If you have spent even a brief amount of time researching Aspergers syndrome you will no doubt have come to appreciate what constitutes some of the 'classic' symptoms of Aspergers disorder. For example, children with Aspergers are said to experience impaired social functioning, difficulty forming relationships with peers, a lack of spontaneous engagement and social reciprocity, exhibit speech and linguistic irregularities, engage in stereotyped or repetitive mannerisms, and have fixations on subject matter.
That's all very well, but as a parent with the lingering concern that our child might have Aspergers syndrome, how do we move from a textbook explanation of the physiological and mental manifestations of the disorder to actually being able to identify Aspergers in our child through observation of their day to day behavior. In other words...what sort of things might our kids do that should be setting off alarm bells? What is the answer to the question how to tell if a child has aspergers?
In keeping with the various areas of development and interaction which are likely to be effected by Aspergers disorder, let's examine some real life examples of how an Aspergers child might act in certain situations:
Language Internalization and Expression
All parents have probably experienced a situation where their child, particularly young children, make inappropriate comments.
Example: Standing in line at the supermarket, your child points at the woman in front and says 'look daddy, her dress is just like our curtains!' (It's little comfort that they are right!)It is sometimes difficult to distinguish between what might be described as a child's unabashed honesty as opposed to a child displaying an inability to edit their verbal expression. However, when children grow beyond the age where they ought to begin appreciating the social appropriateness of their behavior, the persistence of this behavior becomes a concern. A child with Aspergers syndrome will often directly communicate their feelings.
Example: A child watching a school play loudly exclaims 'I'm bored. Isn't this boring?'
Adherence to a routine or sameness
Aspergers children can regularly become overwhelmed when their expectations or routines become interrupted. This can become particularly prevalent when at school, especially in the less regimented environment of play or lunch time, recess or assemblies.
Example: A child with Aspergers disorder is told during craft 'No running with scissors, no throwing of scissors'. The Aspergers child, encouraged by a peer, engages in a sword fight with the scissors, and is genuinely non-plussed as to why he subsequently gets in trouble when according to his perceptions he had not breached any of the parameters set out for him.
Example: An Aspergers child who has been taught to say 'Bless You' when someone sneezes may become distressed if their sneeze is not acknowledged accordingly.
Example: A child accustomed to eating their lunch out of their blue lunch box may refuse to enjoy a class bbq.
Restricted or Obsessive Interest - Asperger Attention Problems
Children with Aspergers syndrome tend to exhibit eccentric fascination with or fixation on topics or objects.
Example: They will talk incessantly about a topic and fail to acknowledge any disinterest on the part of their chosen audience.
Example: Perfectionist attitude to an exercise, such as repeatedly drawing, erasing, and redrawing a section of a picture, often accompanied by increasing anxiety and frustration levels as to the elusiveness of the desired outcome.
Example: Refusing to sleep until toys are aligned in a set pattern, or a regime of bedtime has been complied with (eg. bath, toilet, teeth, toys set up, story, tuck in teddy, lights out, cuddle, goodnight).
Lack of social relation, empathy, perception or etiquette
Aspergers children have difficulty comprehending that people other than themselves have motivations, thoughts, wants and needs. As a consequence, children with Aspergers can appear to possess a skewed or egocentric attitude when in actuality they may simply lack the requisite mind set to infer other people's mental states.
Example: An Aspergers child may have difficulty inferring ill intent on the part of peers, and be 'duped' into participating in inappropriate behavior.
Example: A child with Aspergers may want to play with a basketball at lunch time and will proceed to monopolize the activity without regard to the concept of sharing with others who may wish to participate.
Example: They may have difficulty self editing or internalizing thoughts. An aspergers child may have no qualms about telling a fellow student that they smell bad...that the observation may embellish some element of truth can be of little consolation to embarrassed parents.
Example: They may assume people or teachers are speaking to them and them alone. Similarly, in group activities, they may have difficulty understanding that others may not share their own views, which can precipitate frustration, anxiety and challenging behavior in a child with Aspergers.
These are just some examples of real life behavior which may be indicative of asperger symptoms. There is to some degree an appreciable overlap between what may be described as egocentricity typical of childhood development, and an extended level of disfunctionality at age inappropriate levels which are truly asperger symptoms. Learning to distinguish between the two can be the challenge for parents.
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