Aspergers 101 Frequently Asked Questions

Yes, we've answered 101 of your questions about Asperger Syndrome!

Whether you are beginning to suspect your child (or yourself) might have a form of Autism or Asperger Syndrome, or you are already on your journey, this resource was compiled for you!

We polled the 101 top requested questions on Asperger Syndrome and put them in one place for those seeking information on High Functioning Autism or Asperger Syndrome! These questions range from the origins of Asperger Syndrome, the early signs all the way through adulthood. Some questions merited a one word response while others provide you with a detailed bullet-point answer. We would like to thank our underwriting sponsor: The Starfish Social Club for supporting and providing you this on-going free resource! To access Aspergers101 FAQ page either click on the ad below or find it  permanently located at the top of our menu bar on our website under the “Asperger Syndrome” tab. 

Click on above to go to 101 FAQ Page

 

Aspergers and Sensitivity to Color: Interior Designer Focuses on Interiors for Those with Autism

The interior designer who caters to sensory issues

When our youngest son was no more than 6 years old, we would enter a restaurant or someone’s home and he would throw up. He told us it was a picture or something on the wall that made him so ill.

I thought it had to be due to the content of the picture but after years of testing we found out it was the color! Yes, oftentimes those with sensory issues are not just sensitive to sound and noise, but also have a severe sensitivity to loud splashes of color.

The following article discusses an interior designer who takes that sensitivity in mind when decorating. If she can do it, we can too!

-Jennifer Allen

Designer Focuses On Interiors For Those With Autism

With her son Devin’s needs in mind, A.J. Paton-Wildes chose neutral colors for the walls and new flooring in the living room of their Oak Park Heights, Minn., home. As an interior designer, Paton-Wildes incorporates her personal experience with Devin, who has autism, to help create calming spaces for those on the spectrum. (Jeff Wheeler/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS)

MINNEAPOLIS — A.J. Paron-Wildes’ home, a walk-out rambler in suburban Oak Park Heights, Minn., is a study in calm — all clean, uncluttered spaces and earthy, neutral hues that echo the autumn leaves framing the view of the St. Croix River. On an autumn afternoon, daughter Eva, 6, is having an after-school snack, while son Devin, 19, sketches intently, seated at the studio desk in his orderly bedroom.

This peaceful environment is entirely by design. When you have a child child with autism, calm is a precious commodity — and Paron-Wildes has become an expert at creating it, starting in her own home.

That journey started 16 years ago when Devin was diagnosed with autism at age 3. “It was very traumatic,” Paron-Wildes recalled.

At that time, Devin didn’t speak but was prone to explosive tantrums when he was upset or confused. “He’d drop to the floor and start screaming.” She and her husband stopped bringing Devin to the grocery store or on other errands because they never knew what might trigger an eruption. “We’d have to drop everything and leave.”

At the time of Devin’s diagnosis, Paron-Wildes was a very young interior designer, only recently graduated from the University of Minnesota. “I thought, ‘There’s got to be some great research’” about designing spaces for children with autism, but she was wrong. “There was nothing,” she recalled. “Everything was done in the ’70s, when kids were institutionalized.”

Determined to keep Devin at home, Paron-Wildes committed herself to creating an environment where he could learn and thrive. So she started educating herself — by working backwards.

She read books about autism, and pored over studies about the neurological workings of the brain, becoming fascinated by the different ways people with autism perceive colors, patterns and lighting. She tried to determine what design elements would likely trigger difficult behavior — and then did the opposite, learning through trial and error.

“You can’t really get the information by asking, ‘Is this too bright for you?’ ‘Does this make you dizzy?’ You have to watch for cues,” she said.

Devin, too, was watching for cues. That’s a necessary strategy for children with autism, who usually develop language skills much later than their peers. Those who have difficulty communicating verbally often look to their environment for cues about what’s happening and how they should respond, Paron-Wildes said. They crave order and are easily distracted by its absence. They read meaning into seemingly random visual signals, and tend to be hypersensitive to harsh artificial light and to environmental toxins.

Paron-Wildes learned that the Crayola-bright, busy spaces most people consider kid-friendly — “like Ronald McDonald threw up” — are so stimulating that they can easily confuse and overwhelm a child with autism.

She remembers taking a young Devin to speech therapy — “in a room with a jungle gym and kids running around screaming.” The lesson was going nowhere, until she suggested moving it to a closet, the only quiet place available. There, Devin started to respond.

Information about autism and design may have been scarce when Paron-Wildes began searching for it, but that’s changing as autism rates have soared. The incidence may now be as high as 1 in 50 children, a 72 percent increase since 2007, according to a 2013 report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That means Paron-Wildes’ expertise is increasingly in demand. “People think, ‘Oh, I have to redesign my whole house?’” she said. “No. Pay attention to the areas where the child needs to learn.” Those areas, as well as rooms where children rest and sleep, should be well-organized and orderly, with minimal distraction and muted, warm colors. “I’ve painted many little boys’ rooms pink — it tends to be a calming color,” she said.

She has worked with the University of Minnesota to develop research and design principles, co-chaired the Minnesota Autism Task Force, has written a trilogy of e-books on “Design for Autism” and spoke on “Design Empathy” for architects at a recent AIA Minnesota convention.

The bouncy, enthusiastic designer managed to work an autism joke — with a message — into her presentation. Pointing out a mustard-yellow circle at the corner of each page of her PowerPoint, she asked: “How many of you are wondering what that is there for? I did that to confuse you!” she added with a girlish laugh. “That’s what it’s like for kids (with autism).”

A designer for the AllSteel workplace furniture firm, Paron-Wildes also consults with schools, medical facilities and other organizations that serve children with autism and their families. (Most of her consulting work is done pro bono.) At this point, she could probably do autism-related design full-time, but she enjoys working on a wide range of projects. “If my whole life was autism, I would lose perspective.”

One recent consulting project involved working with designers from Perkins + Will on a new space for Fraser, a program Devin attended from age 3 to 6. The designers transformed a former Life Time Fitness office into a speech and occupational therapy site for children with autism and others.

Paron-Wildes pointed out design features on a recent visit. Treatment rooms and “meltdown areas,” where children often struggle with transitions from one activity to another, are quiet and neutral. “It’s easier to add color than to take it away,” she said. In other areas, brighter hues are used as way-finding cues, guiding children down hallways and to color-coded cubbies. Most flooring is kept simple. “If you make a pattern, the kids will follow it.”

There’s a lot more color and pattern in the reception area, however, where parents wait for their children and sometimes meet with therapists.

“One of the biggest complaints in centers is that parents feel like they’re in an institution,” Paron-Wildes said. She vividly remembers the stark waiting room she sat in when she first heard Devin’s diagnosis 16 years ago. “It felt very institutional. There was nothing to look at. It added to the aloneness and trauma.”

Parents feel calmer and more comfortable in a vibrant, upbeat environment. “It’s all psychological,” she said. “These parents want to feel like their child is going to a school — a fun school — not to treatment.”

Today, Devin is a verbal and affectionate teen who graduated from high school, went to prom and has developed into a gifted artist. He hopes to study art further; his work has won numerous awards and is proudly displayed throughout the family’s house.

That house, too, was chosen and designed with Devin’s needs in mind. Up until last year, Paron-Wildes and her family lived in a historic house in Stillwater, Minn. It was not calm, at least not after Devin’s sister joined the family. “We didn’t think we’d have a second kid,” Paron-Wildes said. “Then we had Ava. She’s a screamer. It was hard on Devin. We were having a lot of behavioral issues.”

So they found another house, one with plenty of separation between the kids’ rooms. Devin has a large bedroom with a lofted ceiling and a big window overlooking the river. “It’s really quiet up here; the 6-year-old doesn’t bother him,” his mother said. His room has lots of natural light and views of nature, which he loves studying through his telescope. There’s even an adjacent “Lego room” where he can retreat to build elaborate structures. Devin didn’t want to move at first — transitions are still difficult — and threatened to run away. But he soon adjusted. “He is so comfortable here — he loves his space,” Paron-Wildes said. “We have zero issues now.”

By 

Copyright © 2014 Disability Scoop, LLC. All Rights Reserved

Handling Social Anxiety for Self-Fulfillment

I’m emailing with Kris Jones, an eloquent writer on Linkedin about his Asperger’s Syndrome. We’re talking about the stressors he experiences that can create extremely self-limiting anxiety. We’re going to use several blogs to talk about different stressors. Kris’s first stressor was his lack of self–fulfillment. One of the causes of this lack of self-fulfillment was Kris’ social anxiety.

Tony Attwood, expert on Asperger’s Syndrome, suggests that around 65% of adolescents with Asperger Syndrome have a secondary mood or affective disorder (such as depression or anxiety); most have anxiety.

anxiety/stress

Kris describes his thoughts and feelings which I’m calling social anxiety like so: “No one likes you. No one wants to know you. You are not interesting. Stay where you feel most comfortable – inside your house and away from others. You are not fit to be out there amongst the human race.” He says that this is representative of how he feels and it is what keeps him from going out and mingling with others his age. Even though he knows these thoughts about himself aren’t true, he can’t get past the anxiety.

Let’s break this down into parts. What causes this social anxiety?

What are the Main Causes of Depression for Those with Asperger’s Syndrome?

Aspergers and Depression: Part 2

Why are there higher rates of depression in those with AS? There may be some genetic predisposition to depression for some, but this doesn’t explain most cases of depression. One reason for depression is isolation and loneliness. Despite the misconception that people with AS prefer being alone, research shows that many with AS want friends. Children and teens with AS are often lonely and feel their friendships aren’t “quality.” They’re looking for company, safety and acceptance to give them a sense of confidence. Those who have friends may have a lower tendency towards depression. However, many with AS who experience social anxiety or lack social skills in joining, starting, and maintaining friendships don’t have the tools to have the friends they want.

Another reason for depression is the experience of being bullied.

Studies have suggested that a majority of those with AS experience bullying. This isn’t surprising given the drive towards conformity and the emphasis on social status among middle school children in particular, but also among high school students and even older individuals.

There isn’t a cultural norm of tolerance of neurodiversity, or even of most kinds of diversity.

Qualities of those with AS that engender bullying are

  • lack of awareness of social cues;
  • cognitive rigidity;
  • interests or behavior labeled ‘odd’;
  • and hypersensitivity.

AS individuals have difficulty flexibily and astutely responding to bullies. Some with AS tend to be submissive and anxious in response, which empowers bullies to continue. Still others lash back, which gets them in trouble.

In my own practice, my Asperger’s teenagers and young adults have often been bullied and carry the wounds of bullying deeply ingrained in their sense of self-esteem.

Motivation for Those with Aspergers: Using Reinforcement Effectively

Motivation is key when using reinforcement to change the behavior of individuals with Aspergers or HFA.

When you think about it, it makes sense that motivation is at the center of it all. If a child or individual is motivated, they are more willing to make certain changes in their behavior and do what you want.

Highway road going up

Using motivation as a behavioral tool for change occurs for neurotypicals as well. For example, if there is a position available at work that someone wants, the individual will modify their behavior to increase the chances of obtaining that position.  The specific change in behavior is a direct result of motivation (as in wanting the position).  If the position was not available, the person would less likely be engaging in the changed behaviors.

That said, there are two ways to manipulate motivation:

Deprivation

Deprivation means reducing the amount of access your child has to the reinforcer, also known as the item or activity that will be used to motivate the child to increase or decrease behavior. Deprivation increases the value of the reinforcer.

Example:  If a child absolutely loves Cheetos but has free access to them, a behavior analyst would use deprivation to increase the value of the Cheetos. Now the child can only access them if he or she performs as expected. Since the child has less access to the Cheetos but still loves them, the child is more willing to do what is asked to obtain the Cheetos—motivation.

Satiation

Satiation, on the other hand, means increasing the amount of access your child has to the reinforcer. Satiation is meant to decrease the value of the reinforcer, which is something to keep in mind when choosing a motivational tool.

Example: If a teenager receives an iPad, an object he is fascinated with, as a reinforcer and is the only reinforcer being used, it is likely that after a period of time the child will lose their interest in the iPad resulting in satiation (the iPad no longer has a strong value).

Behavior Analysts use deprivation to increase the value of the reinforcers to motivate the individual with Asperger’s or HFA, and are cautious of satiation to make sure the reinforcer does not lose its value. This encouragement can be used to help them to adapt in a situation or adjust behavior appropriately.

by Adriana Sanchez, MA, BCBA

Easing the Mind and Relaxing the Body, Yoga as a Practice for ADHD

Attention deficiency can become a barrier for many things to many people. Children diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome often times are also diagnosed with Attention-deficit/Hyperactivity disorder and may have a hard time concentrating in class, have a hard time sitting still during dinner, or may lack consistency. Adults diagnosed with ADHD may struggle with organization at work or home.

Silhouette of a beautiful yoga woman at sunset (in surreal colors)

ADHD is defined by the Mayo Clinic as a chronic condition that affects millions of children and often persists into adulthood. ADHD includes a combination of problems, such as difficulty sustaining attention, hyperactivity and impulsive behavior.

Besides proper medication, practicing Yoga can be another support to help ease the mind and relax the body.

Yoga is an ancient art based on a harmonizing system of development for the body, mind, and spirit. Practicing yoga can help in slowing down the mind, relaxing the body, and becoming aware with your immediate present. In other words, for someone whose mind is racing, has a difficult time concentrating, and has extra energy, yoga can be a good support to help in reducing these emotions.

The question is how do I even begin doing yoga? Well, get ready because here are your first 3 steps into beginning your journey to calmness and relaxation!

Beginner’s Steps to Yoga

Mental Health in Your Community: Learning to Support Your Child’s Diagnosis

The community I was from is set up for autistic people, people like me, to fail. One of the big issues in a minority community is that mental health is not addressed and no one believes in it. The resources are usually not available or difficult to find for people in minority communities. There are also long-standing traditions of mental health denial because of a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality. Because minority communities have often faced severe oppression and suffering in many ways, they have built an ideology about being strong and not helpless or weak. This has had many adverse effects on the mental wellbeing of the people within those communities.

Your Child's diagnosis, becoming an expert

Since mental health was somewhat of a myth to the community, it was a struggle I endured in my entire life.

I’m an African American male who comes from a community where if you displayed behavior that is associated with a mental illness, you were punished. African American communities often believe strongly in going to church, and they will tell you to pray about it and not seek help from a mental health professional. If you seek help from a mental health professional, you are viewed as weak. They tell your child to “man up, it’s all in your head, you’re making it up, etc.”

It’s hard to accept a mental health diagnosis in the Black community because of traditions we have been taught with.

Nobody in my community accepted my autism diagnosis, and I was ridiculed for seeking help. It was not until I was 22 years old, when I had my third suicide attempt, that I received help and support for my autism and other disabilities.

Today, to help others avoid this struggle, I have composed a list of ways you can accept your child’s diagnosis no matter how severe it is. Remember, you can be victorious and become an expert and advocate for your child.

Asperger Syndrome From Diagnosis to Independence Part 2: Social Development

San Antonio Public Library Informational Summer Series

During the summer of 2017 Aspergers101 hosted a free informational series on Aspergers at the San Antonio Public Library. We have recorded each of these valuable sessions in video and powerpoint format so that you can have access to them at any time. Below, watch the second workshop from our Informational Summer Series on Aspergers focusing on social development.

First, Jennifer and Sam Allen discuss important strategies for parents, professionals, and peers to utilize when socializing with those with Aspergers. Next, Louise O’Donnell, Ph.D. Neuropsychologist and Assistant Professor at UT Health Departments of Psychiatry and Pediatrics talks about the neurological aspects of social development for those with Aspergers and Autism.

The following are excerpts from Jennifer and Sam Allen’s powerpoint presentation on social development.

Remember when communicating with someone diagnosed with ASD:

  • They know what they want and don’t want.
  • They know what they want to get across.
  • They know what they feel.
  • What they may find challenging is finding a way to let us know what those thoughts and feelings are.

Strategies for Improving Social Integration

1. Opportunities to interact with neuro-typical children

The first strategy is to ensure the child has opportunities to observe and interact with mainstreamed children at their school. This is to ensure that their peers not only demonstrate appropriate social/emotional behavior but also are sufficiently skilled socially to know how to modify their social behavior in order to accommodate and support the child with Asperger’s Syndrome. Some children with Asperger’s Syndrome attend schools for emotionally disturbed children; such circumstances may not provide an appropriate peer group.

2. Knowledge of the nature of Asperger’s Syndrome

Are You an Aspie and Depressed? That’s Not Unusual

Asperger’s Syndrome and Depression: Part 1

As most teens and adults with Asperger syndrome know, people with Asperger syndrome can be significantly depressed. The rates of diagnoses of depression vary among studies, from 18% to 22%. The most commonly quoted rate of a depression in the general population of the US  is 6.7%. Most of the research shows both genders have these high rates of depression.

Studies focused on males and females and not those who are transgender. There are more people who identify as transgender in the AS population than in the general population and transgender people have a higher rate of depression. One would guess that someone who is both AS and transgender might have a high tendency towards depression.

Interestingly, non-autistic full siblings and half-siblings of individuals with ASD (not just Asperger syndrome) also had higher rates of depression than the general population, although at half the rate of those with ASD. Studies of suicide attempts are also very troubling. In studies of suicide, the rate of suicidal thoughts and attempts are prevalent, especially in adolescence and young adulthood.

It’s critical to identify depression, since it can be treated.

It’s obviously important to understand why rates of depression and suicidal thoughts are so high. One factor, given the findings in siblings, is that there is an increased genetic vulnerability to depression, although large studies haven’t supported a common genetic overlap. We have to look to other factors to account for these high rates of depression.

It’s important to diagnose clinical depression for anyone for a simple reason – depression is treatable with a variety of modalities:

Social Language or “Pragmatics”

Your child may not know how to use language appropriately in social situations. This undeveloped social skill can cause your child to unintentionally say harmful or rude comments to others. Even when able to say words clearly in complex sentences with correct grammar, a child still may have a communication problem – if they have not mastered the rules for social language known as pragmatics.

Speaking head

Pragmatics includes three major communication skills:

  1. Using language for different purposes

    • greeting (e.g., Hello, goodnight)
    • informing (e.g., I’m going to go to bed now.)
    • demanding (e.g., Turn out the lights, please.)
    • promising (e.g., I’m going to wake up early and make waffles.)
    • requesting (e.g., I would like an extra blanket.)
  2. Changing language according to the needs of a listener or situation

    • speaking differently to a toddler than to an adult, or with a sibling vs. a teacher
    • sharing background information with an unfamiliar listener
    • speaking differently in a movie theater than on a playground
  3. Following rules for conversations

    • turn taking
    • introducing a topic of conversation
    • staying on topic
    • rephrasing when misunderstood
    • using verbal and nonverbal signals
    • knowing how closely to stand to others
    • using appropriate facial expressions and eye contact

Remember: It is important to understand the rules of your communicative situation.

An individual with pragmatic problems may: