Asperger Fact Sheet

by AANE Staff

We thought this a great basic overview (reference sheet) of Asperger Syndrome compiled by the staff at the Asperger/Autism Network. Nice to share if you or someone you know suspects autism.

About Asperger Syndrome:

  • It is a neurological condition that affects the way information is processed in the brain.
  • AS is a hidden disability. Many people appear very competent, but they have difficulties in the areas of communication and social interaction.
  • AS has a genetic and hereditary component and may have additional interactive environmental causes, as yet unknown.
  • AS is a developmental disability. All individuals have social/emotional delays, but continued growth seems to be life-long.
  • The incidence of AS is thought to be 1 in 250. As many as 50% of people with AS may be undiagnosed.
  • There are currently four males diagnosed with AS for every one female, but the true ratio may be as high as one female for every two males.

AS affects each person differently, although there is a core set of features that most people with AS have, to different extents, including:

  • Having a very high intelligence and good verbal skills.
  • Having challenges with the use and understanding of language in social contexts.
  • Having trouble understanding what others are thinking and feeling (called Theory of Mind or perspective taking).
  • Needing to be taught social behavior that is “picked up on” intuitively by others.
  • Having difficulty understanding non-verbal cues such as hand movements, facial expressions, and tones of voice.
  • Facing challenges with organization, initiation, prioritizing – considered executive functioning tasks.
  • Focusing on small details rather than on the bigger picture
  • Demonstrating intense interest areas such as movies, geography, history, math, physics, cars, horses, dogs or reptiles. These interest areas change every 3 months to several years
  • Building friendships through mutual interest areas or activities.
  • Viewing the world in black and white, with difficulty compromising or seeing gray areas.
  • Feeling different, like aliens in our world.
  • Sometimes experiencing anxiety and/or depression.
  • Sometimes experiencing extreme and debilitating hyper- or hypo-sensitivity to light, noise, touch, taste, or smell. The environment can have a profound impact on their abilities to function.

 

Other elements and traits some individuals with AS have:

  • Eye contact can be difficult, sometimes painful,  and usually distracting (or if taught poorly, some individuals may stare).
  • Some people with AS are clumsy, most have poor fine motor skills; although some excel in individual sports.
  • Some individuals with AS have additional diagnoses, such as ADD, bi-polar, OCD.
  • Some have superior skill in a particular areas such as painting, writing, math, music, history, electronics, or composing.
  • People with AS may have difficulties working in groups.

Transitioning to Adulthood with Aspergers

Individuals diagnosed with Aspergers or another autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may be presented with many challenges throughout their lives—especially during the transitional periods. As the individuals age and learn to use different skills in various environments, families, educators, medical professionals and the individuals themselves begin to anticipate the transition to adolescence and, eventually, to adulthood. Given the differences in abilities and behaviors that many individuals with Aspergers or HFA experience, it can often be overwhelming to plan for tomorrow much less several years later.

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Among the many skills that an individual must learn to successfully transition to adolescence and adulthood, daily living skills are often neglected.

Examples of daily living skills are bathing, grooming, preparing meals, managing finances, using public transportation, etc. These daily skills are necessary for independent functioning in the home and within the community.

A recent study discovered that individuals with ASD improved in daily living skills during adolescence and the early twenties. These skills plateaued around late twenties and began to decline in the early thirties—this shows the importance of honing these skills earlier in life instead of waiting until later.

Some positive findings were that inclusive schooling had a positive influence on adult outcomes. The study also found, “that vocational independence predicts improvements in autism symptoms and significant improvements in behavioral problems.” Daily living skills could also be increased by engaging in some type of work activity.

It is encouraging that daily living skills can continue to be gained at later points in development as other skills plateau. The authors suggest that more research is needed to develop behavioral and pharmacological interventions for older individuals on the autism spectrum.

While individuals with Aspergers or HFA may have challenges with the daily living skills necessary for transitional periods, it is important for their independence and quality of life to begin this journey at an early age to ensure success.

by Lupe Castañeda, M.S., BCBA

Have you thought about or experienced the transitional periods in your or your child’s life?

How did you cope with these experiences? 

Sources:

Smith L.E, Maenner, M.J. & Seltzer, M. (2012). Developmental Trajectories in Adolescents and Adults with Autism: The Case of Daily Living Skills. Journal of American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.  51(6): 622–631.

5 Focuses For Creating a Learning Environment in the Home

Continued learning experiences after school

When it comes to setting the stage for learning, individuals on the Autism Spectrum need to continue their learning experiences even after school. This requires responsibility from therapists, caregivers, and parents. Each must work together to help create a learning environment in the home that continues to provide opportunity to expand the vital skills a child is working on. This includes setting up a home environment, understanding your child’s classroom setup or making suggestions at their after school program.

Child playing at home

Here are five goals to focus on when evaluating a school-related learning environment in the home for children with Aspergers or HFA.

The Two Types of Reinforcement for Individuals with Aspergers or HFA

Reinforcement in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) focuses on the outcome of the behavior and increasing the likelihood of certain behaviors occurring in the future. There are two types of reinforcement: positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement. Positive reinforcement is when a response is followed immediately by the presentation of a stimulus and, as a result, similar responses occur more frequently in the future. In other words, positive reinforcement means when a behavior has an increased likelihood of occurring again if something is given after it occurs.

reinforcement

An example of positive reinforcement:

You tell a child if he or she cleans up their room, they can play for 30 minutes on the Wii, an activity they enjoy. The likelihood of the individual cleaning up the room is more likely to occur in the future because they received 30 minutes of playing with something they enjoy. In order for reinforcement to work, you need to make sure that what you are giving them is something that they value.

However, let’s change the reinforcement premise–

You instead tell the child if they clean the room you will go the movies. Your child is sensitive to sounds and does not like being around large crowds, so he will be less likely to clean his room even though you think it would be fun. The purpose is to focus on the child’s likes and dislikes to achieve the desired result.

Negative reinforcement is when a response is followed immediately by the removal of a stimulus and, as a result, similar responses occur more frequently in the future. In other words, negative reinforcement means when a behavior has an increased likelihood of occurring again if something is taken away after it occurs.

An example of negative reinforcement:

You are working on having the child be more independent when doing their chores. You provide a checklist of the chores that needs to be done for the day. He or she independently completes two of the chores on the list. You tell them because they independently completed two chores without any reminders, they do not have to do the rest of the chores. In the future, the individual is more likely to independently complete the chores because the rest of the chores were taken away—assuming he does not like any of the chores that were on the list.

If, however, they really like doing laundry and that was a chore on the checklist that you removed, the negative reinforcement will not have the desired effect on behavior.

You need to always keep in mind what the child likes and does not like. You give him or her things or activities that they enjoy and take away things that they do not like to increase the likelihood of the behavior occurring again in the future. If what you are presenting and taking away is not increasing the likelihood of the behavior in the future, then you are not using reinforcement.

by Adriana Sanchez, MA, BCBA

How do you use reinforcement with your child? What types of reinforcements are most effective, in your experience?

Supports for Sensory Processing Disorder and Issues with Touch

As with the senses of sight and hearing, sometimes one or more of the senses are either over- or under-reactive to stimulation. This is also true for the sense of touch. For some persons with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, certain textures feel uncomfortable or even painful. For these individuals, the idea of a hug or even accidentally brushing up against something may be highly stressful. In order to prevent this negative tactile experience, much energy and focus is spent avoiding situations that increase the likelihood of such events.

Painted hands for a border

Imagine lining up where there are others in front of you and behind you. The chances of being accidentally touched by either person may cause the simple act of lining up to be highly stressful and anxiety provoking. For individuals that do not like the feel of certain textures or things, parents and teachers may consider the following types of supports:

Are People with Aspergers as “Logical” as They Think?

Balancing the left and right brain: the role of emotion and mood

One of the hallmarks of Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) is that individuals often have strong points of view, and they have trouble seeing other points of view as equally valid. Most see themselves as extremely logical and therefore right in their conclusions; for them, the points of view of others can seem illogical. This is often perceived by neurotypicals as being oppositional, stubborn or lacking empathy.

Brain hemispheres sketch

What’s interesting is that often when people think they’re being logical, research shows that their emotions can be driving their cognition. Emotions are frequently substantial influences in people’s thinking without their knowing it. In his eloquent writing for LinkedIn, Kristopher Jones makes clear what is my experience as well:

People with AS can have very strong feelings.

Peter Salovey and Marc Beckett of the Center for Emotional Intelligence at Yale University www.ei.yale.edu have done compelling research on the topic of feelings influencing thinking. In one study by Brackett and his colleagues on the influence of teacher emotion on grading practices, they took a large sample of middle school teachers. Using techniques demonstrated to be effective to induce a positive or negative frame of mind, they had half the teachers influenced to be positive and half to be negative. All were given the identical essay to grade. The scores given by the two groups differed by 1 to 2 grades, yet all of them were certain that mood had nothing to do with their scoring.

Why is this significant for people with AS?

The Dialectical Behavior Therapy model of cognition suggests that we all have a logical mind and an emotional mind.

It’s where these two overlap (are integrated) that genuinely “wise” thinking can get done. Otherwise, we’re unaware (like the teachers) of the extent to which emotion that hasn’t been acknowledged is dictating what seems to be logical thinking. Most AS/NLD individuals I know operate out of one kind of mind or the other, but fail to meaningfully integrate the two.

I worked with a young man who was very reactive to what he perceived as criticism. A person who criticized him at a temporary job became someone he never wanted to see again; in fact, the entire setting became somewhere to be avoided.

He felt this was logical – you don’t go where you are treated badly.

Three Useful Resources to Boost Exercise for Individuals with Aspergers

Asperger's, Technology, and Exercise

Technology and exercise? I know what you are thinking, how can I use a fitness product like a smart watch or fitness bracelet to get my child to exercise? Do I need to or am I financially able to purchase a fitness product like that? What if they don’t like it or use it and I’ve already spent the money buying it. Is there setup of the product or is it ready for use?

running and technology

Technology can be overwhelming but can also be very useful. The amount of fitness products out there is tremendous, but they each serve a purpose and a specific fit for someone. Today’s discussion will be on technology use during exercise but it will take a different perspective than you think.

Video Game Systems

Video game systems can be a contributing factor to our kids becoming less active. It is difficult for kids to move away from technology altogether so why not make it work for us? Video game systems have games available for purchase that are fitness/exercise oriented in which the person becomes the game controller.

For example, the Wii game system has: Just Dance 2016, EA Sports Active 2, and EA Sports Active NFL Training Camp. Similar game systems like the Xbox have the following games: Xbox Fitness, Nike Kinect Training, or Playfit. Lastly, the PlayStation has games like: Move Fitness, Zumba Fitness, and Sports Champions. These games use the person’s movement as a way to control the game. So, by dancing and moving you can get your kiddos to burn some calories while having fun.

Cell Phones

ABA and Aspergers: The Three Step Plan You Can Use

The main use of ABA for individuals on the autism spectrum is to decrease challenging behaviors and increase appropriate skills.

Little girl hiding behind her hands - copyspace

Here are the three steps for utilizing ABA to decrease challenging behaviors and increase appropriate skills:

Step 1: Assessment

The first step in decreasing problem behavior is to conduct a functional behavior assessment, which determines the function of challenging behavior.

Appropriate skills including academic, language, and daily living skills are assessed in a similar way. The founding father of ABA, B.F. Skinner, wrote the book Verbal Behavior in 1957. In the book, language is analyzed based on the function. Assessments like the Verbal Behavior-Milestones and Assessment Program (VB-MAPP; Sundberg, 2008) are utilized to assess the persons’ language skills, as well as other appropriate skills like academic and daily living skills.

Other assessments utilized in ABA are the Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills-Revised (ABBLS-R; Partington, 2006) and the Assessment of Functional Living Skills (AFLS; Partington & Mueller, 2013).

Step 2: Developing a Plan and Treatment Goals

Is Mindfulness Logical for Asperger’s and Depression?

Mediation and Self-Talk

Mindfulness, meditation and self-talk are important ways of helping yourself when you’re depressed, stressed out, anxious or emotional. They’ve been shown to help handle feelings and are actually often used as components of the most helpful forms of therapy, cognitive therapy.

Why is it important to talk about these three techniques, especially for those with Asperger’s?

Two typical traits for those with Asperger’s are black and white thinking and a tendency to ruminate, to stew thinking about something. With black and white thinking, we see things in extremes, all bad or all good. When we’re depressed, that tends to be all bad.

Mindfulness, Meditation, Self-Talk

All bad isn’t realistic; life is always a mix. Things don’t always go wrong. People aren’t always hostile or rejecting. Ruminating means dwelling on something, usually negative when we’re depressed. As we dwell on our thoughts, they tend to become more dramatic, more overwhelming, more conclusive of our negativity. It’s like a downward spiral.

Both black and white thinking and rumination focus on the past, revisiting what has happened, or in the future, anticipating what might happen. We’re rarely in the present. Most often, at this exact moment, nothing too stressful is happening.

The point of mindfulness as an outlook, a way of being, is that it focuses on the present moment – our awareness of what’s happening right now.

Mindfulness exercises include activities that force us to focus on the here and now. Focus can be on attending to our breath, what we hear, bodily sensations, or what we’re doing, like the feelings of washing dishes, the soap on our hands, the feeling of the water, the texture of the plate and glass. This pulls us out of the past and future into the present, which tends to be calmer.

Meditation is a practice for both the body and mind.

When we’re emotionally aroused or stressed, our entire autonomic nervous system is activated. Blood pressure goes up, breathing changes, stress hormones race through our bodies, and every system is affected.

We can be stressed in this way both by what goes on in the moment and by what goes on in our minds – thinking about something can trigger the same physical stress response as being in that moment. Emotionally we’re at a high level of arousal, regardless of what’s happening in the moment. Meditation turns off the stress response, and teaches our bodies what Herbert Benson of Harvard calls the “relaxation response.” Meditation has actually been scientifically proven to structurally change the brain to be more stress-resilient.