How to help a child with Asperger syndrome?
Asperger’s is a much more common disorder than we think, it is estimated that between 3 and 7 children out of 1000 are diagnosed with this disorder.
Discovered in the year 1944, by the Viennese pediatrician Hans Asperger, the disorder begins early in childhood as parents begin to notice the first symptoms at around age 3. However, most of the cases are diagnosed between 5 and 9 years of age, since at this age the signs are more evident.
What exactly is Asperger’s disorder?
Asperger’s syndrome or disorder is a neurobiological developmental disorder that is included within the autism spectrum and that mainly affects the area of communication.
As with other autism spectrum disorders, scientists do not know exactly what causes Asperger syndrome, it is known that neurobiological alterations of development and genetic inheritance can add environmental factors and increase the chances of suffering from the disorder.
It is usually diagnosed more often in boys, who are 3 to 4 times more likely to develop the disorder than girls. And, although they share problems with social, emotional and communication skills, as well as unusual behaviors and interests, the truth is that there are some differences in how the disorder manifests itself in girls and boys.
Signs of Asperger in girls and boys
Did you know that Asperger’s usually diagnosed earlier in boys than in girls? Among other factors, this is because it tends to manifest more severely in children, so the signs are easier to detect at an early age.
Scientists don’t know exactly why, but they believe that the anatomical brain differences and the greater social skills that girls often develop may be related.
Obviously, this does not mean that girls do not have symptoms, but rather that, as a general rule, these signs tend to go unnoticed for longer as they tend to be more “mild”. These are the main differences:
Although they do not have difficulties with language and verbal expression, both girls and boys with Asperger’s often have trouble in communicating. They find it difficult to understand long conversations or complex questions, they find it difficult to understand figurative messages or jokes, and they often show little interest in other people’s speech.
However, girls tend to have an easier time covering up their communication problems while boys have more trouble getting it. In fact, in many cases they can even use pedantic and formal language or change the conversation subject abruptly.
Poor development of social skills
Boys and girls with Asperger’s are characterized by difficulties in relating to others. In these cases, they tend to withdraw and isolate themselves because, having problems recognizing the emotions of others and responding empathetically, they do not usually enjoy social contact. In fact, it is no surprise that they avoid interacting with children of their age and prefer to play alone.
However, girls often have an easier time hiding their lack of social skills. In some cases they can even become sociable, although with a low level of success. On the other hand, children tend to have fewer resources to deal with social relationships, so they often avoid it.
Alterations in emotional control
Another of the most frequent symptoms in boys and girls with Asperger is their difficulty in regulating emotions. That is why they tend to suffer more tantrums than the rest of their peers, cry more easily or react more nervously.
In addition, they are not usually very empathetic since they have a hard time recognizing the feelings of the people around them.
However, these manifestations are usually milder in girls, who manage their emotions better and have higher levels of empathy. While boys react more explosively or even aggressively to express their anger or frustration, girls tend to be more passive and keep their emotions to themselves.
However, it is important to bear in mind that they also have higher levels of anxiety since trying not to attract attention generates a high degree of stress.
Interested also: Anxiety Disorders in Children
Narrow sphere of interests and activities
Boys and girls with Asperger’s usually have a very narrow sphere of interest, concentrating on a single topic or object that occupies all their attention, almost obsessively.
It is also common for them to stick to their routines, especially those related to things that interest them, and show little tolerance for changes and unforeseen situations.
However, once again, this tends to be more noticeable in boys, since their interests tend to be more strange and unusual, while girls tend to be more focused on environmental, humanities, or fantasy issues, making them more unnoticed.
What is the prognosis in children with Asperger?
Asperger’s has no cure. However, being one of the mildest alterations within the autism spectrum, most of these children will be able to lead a nearly normal life.
With the right support, children with Asperger’s disorder can improve their social skills and learn to fit more naturally into their environment. They may not be able to have a large group of friends, but with help they will be able to establish some special bonds with people around them.
As they get older, they will also be able to better manage their emotions and learn to recognize the emotions of others. They may not be overly empathic, but at least they can learn to notice what other people need.
And, thanks to the fact that many of these children have a normal or high level of intelligence, they will be able to do well in school and be trained in a profession. In fact, if they have a special skill and develop it, they can become a reference standard in that area.