High-Functioning Autism & Asperger’s Syndrome

Definition

Asperger Syndrome is a neurological condition resulting in a group of social and behavioral symptoms. It is part of a category of conditions called Autism Spectrum Disorders. Asperger syndrome, sometimes called the “Geek syndrome,” is no longer an official medical diagnosis under the DSM5. But the term is still widely used to describe people who have milder or less disabling versions of Autism Spectrum Disorder. Because it is relatively mild, it’s often diagnosed in teens and adults. Children with Asperger Syndrome usually have normal to above normal intelligence and do not have the language problems typical of autism.

Below are excerpts taken from countless hours of interviews for the documentary, Coping to Excelling: Solutions for school-aged children diagnosed with High-Functioning Autism or Aspergers Syndrome. We hope this aids you in your on-going quest seeking information on HFA and AS as well as the knowledge you are not alone in your plight to succeed under the diagnosis.

UNDERSTANDING HIGH-FUNCTIONING AUTISM & ASPERGER’S SYNDROME

An amazing discovery still being uncovered and understood involves a revolutionary find in the human mind. Over 50 years ago, Austrian pediatrician, Hans Asperger, revealed to the medical and scientific community a form of high-functioning Autism later named Aspergers Syndrome. These people have always been viewed as eccentric or odd displaying repetitive behaviors and totally lacking in their social skills. The disgusted and disapproving looks you and your child may be receiving when in public or with extended family only adds to the frustration and pain.

I know. My name is Jennifer Allen and my son, Sam has Aspergers Syndrome. The challenges may be great, but so can be the results. Pooled information from experts in the field of Autism is provided below so we, as parents, can successfully guide our child through a social and judgmental world.

Medical reports reveal a profound discovery in the brain of those with High-Functioning Autism. Recent studies with MRI imaging document an actual physical difference in some areas of the autistic brain verses that of a neuro-typical brain. Also the neurological pathways fire differently in Asperger patients than that of a typical brain function.

Bottom line, High-Functioning Autistic and Aspergers diagnosed individuals receive their gifts and struggles from a physical and medical basis not behavioral, as you may have been pressured to believe.

So once we understand from whence the challenges occur then we can begin to lead them on the path from Coping to Excelling. –Jennifer Allen

According to Dr. Temple Grandin: “I want to emphasize that Asperger’s and Autism are not separate conditions. Asperger’s is just the milder end of the continuum. There’s no black and white dividing line between a mild case of autism and geek and nerd. They are the same thing. It is a continuum of traits. The mind can either develop to be more thinking and cognitive or it can be developed to be more social. There’s a point where it just merges into part of your personality.”

The two conditions have very few differences, and research proves which treatments are relevant to High Functioning Autism and also applicable to Aspergers Syndrome. Thus both disorders are combined and the treatments suggested should serve your child well.

It is a lifelong condition and occurs in boys four times as often as girls. Because “Aspie” children are not mentally slow, doctors usually do not diagnose them until they are in the early elementary school grades.

 

In order to be diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome, a person must show two of these 4 traits:

  1. “Marked impairment” regarding nonverbal social cues (doesn’t make eye contact, doesn’t understand others’ body language, etc);

  2. Failure to make friends;

  3. Lack of appropriate social and emotional responses to others

  4. Inability to spontaneously share enjoyment, interests and achievements with other people.

 

In addition, the person must show one of these 4 behaviors:

  1. An abnormal and intense interest in one subject;

  2. Adherence to a strict set of rules, routines and rituals;

  3. Repetition of certain mannerisms like hand flapping, hair twisting or even whole body movements;

  4. An obsession in the parts or mechanics of objects.

 

Experts agree that once the shock of having an Autistic Child has waned, it’s time to start accepting and getting pro-active on your child’s behalf.

Behavioral Specialist, Billy Edwards, created the following three-step strategy for getting proactive.

  1. Give yourself the permission to grieve about it because it’s okay.

  2. The second step is to begin finding resources and the first resource you look for is probably what parent support mechanisms exist, and

  3. The third component of that would be who are the professionals that you are going to surround yourself with and that are going to help guide you?

  4. Explaining the diagnosis to you child will be easier for you and for them to accept the younger they are. Take a positive approach by listing the positive characteristics as well as having a plan of action for the more challenging ones. This will make the step easier.

According to Dr. Tony Attwood, “When I meet someone with Asperger’s and explain the diagnosis to them, I say, Congratulations! You have Aspergers Syndrome. You’re different. You’re not mad, bad or defective. You’re just different like being left-handed in a right-handed world.” Dr. Attwood is well known for his work with Aspergers Syndrome. In his best-seller, The Complete Guide to Aspergers Syndrome, Dr. Attwood beautifully explains all aspects of the disorder.

 

Dr. Chris Plauche states that we are starting to understand the functions of the brain and we realize that Autism really is neurobiological — different wiring, miswiring, atypical wiring, whatever you want to call it. We are in the fetal stage in understanding all of this and I think that once we understand this more, we will be able to subtype this Autism spectrum. Right now we know for sure that folks with Aspergers have atypical function in the Fusiform Gyrus which is the part of the brain that emotionally recognizes familiar people.

Janessa Manning is currently getting her doctorate at the UT Health Science Center in San Antonio, Texas. Her area of study is Neuroscience Imaging with a focus on discovering Autistic Minds. “The brain of your child, who has been newly diagnosed with High-Functioning Autism or Aspergers, is different and functions in different ways than a typically developing child. This is not  choice the child is making; we see actual neurological differences when we query by both anatomy and function. So there is a great importance to getting therapy and getting treatments, well-defined efficacious treatments, and trying to improve the behaviors but understanding that they are coming from a place of being different neurologically.”

Wow! That is a strong statement and bears repeating. The High-Functioning Autistic or Asperger brain is different, in its functionand in its anatomy. This is not a choice the child makes. In otherwords, it’s not bad parenting nor bad behavior, they are wired differently!

Manning goes on to say someday soon imaging should eventually aid in diagnosing Autism based upon brain biomarkers.

Manning goes on to say that now we don’t have to wait for behavior to occur to make a diagnosis. We can actually look at changes in the brain between subjects on the Autism spectrum and between a typically developing controlled, and actually see the changes on the brain. That is really exciting.

Along with the diagnosis of High-Functioning Autism, or Aspergers Syndrome, may come other disorders or cormorbidities. Dr. Plauche says medically speaking, children with Aspergers Syndrome are very healthy, but sometime it’s other conditions that may require medical attention.

The primary concern in children with Aspergers are the comorbidities, the psychiatrics cormorbidities; and there are several of them – Anxiety disorder, depression, ADHD, obsessive compulsive disorder and really the whole range, but those are the four biggies. If the child with Aspergers has one or more, and often times they have 2 or 3 of them, those psychiatric challenges can be a lot more disabling than the Aspergers itself.

If you suspect your Autistic or Aspergers child is challenged with any of these additional disorders, first getting a diagnosis is imperative so you’ll be able to understand and treat these potential obstacles. Our son, Sam, has ADHD and also developed OCD as he entered High School. Our choice was to provide a mild dose of an anti-anxiety medication as well as a few trips to a behavioral therapist. The combination has worked great for Sam but may not be the right combination for your child. Be sure to consult with your doctor.

When we are using these medications with children with Aspergers, we sometimes have to realize that they are hyper-sensitive to the medications, which is not a bad thing, it just means we use a lower dose. It’s always good to use a lower dose. We need to start low and try to slowly upwards the dose, and if we see any kind of deterioration in behavior, go back to the lower dose. I know we hate to think about our children on psychiatric medications, but they really have a good track record, and they can help eliminate those extra little balls of weight slowing them down. We don’t have a medication for Aspergers, but we can take care of these other things and make their life easier so they only have Aspergers.

As Dr. Plauche stated, it’s usually not the Autism but the other psychiatric diagnoses that can be more impairing or disabling than the Aspergers itself. Treating High-Functioning Autism and Aspergers Syndrome comes in many forms and choices. The most noted and successful treatments are as follows:

• ABA – Applied Behavior Analysis

• Psychotherapy

• Sensory Integration Therapy

• Medication

• Language Communication Therapy

• Social Skills Groups

• Public School Educational Support Programs

• TEACCH – Treatment and Education of Autistic and related Communication-handicapped Children

• Denver and Greenspan Models

Studies indicate that up to 80 percent of people affected with Aspergers Syndrome often experience extreme sensitivities to everyday sights, sounds, smells and touch.

The sensitivities may include:

• Hearing being the most common. They can be easily distracted by noises everyone else can filter out such as the buzz of fluorescent lights. This makes it hard for many to follow conversations or listen to teachers’ direction. Sensitivity to sounds is actually painful making it difficult to take “Aspies” to places such as arcades, restaurants or noisy classrooms. An overwhelming fear of an impending school fire alarm may cause total panic.

• Taste and Smell in some are heightened to the point of nausea. This can make cafeterias, stores and certainly restaurants a painful and fearful experience.

Understanding High-Functioning Autism/Aspergers Syndrome 11

•Touch may also be a factor. If overly sensitive, certain clothing (typically with polyester) may be irritating. Hyposensitivity causes lack of feelings to cold temperatures or very little feeling towards pain.

•Visual problems, though rare, can get upset by certain pictures, colors or bright lights. Some even experience discomfort with colors as if they are sounds.

•Physical challenges also come into play for many with Aspergers Syndrome. Simple activities that require coordination quickly become complex such as hand-eye coordination, handwriting or tying your shoes. That is why playing baseball or any sports can quickly become a nightmare for many on the spectrum.

Print Friendly