Children undergo diagnosis for Asperger syndrome when they are between the ages of 8 and 11 years. These children or adults go through several diagnostic pathways before being diagnosed with Asperger syndrome.
The unusual abilities and developmental history of a child may have been spotted from an early age. How the child interacts in school and other developmental disorders he possesses.
There are some diagnostic pathways that begin at the early stage of the child’s life. These pathways can lead to the diagnosis of the condition.
Autism In Infancy And Childhood
Lorna Wing, an English psychiatrist and a prominent figure in childhood developmental disorders, advanced the knowledge and understanding of autism worldwide and was the first person to make use of the word “Asperger syndrome.”
She proposed that diagnosis should take a different level, after discovering that children with severe cases of autism, showed signs of improvement, due to early diagnosis and intervention programs.
As a result, the child, who likes to remain silent and isolated from social gatherings, now wants to partake in every activity.
Identifying Asperger’s Syndrome In School Children
Most people diagnosed when they are already adults, say they recognized they were different from other children during their school years.
According to some, they notice it was quite easier to relate and play with family members and friends, but in school, they avoided other children including their teachers. They also lacked interest in social activities that involved their peers and prevented other children from interfering in their own activities.
They also do not understand social conventions, while in playground, and classroom, and this makes it difficult to work with their peers in such situations.
The diagnostic pathway for children commences when a teacher who is very observant and experienced, discovers a child who does not have any developmental history relating to autism but possesses unusual abilities.
He or she does not understand social situations and conventions like other children and can be described as immature in handling emotional situations. The child may also have good knowledge in a particular area or topic of interest but have attention or learning problems.
In terms of motor coordination, the teacher may also notice some considerable differences and challenges that the child has like running, handwriting, and catching a ball in motion.
The teacher may discover that the child dislikes change and feels extremely anxious, when a given task is changed or when he cannot solve a problem. The teacher may also discover that the child is different from his peers in the playground and does not like to partake in social activities.
He can also be dominating, preventing other children his age from playing with him. In the class, he does not understand non-verbal communications and signs that other children, like the sign on the teacher’s face telling that he or she is angry.
Intellectually, the child is not impaired. The major challenge is that he is sociable and finds it difficult to interact with his peers. The experienced teacher knows about the unusual abilities and traits of the child and how much he benefits from a good training program, to develop his social communication skills.
The program will also help the child cope well in playground and classroom, and have a better understanding of social conventions. However, the teacher also needs to be trained so he or she can assist the child.
In fact, many children with Asperger syndrome are diagnosed using this pathway. The unusual abilities and traits of the child might not be conspicuous at home, but the teacher can spot the differences in the classroom and playground.
Related: Aspergers Test
Another Developmental Disorder Diagnosed – A Diagnostic Pathway
There are many diagnostic pathways to Asperger syndrome. As the child grows old, he may have displayed some developmental disorder, which can be traced to Asperger syndrome. They are:
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- Language disorder
- Mood disorder
- Movement disorder
- Eating disorder
- Disorder of learning ability
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
Several research and studies have confirmed that children with Asperger syndrome may also have signs of ADHD. Hyperactivity, impulsivity, and problems with sustained attention, are the signs of ADHD.
Diagnosis will reveal that the child is having problems in these areas, but cannot give a clear account on the unusual social and cognitive abilities, which are related to Asperger syndrome.
A child can have Asperger’s syndrome and be hyperactive. It does not mean he has ADHD. The hyperactivity can be caused by other factors like stress, and anxiety, as a result of the social situation he finds himself.
However, a child with Asperger and ADHD can benefit from the same treatment and strategies designed for both disorders.
A child, who is experiencing a delay in language development, can be assigned to a language pathologist for proper assessment. However, the delay in language development is typical of a child suffering from Asperger syndrome.
The language or speech pathologist will test the communication skills of the child formally, and in some cases, he may discover not only a delay in language development but other characteristics that are not common in the stages of language development.
The language pathologist may discover a form of linguistic abilities that looks like Semantic Pragmatic Language Disorder (SPLD). However, the diagnosis of SPLD offers some explanation on the language skills of the child, but to find out if he has Asperger syndrome, a complete assessment of his abilities is required.
A child with SPLD, may have good language skills, especially in areas like phonology, syntax, and vocabulary. The major challenge is how to use this language in social situations. Delay in language development can make the child withdraw from social situations.
He does not want to socialize because he does not understand the language of other people. However, there are programs designed for the child who has SPLD. A child who has Asperger and SPLD will also benefit from such programs.
Parents and teachers who are very observant can easily identify a child that is clumsy and have problems with coordination. For instance, he may not be able to do what other children his age are doing such as catching a ball in motion, handwriting, and lacing his shoes.
Children with this condition are referred to an occupational therapist for proper assessment and therapy. Through assessment, the specialist can identify movement disorder and other unusual traits that indicate that the child has Asperger syndrome.
However, the coordination problem is the beginning of the diagnostic pathway and children with this condition will benefit greatly from programs designed to improve motor skills.
It is very common for children with Asperger syndrome to experience a mood disorder. On the other hand, a child who uses his intellect than intuition more often in social situations, and this makes leaves them in a constant state of anxiety and alertness.
They end up becoming mentally and physically drained most of the time. Mood disorder is very common with children who has Asperger syndrome.
A child might experience intense anxiety when he encounters certain social situations. He may also react to a change in expectation, such as daily routine in school. A child can also become depressed due to social integration problems.
The situation might even become worse to the point where he starts thinking of harming himself. A clinical psychiatrist or mental health professional may be of help to such a child with a mood disorder.
Most children can also refuse to eat certain food because of the taste, smell or texture. They may also prefer to eat a particular meal for breakfast all the time.
Children with food intake or weight can be referred to a pediatrician for proper assessment. Eating disorder or concerns about food intake may indicate the need for a diagnostic assessment for Asperger syndrome.
Disorder Of Learning Ability
The teacher may identify that the child has some unusual intellectual as well as academic learning abilities, and refer him to a neuropsychologist for further assessment. The assessment may indicate a level of discrepancy in the child’s verbal reasoning and visual-spatial reasoning abilities.
However, a higher verbal IQ will make the neuropsychologist to carry out a more detailed and complete assessment of the child’s cognitive abilities to know if the child has a Non-Verbal Learning Disability.
Characteristics Of Non-Verbal Learning Disability
The major characteristics of Non-verbal Learning Disability are deficits experienced in conditions such as:
- Perception of time
- Mechanical arithmetic
- Adapting to difficult situations
- Perception of social situations
- Social interaction skills and abilities
- Tactile perception and complex psychomotor skills
- Visual-perceptual organizational abilities
Recognizing Signs Of Asperger Syndrome In Adolescence
A child may depend on his parents at home and teacher in school, but things will change as he grows old. At the adolescence stage, he is expected to be independent and also handle some situations as a teenager. As a child, playing is more of action than interaction.
Children can spend more time and have little time to interact, but for a teenager, the situation is different. A teenager would interact more and share their problems with someone else.
However, a teenager with Asperger syndrome will have to cope with these changes and situations. But because he has problems interacting with his peers, he tries to stay out of social situations.
In the early school years of the child, a teacher is assigned to him for the whole year. They both read and study together and develop friendly relationship and understanding. Life is simple for the child at this stage. And the difference in his abilities may not be too conspicuous. The child may have good grades since he is being supported by a teacher.
For a teenager, his grades will start deteriorating to the point where the teacher and parents may become concerned. He is not comfortable working in a group because of his social interaction challenges. However, the deteriorating grades, stress and socialization problems can make the teacher refer him to the school’s psychologist for assessment.
Signs that the teenager is suffering from Asperger syndrome are more pronounced during stress and change in routine. He may have been performing well in his early school years due to support from the teacher. As a teenager, he has to communicate with many teachers, though he is used to having one around for a whole year as a child.
However, he may end up suffering depression due to problems of social inclusion, and academic challenges. The teenager might also get angry and direct the anger at other people, leading to his suspension or removal from school.
Asperger’s View On Personality And Conduct Disorder
Many children with Asperger syndrome have been suspended from school due to conduct problem. Asperger discovered this particular trait in children with an autistic personality disorder, who were referred to his clinic.
In fact, most children with Asperger syndrome act as boss in their classes. They act as second-in-command to the class teacher, and mediate in conflicts, instead of involving an adult. They see themselves as adults and can be very authoritative especially when dealing with other children.
Even when the child with Asperger syndrome violates the school rules, he doesn’t know when to apologize or feel remorseful. He tries to argue and this results in series of conflicts with the school authorities and teachers.
A child with Asperger syndrome can have high intellectual abilities. Even with this, he may still have problems with social integration.
However, parents and sometimes the school authority turn to a professional for help because of the child’s conduct and behavior. A behavior management specialist can carry out the assessment.
Asperger Syndrome – How The Media Can Help
Many parents may not be able to explain the unusual abilities and attitude of their children at home. But when they watch programs or read newspapers about cases of Asperger syndrome and traits, then they can assess their child at home.
Reading autobiography of an adult with Asperger syndrome can also help. In fact, information from the media on Asperger syndrome can help couples to have a better idea of either the husband’s or wife’s unusually ability and challenges with social skills.
The Importance Of Seeking Diagnosis
People are born with this condition and not that they got inflicted at some point in life. Though it is a lifelong condition, early diagnosis and intervention are very important.
On the other hand, the child may not know that he is different from other children. He may also be perceived as being rude and arrogant by teachers or other children.
However, other people’s moral judgment may also affect the child’s self-esteem and can lead to depression.