Understanding Asperger's Syndrome

Understanding Asperger's Syndrome
Understanding your child’s learning disability is essential for his academic success. Neither parents nor teachers can create an effective educational plan if they do not understand the symptoms associated with the disability. In my own experience as a parent of a child with Asperger’s syndrome, I discovered that the more I understood the condition, the better I became at advocating for him.

Asperger’s syndrome was first described in the early 1940’s by Austrian psychiatrist, Hans Asperger. It is a neurological condition that effects brain function. Research indicates structural abnormalities in certain areas of the brain, abnormal transmission of nerve impulses and abnormal EEG patterns. It is not a disability that causes intellectual deficits, but one that affects communication skills, social interaction and sensory perception.

How does Asperger’s effect communication skill?

Communication is how we express ourselves. This includes not just spoken words, but body language as well. Eye contact, facial expressions, gestures and even body posture are all a significant part of communication. How do we learn these skills? As toddlers, we learn words and phrases by listening to those around us and copying the sounds. We observe the results of using the sounds to determine their meaning. Likewise, we learn the non-verbal components of communication by gathering information from our environment, interpreting it and applying what we learn. In time, we can determine if a person is happy, sad, hurt or mad not only by their words but by those unspoken cues as well. We use these skills to gauge the accuracy of our own behavior by observing responses of others and making the proper adjustments. With this knowledge, we know that when our friend is crying, we shouldn’t laugh. If our peers exclude us because of something we said or did, we learn to not repeat the offense. Even though we were never specifically taught, we were able to gather information, process it and respond appropriately.

In contrast, this does not happen with those effected by Asperger’s. Those non-verbal cues aren’t processed correctly, so they don’t learn the appropriate response. Although they have normal or even superior development in vocabulary, they do not pick up on those unspoken social cues, leaving them truly unaware that their actions are offensive. This can be pretty deceiving for those of us who are not aware of this symptom. We expect someone with a normal grasp of vocabulary to have an equally normal understanding of the non-verbal portion of communication. As a result, they are seen as odd by their peers and have a difficult time developing friendships.

Another symptom of Asperger’s that makes normal social interaction difficult is abnormal sensory perception. They may have trouble processing information gathered from one or more of their sense of sight, sound, taste, smell and touch. This does not mean that the information is being abnormally gathered, as with deafness. The problem is in the way the brain processes the information. These abnormalities can result in any number of behaviors that are extremely difficult to make sense of unless you understand Asperger’s syndrome. For example, these perceptions can cause over sensitivity to sound, light, textures or tastes that other’s don’t even notice. It only stands to reason that this may cause them to respond differently to certain stimuli than those without.

Children with Asperger’s can exhibit a vast array of behaviors that, without knowledge and understanding are labeled as odd, inappropriate and even defiant. Because of these misconceptions, they are forced to learn in a hostile environment of isolation where they are often ridiculed by peers as well as staff.

Learning the potential effects of your child’s disability is critical in building an effective educational plan. Provide teachers and staff with detailed information and make sure they understand your child’s specific behaviors and the role that the disability may play. Develop proper strategies that work for him and refrain from those that increase frustration and difficulty.

Giving kids with learning disabilities a place to learn where they are accepted and understood instead of harassed and humiliated will go a long way towards enabling them to receiving an appropriate education.

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