take something that belongs to another child because they have been told to by someone else who enjoys seeing them get into trouble.

Their behaviour

  • The world is often very confusing for people with Asperger syndrome, and they may try to make the world less confusing by having rules and rituals (ways of doing things) which they insist upon.
  • They may become quite angry and aggressive when things do not happen as they want or expect. They may have long tantrums even when they are older.
  • Children with Asperger syndrome can become overwhelmed by too much noise and movement. Confusing places (such as shopping centres) or confusing events (such as parties) may be very stressful and may trigger tantrums or tears.
  • They are often really interested in some things, and they may learn all there is to know about one special thing (such as cars, trains, computers, astronomy, insects, etc). Some will become experts in their area of interest. They may seem very bright however they may have limited abilities in other areas.
  • They may be upset by some noises or smells, or by what some things feel like or look like. For example they might hate the feel of shoes on their feet, how sand feels or refuse to wear anything that is red.
  • Most children with Asperger syndrome go to main-stream schools. This can be scary. Having to cope with changes all the time when they feel more comfortable with the same things happening in the same place can be really upsetting. Moving to high school where they have many teachers and have to be in different classrooms can be very hard. Some children cannot cope with school and stay at home where they are home schooled.

What you can do

  • Parents do not cause Asperger syndrome and should not blame themselves.
  • A child with Asperger syndrome will act differently from your other children. You will have to learn new and different ways to help and teach this child.
  • Your child will probably need clear routines and if there have to be changes he will need lots of warning.
  • If you think your child has Asperger syndrome, or one of the other disorders within the autism spectrum, it is best to have an assessment as soon as possible. There may be a waiting time for an assessment.
  • You do not have to wait for a diagnosis before you can get help. You can seek support from professionals such as a psychologist, paediatrician, speech pathologist or behaviour therapist.
  • Stress management techniques may be helpful to control anxiety in older children and adults. If anxiety is so overwhelming that it is interfering with your child's ability to manage normal activities, medication may be helpful. You will need to see your doctor to arrange this.
  • Support from other parents can be important.

Siblings (brothers and sisters)

It can be difficult to have a brother or sister with Asperger syndrome.

  • Their behaviour can be difficult to live with because they don't relate to others well.
  • They may often have tantrums when things don't go the way they want them to go, and this can be embarrassing.
  • Parents often have to spend a lot more time with the child who has Asperger syndrome so that siblings can feel they are missing out.
  • Siblings may have to watch out more for their brother or sister to protect them from others, such as protecting them from being bullied.
  • Some siblings may need to learn how to keep themselves safe if the child with Asperger syndrome is having difficulty controlling frustration or anger.
  • Understanding more about Asperger syndrome may help a sibling interact more successfully with their brother or sister. The topic 'Disability - brothers and sisters' may be helpful.

There are topics about Asperger syndrome on the 'Kid's health' and 'Teen health' sections of this site.

Adult partnerships

  • Most people with Asperger syndrome can form strong bonds with a few people, marry and have children.
  • Their anxieties and difficulties can be confusing and distressing to their partners and children. If partners and children are able to learn more about Asperger syndrome they are often more able to understand the behaviour and live more comfortably with the person who has Asperger syndrome.
  • People with Asperger syndrome also have a need to understand relationships better and learn more about how their behaviour and emotions can affect others. Reading Tony Attwood's book on Asperger syndrome (see below) can be a useful start for this.
  • Peer support groups can also be helpful for partners and children. Check on the internet to see if there are support groups in your area.

More information and resources in South Australia

Have a look at the topic 'Asperger syndrome – more information'.

References

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).

This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.

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