Special Educational Needs
Signs of Asperger Syndrome in Children
Children with Asperger Syndrome
Asperger Syndrome is an Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD), but it presents differently to the common portrayals of Autism. Those with Asperger’s are less likely to have an intellectual disability and can function independently. Children with Asperger’s are often mistaken as naughty, making it difficult to recognise.
What do children with Asperger’s struggle with?
Without the instincts for social understanding, acting appropriately and forming meaningful friendships with peers their own age is their greatest challenge. They tend to prefer adult company instead.
Differences between girls and boys
Cultural expectations push girls to make socialising their highest priority, whereas boys are encouraged to build strength and intellect. These teachings impact the behaviours of children with Asperger’s.
Boys are taught to be less socially focused, so awareness of their behaviours is a lower priority and they tend to enjoy obsessive interests openly. Whereas girls mimic peers and learn to suppress inappropriate behaviours to survive social settings, leading to a lower diagnosis rate in girls.
Many children with Asperger’s go undiagnosed for a long time and can struggle with other mental illnesses like anxiety and depression, before Asperger’s is considered.
Childhood signs of Asperger Syndrome
The child care and education systems are valuable to children with Asperger’s. Carers and educators have the greatest opportunity, as trained professionals, to view the child in challenging settings, giving parents insights they normally wouldn’t have.
Being able to recognise the signs as early as possible, makes a huge difference in a child’s life.
What to look out for
Most signs will show during social interactions, often making the child appear one-sided and awkward.
- Awkward, limited or no eye contact during conversation.
- Forced or uncomfortable facial expressions; fake smiles.
- Inappropriate emotional reactions; laughing when someone is angry or hurt.
- Struggles to adapt during imaginary play; sets rules, gives instructions or guides other children to play a certain way, rarely accepts others’ ideas.
- Prefers structured games like puzzles or construction; may line up, organise or collect toys and objects rather than play with them.
- Starts conversations but tends to act inappropriately; prefers to speak about own interests.
- Often corrects others’ mistakes. Many see the child as rude and selfish instead of considering Asperger’s.
- Struggles to understand jokes and prefers to see things logically.
- If they can write, they are often better communicators via writing than vocally.
- Their mood shifts when things change unexpectedly; rules of a game, the daily schedule, a surprise guest. They’ll get defensive and withdraw from social interaction, turning quiet and easily frustrated or upset.
- May speak well from an early age, often viewed as mature because they prefer speaking to adults.
- Has restricted interests, finding joy learning everything they can about very few subjects and sharing their interest with others.
- They may also have poor co-ordination and struggle with sporting activities.
Since social interaction is the hardest to control, we can give the child control in other areas to ease anxiety and lift their confidence.
- Maintain some daily routines, doing the same few things, the same way, every day.
- Provide advanced warning of changes to routines or plans and surprises; give the child a say where possible.
- Keep favourite items safe and organised.
- Provide a quiet, protected area to be alone every day.
- Provide plenty of opportunities to interact with peers with the support of a trusted adult nearby.
- Help them understand how their actions affect others by openly sharing your own emotions with them; crouch to eye level, don’t force eye contact, and talk calmly.
- Help peers understand Asperger’s and how it affects their friendship; teach them ways to offer support. Children love to help when they’re given the chance to understand.
- Work closely with other trusted adults, sharing any changes and support strategies regularly.
If you suspect your child has Asperger’s, consult your family doctor for an assessment as per the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10) (equivalent to the DSM-5) and begin using these support strategies as soon as possible.
As adults, we have the greatest responsibility to protect and support these children through their journey. We are the only ones who can teach them the tools they need to grow into strong and independent members of the community.