Essay on Asperger's Syndrome

Essay on Asperger’s Syndrome

Imagine this: It’s time for math, but your students sit at tables covered with watermelons and napkins. Today is a hands-on day, and they get to estimate the number of seeds in each piece of melon before counting them. Then you hear it: Caleb has thrown himself on the floor in a full-blown tantrum. He’s crying, he’s shaking, and you’re not sure what to do (Scholastic Inc. 2009).

Let’s face it, when you have 30 kids in a classroom, keeping your cool when one of them has lost his can be hard. But Caleb has Asperger’s syndrome, a developmental disorder similar to but milder than autism. His tantrum may seem inexplicable, but the trick, especially when dealing with a child who has Asperger’s, is to dig a little deeper. Remember the best defense is a good offense. Start by thinking outside the box. Understanding the syndrome will be your best preparation in the classroom (Scholastic Inc. 2009).

Asperger’s Syndrome is believed by some to be a mild form of autism. In 1944, pediatrician Hans Asperger named the syndrome after treating patients that were exhibiting some unusual behaviors. Dr. Asperger would refer to these particular patients as “little professors,” due to their ability to speak in great detail about favorite subjects (Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 2009).

Asperger’s Syndrome is often grouped together with similar conditions involving communication disorders under the umbrella of autistic spectrum disorders or pervasive developmental disorders (WebMD, LLC, 2009). Children with Asperger’s are often misdiagnosed with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or obsessive compulsive disorder due to the fact that symptoms of both disorders mirror Asperger’s Syndrome.

Developmental factors in the brain are thought to be the cause of Asperger’s Syndrome (Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, 2009). Soon after conception, an alteration of brain development takes place resulting in an abnormal migration of embryonic cells. These cells control thought and behavior. One study found that when a child with Asperger’s was asked to use judgment or respond to certain facial expressions, the child with Asperger’s experienced a decrease in brain activity (NINDS, 2005 ). A child without Asperger’s, when asked to do the same tasks, would experience an increase in brain activity. One theory called the mirror neuron system theory, states that because the mirror neuron system is altered during development, this leads to social impairment of the child. Another theory called theory of the mind is a social cognition theory which believes that hyper-systemizing, or handling one’s internal events and not those of others, is the basis of Asperger’s Syndrome (Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, 2009). There are many hypotheses in the medical and scientific field, but no one theory has proven to be the absolute cause of Asperger’s Syndrome. Asperger’s also tends to run in families, with the connection often being social difficulties and many behavioral characteristics, some only in a slight form (NINDS, 2005).

Asperger’s is diagnosed in between 1 and 500 and 1 and 10,000 people, with eight out of nine being boys (Meredith Corporation, 2009). Asperger’s first becomes apparent when a child is between the ages of 2 and 6 years old (WebMD, LLC, 2009). It has been diagnosed earlier in some patients, but a diagnosis this early is rare. Parents usually suspect that something is a little “off” with their child, and then a pediatrician performs an evaluation. Children with Asperger’s Syndrome engaging in one-sided, long-winded conversations, without noticing if the listener is listening or trying to change the subject, displaying unusual nonverbal communication, such as lack of eye contact, few facial expressions, or awkward body postures and gestures, showing an intense obsession with one or two specific, narrow subjects, such as baseball statistics, train schedules, weather or snakes, appearing not to understand, empathize with or be sensitive to others' feelings (peers), having a hard time "reading" other people or understanding humor, speaking in a voice that is monotonous, rigid or unusually fast, and moving clumsily, with poor coordination (Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 2009). Because children with Asperger’s possess advanced verbal skills, teachers and parents often do not recognize a problem until other children start to notice a difference (Meredith Corporation, 2009). Diagnosis of Asperger’s is difficult because there is a major lacking in standardized screening. Again, and I want to emphasize this key point, it is hard to distinguish Asperger’s from ADHD and OCD, simply because symptoms of all three disorders mirror each other (NINDS, 2009).

After an initial screening by the family doctor or pediatrician, the next appointment for Asperger’s Syndrome screening is usually with a mental health expert. The mental health expert, along with a team of experts, will observe the child. This team includes a psychologist, neurologist, psychiatrist, and a speech therapist. After the initial observation, the child will undergo a series of tests to assess academic capabilities, speech, language, and problem solving (Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 2009). A certain core group of behaviors such as abnormal eye contact, a lack of interactive play, and aloofness, will alert the doctors as to the possibility of an Asperger’s diagnosis. These children are all screened very thoroughly because of the instances of a misdiagnosis of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. All of these tests combined with the child’s developmental history and symptoms will be looked at in making the diagnosis (Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 2009).

Because there is no cure for Asperger’s Syndrome, the best way to treat it is with early intervention. These interventions focus on social skills training, behavior management, and cognitive behavior therapies (Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 2009). The social skills’ training involves explicit teaching of socialization skills, much in the same way teachers teach a foreign language. To Asperger’s children, basic social skills are a foreign language. Cognitive behavior therapy focuses on stopping and recognizing problem behaviors such as obsessions, outbursts, and interrupting. Though there is no medication to treat Asperger’s Syndrome, many of the symptoms such as anxiety and hyperactivity can be curbed with certain medications (Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 2009).

Children with Asperger’s Syndrome are generally taught in a mainstream classroom with help from the Special Education department. Asperger’s students see every aspect of school, particularly the classroom, hallways, and lunchroom, as a social setting. This is why school is a stressor and a cause of over stimulation for students with Asperger’s Syndrome (New Horizons, 2009).

The best way to teach a child with Asperger’s Syndrome is to first collaborate with the Special Education department. A SPED teacher may or may not be available for aid in the classroom; however, they can provide a mainstream teacher with the best resources and strategies when teaching a child with Asperger’s. The SPED teacher will most likely help devise The Academic, Physical, and Interpersonal Inclusion Plan (API) for the students. This plan is especially useful when the SPED teacher is unavailable to assist in the classroom (New Horizons, 2009). An API Inclusion Plan will include ways to help the student deal with times where structure is lacking, aid the teacher in finding ways to provide a smooth transition, and provide good strategies when the classroom would not be an optimal learning environment. The period between classes, drills or alarms, trips to the gym, recess, and bus travel are all times of chaos for an Asperger’s student. A student may work better in a crowded classroom if given ear plugs or headphones during class work time. The teacher may have to give the student with Asperger’s Syndrome plenty of notice between transitions into new subjects or activities. Along with this advanced notice, teachers should also make sure that the Asperger’s student is aware of all steps needed to complete an assignment. Students with Asperger’s have strength in memorization and teachers should plan lessons to bring out that strength. The main goal for a teacher with an Asperger’s student is to maintain as much consistency in routine as possible (New Horizons, 2009).

Because the Asperger’s student is comforted by routine, a change in teachers at the elementary, middle, and high school levels can be very unsettling. Teachers should hold a meeting and strategize together the best teaching methods that worked with the Asperger’s student (New Horizons, 2009). This will also help the student focus on curriculum rather than on the changes.

There is no known cause or cure for Asperger’s Syndrome. Teachers need to get to know their student as well as educate themselves about Asperger’s Syndrome. These students deserve a good education, and the way to do that is for everyone from parents to teachers to administration to provide the best possible learning environment for their Asperger’s student. Teachers should constantly be looking at ways to make their classroom comfortable, predictable, and engaging for all students, especially those with Asperger’s Syndrome. The best defense is a good offense.

References

Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2009). Asperger’s Syndrome. Retrieved online February 10th, 2009 from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/aspergers-syndrome/DS00551

WedMD, LLC. (2009). Mental Health: Asperger’s Syndrome. Retrieved online February 10th, 2009 from http://www.webmd.com/brain/autism/mental-health-aspergers- syndrome

Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. (2009). Asperger’s Syndrome. Retrieved online February 11th, 2009 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asperger_Syndrome
NINDS – National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (2005). Asperger’s Syndrome Fact Sheet. Retrieved online February 11th, 2009 from http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/asperger/detail_asperger.htm

Meredith Corporation. (2009). The Boy Who Couldn’t Make Friends. Retrieved online February 12th, 2009 from http://www.parents.com/big-kids/health/autism/the-boy- who-couldnt-make-friends/

New Horizons for Learning. (2009). Teaching Strategies for Asperger’s Students. Retrieved online February 13th, 2009 from http://www.newhorizon.org/spneeds/autism/may.htm
Scholastic Inc. (2009). Understanding Asperger’s. Retrieved online February 13th, 2009 from http://www2.scholastic.com/browse/article.jsp?id=3750129