Asperger’s is part of the group of disorders called Autistic Spectrum Disorder – or ASD. The “spectrum” is a scale of the seriousness of the disorder. Children who are at the lower end of the spectrum are known as “high functioning” which means that, while they are diagnosed with the disorder, it causes minimum distress and such children can live a more or less normally, functioning well in the world around them. This does not mean that there is nothing wrong with them, simply that they have the intelligence and functionality to deal with it with support. At the other end of the scale, there are children who can not interact at all, who struggle to understand their world and would be extremely distressed by certain things such as a lack of routine.
It can be very difficult to diagnose Autism or Asperger’s. If a parent believes that their child is “on the spectrum”, it can be very difficult to begin the process of diagnosis and, for some families, simply getting someone to listen to their concerns is a battle. Parents should remember that they know their children best and it is worth making a fuss to get these things done.
There are certain traits which may indicate that a child has Asperger’s. Some common examples are as follows:
Children may struggle to interact, particular with children their own age.
They may need routine and become distressed if their routine is disturbed
They may be hypersensitive, eg. they may become upset seemingly unnecessarily because there is a smell, touch, sound, etc. which they notice more than one would expect and, in some cases, certain smells or touch might be physically painful.
They may seem to become distressed over what seems like nothing but there will be a trigger, even if it makes no sense to anyone else.
Some children with ASD may be violent.
They may be late in certain areas of development such as speech, movement and toilet training (although many reach certain milestones earlier than expected).
This list is not extensive and there are many other traits which could suggest that a child is suffering. It is also important to remember that if a child suffers from one or two of these traits (or others associated with the disorder) does not necessarily mean that they have Asperger’s or Autism.
Once a child is diagnosed, it can still be difficult to get the necessary help within a school. This is partly because there is still little understanding about Autism. Asperger’s itself is not a learning difficulty as such and this makes it difficult for schools to provide support. A child with any level of ASD is likely to be intelligent and, at the higher functioning end in particular, will generally be capable of academic achievement. The problems with Autism are usually social although some children with ASD may also suffer from other difficulties.
Schools currently have solutions in place to cope with physical disabilities and certain learning difficulties which are common and easily spotted but, due to the nature of ASD, schools do not always have the knowledge or resources to deal with this. Of course, a major problem is that with certain difficulties, the solution to a problem is similar with each child, whereas ASD is such a large spectrum that it is possible that there are several children who are diagnosed but all need individually designed support which, in most cases, is simply not practical.