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“I have been using BehaviourOnline with students throughout the term with great success. It gets across important points about their behaviour and attitudes.”

Francis Johnson,
Gladesmore School,
London (8th Dec 2008)

26 Jun 2008

Asperger Syndrome

What is Asperger Syndrome?
BehaviourUK would like to thank Ben Good for letting us reprint his article. Ben has Asperger Syndrome and we explained to him that we wanted an article to give teachers an idea about the condition and how to help pupils in their classes who may be displaying the symptoms.
Asperger Syndrome is named after an Austrian physician called Hans Asperger. He first published a paper describing unusual patterns of behaviour in children in 1944. However, only recently is Asperger Syndrome beginning to be understood and diagnosed in both adults and children. Asperger Syndrome is a form of Autism, a condition that affects the way a person communicates and relates to others. However people with Asperger Syndrome are usually of average or above average intelligence, (unlike those with Autism who may suffer learning disabilities). Asperger's Syndrome is sometimes known as 'high functioning Autism'. It causes difficulties in a variety of ways such as socializing and forming relationships, amongst other things.
Asperger Syndrome - Key Characteristics...REMEMBER - No one person will have all the traits (outlined below) but by and large most people with AS will have problems in the following areas:
Difficulty with social relationships. Many people with Asperger syndrome try hard to be sociable and do not dislike human contact. However, they still find it hard to understand people’s behaviour; non-verbal signals, including facial expressions and mannerisms. Socializing and forming relationships with others can be very difficult.
Example: Susan describes her cousin Henry:
"He just didn't respond to my request for a drink. He carried on for ages, describing his new golf clubs. I was not interested but he didn't notice. I had just had a baby boy and brought with me some photos. He didn't mention the birth of my son once and ignored the photos."
Difficulty with communication. People with Asperger Syndrome may speak very fluently but they may not take much notice of the reaction of people listening to them; they may talk on and on regardless of the listener's interest or may appear insensitive to other people's feelings.
EXAMPLE: Mary describes her co-worker John:
"He just talks at me not to me. Going on and on about his interest in Trains. He won't let me speak, and when I do he disregards everything I say, as if I know nothing about anything"
Despite having good (or excellent) language skills, people with Asperger syndrome may sound over-precise or over-literal - jokes can cause problems as can exaggerated language and metaphors; for example, a person with Asperger Syndrome may be confused or frightened by a statement like 'she bit my head off'.
Lack of imagination. While they often excel at learning facts and figures, people with Asperger syndrome find it hard to think in abstract ways. This can cause problems for children in school where they may have difficulty with certain subjects, such as literature or religious studies.
EXAMPLE: A teacher described her pupil, Susan
"For a school play we needed the children to dress up as cowboys and cowgirls. Susan came into class dressed in her normal school clothes but with a picture book of cowboys. She said she would not dress up because people didn't dress like that in the street or when she was outside. Then, after reading every page of the book she began to test the other children on their knowledge of cowboys and asked some very complicated questions. The others just walked away from her.
Special interests. People with Asperger Syndrome often develop an almost obsessive interest in a hobby or collection. Usually their interest involves arranging or memorising facts about a specialist subject, such as train timetables, Olympic medal winners, or the dimensions of cathedrals. O.C.D (Obsessional Compulsive Disorder) probably plays a part.
EXAMPLE: Paul describes his father
"My dad knows everything there is to know about ancient history and has a massive collection of Roman coins, he talks all day about the history of our town but when it comes to boiling an egg or ordering a meal he is lost without my mums help."
Need of routines. For people with Asperger Syndrome any unexpected change in routine can be upsetting. People with Asperger's may impose their own routines, such as insisting on always walking the same route to work. A pupil at school, they may get upset by sudden changes, such as an alteration to the timetable. People with Asperger's often prefer to order their day according to a set pattern. If they work set hours then any unexpected delay, such as a traffic hold-up, can make them anxious or upset.
EXAMPLE: Alice describes an incident at work
"As I sat down in the staff canteen today, I was confronted by Bob Jones from admin. He told me that I needed to move seats because he always sat there every day since joining the company ten years ago. He told me that I was stopping him having a good day and he looked very wound up"
What causes Asperger syndrome?
The causes of Autism and Asperger Syndrome are still being investigated. Many experts believe that the pattern of behaviour from which Asperger Syndrome is diagnosed may not result from a single cause. There is strong evidence to suggest that Asperger syndrome can be caused by a variety of physical factors, all of which affect brain development - it is not due to emotional deprivation or the way a person has been brought up. There are many differing schools of thought, and no one idea should be taken as fact.
Is there a cure?
Asperger syndrome is a developmental disability affecting the brain and there is therefore no cure; children with Asperger syndrome become adults with Asperger syndrome. Much, however, can be achieved with the appropriate education and support.
With time and patience people with Asperger syndrome can be taught to develop the basic skills needed for everyday life, such as how to communicate appropriately with people.
*This syndrome was essentially unknown in the English literature for many years. An influential review and series of case reports by Lorna Wing (1981) increased interest in the condition, and since then both the usage of the term in clinical practice and number of case reports and research studies have been steadily increasing. The commonly described clinical features of the syndrome include (a) paucity of empathy; (b) nave, inappropriate, one-sided social interaction, little ability to form friendships and consequent social isolation; (c) pedantic and monotonic speech; (d) poor nonverbal communication; (e) intense absorption in circumscribed topics such as the weather, facts about TV stations, railway tables or maps, which are learned in rote fashion and reflect poor understanding, conveying the impression of eccentricity; and (f) clumsy and ill-coordinated movements and odd posture.
Although Asperger originally reported the condition only in boys, reports of girls with the syndrome have now appeared. Nevertheless, boys are significantly more likely to be affected. Although most children with the condition function in the normal range of intelligence, some have been reported to be mildly retarded. The apparent onset of the condition, or at least its recognition, is probably somewhat later than autism; this may reflect the more preserved language and cognitive abilities. It tends to be highly stable, and the higher intellectual skills observed suggest a better long-term outcome than is typically observed in autism.
*This paragraph only (not the whole page) was by Ami Klin, Ph.D., and Fred R. Volkmar, M.D.
Yale Child Study Center, New Haven, Ct.Published by the Learning Disabilities Association of America, June 1995
What Asperger syndrome is NOT
Many ordinary people have little eccentricities, certain obsessions, or a tendency to be shy in large social gatherings. Asperger syndrome is not simply normal eccentricity. People with Asperger syndrome usually do not want to be different, but do not know how to fit in better with those around them. The pattern of difficulties appears to start early in life, and people with Asperger syndrome have persistent social and communication problems from early childhood onwards. It is not just a bad phase. This means that an individual with previously close good friendships and normal everyday communication and going through a 'bad patch' is unlikely to have Asperger Syndrome. Knowing in detail about a person is important in diagnosing Asperger syndrome, because other disorders may resemble the condition.

Copyright © 2000/2002 - Ben Good / National Autistic Society- DO NOT REPRODUCE WITHOUT SPECIFIC PERMISSION