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Dr Maude van Heerden
(Dipl. TOD BA MBD, Docrorate in Education)


What is Autism Spectrum Disorders?


Asperger’s syndrome is a developmental disorder that affects a person’s ability to socialize and communicate effectively with others. Children with Asperger’s syndrome typically exhibit social awkwardness and an all-absorbing interest in specific topics.

Doctors group Asperger’s syndrome with other conditions that are called autistic spectrum disorders or pervasive developmental disorders. These disorders all involve problems with social skills and communication. Asperger’s syndrome is generally thought to be at the milder end of this spectrum.

While there’s no cure for Asperger’s syndrome, if your child has the condition treatment can help him or her learn how to interact more successfully in social situations.

Symptoms during childhood

Parents often first notice the symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome when their child starts preschool and begins to interact with other children. Children with Asperger’s syndrome may:

  • Not pick up on social cues and may lack inborn social skills, such as being able to read others’ body language, start or maintain a conversation, and take turns talking.
  • Dislike any changes in routines.
  • Appear to lack empathy.
  • Be unable to recognize subtle differences in speech tone, pitch, and accent that alter the meaning of others? Speech: So your child may not understand a joke or may take a sarcastic comment literally. And his or her speech may be flat and hard to understand because it lacks tone, pitch, and accent.
  • Have a formal style of speaking that is advanced for his or her age. For example, the child may use the word “beckon” instead of “call” or the word “return” instead of “come back.”
  • Avoid eye contact or stare at others.
  • Have unusual facial expressions or postures.
  • Be preoccupied with only one or few interests, which he or she may be very knowledgeable about. Many children with Asperger’s syndrome are overly interested in parts of a whole or in unusual activities, such as designing houses, drawing highly detailed scenes, or studying astronomy. They may show an unusual interest in certain topics such as snakes, names of stars, or dinosaurs.
  • Talk a lot, usually about a favourite subject. One-sided conversations are common. Internal thoughts are often verbalized.
  • Have delayed motor development. Your child may be late in learning to use a fork or spoon, ride a bike, or catch a ball. He or she may have an awkward walk. Handwriting is often poor.
  • Have heightened sensitivity and become overstimulated by loud noises, lights, or strong tastes or textures. For more information about these symptoms, see sensory processing disorder.

Asperger Syndrome

Asperger noticed that although these boys had normal intelligence and language development, they had severely impaired social skills, were unable to communicate effectively with others, and had poor coordination.

AS is characterized by poor social interactions, obsessions, odd speech patterns, and other peculiar mannerisms. Kids with AS often have few facial expressions and have difficulty reading the body language of others; they might engage in obsessive routines and display an unusual sensitivity to sensory stimuli (for example, they may be bothered by a light that no one else notices; they may cover their ears to block out sounds in the environment; or they might prefer to wear clothing made only of a certain material).

Overall, people with AS are capable of functioning in everyday life, but tend to be somewhat socially immature, relate better to adults than peers, and may be seen by others as odd or eccentric.

Other characteristics of AS may include motor delays, clumsiness, limited interests, and peculiar preoccupations. Adults with AS have trouble demonstrating empathy for others, and social interactions continue to be difficult.

AS Symptoms

A significant, ongoing impairment in social interactions with others, as demonstrated  by at least two of the following symptoms:

  • Significant difficulty in the use of multiple nonverbal behaviours such as the lack of eye contact, few facial expressions, awkward or clumsy body postures and gestures
  • Failure to develop friendships with other children of the same age
  • Lack of spontaneous seeking to share enjoyment, interests, or achievements with other people (e.g., by a lack of showing, bringing, or pointing out objects of interest to other people)
  • Failure to express appropriate and corresponding social or emotional reactions, such as when conversing or playing with others. For example, a child who shows little or no reaction, feelings or empathy to another child talking with them.

Restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests, and activities, as shown by    at least one of the following symptoms:

  • A significant and encompassing preoccupation or obsession with one or two restricted topics, that is abnormal either in intensity, subject or focus (such as baseball statistics or the weather)
  • Seemingly inflexible adherence to specific routines or rituals that serve little purpose
  • Repetitive motor mannerisms. For example, hand or finger flapping or twisting, or complex whole-body movements.
  • A persistent preoccupation with parts of objects

The set of symptoms causes significant impairment in social, occupational, or other         important areas of functioning.

There is no significant general delay in language (e.g., single words used by age 2,            communicative phrases used by age 3).

There is no significant delay in cognitive development (such as reading or math skills) or in the development of age-appropriate self-help skills, behaviour, and curiosity about the environment in childhood.

What are some common signs or symptoms?

Children with Asperger syndrome may have speech marked by a lack of rhythm, an odd inflection, or a monotone pitch.  They often lack the ability to modulate the volume of their voice to match their surroundings.  For example, they may have to be reminded to talk softly every time they enter a library or a movie theatre.

Unlike the severe withdrawal from the rest of the world that is characteristic of autism, children with Asperger syndrome are isolated because of their poor social skills and narrow interests.  Children with the disorder will gather enormous amounts of factual information about their favourite subject and will talk incessantly about it, but the conversation may seem like a random collection of facts or statistics, with no point or conclusion.   They may approach other people, but make normal conversation difficult by eccentric behaviours or by wanting only to talk about their singular interest.

Many children with AS are highly active in early childhood, but some may not reach milestones as early as other children regarding motor skills such as pedalling a bike, catching a ball, or climbing outdoor play equipment.   They are often awkward and poorly coordinated with a walk that can appear either stilted or bouncy.

Some children with AS may develop anxiety or depression in young adulthood.  Other conditions that often co-exist with Asperger syndrome are Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), tic disorders (such as Tourette syndrome), depression, anxiety disorders, and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

Checklist for signs of Asperger’s

Social interaction

Children with Asperger’s disorder might:

  • initiate interactions with others but have difficulty in sustaining social interaction
  • interact with people if they need something or to talk about something that interests them, but not for the sake of being social or out of genuine interest in others
  • interact in an awkward and stilted way – for example, they might avoid eye contact while speaking or interpret things literally
  • interact more easily with adults than with children
  • not show emotion or empathy.

Communication and language

Children with Asperger’s disorder might:

  • be very verbal – for example, they might label everything in a room
  • join words together at the usual developmental stage (around two years)
  • communicate with others about their own interests
  • use a flat or monotone voice
  • answer questions, but not initiate questions if the topic doesn’t interest them.

Repetitive or persistent behaviours

Children with Asperger’s disorder might:

  • have restricted or obsessive interests that make them seem like ‘walking encyclopaedias’ about particular topics
  • prefer routines and rules
  • not respond well to change

My child is struggling at school.  What should I do?

To learn about the next step you can contact an Integra Learning Centre that will              help and assist you with your child’s problem.  An assessment can be arranged to        determine if an academic problem exists. The remedial therapist will then make               recommendations to help and assist the parents and the child.

How do I as a parent make sure that my child will be successful?

  • You have to be knowledgeable about your child’s needs and what the schools can offer in terms of main stream schooling with remedial available during school hours, specialised schools Like Lantern or Special Education.
  • It is good to help your child build self-esteem.
  • Set achievable goals for your child that is achievable.
  • Be positive and give your child a safe, encouraging environment.
  • Help your child practise reading with enjoyment.
  • Do something nice with your child.
  • Motivate your child.