Hans Asperger and the Syndrome Named After Him
Who was Hans Asperger? His name is famous since one of the autism spectrum disorders is named after him, but what else does history teach about this great physician? Perhaps the quickest facts that sum up his life deal with his lifetime spent in Vienna where he worked as a paediatric physician at the University Children’s Hospital.
Considered a pervasive developmental disorder, Asperger’s Syndrome – as it relates to the umbrella of disorders under which it falls, autism – was officially defined in 1944. Dr. Asperger worked with four test subjects who exhibited similar symptomatic psychopathic behaviour. He notated that they had an apparent unwillingness to interact with others and actually befriend peers, suffered from an insufficient ability to empathize with others, tended to be clumsier than other children their age, yet excelled academically in subjects that captured their interest.
He was known to refer to them repeatedly as his little professors. What sets apart Hans Asperger from contemporary physicians dealing with autism is his optimism. While his professional peers had only the direst outlooks for those individuals diagnosed in childhood with the condition, Dr. Asperger considered them uniquely able to put their special interest or talent to good use.
As other physicians sought to recommend institutionalization to parents who were unable to deal with children so different from their peers, Dr. Asperger opened the very first school for autistic children. Sadly, his early efforts were lost when the school and much of his written research burned during a bombing raid toward the end of Word War II.
Some suggest that the hospital was to help children who might have exhibited the same latent form of the disease which researchers now believe may have plagued him as a child. Although highly functioning, he might very well measure on the autism scale himself, based on some early records that describe him as a withdrawn child with an early penchant for language.
Success of his theories and recognition of his findings occurred posthumously in 1981 when his writings were translated and served another researcher to take on Leo Kanner and his rather negative slant on autism and the outlooks for individuals suffering from any form of the disorder.
A scant 10 years later his works exploded on the North American medical scene and since then he is one of the most revered autism disorder researchers recognized by families of sufferers and physicians alike, even naming a form of the disorder after him.
Now internationally recognized as denoting a highly functioning form of autism, Asperger’s Syndrome is a diagnosis that sets a child on the path to getting the highly specialized help required so as to enable her or him to lead a full and happy life. It is known that one of Dr. Asperger’s patients went on to correct a mistake made in Newton’s calculations of astronomy, while another won a Nobel Prize in literature.
The differences he made in these lives when the individuals were still children are most likely contributory to their later adult success.
Facing the Facts of Asperger’s Syndrome
Whether you are a parent of a young child only recently diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, or the parent of a child who seems to be struggling with the symptoms of the condition on a daily basis, facing the facts of Asperger’s Syndrome is a crucial exercise for anyone who is a caretaker to an individual affected with the condition. It does not matter how the person is, how long they have lived with the diagnosis, and what the strength of the symptoms might be, the fact that this is an incurable condition that some consider a disability while others simply find it a matter of being differently able does mot make life with it any easier.
Making matters worse for the caregiver are the many misconceptions about the condition which of course cause some people you and your child will interact with to act in wholly inappropriate ways. Much like some people will speak slowly and pedantically to someone who speaks a foreign language, they also adopt annoying and downright offensive mannerism when interacting with a child diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. Facing the facts of the condition will help you clear up some commonly held misconceptions and also enable you to hang on to your cool, should you begin to take a lot of offense at what you and your child are enduring.
Perhaps the most important fact about Asperger’s Syndrome is the lack of mental retardation. It is uncertain where this misconception comes from, but a good many people assume that the condition is synonymous with a lowered IQ, which simply is not medically accurate. Granted, children with Asperger’s Syndrome do show a shorter attention span and find may have a harder time concentrating in the classroom, but they also have the power to learn vast amounts of information by rote and often have a much larger vocabulary than their peers.
Another fact that needs to be drilled into a good many people is the notion that someone suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome is not normally reclusive but more or less resorts to this kind of behaviour as a coping mechanism to escape taunts and bullying. Too often it is assumed that leaving the child alone is the best course of action, when dealing with the bully is instead the better way of handling the problem. Children with Asperger’s Syndrome are just as eager to have a vibrant social life as those considered “normal” but because of the social backlash they experience when their symptoms expose their condition, this is sometimes not as easy.
When caregivers and parents face the facts head on, are willing to advocate for their kids in the school setting and in any other setting, and also find ways of educating teachers, family members, and parents of peers, the effect is stunning. A little bit of education goes a long way and soon the inappropriate reactions to the child’s Asperger’s Syndrome go by the wayside. Since you have nothing to lose but everything to gain, you will be wise to implement an aggressive education program that makes it possible for your child to have meaningful interactions with others.
How Do I Know If My Child Has Asperger’s Syndrome?
If you notice that something just does not seem right with your child, you are most likely quick to rush it to the paediatrician. When you notice that this something might actually be behavioural in nature, you might wonder if there is a chance that your child may be exhibiting signs of Asperger’s Syndrome (AS). There are many stern warnings that strongly urge parents to refrain from at home self diagnosis of any condition, and Asperger’s Syndrome is no different.
Rather than guessing at what could be little more than a developmental in between, you will be wise to seek out the help of a trained physician or specialist who deals in the intricacies presented by kids with AS.
Yet, how do you know if it is indeed time to visit your paediatrician and ask for an evaluation with respect to Asperger’s Syndrome?
First and foremost, you most likely noticed that the child is not as interactive with you her siblings or as you had imagined she should be. In addition to the foregoing, she may be very quiet, refrain from pointing, and has not a lot of interest in sharing things with you. In some cases your snuggling and hugging may also not be welcomed. If this child grows a bit older to show a marked difficulty in interacting with other children of her own age, you know that there is more to the problem than meets the eye. Although you cannot rule out that there are other diagnoses at hand, Asperger’s Syndrome does sound like it might be a viable solution.
Even as the child grows older, a noticeable preoccupation with one item or subject area may turn your youngster into a veritable authority on bus schedules or lions, but may prevent her from picking up other information that is common to children of her age group. She may converse at length about the feeing habits of the African lion, but not realize by virtue of the body language of her listeners, that the meticulous description of the activity is not welcomed by other little girls. This, of course, is a premier sign that your child may quite possible be a candidate for the diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome and you should get her evaluated at this point.
After a tentative diagnosis is made, other behaviours you may have disregarded in the past will also fall into place. There is the repetitive nature of some gestures or words and phrases, the need to rock back and forth or perform other movements for an extended period of time, and of course the child’s unwillingness and inability to deal with changes in routine.
These are the hallmark of children diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and while these symptoms alone do not make for a complete diagnosis, they do point toward an emerging picture that might quite possibly make your child a patient for the treatment and management of AS. The sooner you can get the diagnosis made, the earlier you will have the opportunity to begin a regimen of adaptive assistance that will make your child’s integration into the classroom setting a lot easier.
Helping Your Child Overcome Asperger’s Syndrome Related Apathy
Parents who have a child diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome become quite familiar with the apathy that threatens to overtake their child’s day to day activities. While it only appears once in a while, when it does become obvious, it is more or less a showstopper. The child with Asperger’s Syndrome who suddenly suffers from apathy is unable to comply with even the simplest requests. Initially parents may believe their child to be disobedient or defiant, but before long it becomes obvious that instead of disobedience, it is the condition that is to blame for the sudden lack of compliance.
There are steps parents can take for helping your child overcome Asperger’s Syndrome related apathy.
* Become a calm cheerleader. It may seem odd to applaud your child’s effort at making it from the bathroom to the kitchen table, but when you consider that for the child with Asperger’s Syndrome apathy this may be a huge and seemingly insurmountable hurdle, the necessity of a cheerleader soon becomes obvious. Remember that your child cannot be rushed at this point, but even the smallest advance can be lauded. Doing this has the added benefit of not causing a further shutdown in the individual, such as it is likely to occur if you, as the parent, suddenly vent your own frustrations on the subject.
* Understand that stress is the reason for apathy for those with Asperger’s Syndrome. Gaining a better understanding about what it is that may have caused the stress will go a long ways to helping you and the child understand the sudden occurrence of the apathy. In some cases the child may actually know why she or he does not wish to engage in a certain activity, but instead of sharing the feelings, the youngster may simply resolve to solve them alone by refusing to do certain things. To this end, dealing with the apathy on a verbal level may actually lead you to a number of underlying issues that also require your attention.
* Make the most of tactile stimulation. This is to be used carefully and advisedly but when you and your child work out a system that works, you will find that it is enormously effective. Combine a predetermined touch with a simple set of instructions. You may squeeze your child’s hand while suggesting that she close the closet door, if you notice her spacing out in front of the closet for a length of time.
In some cases you may have to go with your gut instinct. By and large the deceptive calm of the child with Asperger’s Syndrome who is seemingly frozen in apathy in the hallways is actually the home to a nervous and anxious mind. Help your child to relax and recuperate from the fear and anxiety he is experiencing. Suggest breathing exercises or simply massage his back while speaking to him in a calm voice. Although this is not a cure all, it goes a long way to simply ignoring the behaviour, or worse, becoming frustrated and unloading this parental frustration on the child.
Teacher’s Asperger’s Syndrome Guide
As a teacher you know that each classroom is filled with children who come from a variety of background. You also recognize that some of them will have learning challenges which may or may not be adequately addressed in the home. Yet are you prepared for the situations that arise from having a child in your class that has been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome?
A child with Asperger’s Syndrome is well known for the intelligence with which she or he can converse on a topic that is of interest to the youngster. Dr. Asperger himself used to call them the little professors he would work with. At the same time, such children may display an extraordinary reticence at shifting gears in between different activities, leading teachers to sometimes experience something like exasperation.
It is important for a teacher to understand what it is like teaching a child with Asperger’s Syndrome and if you follow this guide, you are well on your way to integrating this child into your classroom and teaching.
* Recognize that simple acts, like forgetting homework, is not an affront toward you, but simply might be an expression of the child’s inability to remember a routine task.
* Behavioral skills are not transferable. If your science minded Asperger’s Syndrome student is able to go ahead and do the research on a complex science matter, it does not automatically mean that he is able to transfer this research ability to a much simpler social studies project. If the topic does not appeal to the student, he will not know how to do the same things he did for science.
* Positive reinforcement is a must with your student. While many students may do well with negative consequences and actually learn from their mistakes, the Asperger’s Syndrome student will get frustrated. Work hard to notice the good behaviours, and gently work with the parents to correct the bad choices the student makes.
* Asperger’s Syndrome children will have meltdowns. The younger the student, the more prone to meltdowns he will be. Even older children will still showcase this behaviour, although in many cases they will have learned how to handle the frustrations that set them off a bit better. If you have younger kids in your classroom, offer a safe spot away from the other children where the child may cool off. During such a meltdown there is little you can do for the child other than acknowledging his feelings and giving him some time to regroup.
* Understand that an Asperger’s Syndrome child is considered odd by his classmates. If you do the group approach to teaching, assigning the groups rather than letting the kids do the picking is crucial. Otherwise you will end up with the child consistently being the odd man out.
* The child has parents. Do not fall into the trap of trying to parent the child during school hours. Work together with the parents to help him during class time and make yourself available for help within the confines of your schedule, but do not try to correct or undo what the parents do at home.
Supplemental Guide for Teachers of Children with Asperger’s Syndrome
There is little doubt that teaching a child with Asperger’s Syndrome can be an intimidating prospect. After all, they do not call these children little professors for nothing. At the same time, their proverbial hair trigger temper is all but legendary, and those who do not work on providing a safe and also structured environment for students with the condition will soon find that their classroom will have a lot of problems. Mind you, these problems are not the fault of the student with Asperger’s Syndrome, but they are the responsibility of the teacher who failed – in spite of being alerted to the child’s condition -- to prepare for teaching properly.
In the hopes of minimizing the problems your classroom faces this year, here is a supplemental guide for teachers of children with Asperger’s Syndrome.
* Underestimating the frustration a child with Asperger’s Syndrome faces is easy, in part because their verbal skills are far advanced ahead of their peers. This leads to repeated overestimation of their academic prowess, which in turn places a lot of pressure on the child. Pressure turns into frustration, and frustration may lead to unwanted acting out. Avoid this vicious cycle by accurately assessing the actual learning rather than inferring skills.
* All peer interactions are stressful, and bullying can happen even if you do not personally believe any of the kids in your class to be able to engage in such behaviour. Work closely with playground supervisors to know what is going on when the children are not under your watchful eye. Adopt a zero tolerance policy for bullying and nip even the earliest signs of this kind of behaviour in the bud.
* Remember that students with Asperger’s Syndrome often have a hard time when forming their words on paper. This causes them to fall behind in activities and makes the classroom experience one of intense frustration. Counteract this problem by limiting the amount of writing the children need to do in class, and instead focus on other activities first. If you can schedule the writing activities to be done toward the end of class, this offers an open end that other children who are already done with their writing may use to read or get a start on their homework, while it will not allow the child with Asperger’s Syndrome to fall behind the rest of the class.
* Consider a foray into typing. Typing is a normal motor skill that children with Asperger’s Syndrome can easily learn and it will make their homework preparation a much simpler task. Work with parents and caregivers to establish proper typing techniques and then let all your children choose to either type or handwrite their homework assignments.
* Whenever possible test orally. This flies in the face of a lot of common school wisdom, but when teaching a child with Asperger’s Syndrome, you will find that the old school wisdom does not always work. Additionally, you may find that this mode of testing also helps your other kids do better on their evaluations and learning. You may be surprised how many actually are auditory learners as opposed to visual learners!
Is Special Education the Best Way for Children with Asperger’s Syndrome to Learn?
In the past, special education used to be the catchall term for all those kids who did not learn as well in the regular classroom environment as other kids. This led to those with autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, developmental and also cognitive disabilities to be lumped together in huge classrooms where precious little learning actually took place. Chronically underfunded, these special education classrooms were scrapped, and gave way to the educational model that would put all kids into the same classes.
This, too, is a recipe for disaster as it leaves those who are differently able to flounder while children who are considered normally enabled find a curriculum almost exclusively geared toward them. Parents who kids diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome have been wondering for some time if there is a good way of educating their youngsters, and since neither the all inclusive nor the special education classroom experience seems to have worked, there is some confusion and frustration evident.
It is important to recognize that Asperger’s Syndrome in no way affects a child’s IQ. As a matter of fact, while children with the condition may have a hard time in their social development, their ability to learn and even excel in some studies is well documented. Unfortunately, it is there that some run afoul those educators with a specific agenda that would see them once again crammed into special education classrooms where – under the guise of having their special abilities catered to – they are kept separate from other kids with different abilities.
Parents must be vigilant in their efforts to keep their children in educational environments that combine those with Asperger’s Syndrome and those without the condition. At the same time, teachers trained in the fine art of teaching students with all levels of abilities should make up the majority of the faculties of education facilities. The separation of differently able children who have the cognitive wherewithal to learn alongside their peers is a process that presents more problems than it solves while at the same time failing to properly help children to integrate and interact with those who might be slightly different.
There is, however, a bona fide venue for special education when it comes to teaching children with Asperger’s Syndrome to interact with others. Lacking of course are social skills and the ability to read and understand verbal nuances and nonverbal body language clues. A form of special education that promotes interaction between children with Asperger’s Syndrome and those without, for the express purpose of teaching the former how to interact properly, is a great idea that should find a lot of support on the neighbourhood level as well as on the national level.
Of course, until both parents and educators understand that there is no IQ driven reason for separating students with Asperger’s Syndrome from other kids progress will be rather slow in coming. Once again, parents must be the educated advocates who will push on for their children’s proper education and socialization, and moms and dads simply cannot afford to remain inadequately informed on the issue.