Children With Asperger’s Syndrome
Asperger's syndrome is a rather new category of pervasive developmental disorders affecting children. It is a form of autism generally related to the mildest and highest functioning individuals in the spectrum of autistic disorders. Recently, awareness of Asperger's disorder as a type of autism has increased due to proper diagnosis of the syndrome and an increase in cases of autism spectrum disorders in general.
Asperger's syndrome is a neurologically-based disorder with no known cause. There are three key features involving developmental delay which distinguish the disorder:
- Children will have significant difficulties with social relationships and social skills development.
- Children will have significant difficulties in the use of language for purposes of communicating with others.
- Children will focus on certain topics of intense interest which involve ritualistic and repetitive features.
Asperger's syndrome research indicates that the disorder is significantly more widespread than general cases of autism. All studies indicate that the disorder is more common in boys than girls. Autism/Asperger's syndrome awareness has recently been heightened. There are a number of local and national organizations and support groups currently focusing on this issue.
One boy that I have seen for treatment characterizes this disorder. He is able to recall an enormous collection of baseball trivia. He can tell me the distance between home plate and the right field and left field fence for every ballpark in the major leagues! He finds great satisfaction in recounting baseball facts and figures and uses this information as a tool for communicating with others. However, sharing his knowledge of the game with others can at times be socially self-defeating.
It has been my experience that Asperger's syndrome children relate more effectively with adults rather than with their peers. They feel in their comfort zone with adults, and are able to share their "area of expertise" without the potential for social rejection.
Asperger's syndrome children lack social skills competency that many of us take for granted. For example, (AS) children may have social impairments which include:
- The inability and lack of desire to interact with age-mates.
- Limited interests and preoccupations.
- Repetitive routines and rituals which keep (AS) kids from spontaneous play with peers.
- The limited use of nonverbal communication cues such as gesturing, appropriate facial expressions, and lack of body language to connect with others.
- The inability to put aside their peculiar idiosyncratic areas of "special interest."
A multidisciplinary approach, including psychiatric assessment and management, individual therapy, and social skills group training is helpful. Some of the goals for social skills group training are:
- Helping (AS) children to become aware of their emotions.
- Helping them to read the body language of others.
- Helping them to learn strategies for developing peer relationships.
- Helping them to learn to cope with mistakes.
- Helping them to learn peer group problem-solving.
- Helping them to play and have fun.
Aspergers's syndrome children are pliable to treatment because they tend to be compliant. Although their ritualistic behavior and rigidity may create obstacles to treatment, most (AS) children are able to learn the nuances of feelings, body language and behavior to assist them in their everyday functioning.
James P. Krehbiel is a licensed professional counselor and nationally certified cognitive-behavioral therapist practicing in Scottsdale, Arizona. He can be reached at (480) 664-6665 or krehbielcounseling.com.