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Tuesday 02 Sep 2014

What is Asperger’s – A question from a Grandparent

My youngest granddaughter has been diagnosed with asperger’s syndrome, and I am wondering if you could send me more info about it. I don’t really know that much about it at all. Have been looking all over the “web” and there is just too much to take in. She is only 4 years old, so I need to know what is ahead of us down the road, as it were, so to speak.

Since this is a type of autism, do you have any autism bumper stickers I could put on my car also?? To show my support for the cause? I have my MS magnets on my car since I have MS myself, so I figure it would be a good idea to show support to her cause as well. Thank you. Submitted by Teresa

Asperger’s Syndrome is classified as a Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD; also referred to as an Autism Spectrum Disorder ASD). Before we discuss what may lie ahead on the road for a child with Asperger’s, we first need to define Asperger’s. There are four areas in which people with Asperger’s are impacted. As with all ASDs, individuals with Asperger’s are impacted to varying extents within these four areas (for more information about the specific diagnostic criteria you can visit our information page).

Severe impairment in reciprocal social interaction
There are four ways in which people with Asperger’s may present impairment in social interactions. They may have an inability to interact with peers, a lack of desire to interact with peers, a lack of appreciation for social cues, and/or present with socially and emotionally inappropriate behavior.

All social skills necessary for positive social interactions can be taught. Depending on the person, their specific difficulties and their learning style, there are curriculum and teaching strategies to address them in an individualized way. Here are some great tips for teaching social skills from Suite101:

Methods for Teaching Social Skills for Autism

Social stories and social scripts are effective ways to teach social skills. Social stories present behaviors that need to be reinforced in the context of a life like social situation with visuals that support the needed action. Social scripts are short scripts that children with autism learn. The scripts, such as a conversation starter, are for use in social situations. The scripts are gradually faded out, or discontinued.

Social groups place children with autism with peers where they can interact with instruction and guidance. According to Autism Speaks, research on social groups has shown that children who participate improve on recognizing emotions, taking other’s perspective, and on social cooperation. However, those skills were only retained outside of the group when they were taught in multiple social settings.

Computer based training with video modeling are also available to teach social skills to children with autism spectrum disorders. The video training addresses the visual learning style typical of children with autism. It can also provide in depth training on a wide range of skills in a virtual reality. It can be very effective; however, skills then must be prompted and reinforced in other settings in order to promote generalization.

Step by step instruction with modeling, explanations and role-play followed by independent practice with prompts. Social skills that are more resistant or more difficult to learn may require one-on-one teaching in a step by step manner with modeling, explanations, and role-play. The behaviors should be practiced until they are comfortable and then prompted and reinforced in multiple settings.

All-absorbing narrow interest
Many people with Asperger’s will have absorbing interests which dominate their activities and conversations. They may engage in activities to the exclusion of other activities, which may encompass preoccupation with one or more stereotyped and restricted patterns of interest that is abnormal either in intensity or focus. They may display apparently inflexible adherence to specific, nonfunctional routines or rituals. They may engage in conversations which involve more rote than meaningful exchanges, have stereotyped and repetitive motor mannerisms (e.g., hand or finger flapping or twisting, or complex whole-body movements) or have persistent preoccupation with parts of objects.

While they’re not a bad characteristic to have special interest, like routines and rituals, have repetitive motor movements or highly focus on parts of objects; these characteristics have the potential to interfere with learning, positive social interactions, or participation in community activities. Many individuals have benefited from specific teaching about being flexible, varying the conversational topic, anxiety reduction, and controlling impulsive behavior. When considering which behaviors are important to address for intervention, it is important to remember that if it’s not impacting social interactions, participation in activities, individual learning or the learning of others, there are probably more important things to focus your teaching on.

Speech and language problems
Individuals with Asperger’s have some problems with speech and language which may include delayed development, superficially perfect expressive language, formal, pedantic language, odd prosody, peculiar voice characteristics, and/or impairment of comprehension including misinterpretations of literal/implied meanings.

There are numerous speech and language interventions available to address these types of issues. Depending on the child and their specific issues they may benefit from more or less structured intervention. Some children will be able to learn the necessary skills with more naturalistic teaching (i.e. pivotal response treatment) and some children may need more direct instruction especially around comprehension issues.

Non-verbal communication problems
There may be some issues with non-verbal communication including limited use of gestures, clumsy body language, limited facial expression, inappropriate expression, and/or peculiar or stiff gaze. If these issues are impacting the child significantly they can be addressed through various interventions and direct instruction. Many times, however, this issues do not present a significant challenge to the individual and are therefore not necessary to intervene upon.

There are many places to find Autism related products for sale, including bumper magnets. This site, run by the Autism Society of New Hampshire, has many products available: Purchase Autism Related Items Here