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We think our son has Aspergers Syndrome


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Thanks for your reply.  I'm currently looking into the possibility that our son may have Asperger Syndrome.  I suspect that the way we handle his behaviour may be different if he has - so I feel we need to fully explore this first.  Do you have any experience in this?

John xxxxxxx


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Hi John and Kelly,

"Bad" behaviour is often confused with and mistaken for many behaviour disorders.   It would not be appropriate for me to work with you without professional agreement if you feel that this is his real problem but parents who come to me have often explored many such avenues in the past and careful questioning will usually tell me whether the problem is likely to be interactionally based (i.e. "bad" behaviour) or not.

I don't think you are right when you say

"I suspect that the way we handle his behaviour may be different if he has Aspergers Syndrome"

to my knowledge there are no other ways of handling any child that has any condition (even the worst cases of autism) - once the professionals have prescribed or discounted drugs that does not involve careful behaviour management techniques.

To help you make a distinction between behaviour that may be associated with Aspergers and behaviour that could be interactionally based I have made some comments, in brackets, to the list of the symptoms of Aspergers.

1.  Lack of empathy. They do not seem to take the other person's feelings into account. They may appear rude or insensitive, or selfish.
[ This is also one of the main things I look for as indicating interactionally based "bad" behaviour ]

2.  Naiveté. While they may seem rude, they are often unaware of how this affects other people.
[hurting without the intension to hurt is not in the "normal range"' of bad behaviour but hurting out of spitefulness, wanting to hurt, especially hurting when being punished or told-off, or when the child is not getting its own way are typical "bad" behaviour]

3.  They are more likely to be teased or picked on.
[Being picked on is less usual, but problems making or keeping friends is again typical of a child with interactional behaviour problems i.e. "bad" behaviour]

4.  Odd way of talking, odd body posture. Many individuals with Asperger disorder will talk in a monotone, robotic way, or may use a "sing-song" tone of voice that does not vary with the meaning of what they say. They may walk or stand in unusual ways.
[If he does this then his problem is  NOT  just bad behaviour]

5.  Clumsiness. This often goes along with Asperger disorder but it is not specific.
[many children are clumsy this would not be so significant unless your child is very clumsy or if it were linked to the symptom above]

6.  Poor nonverbal skills. This may go along with clumsiness. In Asperger disorder, individuals often have good vocabulary and grammar knowledge, but do poorly with mechanical skills, puzzles, or "visualizing" things.
[This may be significant and can be tested for, but occasionally this might be confused with the  child's inability to settle which can be behaviourally based.]

7.  Poor eye contact. Individuals with Asperger disorder frequently have to be prompted to look at people. This seems different from shyness. Shy individuals use their eye contact appropriately when they do use it. People with Asperger disorder seem unaware of how to use eye contact. It as if they "forget" to look at someone when they are talking to them.
[Many children do this when they are being told off - and cover their ears - this is normal with bad behaviour.  However if he does it at other times this may be very significant.]

8.  Restricted or eccentric interests. These interests are usually more complex than those of children with autism, but still would be considered odd for a child, or excessive. For example, they may be interested in unusual collections. They may have only a few topics of conversation. While they may be "experts" on these topics, they are not interested in what the other person has to say, or may be very repetitive in the way they talk about their interests.
[This could well be significant. This is not the same as the child trying to "butt into" your conversations without waiting - as this is often interactionally based. ]

9.  Unusual responses to sensations. The term "sensory integration disorder" is confusing to most people. What we can observe is that some individuals act like they respond differently to noise, touch, texture, movement, light, and smell. They may be unusually bothered by certain textures of clothing, may get upset if served the "wrong" brand of food, or may cover their ears because of some noises but not others.
[It is Very significant if he has this.  But it is possible for parents to "legitimise" and therefore encourage eccentric behaviour by helping the child to accomplish it.   If he over-reacts if he does not get his own way - this is typical of bad behaviour]

10.  Impairment or handicap. Symptoms of Asperger disorder have to be severe enough to cause significant impairment in every day life. Simple examples would include having to attend a special education class, inability to participate in community activities without extra support, serious problems with behaviour (such as disruptive or aggressive behaviour), or serious impact on family life.

[This last  "disruptive or aggressive behaviour, or serious impact on family life"  is also the main criteria for the need for behavioural help.   It is even more likely that the problem is one of "behaviour management" rather than Aspergers if your son functions well, fairly normally,  in any situation outside the home where he has to interact with others.   If he can do this, say, for periods at school, or when he is with grandparents or other relatives, when he is with a child minder, or at an after school club etc, then this tells you that his problem is  "situation specific".

What this means is that the behaviour is far more pronounced or specific to particular places, or with particular people (i.e. the parents)  which in turn, in my view,  clearly means that the child is far LESS LIKELY to have any internal problem like Aspergers

In fact behaviour being "situation specific",   in my view, rules out, or puts in doubt either

  • the diagnoses of a more serious condition itself or

  • the diagnosed condition being the main cause of the     problem behaviour at home

    11.  Pragmatic language impairment. This could include difficulty with eye contact, greeting, holding conversations, adjusting what you see based on different situations, or even recognizing what situation you are in (formal, informal, casual, intimate).
    [Significant if he has this - but do not confuse this with his inability to understand why he should not do something or his use of irrational arguments or temper to make his point - these are typical  "bad behaviours".]

    12.  Semantic impairment.  The term "semantics" has to do with the meaning of language, which is often different from the "literal" meaning of words.  Typical problems include not getting jokes, taking speech literally (not understanding figures of speech), or insistence on following literal rules.
    [Not understanding simple jokes is significant.  Taking speech literally is also significant but should not be confused with the child's deliberately taking what you say literally when they know full well what you really mean.   Also many children are not good at accepting jokes at their own expense.]

    I hope this helps.  All the best for the future.

    Warwick Dyer
    Behaviour Change Consultancy

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