As parents, you have expectations of improving your children’s behavior. Behavior analysts, on the other hand, need to make sure improvements in behavior occur within the Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) guidelines.
When a child with Aspergers or High-Functioning Autism demonstrates challenging behaviors, we tend to blame the child’s autism. However, these challenging behaviors are not a byproduct of autism, rather learned due to ineffective means to get needs met—especially when there are barriers to communication.
Bottom line: if an individual does not have a way to communicate appropriately, he or she will find a way to communicate in another way (e.g. screaming or hitting).
Keeping in mind the ABCs of behavior from our previous post, let’s discuss the key to changing behavior.
Dr. Temple Grandin once told my son Sam: “when you’re looking for employment, you must show your work“. Indeed! For someone diagnosed with High Functioning Autism or Aspergers Syndrome, you must rely on the merit of your work, because oftentimes challenging social cues can override a large portion of the interviewing process.
Asperger Syndrome Training and Employment Partnership provides a very good checklist to review before you go through the interview process.
Autism is described as occurring on a spectrum because the symptoms can vary from a complete lack of communication with others to difficulty understanding others’ feelings. This range of symptoms is why the diagnostic term is referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Aspergers Syndrome, sometimes also called High-Functioning Autism, falls under the category of Autism Spectrum Disorder. (And yes, this remains the case, no matter what you may have heard about the newly-published DSM-V. But, the DSM-V is the subject of another blog). Aspergers Syndrome is viewed as being on the “mild” end of the spectrum because its symptoms differ in degree and severity from other forms of autism.
We are all vulnerable to black and white thinking during times of emotional distress: “He NEVER appreciates the sacrifices I make!” or “She ALWAYS chooses work over time with me!”
Children and young adults with Aspergers are no different—except they may be more vulnerable to polarized thinking. These emotional regulation difficulties stem from differences deep within their brains, along with other extraordinary gifts such as strong attention skills or heightened visual and auditory detail.
The following is an excerpt taken from the documentary: Coping to Excelling: Solutions for School-age Children Diagnosed with High-Functioning Autism or Aspergers Syndrome. Medical reports reveal a profound discovery in the brain of those with High-Functioning Autism. Studies with MRI imaging document an actual physical difference in some areas of the autistic brain verses that of a neuro-typical brain.
Neurological pathways fire differently in Asperger patients than that of a typical brain function. It has become clear that individuals who are diagnosed as High-Functioning Autistic or Aspergers receive their gifts and struggles from a physical medical basis not behavioral, as you may have been pressured to believe. Once we understand exactly how the challenges occur, we can begin to lead our loved ones with Aspergers on the path from coping to excelling.
So, how is Autism diagnosed?
Until recently, autism spectrum disorders (ASD), including Aspergers Syndrome, have been understood as a range of complex neurodevelopment disorders—characterized by social impairments, difficulties in verbal and non-verbal communication, and restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior.
Changes in definition have been proposed and accepted by different organizations and groups in the United States and other parts of the world. The changes have been discussed in other posts; meanwhile, I will address how autism is diagnosed.
At the present time, a single test to diagnose autism does not exist. We do know that a biological or single genetic marker has not been identified, thus, autism cannot be diagnosed with a blood test or imaging studies. It is rather a diagnosis that is primarily identified by behavioral and developmental differences.
It’s not easy to hear that your child is going to struggle in certain ways. The fear of the future can be downright paralyzing and while all children are perfect in their own way, it’s not what you dream up when you first think about having a child.
Nobody fanaticizes about therapists and sensory breaks. Instead you think about nursery bedding and buying cute tiny little shoes that your baby will truly never leave on. Having gone through a diagnosis process twice with my amazing and extraordinary loves, this is my best advice: “Denial Never Wins!”
Okay so let me explain, but first I need do a little storytelling. Stay with me, because I promise that this is going somewhere. The other day I was in the kitchen, all in my mom zone doing mom things, when my little cutie ran over to get me to do what he was doing. Not only did he run over, but he also invited me to join!
You are probably familiar with the idea of intense interests. Whether it be weather or automobiles, your child with high-functioning autism/Asperger’s Syndrome has had an intense interest in some kind of subject. This behavior is natural because I too have had and still have intense interests in certain things.
For example, when I was young, I was fascinated by trains. My parents would take me to train museums, and you’d have my full attention if you mentioned anything about trains. Then the interest shifted to tornadoes. I had a couple of VHS tapes about tornadoes and I would watch them repeatedly.
My interest then shifted to airplanes. I had Flight Simulator 2004 and Flight Simulator X. In fact, I would love to hear flight stories from my grandfather because he used to be a Cessna pilot years ago.
Currently, my interest is Mechanical Engineering. I took an advanced engineering class during high school, and I was given an award for that class that is only given to one person in the class. I was lucky to be picked for the honor.
It’s normal for your child’s interest to shift as time goes on. If they like trains like I did, then take them to a train museum or a train station. If they like automobiles, take them to a car show. Let them get involved with whatever their interests are!
By Sam Allen
When asked about living with Autism, without prompt nor expectation of any kind, this quote came from our son Sam during an interview for the documentary “Coping to Excelling”.
“Don’t worry about the impairments that God included in this package….think about the good stuff in the package God gave you.” -Sam Allen July 2011
These are Sam’s words of advice to anyone living with an impairment, disability or challenge of any kind. His words, though brief, are quite powerful for someone in their mid-teens. I share this because as a person of faith, this is a good way of thinking…maybe for us all.