11th June 2023.
Survey pdf file links on the Data Tracking Facility have been updated.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is used to group together; Autistic disorder (also called High Functioning Autism), Asperger syndrome, Rhett syndrome, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, Fragile X syndrome and Pervasive Developmental Disorder - Otherwise Not Specified (also called Atypical Autism). Simply put, individuals with Autism and Asperger syndrome have the same underlying 'core processing differences'. The severity in these differences is what largely distinguishes Autism from Asperger syndrome.
In children with Asperger Syndrome, the unusual physical and language mannerisms are often noticed first.
Poor or fleeting eye contact is accompanied by a monotone voice which is consistently louder than convention dictates. Odd speech patterns and the hint of an unusual accent may draw attention to the condition. Dubbed ‘little professors’, these individuals hold pedantic, one-sided conversations. Their intent is locked on to the topic of their preoccupation, whether the listener is interested or otherwise. During the conversation they are likely to be standing either too far away or too close, as gauging social-physical proximity is challenging.
Diagnosed in 1 in 160 people (some are currently suggesting a figure closer to 1 in 130) , individuals with Asperger Syndrome develop an intense passion for particular interest areas, sometimes cultivating quirky, highly refined splinter skills (Australian autism prevalence survey, 2008). A hallmark can be the development of remarkable information about dates, trains, electrical circuits, computers, weapons, street directories, stickers timetables and obsessions concerning specific computer games, hobbies (for example Warhammer) or television programs.
Their parents talk about their remarkable sensory over-sensitivities and inflexibilities to texture, taste and smell. These cause difficulties in wearing new clothes, having their face washed or hair brushed. Some mothers report that their child, as a baby, demanded to be breast fed by being held in a specific way, and even now cannot bear it if their toast is not spread and cut exactly to their requirements. Outright refusal to try new foods is common.
The need to have things in order and have routine also features highly. Particular lights on the power board may need to be switched on before going to sleep, magazines may need to be stacked on particular tables in a particular order, and toys may need to be grouped according to size, shape, cost, theme or colour. In the more controlled home situation, parents tend to compensate for their child’s inflexibility fairly successfully.
In day-to-day school life, such children are noticed as clumsier than most. Their stiff-legged walk, with arm movements that don't quite fit, draws attention. When they become excited or agitated, habits such as running on the spot, twirling, twirling hands and flapping are typical. Teachers almost always comment on their poor sporting ability (both poor motor control and emotional difficulties when losing in competitive situations), untidy handwriting, insistence on writing only in upper case, immature drawings and untidy book work.
A hallmark of students with Asperger Syndrome is that they read accurately, but with reduced comprehension. This is also reflected in their social comprehension, as they are the children who will take things literally. A classic example emerges as the teacher says, 'Come on class, hurry up! Pick up your feet!' The student with Asperger Syndrome may physically pick up their feet as they walk. Taking things very literally means these students may not understand ordinary jokes, irony or metaphors, yet often develop a bias towards offbeat humour similar to Monty Python or Mr Bean.
At school, these students become unsettled, even upset, if something unexpected occurs. Naturally the social fluidity of school presents great challenges. Starting kindergarten, commencing a new year at school, a new student joining the class group, and beginning a new term can be fraught with difficulties and require proactive preparations. Needless to say, most of these children do not enjoy surprises.
Inflexibility and egocentricity impact on friendships, as they find it difficult to read social situations and understand the facial expressions or gestures of others. This results in them often making inappropriate comments. As much as they want to get it right, these children can swing from being emotionless when strong emotion is called for, to becoming overly anxious and emotional when faced with small issues. Consequently, it is common to find these individuals more comfortable mixing with much older or younger social groups and enjoying this safer, more predictable contact.
Individuals identified with Asperger Syndrome usually become more aware of their social difficulty as young adolescents, which brings both benefits and difficulties. One well regarded study found a high incidence of depressive symptoms in Asperger youths, and identified a strong relationship between feeling different, being socially isolated and depression (Hedley & Young 2003).
Eventually, with understanding, practical family support, a responsive school environment, bursts of formal social-skills training and exposure to safe, accepting social groups, most kids with AS learn to intellectualise how to fit in and feel more connected. Never underestimate the importance of great role models and honest communication for these kids. We all benefit from someone to look up to, someone who has paved the way before us. Sometimes there is an adult in the family who also has AS, and despite this they have made their way successfully in the world. Recognising this can be wonderfully affirming and can help to steer children and teens in healthy, directions.
These kids are absolutely reliant on poised adults at home and at school; perfect role models. They are dependent on those who want to engage them, want to understand, who can set up opportunities for them to find emotional engagement and do not construe the inevitable setbacks personally. A big part of maximising their success lies within the implementation of socially and emotionally supportive strategies, but this is hard work because influencing constructive change requires planning, boundless commitment and a strong team approach. Don't be fooled, progress is slow and takes a lot more than another new program, themiracle of technology or the promise of additional funding. While each of these may add some value, it’s more about the will each of us have to make a difference that will make the most difference.
Valuable links to websites on Autism and Asperger syndrome