Asperger's Syndrome In Children & Teens: Symptoms, And Tips For Parents

Asperger's Syndrome

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Did you know? One in 300 children and adults are believed to be affected by Asperger’s syndrome, and 90% of them are male (1).

Discovered by Hans Asperger in the 1940s, the disorder restricts a person’s ability to make friends or socialize. The individual may be intelligent but may not feel comfortable talking to people.

MomJunction tells you why the disorder occurs in children, how you can recognize it and help the child face the problem.

Note: Here, we have used children and teens interchangeably.

What is Asperger’s syndrome?

Asperger’s syndrome (AS) is a developmental disorder characterized by the inability to socialize and communicate, and a restrictive or repetitive behavioral pattern. It is one of the many neurological disorders that come under the autism spectrum disorder or ASD.

Most often, children diagnosed with Asperger’s have normal to above normal intelligence. They can study in a regular class and hold jobs when they grow up.

[ Read: Ways To Help Teenager Make Friends ]

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What Causes Asperger’s?

The exact cause of AS or even autism in the broader spectrum is not known. Research suggests that a combination of factors, both genetic and environmental, may result in neurological developmental differences in children (2).

Genetic factors: Genetic studies on family and siblings show that some individuals have a predisposition to this condition. Researchers have identified several genes responsible for the disorder.

  • Defects in genes could lead to disruptions in the normal development of the brain in the childhood, leading to ASD, including AS.
  • It is found that if one twin is affected, the other has a 35 to 95% chance of getting it.
  • If one child in a family has Asperger’s, the risk of the second child having it increases.
  • Researchers have also observed that parents (or close relatives) of a child with AS have impairments in speech and social communication.
  • A spontaneous gene mutation can result in Asperger’s.

Environmental factors: No specific environmental factors have been identified yet but researchers are working to know if aspects such as prenatal complications, air pollutants or viral infections can affect neurological development.

Asperger’s does not happen because of any person’s specific upbringing or their social circumstances.

If you think your child’s behavior is not normal, then look out for some signs of AS.

[ Read: Tips To Make Teenagers Independent ]

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What Are The Symptoms Of Asperger’s In Teens And Kids?

Asperger’s symptoms are similar to those of autism. Here are some of the most common symptoms in children affected with AS (1) (3).

  1. Lack of interest or inability to make friends: The child finds social situations awkward and mostly gets confused as to how to react and what to say. This makes it difficult for them to meet people and make friends.
  1. A constant facial expression or exaggerated facial expressions: The child keeps one constant expression on their face for long hours or exaggerated expressions at most times.
  1. Avoid eye contact or gaze too intently: This is usually noticed from a very early stage as your child is either not looking at the person he or she is talking to or keeps staring at them constantly and intently.
  1. Inability to understand others in terms of:
  • The tone of voice that denotes sarcasm, fun, or anger
  • Facial expressions
  • Abstract ideas like freedom
  • Gestures and body language
  1. Repeat things: If they are talking about something that interests them, they may seem to obsess on it and keep repeating the same thing.
  1. Inability to speak in a clear and consistent way: Children with Asperger’s fail to maintain a line of conversation without confusion.
  1. Highly sensitive to senses: They are hypersensitive to odors, tastes, noises, touch, pain, color, and temperature.
  1. Rigid with routines: The child may not like any changes in their daily schedule. For example, they may want to eat the same breakfast every day.
  1. Repetitive motor patterns: The child often repeats the same body movements, such as waving of arms and flapping of hands, for an unusual number of times.
  1. One-sided conversations: The affected children may love to talk about their topics of interest but fail to respond and listen attentively when others are talking. Sometimes, they may abruptly say whatever comes into their mind.
  1. Obsessed over topics of their interest: The topics are repetitive and can be unusual for their age. They go deep into the details and take pains to explain every minute thing they know about the topic.

The presence of one or two of the above symptoms does not imply that your child is affected by Asperger’s syndrome. The affected children have a combination or all of these symptoms, and a diagnosis helps identify the problem.

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How Is AS Diagnosed?

The diagnosis of Asperger’s is not easy, and the child needs to be examined from multiple angles. Therefore, diagnosis of this condition is usually done by a multidisciplinary team, which mostly includes (4):

  • Language and speech therapist, who deals with the issues of speaking, language or communication difficulties.
  • A psychologist will be present to diagnose and treat problems related to emotions and behavior.
  • A neurologist will identify the problems affecting the nervous system in children.

[ Read: Tips To Promote Healthy Teen Relationships ]

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Treatment for Asperger’s Syndrome

There is no single treatment for Asperger’s syndrome as the symptoms might differ from one child/ teenager to another.

An effective treatment plan encompasses therapies that assist in addressing the core symptoms of the condition, like difficulty in communication, obsessive or repetitive behavior and poor motor skills (5). It includes:

  1. Social skills training: Therapists will teach your child/ teen the different techniques for interaction with others and how to express themselves in an appropriate manner in any social situation.
  1. Speech-language therapy: This improves a child/ teenager’s communication skills. He or she will learn how to assert themselves without taking a flat tone, have a two-way interaction, understand gestures and facial expressions.
  1. Cognitive behavioral therapy: It aims to change the way a child/ teen thinks so that they can control their emotions better, break away from repetitions and are open to a change in routine. They will be able to handle obsessions, emotional outbursts or meltdowns.
  1. Medication: There is no direct and individual medication for treating Asperger’s. However, an affected person may need medicines to treat any coexisting problems like ADHD, hyperactivity, anxiety or depression. The doctor may, therefore, prescribe some medicines such as antipsychotic drugs, stimulants, and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) used for treating obsessive compulsions or repetitive behavior.

The treatment can address a few of the prominent symptoms but a child needs more than a doctor’s treatment. They need your support. Next, we’ll tell you how you can do that.

[ Read: Ways To Help Teens Solve Their Problems ]

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How to support a child with Asperger’s Syndrome?

Children/ teens with AS have unique needs that require a different approach and intervention. Here are some tips for parents:

  1. Accept your child unconditionally. It’s very important for them to understand that they are valued and loved.
  1. Children with AS derive immense pleasure from activities they love; so allow them to do those activities to motivate them to do other less-preferred activities like house chores, exercise, or homework.
  1. Allow your teen to do tasks like homework or chores according to their choice. This will help them gain self-confidence. Your teen will start believing that their choices are acknowledged and that you believe in him/her.
  1. Discuss a daily routine with your child and stick to it as children with Asperger’s love structure and routines.
  1. Do not teach too many social skills (how to talk to a stranger, how to seek help, how to strike a conversation with classmates, etc.,) at the same time. Break them into smaller lessons. Children affected with Asperger’s understand things much better when they are instructed in a structured manner.
  1. You may observe that your teen is obsessed with lists. Use it to your advantage and hang lists like, “5 things I accomplished this week”/ “5 reasons why I like myself”/ “5 people who love me unconditionally”. These basic yet valuable lists will keep them motivated and happy.
  1. You should expect mood swings, hyperactive periods, and emotional outbursts from your teen. Instead of reacting every time, try to control your emotions to tone down the stressful situations.
  1. Never try to “cure” your child of his or her behavior and needs resulting from this condition. Instead, try to help them learn how to manage themselves effectively.
  1. Allow your child to bring their friends home as they can socialize in a known and structured atmosphere.
  1. While giving advice, emphasize on what you want your teen to do instead of stressing on what they should not be doing. For example, tell him or her to finish homework before dinner, instead of telling them not to waste time playing video games.
  1. Speak to your teen in an even and calm tone as it helps them to focus better and understand what you are saying, especially in tense situations.

[ Read: What Causes Dyslexia In Teens ]

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With effective treatment, children with Asperger’s syndrome learn to cope with their situation. They may still find social situations awkward and maintaining close relationships challenging. After treatment, many children grow up to become independent adults working successfully. They need moral support and encouragement from you to lead a healthy life.

 

Do you have any experiences to share? Let us know in the comments section below.

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MA English Pursuing Child Nutrition and Cooking from Stanford University Sudipta is an English Major from the University of Hyderabad. Has considerable medical research writing experience, but also enjoys creative writing and the arts. Her writings aim to make highly scientific/ health material easy to understand for a common reader. She is also a National Novel Writing Month awardee. Sudipta loves to hit the roads to find stories and motivation to fill up her canvases and the pages of her diary.
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