The first research into the field was by the Austrian psychologist, Hans Asperger, in 1944 – but it is only in the past 20 years that there has been greater awareness and treatment in line with concerted efforts and research into what is now called Asperger’s Syndrome by specialists such as Tony Attwood, Lorna Wing, et cetera. Asperger’s Syndrome was officially classified as a psychological disorder in 1994.
People with Asperger’s Syndrome have great difficultly in understanding social etiquette and non-verbal signals. These people try hard to be sociable and do not dislike human contact. They need to be taught what is second nature to others, that is, to understand body language, voice intonation and facial expressions.
The language development of a child with Asperger’s may be delayed. People with Asperger’s often sound very precise and may speak in a monotone. They can sometimes come across as insensitive to what the other person has said. They may lack the understanding of turn taking. A major problem with communication, however, is with their actual interpretation of words and taking them too literally, eg “Raining cats and dogs” and “Bend over backwards”.
Many children with Asperger’s enjoy the repetition of certain actions for example, arranging toy cars according to their colour, making a pattern with wooden blocks, etc. Very little imaginary play occurs at a young age although this does happen as the child gets older. The problem then is that their peers have grown out of that kind of play.
Many people with Asperger’s have an extremely exaggerated response to certain stimuli and all five senses can be affected. For example, a particular taste or smell might make the person throw up; the brushing or washing of hair can cause great anguish.
People with Asperger’s often appear to be clumsy and have poor co-ordination. For example, they may be unable to tie their shoelaces, ride a bike or may walk with an odd gait. Quite often though, the individual has no problem with gross motor skills but displays difficulty with fine motor skills – poor handwriting is a common example.
Special Interests and Routines
Many people with Asperger’s develop an obsessive interest and can therefore gain expert knowledge. They may be fascinated with train timetables, a certain television program or weather forecasts. This can be an area of frustration for the person who wonders why others do not share the same fascination! However, this fascination often leads to good employment opportunities in that particular area of interest.
People with Asperger’s are very vulnerable. Adolescence brings about the struggle to cope with the confusion, stress and isolation of their almost “alien” world. Suicide becomes a real concern. Some other typical problems that may be faced by those with Asperger’s include:
- They are more prone to bullying teasing and exploitation because their behaviour is seen as eccentric, peculiar and non-conformist.
- Trouble with seeing the “bigger picture” due to their focus on specific detail. This can be a problem because they cannot see the consequences of their actions or put things in context.
- Extreme stress and confusion if a routine changes eg bus coming at a different time, shop out of their favourite brand.
- A problem with planning because it requires the ability to think hypothetically and predict consequences.
- Trouble putting their thoughts into words and cannot articulate their frustrations, fears or how their condition affects them.
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