Autism Spectrum Disorder - (Asperger syndrome)
Asperger; aspergers; syndrome; autism; disability; feelings; language; talking; behaviour; communicate; communication; spectrum;
The name of Asperger Syndrome has recently been changed because it is clear that there is a range of difficulties that children, young people and adults have. Not everyone who was said to have Asperger syndrome has the same difficulties, and some have much more difficult lives than others.
Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) can think well and learn about lots of things as easily as other children, but they have problems:
- when they try to communicate with others
- with social skills
- with their behaviour.
Communicating with others
Children with ASD can hear what others say to them, and they know what the words mean, but they don't pick up the 'non-verbal' part of communication, so they often don't get the full message.
Kids can talk well but they get confused a lot because they do not understand the feelings that other people have.
Kids may have problems understanding that they have to listen as well as talk.
- Children with ASD 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 choose to play alone and stay away from other kids, or talk to adults because being with other kids confuses them.
- They may like to be playing with a computer rather than with other kids, 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 play 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 be surprised when people do something they haven't expected. For example, if someone laughed because of something amusing, they might not know it was funny.
- They may think that other kids have done something deliberately to hurt them when they have accidentally bumped into them. They can even believe that a chair tried to bump into them!
- They can be targeted by bullies because they can easily be upset.
- Some 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 kid because they have been told to by someone who enjoys seeing them get into trouble.
They may need a lot of understanding and kindness.
- They are often really interested in some things, like computers, reading and making things.
- They can be obsessive about something they are interested in and don't understand that others are not as interested.
- Their behaviour can seem a bit 'different or unusual', or it can be really difficult and sometimes they get very upset and aggressive.
- They might be called 'eccentric', which means a bit odd, and different to other people.
- 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.
- They like things to happen the same way all of the time, so they may get upset when lesson times are changed, or they have to move to a new desk in the classroom.
- They can get angry or aggressive when things don't happen as and when they want.
- They tend to have rules and ways of doing things that they think everyone else should follow, and they can get angry when others don't follow their rules.
- They don't do 'small talk'. Chatting about things like who won a sports match is not likely to be of interest to them.
How do you get it?
Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are not a disease and you can't catch them from anyone.
The person's genes have something to do with it, and maybe something happened before the child was born.
Children have ASD from the time they are born, but often they are at school before it is worked out that the difficulties they are having are due to ASD.
There appears to be an increase in the number of people who are diagnosed with ASD. 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 ASD.
Asperger syndrome was named after the children's doctor, Dr Hans Asperger of Vienna who published his research into autism in 1944.
It is thought that Sir Isaac Newton, a genius who lived many years ago, possibly had ASD. It has been said that he hardly spoke, had few friends and was often bad-tempered around them. He often became so involved in his work (the science of physics) that he forgot to eat. Not everyone agrees that he had ASD.
Can it be cured?
ASD is not a disease so it can't be cured, but people with ASD do learn more about other people as they get older.
- Some become experts in their area of interest.
- Some marry and have families of their own but some always have problems with relationships.
- Some always need things to be done exactly their way, and get very upset if someone does something 'wrong' such as putting things in the 'wrong' place.
Many people who have ASD belong to groups with others who also have it and they are able to understand and support each other.
How you can help
If someone in your family or in your class at school has ASD then you can help by:
- being friendly
- helping them when they have trouble understanding
- including them in your group, but not being upset if they don't want to join in
- not bullying them or setting them up
- standing up for them if others are being unkind
- helping them to understand the rules by being firm and saying things like, "It's my turn now, then it will be yours."
- understanding that unfamiliar things and unfamiliar noises can be upsetting for them
- helping them to practise skills like talking to the class
- praising them when they do well
- letting them know that you like them
- ignoring 'bad' behaviour
- understanding that they are not trying to be difficult, but also helping them to learn that they must be kind to other people.
What kids say
- "I have been in the same class with a boy who has ASD. We all know that he doesn't want to do things like sport but he's really good on computers and can help us sometimes."
- "My friend has ASD. Sometimes he wants to be alone or wants to talk all the time about fish, so I just leave him and play with someone else. I understand."
- "Some people are mean and like to tease kids who are different. In our class if you are mean to someone you have to write an apology to that person and say sorry in front of the class. Sometimes kids are mean out on the oval and some teachers don't notice."
- "I have ASD. It's hard to make friends so it's good that I have always been to the same school and every year I know most of the kids in my class. I think it will be hard at high school though."
- "Sometimes I don't understand what I have to do in class. My teacher helps me and sometimes she writes things down for me. I can do the work when I know what it is I have to do."
- "I have been to some schools but it is really hard. When I was little I tried to hide all the time. My mum home schools me now. I still play with some other kids and I do horse riding. I love horses."
Dr Kate says
Most kids with ASD go to main-stream schools. This can be scary for them. Having to cope with changes all the time when you feel more comfortable with the same things happening in the same place can be really upsetting.
A few kids cannot cope with school and stay at home where they are home schooled.
All kids want friends so if you know someone at school or at home who has ASD try to be patient and kind. After all, it could easily have been you who was born with the problem. None of us can choose our genes, our parents, or the place where we are born.
We all have feelings and we all live in the same world. Let's make it a kind and friendly place for everyone.
This is an interesting video about Ellis - who lives with ASD:
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