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Asperger's Syndrome - A Definition and A SolutionBy Dr. Noel Swanson Asperger's Syndrome refers to people who show difficulties in social communication. They have difficulty in recognising and using social cues, and so are often clumsy or inappropriate in social interactions. As a result, they often come across as rude or insensitive.
Actually, before we can even discuss that, we have to lookat the whole notion of what a "disorder" is. You see, it is not like the rest of medicine. Most thingsare black and white, yes or no. You either have broken yourarm, or you haven't. You have an infection or you don't.But when it comes to human behavior there really isn't sucha thing as "normal". What do I mean by that? Well, almost all human behaviorscan occur with almost anyone, given the right circumstances. So, rather than behaviors being normal or abnormal in amedical sense (like a broken arm is not normal), they canonly be defined as normal or abnormal in either astatistical or social sense.A statistical definition or normality means that the vastmajority of people (usually 95%) would show that particularbehavior. So anyone who is outside of that 95% is notnormal. By this definition, anyone who is particularly dim(ie less clever than 97.5% of the population) would be"abnormal" (we call then "learning disabled") and anyone whois more clever than 97.5% of the population would also beabnormal (we call them "gifted" or "geniuses").But in a medical sense, (unless they have clear braindamage, such as from an injury or palsy) they are just partof the wide range of "medical normality".A similar state of affairs occurs with tall and shortpeople. Too tall and we call you a giant. Too short and wecall you a midget. But either way there might be nothingactually "wrong" with you - you are just at the extremes.A social definition of normal refers to what we, as asociety, consider to be appropriate and acceptable behavior. Thus stealing and lying are normal considered to be "wrong"and therefore not "normal". Similarly, people who are rudeor socially clumsy are often innapropriate (and may oaffendpeople) and so, again, are considered not normal.And this is where Asperger's comes in.In the past, people who are now labelled as "havingAsperger's" would have been labelled either as "eccentric"(if they where just strange, but harmless), or else as"maladjusted" or deviant in some other way if they wereeccentric and unpleasant with it.So what is "Asperger's"?Asperger's Syndrome refers to people who show difficultiesin social communication. They have difficulty inrecognising and using social cues, and so are often clumsyor inappropriate in social interactions. As a result, theyoften come across as rude or insensitive.They also tend to have unusual interests and behaviors. Typically they may have strong intersts about specifictopics that border on being obsessional. One picture ofAperger type behavior is the peculiarly British hobby oftrainspotting. This involves standing for hours on end intrain stations, taking notes of the serial numbers ofpassing trains, with the goal of "spotting" every train inexistance. There are even books published listing rows androws of train numbers!Asperger children also have very firm ideas of right andwrong, and won't hesitate in arguing the toss with ateacher. They are typically unable to consider shades ofgrey and will see all issues in black or white terms.Now, none of these behaviors, in themselves, are so strangeor abnormal!The problem is that society doesn't quite know what to dowith people like this. Just as society is very inconvenientfor short people (can't reach the desk) and tall people(have to duck through doors), so society is not designed foreccentric people who have a very different view of theworld.Especially schools, who like all children to conform totheir view of what children should behave like.And so these children often rub people up the wrong way, andend up getting frustrated, angry, and in trouble.In the past, these children were either tolerated as beingodd or "loners", or else they ended up in serious conflictwith authorities.These days they are more likely to be "diagnosed" withAsperger's.So what does a diagnosis mean?Again, unlike in medicine where there is something clearlysomething wrong (like a germ causing an infection), there isnothing "wrong" in Asperger's. At least, nothing that canbe identified with any blood tests, x-rays, etc.A diagnosis of Asperger's is made purely on the basis of thedescriptions of behaviors as provided by family, carers,teachers, etc.It is usually considered to be part of the AutisticSpectrum, which means as you go along the scale to more andmore social difficulties, it gradually blends in withAutism. If you like, Asperger's is like a mild version ofAutism.So does it help, having a diagnosis of Asperger's?That is the key question!And the answer can be yes or no:YES if, as a result, parents and teachers make the effort tolearn about what it means and how best to adapt theirbehavior, and expectations, so as to best help the child tosucceed.No if, as a result, they are simply discriminated against ashaving "something wrong with them" or if people the thinkthere will be some kind of treatment or cure for it.Because, the reality is that the diagnosis really shouldn'tmake any difference at all to what people do - IF THEY AREPROPERLY CLUED IN TO CHILDREN'S BEHAVIORS. (But they rarelyare).Why do I say that? Because helping an Asperger's childrequires exactly the same principles as managing ANY child -you get to know your child's individual personality andlearning style, you get to know what motivates or doesn'tmotivate him, and you adapt your strategies and expectationsto that. If you do that properly, you will come up with theright strategies for a child whether or not they have thediagnosis.But the reality is that few parents or teachers are likethat.For them it may be helpful to have a diagnosis so they canthen think in a different way about how to help the child. They can, for instance, find some books about it, and readabout strategies that do and don't work with such children.Because "treatment" of Asperger's consists 100% of adjustingYOUR behavior and expectations so as to create anenvironment in which the child can flourish.There is no medication that will "treat" Asperger's(although some medications can sometimes be of some helpwith aspects of their behavior - see a psychiatrist aboutthat.)So, given what most teachers are like, the reality is that these children will most likely do best in an environment inwhich the teachers have had previous experience of Aspergerchildren. These are the teachers that can best adaptthemselves to help the kids to succeed.Also, the reality in this day and age, is that you may beable to get more resources and more funding if your childhas a diagnosis than if they don't.So, how do we put this all together? These, I believe, arethe main points:If someone suggests that your child might "have" Asperger's,don't treat it as some kind of insult or that your child isabnormal in some way.Instead, go and get some books and read up about it. If, asyou do so, the books seem to be describing your child, thenyou might learn some useful ideas on how better to help him. Share these ideas with the teachers.If, despite doing all that, your child still hasdifficulties in fitting in with "normal" expectations, thenDO something about it. Don't just wait for the problems togo away, as they probably won't.Doing something may involve one or both of the following:1) Changing schools to one that has more experience ofchildren like yours. That might mean special school. Don'tput up with a school that is constantly labelling your childas a troublemaker. The school is the single biggestdeterminant of how well these children do as they grow up. Put them in a critical, punitive environment, and they willhave major problems later on. Put them in a caring,understanding, flexible environment and the can do very,very well indeed.2) Getting an official assessment to get the "label". Having the label might open doors to more funding etc. Butdon't fall into the trap of thinking that "having" thediagnosis means anything different than not having it. Either way, you child is still your child, and will respondto the right management. Just use the label as a tool toget the right school and the right support.Finally, whether or not you have the official diagnosis, ifyou think your child might have Asperger type difficulties,read the books! Learn as much as you can about how theythink and what they respond to. And then work hard to give them the best possibleenvironment that you can. It can be hard work, but it WILLpay off in the long run.Incidentally, the principles of behavior management asdescribed in my book apply to kids with Asperger's just asthey do to any child. By understanding first the principles,and secondly the way Asperger children think, you will beable to come up with some effective ways of handling theirbehaviors that will make a real difference to how they turnout in the long run.And how do they turn out? Well, they will always be a bit"odd" or "different", just as tall children will be talladults. But with the right support and encouragement theyCAN find their own niche and live successful lives, even inmodern society!As ever, you can pick up The GOOD CHILD Guide as an instantdownload from here: [please contact me for website address] Dr. Noel Swanson, Consultant Child Psychiatrist and author of The GOOD CHILD Guide, specializes in children's behavioural difficulties and writes a free newsletter for parents. As both a professional who has worked in both North America and Britain, and as a parent of a teenage son with Asperger's and Tourette's syndromes, Dr. Swanson is uniquely qualified to help parents whose children are struggling with special needs of one sort or another. Having experienced the frustrations of raising such a child, and of battling with the education system to provide him with the support that he needs, Dr. Swanson has made it his mission to help other families who also want to do the very best that they can for their children. He can be contacted through his website: Expert Parenting Advice on Child Behavior Problems. This article is copyright. --«¤»§«¤»--
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