The Five Warning Signs of Asperger's Syndrome
- Asperger Syndrome: Some Common Questions
- Asperger's in the Classroom
- The Characteristics of Asperger Syndrome
- Teaching Social and Emotional Concepts to Youth with Asperger Syndrome
- Girls and Asperger Syndrome
- Understanding Asperger Syndrome
No two children with Asperger’s Syndrome are alike. Because it’s on a spectrum, there are subtle differences between each case, making diagnosis difficult, and misdiagnosis worryingly common. Early intervention is the number one way to help kids function, so it’s important that parents stay informed about key indicators.
Keep in mind, however, if your child has any of the red flags mentioned, it does not necessarily mean they have Asperger’s. Diagnosis is a job for a doctor, but these are some guidelines for parents to be aware of.
Here are five questions parents should ask themselves:
1. How does my child play with other kids?
Doctors now say this is the fundamental question when dealing with a child who may have a developmental disorder.
Pretend play is not possible for kids with Asperger’s. Abstract and creative thinking do not come naturally to them. So instead of imagining a play scene, a child with Asperger’s will often quote lines from movies, books or TV shows, usually verbatim. Many parents mistake the play-acting for “rich pretend play” because they hear the extensive vocabulary and the intricate dialogue.
Parents may also misunderstand their child’s play at home, which is very different than on the playground. They tend to assume that if their child plays fine at home, then he must play fine with the other kids too. But adults tend to follow their own kids, and will cater to their needs during play.
“Try to imagine playing with them like a 5-year-old, not like an adult,” advises Dr. Laurie Leventhal-Belfer, licensed psychologist, “and see how things go when you want to change things in their play.”
Test your child’s reaction to change in play by bringing in a new character to the scene, or tell him you want to play with different toys. This will be very difficult for children with Asperger’s. They are accustomed to routine, and often melt down in the face of change.
Common Misdiagnosis: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
The “perfectionist” characteristic is very common in Asperger’s children. Many of their mannerisms are similar to those of OCD, and can be seen during play, for instance, when a child always lines up his blocks in alphabetical order or largest to smallest.
2. What kind of conversations does my child have?
Verbal dialogue is another key indicator. Children with Asperger’s tend to have one-sided conversations with their peers. The conversation will either be led solely by the Asperger’s child, or it will end abruptly.
“We have children who, all they want to talk about is their area of interest,” explains Dr. Alice Locke Chezar, MFT, ATR, family therapist, “and they know it inside out and backwards. It could be science, or cars, or the year before that it could have been dinosaurs. He could go on for 15 minutes in great detail.”
Asperger’s causes children to speak with only concrete, intellectual vocabulary about topics that they’ve learned. Small talk remains a foreign concept to Asperger’s kids. They must work with speech and language pathologists, and are essentially trained how to have normal, everyday conversation.
Common Misdiagnosis: Speech Delays
In fact, this characteristic is common between almost all the developmental disorders. But Asperger’s kids do not have typical speech delay; they simply do not see the need to converse or interact with other people.
3. Does my child seem academically gifted?
Many parents of kids with Asperger’s initially think their child is gifted or brilliant, without realizing that there may be something else going on.
Having a specific area of interest is one of the most common characteristics of Asperger’s. Children will only become talkative when their area of interest is brought up, usually with adults. These children tend to have very high IQs, and excel in math and science—the concrete, non-abstract subjects.
When Leventhal-Belfer first started working with Asperger’s kids, she had a 4-year-old say, “Dr. Laurie did you get stock today? The market is going up.” Was this small child well versed in the stock market? No. Turns out, his father was a stockbroker. He could easily repeat things he’d overheard his father saying.
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