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Answering questions about Asperger's Syndrome

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First and foremost, unless you hear the police confirm a diagnosis by evaluating medical or school records, don't jump to conclusions that Adam Lanza had Asperger's syndrome just because his brother may have said something about a disability. In the past ten years, the terms autism and Asperger's syndrome have been thrown around and people have referred to others as having these disabilities without a known diagnosis.

There are some important points to understand about Asperger's syndrome.

What is Asperger's syndrome?

Asperger's syndrome is a developmental disability characterized by difficulties in social exchanges and repetitive patterns or behaviors. People with this disability sometimes exhibit sensory processing challenges, for example sensitivity to loud noises or bright lights. Children with Asperger's syndrome often have more language skills than other children with autism and are sometimes referred to as "high-functioning." Some are referred to as "little professors" for their intense interest in one topic or subject area, in which they become well-versed.

Are children with Asperger's typically violent?

No, by nature they are not.

People are asking why Nancy Lanza would have guns in her home if she knew her child had Asperger's syndrome. Asperger's syndrome is typically not a cause for alarm regarding aggressive and violent behavior.

Some children with Asperger's syndrome do exhibit outbursts, tantrums, destruction of items in the environment or aggressive behavior towards others. This does not mean they are likely to pick up a gun and kill someone. The cause for such behaviors varies and is individual to the child.

For example, many children with Asperger's syndrome are comfortable in their routines and when their routines are disrupted, they have what we would characterize as a disproportionate response. They may scream and cry instead of verbalizing their emotions or attempting to find a solution. It is also sometimes difficult for them to understand and accept that their desired situation or item is delayed and not gone forever.

Due to the difficulty regulating their responses to undesirable situations, one of the common goals of educating children with Asperger's syndrome is to teach appropriate levels of emotions and correlating coping strategies.

Can a person have Asperger's syndrome and another disability or disorder?

Yes, it is possible for someone to have more than one disability.

In my experience, I have seen children with more than one diagnosis. I have also, however, seen parents and school districts receive a primary diagnosis, arrange appropriate services for a child, and disregard or delay addressing other concerns. As other issues or challenges arise, they may not explore other possibilities or diagnoses because services are in place and they may not consider other factors could be at play.

What behaviors would concern a teacher?

There are some behaviors that are cause for concern in any child, not just a child with Asperger's syndrome. Cause for concern means more emotional support and social skills training may be warranted but not necessarily that this individual will carry out a heinous crime.

- Repeated acting out behaviors that are not reduced or eliminated after positive behavior supports and interventions are put in place. Medication and biological factors are often considered as well.

- Ideations about harming others, though they don't necessarily mean a child wants to do harm or will carry them out.

- Consistent and clear lack of remorse or concern for others, especially when no improvement is noted after social skills training or support.

If these behaviors are reported in the classroom or by the parent, a psychologist or psychiatrist is often brought in to evaluate the child and make a recommendation regarding treatment, support, and class placement.

It is important to understand that each child is an individual, with his own challenges, strengths, and history. A diagnosis does not equal a sentence; the possibilities for an individual with Asperger's syndrome are positive and endless. In an age where the public is still being educated on autism and Asperger's syndrome, it is best to look at Adam Lanza's whole story before making a judgement of him or his motive. Do not fear or hesitate to interact with children with Asperger's syndrome or autism because they are often funny, loving, and enjoyable people to be around. It is essential they get the support they need to live their best life and a world that embraces them with understanding is a great start.

 

Jennifer is an educational consultant who works with families and educators to establish healthy and productive routines in the home and school. Adapting behavior management techniques she implemented for years as a special educator, she helps parents and teachers adopt these tools to fit their unique needs and priorities. Jennifer also speaks to parent and education groups on current topics in education and children's health. Visit www.jennifercerbasi.com