Asperger’s Disorder: Providing Opportunities and Support for Children With ASD

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) affects a child’s ability to understand and engage in social relationships and causes them to have rigid patterns of behavior and thinking. Sometimes autism also affects a child’s cognitive and language development.  There are many kinds of autism and children, each with their own set of strengths and challenges.

Asperger’s Disorder is a form of Autism Spectrum Disorder where the individual might have social difficulties and rigid patterns of behavior and thinking, but not some of the other symptoms, such as language delays and intellectual impairment. To be diagnosed with Asperger’s Disorder a child must have had symptoms in early childhood.

New diagnostic categories

There have been some changes to the way autism is diagnosed, and Asperger’s Disorder now officially falls under the category of Autism Spectrum Disorder. This shift allows a broad autism diagnosis covering a range of symptoms with the ability to subcategorize. A complete diagnosis will indicate Autism Spectrum Disorder:

  • with or without intellectual impairment
  • with or without language disorder
  • with or without other mental health or genetic diagnoses

Because of this new diagnostic system, parents may be concerned that individuals with an existing diagnosis of Asperger’s Disorder could lose their diagnosis and some of their needed services. This should not happen.

Common Signs of Asperger’s Disorder (+14)

Children with Asperger’s Disorder often have difficulty making friends and understanding how to navigate social situations. They might not understand humor, gestures, or slang, and have trouble reading emotions and intentions. They may also feel strongly drawn to certain activities and seek to avoid others. They could have subtle deficits, such as communicating their feelings, managing fine motor tasks, and organizing school materials or projects. This combination of symptoms makes everyday life challenging and frustrating. Managing these emotions can be hard for individuals with Asperger’s Disorder.

Often Asperger’s Disorder is diagnosed a bit later than other forms of Autism Spectrum Disorder, because the child’s language and cognitive abilities are developing more robustly. Often, entering structured and demanding school environments makes differences more obvious. In addition, other symptoms, like over-activity, anxiety, or disruptive behaviors, can make it difficult to see that the underlying cause of the symptoms is Asperger’s Disorder.

Common Challenges

Children and teens with Asperger’s Disorder have some common challenges. Understanding those challenges can help you and your child better manage them.

Making and keeping friends. Childhood and teenage years are filled with complex social rules that typically developing kids learn fairly easily. Children with Asperger’s Disorder can be left out of social groups because they don’t know these “rules,” like what to talk about, how to joke around, how to join a conversation, or how to manage social conflicts. They might need support from a parent or school professional to provide opportunities and guidance for social growth.

Executive functioning skills. While children with Asperger’s Disorder are often highly intelligent, staying organized, planning ahead, completing chores, and staying on task can be tough. These are called executive functioning skills and, when impaired, can affect school, work and daily living skills. Making sure that family and teachers understand this symptom can ensure that they provide guidance and strategies rather than suffer frustration with what they perceive as “laziness” or disinterest.

Regulating emotions. People with Asperger’s Disorder may need more time and support to navigate life’s complex emotional challenges. Family and providers can help by encouraging emotional awareness and giving children tools to prevent or deal with emotional upsets.

Building and maintaining a range of interests. Asperger’s Disorder can cause kids to become hyper-focused on certain interests which can cause them to become more socially-isolated and more upset when restrictions are placed on them. Finding ways to set reasonable limits on activities related to that interest, and to work on growing other interests, can be beneficial.

Actions to Take

Ask a specialist for an assessment. A family who is concerned about their child’s socialization or emotional and behavioral development should seek consultation from their pediatrician who may refer them for further evaluation by a specialist; this could be a psychologist, a developmental pediatrician, or a psychiatrist.

Seek support at school. Seek advice from your school team regarding assessments for in-class aid or special education services that can address your child’s needs. Click here for more information on special education laws.

Find ASD professionals. There is a growing community of professionals with expertise in treatment children and adolescents with Asperger’s Disorder. Seek out professionals in your community to get specialized care your child may need.

Seek opportunities for community engagement. Expecting that your child can be a part of everyday life at his or her school and in your neighborhood is your right, and seeking ways to help your child have access to the same resources as typically-developing children is a good challenge to take on. Often, you will be surprised with the understanding that is offered when you trust others and ask for their support.

Look for ASD parents in your community. Seeking connection to other parents who have a child on the autism spectrum can be of great value and support. Often the road is confusing and they can make the journey a little easier.

For more information on Big Lots Behavioral Health Services at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, click here.

Jacqueline Wynn, PhD, BCBA-D
Jacquie Wynn, PhD, is a licensed psychologist who specializes in the treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorders. She is the founding director of the NCH Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders, which opened its doors in 2000, and is a faculty member of the OSU School of Medicine. Jacquie is married (to another psychologist!) and has three busy children, ages 11, 9, and 6. She enjoys her work and her children, and looks forward to travel and hobbies sometime in the future!

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