Asperger’s syndrome is one that affects the social interaction of students that are otherwise smart and capable. Their inability to react appropriately to social cues and engage in small talk may leave them misunderstood and marginalized. Like autism, Asperger’s syndrome is on a spectrum which can make it difficult to diagnose. This is because each case is unique and symptoms can range from mild awkwardness to an inability to function socially. Still, there are some key indicators that can help parents and teachers to identify possible Asperger’s cases and send students for evaluation.
Early detection of Asperger’s is the best case scenario for students who can then learn coping mechanisms that can see most of them functioning normally in social situations. Of course having any of these indicators doesn’t mean that your student has Asperger’s syndrome and accurate diagnosis will have to be made by a professional.
Does your student play with others? An inability to play pretend games or utilize creativity can be easily masked by mimicking the play of others. Students who have Asperger’s may also parrot lines from books, TV shows and movies (often verbatim) that are similar to the situations they find themselves in. Abstract, creative imagining doesn’t come naturally to them and this may limit their ability to play with others at a young age.
This is not to say that children with Asperger’s don’t play, they do play with their toys and even with you. What you need to do is try to play with them as their peers would. You can also test their reactions by suggesting a different pretend game or asking to play with other toys. Because students with Asperger’s don’t know intuitively how to fit in with these games, they like to play the games that they understand and are familiar with. Suggesting a new game, a different toy or introducing a new character or scenario into an existing game often throws them off guard and may cause them to get upset.
Students with Asperger’s also find small talk and conversation difficult. While they are able to talk endlessly about topics that they have learned, they are not adept at the art of conversation. They find it difficult to make small talk, and will only answer questions in concrete, factual ways. While they may be able to go on about dinosaurs for ten minutes very comprehensively, you will find that the conversation ends abruptly if you change the topic.
Their focus on the concrete makes them especially adept at science and math. Students with Asperger’s may in fact be very clever and excel at subjects which require factual memory and concrete concepts. They usually have one field of expertise in which they excel and this makes them seem perfectly capable. While they are often very gifted and bright, it’s their social lives that tend to suffer most.
Students may also display OCD tendencies like ordering and organizing in order to make sense of the world. They may suffer meltdowns when they lose a game, or when faced with change. Many parents cope by allowing students to win rather than dealing with the root cause.
For most students, Asperger’s is a manageable syndrome that can be overcome. Through role-play and therapy, they become more adept at dealing with social situations and learn how to respond correctly to small talk and abstract inquiries. This is why early detection is so critical as it enables the student to better integrate into society before they becomes stigmatized or marginalized.
More information about Asperger’s can be found at WebMD, The Mayo Clinic, and Aspergers.com. Dave Wellman wrote a very informative article on CNN about managing and understanding employees with Asperger’s. Titled ‘I hired someone with Asperger’s –now what?‘ the article starts with a great story of his child building a four foot snowman in his bedroom because it was cold outside. His child is autistic and the author conveys that his son’s rationale for building inside was that it was too cold outside. Further in the article Mr. Wellman points out many aspects of Asperger’s that can be applied and used by parents and educators to better understand and educate a child or teen.
Note: Adapted from Tutor Doctor Corp. blog posted on 6/10/2013