How do we define normality? What is the difference between normal and abnormal behaviour? If a child portrays uncommon characteristics, should we classify such as abnormal? Should society slam the abnormal tag on a child diagnosed with Asperger’s? In this article, I share facts-based tips for relating with persons diagnosed with Asperger’s.
Asperger’s syndrome is one of a group of neurological disorders known as autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). However, it is considered to be on the mild end of the spectrum.
Asperger’s was first discovered by a Viennese paediatrician, Hans Asperger, who observed autism-like behaviours and difficulties in social and communication skills in boys. Some medical experts opine that the syndrome remains a milder form of autism and is often termed high-functioning autism.
High-functioning autism means that these individuals don’t have delayed language skills and cognitive development which is quite common for persons with ASDs.
Although Asperger’s was added to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder (DSM-IV) in 1994 as a separate disorder from autism, several experts still consider it a less severe form of autism.
Children with Asperger’s want to interact with their peers and have a sense of belonging. But more often, they have no idea how to go about such interactions. This social dilemma often makes them appear socially awkward, aloof and, sometimes, apathetic.
In most cases, these individuals have average or above-average intelligence in a specific area. Also, they can hold their own in the real world. As children, they can be taught in mainstream classrooms with every other kid. And as adults, they can assume challenging responsibilities and even get a job. This can make them hard to spot from the crowd. But the earlier you can notice them, the more likely you are to adapt and get along with them pretty well. Therefore, it helps to watch out for these traits:
- Extreme difficulty with social interactions.
- Engaging in repetitive behaviours.
- Standing firm on what they think even when common sense proves otherwise.
- Focusing on a particular rule or routine continuously.
Though persons living with Asperger’s don’t essentially face the learning difficulties common with autistic patients, they may have trouble catching up nonetheless.
They also tend to take words literally and find it difficult to understand sarcasm or jokes. This remains part of the reasons they often perceive the world as being too overwhelming; triggering anxiety.
Socially, engaging in family interactions and extracurricular activities may be tough for them too because they struggle to build rapport with others. The primary cause of this trouble is not because they can’t speak or write. They cannot take in and interpret social cues such as facial expressions, voice tone, vague or abstract concepts.
So rather than expecting a person with Asperger’s to understand you, you can walk a mile in their shoes and scale down your wits to their world. They will appreciate you more and you could have a loyal friend for life.
Five Ways to Interact with Asperger’s
Knowing the plights of persons with Asperger’s, these five insights will help you relate better with them
1. Be Clear in Your Communication
The most efficient way to communicate with persons with Asperger’s is to make your message clear and direct. As much as possible, avoid using nonverbal cues such as body language, facial expressions and gestures. These are incomprehensible to them. Since they find it difficult to interpret nonverbal cues, it is best to use short sentences and refrain from asking numerous questions at the same time. They can get mentally exhausted when conversations are filled with nonverbal cues and questioning.
2. Avoid Repetitions
People, especially children with Asperger’s have a habit of repeating the same statement. This is known as Echolalia. For better conversations, avoid repeating questions or statements to them. Also, do not raise your voice at them. Alternatively, find a way of redirecting the child’s attention to what you are saying. For maximum effect, write down your instructions and ensure they also reply in writing. This relieves them of mental stress.
3. Understand Their Emotions
Due to their ineptness with body language and other social cues, persons with Asperger’s can be easily overwhelmed. When they get overwhelmed, they wax irritable and portray other abrupt behaviours.
In his book, Helping Children with Autism to Learn, Stuart Powell, opines that when this happens, it helps to find them a safe place where they can calm down. Persons with Asperger’s need space, peace, quiet and solitude.
4. Use Visual Cues
Unlike nonverbal cues, persons with Asperger’s can quickly process visual information. This is because they find it less ambiguous and stressless. After all, images give them options to choose from. More so, it reduces any need to brainstorm during a conversation.
5. Understand them at Work
Unlike most autistic patients, persons with Asperger’s can hold a job. However, there is only so much they can do without help and support from their colleagues. A major problem is their penchant to stick to a particular routine or pattern. While this is good for optimum performance in some areas, it can be counterproductive especially if the said routine is ineffective. They will obstinately stick to a particular routine even when it does not yield results. You can guide them patiently and show them a more effective way to get things done.
With the right support, understanding and care, persons with Asperger’s can lead a more fulfilling and happy life without being ostracised or made to feel abnormal. To play your part in making that happen, communicate clearly with them, use visual cues, avoid repetitions, read their emotions at home and work.