Children with Asperger’s Syndrome may have underdeveloped areas in the brain that cause problems in: communication(not talking, but actually communicating thought effectively), learning appropriate social skills and responses, understanding the thoughts and feelings of others, and focusing on “the real world,” as opposed to becoming absorbed in their own thoughts and obsessions.
Those with Asperger’s are often extremely literal in their interpretation of others’ conversations, for example, they may wonder if cats and dogs are really raining down or think there are two suns when someone talks about two sons. They are unable to recognize differences in speech tone, pitch, and accent that alter the meaning of what others’ say. They often do not understand a joke or take a sarcastic comment literally. Often to cover the fact that they don’t understand, they will attempt (and I stress attempt) humor over the subject in an effort to avoid the stress and awkwardness they feel at not understanding. These children are naturally bright and are not used to finding something in which they do not excel. These things that confuse them tend to cause much frustration and anger.
Learning social skills for children with Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) is like learning a foreign language. A child with AS is often unable to recognize non-verbal communication that other children learn without formal instruction. Some examples are: not understanding the appropriate distance to stand from another person when talking (personal space or touching), how to tell when someone does not want to listen any longer, and how to interpret facial expressions.
Many AS children will be highly aware of right and wrong and will bluntly announce what is wrong. They will recognize others’ shortcomings, but not their own. Consequently, the behavior of those with Asperger’s is likely to be inappropriate through no fault of their own.
Children with AS need routine and predictability to give them a sense of safety and stability. Change can cause stress and too much change can lead to meltdowns (tantrums). Changes that are stressful for them are: a different teacher at school, a new routine, doing things in a different order (e.g.; putting pants on before a shirt), going to the bathroom at someone else’s home, changing a bedroom curtain or the color of the walls, to name a few. Routines and predictability help them remain calm.
Their thinking may be totally focused on only one or two interests, about which they are very knowledgeable. Many children with Asperger’s syndrome are interested in parts of a whole (intricate jigsaw puzzles), designing houses, video games, drawing highly detailed scenes, astronomy, the computer, insects, trains, and many more. Because their brains are so obsessed by their interest, they may talk only about it, even when others are carrying on a conversation on a different topic. They will often try to incorporate their interests into that topic to fit into the group.
AS children notice details, rather than the “whole” picture. The importance of the detail prevents the AS child from understanding the bigger picture, so instructions may get lost in their focus on a single detail. A lesson at school may be totally ignored in favor of a fly on the wall. Multiple instructions are extremely difficult for these children to retain and follow.
AS children are not able to access their frontal cortex or prefrontal lobe efficiently, so they must call on social skills from their memories. If a social skill has not been taught, they won’t have it. Consequently, turn taking, imagination, conversation, and other’s points of view cause AS children great difficulty. The AS person may be unable to realize consequences outside his or her way of thinking. In addition, they cannot recognize when someone is lying to them or trying to take advantage. Most have trouble in a school setting often for these reasons. They need a teacher, parent or other trusted adult to watch out for others for them, as they will often follow along with anyone who promises friendship or appears to give them the social acceptance they crave. With AS children, peer pressure takes on a whole new meaning.