Children with aspergers syndrome have the specific behavioral symptoms that can make it difficult for them both in their family and at school. It was Hans Asperger, a Viennese pediatrician, who first documented a group of behaviors that is now known as aspergers syndrome in the early 1940s. He observed a group of boys with the condition which characterized a variety of levels of intellect and language development but seem to have difficulty with communication and socialization.
It wasn’t until the mid-1990s that psychiatry recognized the diagnosis in the DSM-IV and even later than that before professionals and parents understood the disability of aspergers syndrome.
Aspergers syndrome falls in the spectrum of autistic spectrum disorders or pervasive personality disorders. Because it is one of many in this spectrum, and because aspergers syndrome manifests in a variety of ways, children may not display exactly the same set of symptoms but will show similarities in behavior. These challenges make it somewhat difficult to accurately diagnose children with aspergers syndrome. Some experts will use a variety of terminologies including autism or high functioning autism all of which have common symptoms to those of aspergers syndrome.
What differentiates individuals with aspergers from autism is that autistic behavior manifests itself much earlier in age than does aspergers syndrome. Aspergers will happen when the child is well past the age of three with most diagnoses occurring in five to nine years of age. Individuals with autism will often be diagnosed prior to the age of two.
Children who have aspergers syndrome will exhibit behaviors such as an inability to interact with others or they may acquire obsessive fixations on things. These obsessive fixations can be misinterpreted as obsessive-compulsive disorder, which is one diagnosis misinterpreted as aspergers syndrome.
Children may also develop peculiar speaking habits and even act with weird gestures. These behaviors may be a results of the neurological deficits from which they suffer and are the basis of their aspergers syndrome. They are also not expressive and find it difficult to interpret other people’s nonverbal communication. The combination of these two behaviors often single children out as targets for bullies and teasing. Some other children also believe that these kids are self-centered, selfish or egotistical because they are unwilling to participate in social interaction when in fact they are unable.
Children with aspergers syndrome also tend to be extremely sensitive to specific sensory stimuli. These include touch, sound and light. Bright fluorescent lighting may cause them to shield their eyes and they may place their hands over their ears for sounds that others find pleasing. These behaviors in children with aspergers syndrome decrease their ability to participate in mainstream society and increase their ostracization for social immaturity, eccentricity and even clumsiness.
Children will have limited interaction with other people, not because they wish it but because they are unable to interact in a social situation which engages the other person. They have reactions to other people that are incompatible with the social situation.
A child who has autism will have delayed language development but children with aspergers syndrome will have excellent grammar skills and even high levels of vocabulary. However, they are on able to read the nonverbal cues in communication and misinterpret most humor.
Children will develop appropriately when it comes to being able to dress themselves, help themselves and feeding but they will be unable to have a “normal” attention span and will have very little organizational abilities.
Children with aspergers syndrome will appear to have absolutely no common sense, especially as they grow older. This is because they interpret the world around them in a very concrete manner and are unable to exhibit any social imagination. Using social imagination, a child should be able to interpret humor, nonverbal social communication skills and be able to finish another person sentence when they understand the entire circumstance. Children with aspergers syndrome will be unable to complete those tasks.
Children with aspergers syndrome will also have an imbalance in their ability to participate in give and take social relationships. Even though the child may be able to initiate interactions they are typically considered to be “on his own terms”. These children’s look very egocentric from the outside and may relate primarily to the child specific wants, needs and desires. Sometimes they appear very quiet or withdrawn and have a very limited social drive. This means they are unwilling to interact with other children their own age because of either fear or of rejection or because of the severity of the condition.
These children also typically do not learn social rules. They don’t learn either by observing or through frequent verbal reminders. They don’t intentionally ignore or break the rules but have a difficult time accurately understanding their social environment and don’t understand that a particular rule is applied to a specific social events. For example, a teacher may remind the child with aspergers syndrome that he cannot push other children. He may be reminded prior to going out to recess but once they are outside the child will push several other children.
Some children and also have specific preferences for clothes that are due to comfort level or in relationship to sensory sensitivities. Children do not often make their decisions about what to wear based on peer pressure but rather for a concern of their own comfort. For instance, some children prefer no ridges on the collar or no elastic on the waist or wrist or no buttons down the front of his shirt. Other children would rather wear blue jeans while others were only elastic waist pants.
Their lack of social imagination and communications skills will also mean that they have difficulty acquiring and reading or solving skills. These children will also exhibit some physically clumsy and uncoordinated movements that makes them a target for teasing at gym class and poor choices for sporting activities.
While there are highly articulate and expressive language skills may convince some that they have advanced communications skills this is a mis-labeling of the child’s abilities. Children can exhibit difficulty with their narrative skills including relating past events or retelling stories or television shows in a sequential manner. They often leave out important pieces of relevant information and may revise the story completely.
Children who have aspergers syndrome have the intelligence and the language development to be able to function in a mainstream classroom. However, their peers and classmates should be told of their unique behavioral mannerisms and learning abilities that are associated with their condition. It should be noted that the parent of the child with aspergers syndrome must give permission prior to any peer training. This sharing of information with the child’s classmates, especially when children learn that the child with aspergers syndrome does not choose to act in these ways and is unable to function any other way, often leads to better understanding and more social acceptance by their peers.
While the behaviors of children and with aspergers syndrome can be a significant challenge to the parents, peers and teachers there are specific strategies which can be used to encourage more productive interaction for the children and social strategies which help them throughout life.
Applied Psychomusicology: Asperger’s Behavior
National Institute of Neurological Diorders and Stroke: Asperger Syndrome Fact Sheet
MayoClinic: Asperger Syndrome
KidsHealth.org: Asperger Syndrome