Monday, July 2, 2012

Health Care and Asperger's Syndrome

According to the NIH (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke), Asperger's syndrome (AS) is an autism spectrum disorder. It is milder than autism but shares some of its symptoms. It is more common in boys than girls. An obsessive interest in a single subject is a major symptom of AS. Some children with AS have become experts on dinosaurs, makes and models of cars, even objects as seemingly odd as vacuum cleaners. Their expertise, high level of vocabulary and formal speech patterns make them seem like little professors.

Children with AS have trouble reading social cues and recognizing other people's feelings. They may have strange movements or mannerisms. All of these make it difficult for them to make friends. Problems with motor skills are also common in children with AS. They may be late learning to ride a bike or catch a ball, for example. Treatment focuses on the three main symptoms: poor communication skills, obsessive or repetitive routines, and physical clumsiness. More info can be found at their website: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/aspergerssyndrome.html .

Asperger's syndrome symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic, include:

• Engaging in one-sided, long-winded conversations, without noticing if the listener is listening or trying to change the subject
• Displaying unusual nonverbal communication, such as lack of eye contact, few facial expressions, or awkward body postures and gestures
• Showing an intense obsession with one or two specific, narrow subjects, such as baseball statistics, train schedules, weather or snakes
• Appearing not to understand, empathize with or be sensitive to others' feelings
• Having a hard time "reading" other people or understanding humor
• Speaking in a voice that is monotonous, rigid or unusually fast
• Moving clumsily, with poor coordination

Unlike children with more-severe forms of autism spectrum disorders, those with Asperger's syndrome usually don't have delays in the development of language skills. That means your child will use single words by the age of 2 and phrases by the time he or she is 3 years old. But, children with Asperger's syndrome may have difficulties holding normal conversations. Conversations may feel awkward and lack the usual give and take of normal social interactions. Toddlers and school-age children with Asperger's syndrome may not show an interest in friendships. Youngsters with Asperger's often have developmental delays in their motor skills, such as walking, catching a ball or playing on playground equipment. In early childhood, kids with Asperger's may be quite active. By young adulthood, people with Asperger's syndrome may experience depression or anxiety. Much more info can be found at their website: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/aspergers-syndrome/DS00551 .

Asperger syndrome can be very difficult to diagnose, according to KidsHealth.org. Children with AS function well in most aspects of life, so it can be easy to attribute their strange behaviors to just being "different." Experts say that early intervention involving educational and social training, performed while a child's brain is still developing, is very important for kids with AS. If your child exhibits some of the symptoms and behaviors that are typical of AS, it's critical to seek help from your doctor. He or she can refer you to a mental health professional or other specialist for further evaluation.

When a specialist assesses your child, a thorough "psychosocial" evaluation will be performed. This includes a careful history of when symptoms were first recognized, the development of motor skills and language patterns, and other aspects of personality and behavior (including favorite activities, unusual habits, preoccupations, etc.). Particular emphasis is placed on social development, including past and present problems in social interaction and development of friendships. A psychological evaluation and assessment of communication skills are usually conducted to determine which strengths and skills might be deficient, according to Kids Health.

Because AS can present patterns of behaviors and problems that differ widely from child to child, there isn't a "typical" or prescribed treatment regimen as noted at KidsHealth.org. However, depending on what their strengths and weaknesses are (or depending on what their development history is), kids may benefit from these treatments:

• parent education and training
• specialized educational interventions
• social skills training
• language therapy
• sensory integration training for younger kids, usually performed by an occupational therapist, in which they are desensitized to stimuli to which they're overly sensitive
• psychotherapy or behavioral/cognitive therapy for older kids
• medications

It will help if you involve all of your child's caregivers in the treatment. The health professionals who are caring for your child should know what the others are doing, and you will often find yourself acting as the "case manager" in this scenario. Teachers, babysitters, other family members, close friends, and anyone else who cares for your child also should be involved. It's important to know that many people can provide assistance. Finding the right program for your child is key and getting help early is important. Kids with AS can and do experience great gains with the appropriate treatment and education. A lot of details about Asperger’s Syndrome can be found at the Kids Health website: http://kidshealth.org/parent/medical/brain/asperger.html .

The demands of living with a person with autism are great, and families frequently experience high levels of stress. Recognizing and preparing for the challenges that are in store will make a tremendous difference to all involved, including parents, siblings, grandparents, extended family, and friends, according to the Autism Society. The uniqueness of each individual with autism makes the experience of living with autism different for each family. But there are some consistent themes or issues that most families will want to be aware of to be able to provide the best support to the individual and to family members. The Autism Society has developed in-depth information on a variety of topics related to living with autism. Their information is by no means exhaustive, but it should help to equip families with some of the basic tools they may need to provide the best outcomes for their loved ones on the autism spectrum. Lots of material about this disease can be found at their website: http://www.autism-society.org/about-autism/aspergers-syndrome/ .

If you feel that your child may be exhibiting symptoms of Asperger’s, see your pediatrician as soon as possible and consult with specialists that your doctor may recommend. More testing would be ideal, but find out if there may be a problem if you have definite concerns. Treating and living with a child with AS is challenging, but not knowing is even more difficult, especially if your child needs help.

Until next time.

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