Language Comprehension/Auditory Processing Difficulties

Characteristics: Children with Asperger's Syndrome generally interpret auditory information literally and concretely. They can have difficulty understanding figurative language, jokes/riddles, multiple meaning words, teasing and implied meanings.

Example 1: A child with Asperger's Syndrome was participating in a local basketball clinic. He was playing very well, and the coach made the comment, "Wow! Your mom must have put gas in your shoes this morning". The child quickly looked at his mother with a worried expression. His mother shook her head "No" and encouraged him to keep on playing. The child responded to the coach, "Not today."
Example 2: A mother said to her child, "Stop back-talking to me". The child said, "I'm sorry Mom, I'll talk to your front."


It is also important to note that delays in processing information auditorilly may be present in children with Asperger's Syndrome. Even though they may be able to comprehend the auditory information given, it may take them additional time to process this information prior to responding. They may also have difficulty following multi-step auditory directions (e.g., "Go back to your desk and take out your journals, and then write about your weekend.").

Language Comprehension/Auditory Processing - Intervention Strategies:

 

Sensory Processing Difficulties

Characteristics: The child with Asperger's Syndrome may exhibit some sensory processing difficulties that result in atypical responses to sensory input (auditory, visual, tactile, smell, taste and movement). This difficulty in organizing his sensory input, experiencing both hypersensitive (over response) and hyposensitive responses (under response) to various sensory stimuli, can cause him to experience stress and anxiety in trying to interpret his environment accurately. Sensory processing difficulties can also markedly decrease the child's ability to sustain focused attention. It is important to note that the processing of this sensory information can be extremely inconsistent; that is, at one time the child may experience a hypersensitive response to a specific sensory stimuli, but at another time may exhibit a typical or a hyposensitive response.

Example: A child with Asperger's Syndrome was eating in a restaurant with family members and experiencing sensory overload. He ate as quickly as possible and then asked if he could go outside. The child paced for 20 minutes back and forth in front of the restaurant while waiting for the rest of the family to finish eating. While riding home, he pulled the hood of his coat all the way over his face and tied it tightly, to try to block out all sensory stimuli.

 

Example: While watching television with his family, a child with Asperger's Syndrome put his hands over his ears and exclaimed "That T.V. is driving me crazy".

 

Example: A child with Asperger's Syndrome exhibited an extreme sensory sensitivity to the sight and smell of eggs, particularly hard-boiled. The child gagged and vomited when exposed to hard-boiled eggs.

Sensory Processing - Intervention Strategies:

 

Difficulty Representing Language Internally

Characteristics: Children with Asperger's Syndrome can "blurt out" their thoughts as statements of factual information, resulting in an appearance of insensitivity and lack of tact. However these children typically do not understand that some thoughts and ideas can and should be represented internally, and thus should not be spoken aloud. Therefore, whatever they think, they tend to say aloud.

Example 1: "Mrs. Jones, why are you wearing that dress? It looks just like a bathrobe."
Example 2: "This is boring. Don't' you think this is boring, Ryan? ".

Typically developing children can internalize thoughts by the time they are five to six years old (2). This aspect of language should show improvement as the child learns how to take the perspective of others. This perspective-taking ability is sometimes referred to being able to "mind-read" or developing "Theory of Mind".

Representing Language Internally - Intervention Strategies:

 

Insistence on Sameness

Characteristics: Children with Asperger's Syndrome can be easily overwhelmed by minimal changes in routines and can exhibit a definite preference for rituals (13). As a result, these children can become quite anxious and worry incessantly about the unknown; that is, when the environment becomes unpredictable and they do not know what to expect.

Example: Unpredictability may occur during less structured activities or times of the day: recess, lunch, free play/time, physical education, bus rides to/from school, music class, art class, assemblies, field trips, substitute teachers, delayed start/early dismissal, etc.

The following features are important to consider for the child with Asperger's Syndrome:

Example: Whenever a particular child with Asperger's Syndrome tells someone "Thank you", he expects the person to respond immediately with, "Your welcome". If the person does not immediately respond, the child will perseverate in saying "Thank you", and become increasingly anxious until the person says "You're welcome").
Conversely, when given rules by others (teachers, parents, etc.), children with Asperger's Syndrome tend to strictly and concretely interpret the rules, as well as exhibit strict adherence to the rule - for both themselves and others.


Example: A child with Asperger's Syndrome was given the following rules in art class by the teacher regarding markers: "No throwing markers; No chewing on the markers; No smashing marker tips". The child with Asperger's Syndrome imitated a peer, and connected the markers together to make a long "sword" type structure. This child and the peer engaged in a "sword fight". Both children got "in trouble" for this behavior, although the child with Asperger's Syndrome was truly confused as to why he was in trouble because he hadn't broken any "rules", according to his perceptions.

Insistence on Sameness - Intervention Strategies:

 

Poor Concentration/Distractibility/Disorganization:

Characteristics: Children with Asperger's Syndrome can often appear off-task, and may be easily distracted by both internal (perseverative thoughts/concerns) and external (sensory) stimuli. For example, internal stimuli distraction: a child sees a single cloud in the sky and begins to obsess about whether it is going to rain and/or possibly storm. External stimuli distraction: attending to a fly buzzing around the room rather than the teacher; attending to fluorescent light flickering). Screening out information that is irrelevant can be very difficult, requiring conscious effort by the child with Asperger's Syndrome (13).

In addition, children with Asperger's Syndrome can exhibit significant difficulties regarding both their internal and external organizational skills, including the following:

Concentration/Distractibility/Disorganization - Intervention Strategies:

 

Emotional Vulnerability

Characteristics: Children with Asperger's Syndrome often have the intellectual ability to successfully participate in the regular education curriculum. However, they may lack the social/emotional abilities to cope with the demands of the regular education enviroment, such as regular class room, recess, and lunch (13). As a result, these children may exhibit a low self-esteem, may be self-critical and may be unable to tolerate making mistakes (perfectionist) (13). Thus they can become easily overwhelmed, stressed and frustrated, resulting in behavioral outbursts due to poor coping strategies/self-regulation. These children can appear quite anxious for most of their waking day as they continually attempt to manage an ever-changing, sensory stimulating, social world. As stated by Tony Attwood, children with Asperger's Syndrome "are emotionally confused, not emotionally disturbed" (2).

Emotional Vulnerability - Intervention Strategies:

 

Restricted/Perseverative Range of Interests

Characteristics: Children with Asperger's Syndrome tend to have eccentric preoccupations or odd, intense fixations, as noted by the following characteristics (13):

Common high interest areas for many children with Asperger's Syndrome may include: "Wheel of Fortune" game, transportation, astronomy, animals, dinosaurs, geography, weather and maps. It is important to note that these behaviors can often resemble obsessive/compulsive types of behaviors.

Example: Perfectionism regarding written work: erasing the same printed letter or drawing numerous times in succession due to the seemingly imperfect quality of the letter formation/drawing, resulting in increased frustration/anxiety; One child with Asperger's Syndrome exhibits a high interest in Barbies. She cannot go to bed unless all of her Barbies are lined up in the exact same way).

Restricted/Perseverative Range of Interests - Intervention Strategies:

 

Difficulty Taking the Perspective of Others (Mind Reading/Theory of Mind Deficit)

Characteristics: Children with Asperger's Syndrome can have great difficulty understanding that other people can have thoughts, intentions, needs, desires and beliefs different from their own (6). Thus their perceptions of the world are often viewed as rigid and egocentric, when in reality they are unable to infer other people's mental states. Typically developing children acquire "Theory of Mind" skills by age four, yet it estimated that this concept develops between the ages of 9-14 in children with Asperger's Syndrome (6). The following are educational implications for children who have "Theory of Mind" deficit (6):

Example: The child with Asperger's Syndrome may want to play on the computer during free time, and will attempt to do so with little to no regard to the child who is already occupying this activity. Another example: The child may state quite bluntly, "Someone stinks in here. I think it's Lori. Lori, you stink!".

Mind Reading/Theory of Mind Deficit - Intervention Strategies:

 

Conclusion:

Children with Asperger's Syndrome exhibit significant social communicative difficulties, as well as other defining characteristics, which may severely impact their ability to function successfully in all facets of life. However, when given appropriate support strategies, through direct teaching and various accommodations and/or modifications, the child with Asperger's Syndrome can learn to be successful in our unpredictable, sensory overloading, socially interactive world. It is critical that a team approach be utilized in addressing the unique and challenging needs of a child with Asperger's Syndrome, with parents being vital members of this team.