Lately, I haven been observing comments regarding what Aspergers is, how it effects the lives and family of individuals living with this syndrome , their family, and individuals whom they have daily interaction with. My experiences and opinions conveyed in this article are not internet and research related. They are resultant from bringing up a son who lives with Aspergers daily.
Aspergers is not outgrown, nor curable. Individuals with Aspergers merely learn compensatory strategies as they grow and silently struggle daily with their difficulty communicating, working with, and living with the neurotypical population. Aspergerers is a neurological disorder which effects many aspects of their daily lives. Because they tend to have normal to above normal I.Q.s, society perceives them as merely quirky loners.
The old phrase, “One cannot tell a book by it”s cover” is an appropriate analogy here. Ican equate their issues with a cast. When one sees an individual with a cast, they know that individual has a broken bone. In regards TO Aspergers, these individuals look like functioning neurotypicals on the exterior. I will now explain that is not the case.
Aspergians have issues impairments with communication, appropriate behavior, and socialization, or assimilation in the neurotypical society if you will. Children with Asperger’s have excellent and advanced expressive language skills. (speaking to people) Aspergians have large vocabularies and are excellent at conveying data, information, what happened on a T.V. show, etc. i.e. factual information. They often have difficulty in reciprocal conversations.
Their difficulty conversing in social situations goes beyond a lack of interest. On the contraire, they silently wish that they could socialize better. I recall my son calling from college. He attempted to join groups because he wanted to fit in with other students. He attempted to join the Frisbee club, but impaired motor skills hampered that effort. He attempted to join in at parties but difficulties with reciprocal conversation squelched that effort.
My son called me at home making me aware of his efforts to fit in, have a girlfriend and more. He informed me of his efforts to make friends and socialize. My heart broke silently when he said, “Mom I try and try to fit in but it is not working, can you teach me?” I suggested he join the computer club and he responded by saying, I only like computers because I have nothing else. My computer is my only entertainment.
Aspergers creates havoc in terms of the individual’s ability to process information, strategize, and receive information. Hence, their difficulty with receptive language. (Processing and absorbing information) Reading body language and knowing how to respond when someone is sad, despondent, or distressed is difficult for Aspergians. I recall a gentleman telling me that he wished he new what to say or do when his wife was upset.
The man told me that it hurt him greatly because he wanted to say and do the right thing in such situations but did not know how.
Individuals with Aspergers are prone to sensory overload when presented with loud noises, strong odors, office environments where several conversations are going on simultaneously, and parties where background music is playing while people attempt to converse with them. It is not uncommon for Aspergians to have tertiary anxiety disorder which rear their ugly face in situations mentioned in the latter paragraph. Aspergers is a neurological condition.
On the surface they tend to be academic prodigiesin certain areas of academia. Hence their nickname as children of the little professor. In reference to language skills, many aspergians speak in a concrete format and upon further review in a reciprocal conversation their sentences may be out of context. Due to receptive processing language deficits, many individuals have difficulty with being given more than several steps through the auditory modality at one time.
It is a misnomer that Aspergians do not warrant speech therapy. On the contrary, speech therapy can assist children in honing expressive language skills i.e. using descriptors, expressing emotions verbally, describing an experience like a trip to the zoo in more than rote terminology. Speech therapy can also assist children with deficits in sequencing. An example of sequencing would be verbally summarizing a story in sequential order.
Aspergians tend to struggle with fine and gross motor skill impairment as well due to neurological impairment. Pincer grip issues can cause issues with difficulty in cutting with scissors, tying shoes, and other fine motor skill tasks. Tasks such as bowling with one hand, midline issues, riding a bike, and climbing trees can prove difficult as well. Hand grip is generally weak and hampers ability in hanging on to jungle gym rungs, etc. Hence they tend to be ostracized by their peers not only for their social deficits, but lack of athletic prowess as well. Thus, they may benefit from physical therapy.
Aspergians may commonly present with A.D.H.D., Non Verbal processing disorder, and other maladies. They may not appear to stim. Upon further observation however on will notice that many aspergians run their hands up and down a drinking cup, have feet or legs that are in constant motion, stretch arms bent at elbows while turning wrists, tap tables and feet, and whistle, to name a few. These may be used forms of mild stimming to release anxiety.
Aspergians tend to prefer simple foods void of mixed flavors when young. This is due to sensory overload from heightened taste buds. Simplified, a spaghetti sauce can put their taste buds into sensory overload. It is extremely common for Aspergians to have tactile sensitivities. As children, a scratchy tag or rough texture shirt can drive them to the point of sensory overload, which is resultant in an emotional meltdown. A rough shirt may feel like someone is scratching their back with fingernails.
Due to mind blindness and neurological delays in development that normally place them approximately four years behind their peers, children with Aspergers are prone to being bullied. Cognitive behavior therapy may be productive in assisting children with developing emotional skills.
Please attempt to understand these children. Do not minimize nor assume that they go on to lead independent fulfilling lives. Many of these children grow up to be underemployed due to inept social skills. A college degree does not guarantee a decent due to neurologically based social, and processing difficulties. Due to popular belief not every aspergian becomes an engineer or scientist. They are as diverse as you and I. In my sons case, he is advanced in English but struggles with math and he is an Aspergian.
The divorce rate is extremely high for Aspergians in relation to neurotypical couples. Some go through life having no romantic relationship or friends due to struggling with navigating the social maze. Without society’s assistance and a nationwide education program these children will not hone their wonderful talents.
Society owes these children AND adults a fighting chance. They cannot always control their behavior and depend on us (society) to equip them with the skills, guidance, and positive support network that they need to thrive as adults. Believe in children and they will believe in themselves.
In closing, I leave you with this food for thought. Not all disabilities are as apparent as a blind individual with a cane, an individual in a wheel chair, etc. Please attempt to look below the surface and understand. Thanks and stay well.
Mari Nosal M.Ed., CECE