Asperger Syndrome

WHAT IS ASPERGER SYNDROME?

Asperger syndrome is part of the autistic spectrum.

The syndrome is named after Hans Asperger, a Viennese psychiatrist who wrote a paper in 1944 based on his work with a group of boys who all showed similar characteristics:

• Failure to communicate effectively

• Poor social interaction

• Apparent lack of empathy

• Poor social imagination (working out other people’s thoughts)

• Intense absorption in a special interest

• Problems with ‘change’

It was not really until the 1990s, however, that the syndrome became more widely understood in the UK.

Ronnie Young, author of the Aserger Syndrome Pocketbook has this to say:

‘Asperger syndrome can be a frightening diagnosis; it is a condition surrounded by myths and horror stories. I have written this book to shoot down some of those myths and to try to eradicate horror stories in the future. By explaining the syndrome and showing how to work successfully with students affected by the condition, I hope to dispel the dread many teachers experience when they see the words ‘Asperger syndrome’ on a child’s statement.’

IMPLICATIONS FOR SCHOOLS

In a school environment every member of staff should know their Asperger pupils’ needs, triggers and characteristics. In addition they need to:

Be aware of bullying and teasing, to which Asperger pupils are particularly vulnerable

Understand that Asperger pupils may not conform to school or social norms and rules because they do not know them. If a member of staff criticises or, worse, punishes these students for doing the wrong thing, it’s possible those students are, in reality, being punished for having the syndrome

Be aware that pupils with the syndrome will be distressed by inconsistency and by not knowing what is happening next. It is essential to be consistent

Know what contingencies are in place for possible incidents during breaks, lunchtime and lessons outside the classroom

In her book Ronnie provides advice and tips for those working in education, helping them to understand this condition and devise ways in which they can better help their students overcome the difficulties of the school environment. She covers the following areas:

Social interaction

Help with people interactions and dealing with inappropriate social and emotional behaviour. Social skills training with whole class involvement.

Obsessive interests

How these can be used in a positive way.

Dealing with change

Tips on forward planning.

Communication

Help with communication cues, verbal and non-verbal, including examiner speak.

Unusual sensitivities

Understanding inappropriate outbursts, unconventional sleep patterns, and heightened sensitivities .

Anger & rage

A key concern for teachers, but not something that affects all those with Asperger syndrome, this part of the book examines the cycle of rage and effective strategies to support students.

VERNON L. SMITH (Professor of economics and law, Chapman University, USA)

There is speculation that many eminent people from the past had Asperger syndrome, including Albert Einstein and Andy Warhol. The syndrome need not be a barrier to achievement as Nobel Prizewinner Professor Vernon L Smith (see below) has demonstrated.

Vernon Smith was born in America in 1927. From humble beginnings he went on to study at the Universities of Kansas, Harvard and Cal tech and then, despite his Asperger syndrome, went into the field of teaching.  He shared the Nobel Prize in 2002, for inventing the field of experimental economics using laboratory methods to test economic theories.  In a frank interview for NBC news in 2005 he spoke about his condition.

The disadvantages, he says, are that he has never been able to deal with social situations and emotions, but the advantages are that he does not feel social pressure to do things and is more open to looking at problems. In a teaching environment he can relate to students because they are in his world. He found that the Asperger syndrome diagnosis helped him to understand his social awkwardness and his relations with others. His wife says it helped her to understand her husband’s cold behaviour.

In the interview he reflects on how certain prejudices relating to ethnicity have been overcome, but that there is not enough recognition of different kinds of minds and of mental diversity.

There’s more about Vernon Smith on the Nobel Prize website.

OVERCOMING DIFFICULTIES

Not everyone with Asperger syndrome will go on to become a Nobel laureate. There is no doubt that many students with this condition may have to overcome great difficulties. However, when teachers are well informed about Asperger syndrome and understand the condition, not only are their own concerns and anxieties about having an Asperger child in the classroom reduced, the knock-on effect is students who can better cope with what seems like an alien environment  – school.

If you are already familiar with the Aperger Syndrome Pocketbook, we’d love some feedback, so do add a comment to this blog entry.

Thank you

Jenny

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