In my 20 plus years of being an educator, I’ve seen numerous levels within the autism spectrum. From the nonverbal to the high functioning or what they used to call Asperger’s. In my traditional ASD or Autistic Spectrum Disorder classes, most of the students are much more severe.
My Asperger’s or high functioning ASD students are many times educated with the regular education students and many times in the gifted classes (in our district AGP or Accelerated Gifted Program).
Many times my Asperger’s students have IEP’s or Individual Education Plans and are integrated into the regular ed classroom.
We’ve all heard of the celebrities that have Asperger’s Syndrome such as Bill Gates, Andy Warhol and even Abraham Lincoln.
As you can see having a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome or in more recent terms being placed on the higher level of the Autism Spectrum Disorder doesn’t mean you have to be limited.
With these tips to help your child with Asperger’s Syndrome, you can ensure that while they may or may not reach the Bill Gates or Abraham Lincoln status they will be happy and healthy.
The one thing is for certain is that with a diagnosis of High functioning ASD or Asperger’s there isn’t a one size fits all program. These tips will make your life and your child’s life better.
I know everyone’s time is valuable and as busy parents you need tips on the go so see this summary infographic below.
If you want more detailed info check out our Asperger’s/ High functioning ASD Overview and the 11 Detailed Ways To Help Your Child With Asperger’s Syndrome Or High Functioning ASD below the infographic.
Asperger’s Syndrome or High Functioning ASD Overview
Asperger’s was previously known as a separate type of Autism. Although, it is now under a single diagnosis called Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD.
Asperger’s Syndrome is considered a high-functioning form of ASD. Many experts believe that while Asperger’s Syndrome is no longer a separate diagnosis the established term “Asperger’s Syndrome” is still valid as a way for Doctor to explain to parents or a way for someone with high functioning ASD to identify themselves.
Children with Asperger’s many times can live “normal” lives and depending on the severity of the spectrum that the child falls into they can integrate into society with some help.
In this article, we will be using the term Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) and high functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or HFASD interchangeably.
Many times children with Asperger’s do show telltale symptoms that are associated with Asperger’s Syndrome. They include:
- Difficulty with social interactions
- Repeating words or phrases
- Problems with social communication such as body gestures and facial expression, etc
- Average to above-average verbal skills
- Interested in self rather than others
- Lack of eye contact
- Won’t start or continue conversations
- Very intense about certain topics
- Hard time having a mutual conversation
- awkward movements
If you notice any of the symptoms above in your child then the next step is to talk to a professional about whether or not they meet the criteria of Asperger’s. Each of these professionals can help with a diagnosis:
- Psychiatrist: Their main focus is on mental health conditions and can prescribe medication if necessary.
- Developmental pediatrician: They work with speech and language issues and other developmental problems.
- Pediatric neurologist: They are specialists in conditions of the brain.
- Psychologist: They’re able to consult and treats problems with emotions and behavior.
The interesting thing about Asperger’s Syndrome is that the treatment is not a one size fits all plan.
That is why they call it a spectrum disorder. Doctors and Psychologists can evaluate your child and should come up with a detailed and individualistic plan for your child.
Most of the treatments will involve improving the main concerns of Asperger’s such as social concerns, speech patterns and most importantly parent education/training.
11 Detailed Ways To Help Children With Asperger’s Or High Functioning ASD
1. Social Skills
As I am walking down the hall at school I will see my ASD or Autistic students walking to class. Many times I have to make a decision on whether or not to say “Hi” to them.
This seems like such a basic and natural thing to do but pleasantries do not come easily to ASD students.
More often than not I do say “Hi” to my ASD students when I pass them in the morning or in the hall! When I do, I have to say “Hi” many times and the parents stop and feel the responsibility to reinforce to their child that they should initiate eye contact and verbally say “Hi”.
While it is a good habit to get into I can tell by the look on my parent’s faces that some morning a nod to the parent and a hand wave to the student is more appropriate as they are already having a tough morning.
As I said before, practicing proper social skills is important and a large part of our ASD students therapy but during those times it is best to just wave and let them keep going.
Social skills are the most obvious symptom of a child with Asperger’s. While a child with Asperger’s most likely will not be as severe as a traditional ASD student.
This makes it even more important to help practice the skills that will help them fit in and feel comfortable in social settings.
Due to the fact that children with Asperger’s have difficulty picking up on body gestures and facial expressions they can misinterpret a social interaction.
Children have a hard enough time communicating, in general, let alone not being able to use the social dynamics that regular children pick up naturally from their parents, siblings or grandparents.
Not being able to determine whether another student on the playground is having a bad day or alternatively, that a student wants a friend to play with can cause frustration for both the child with Asperger’s and the others. This many times this leads to misunderstanding and leaves the AS (Asperger’s Syndrome) student lonely and not sure why no one is playing with them.
One of the best ways to help an AS child is to lead them with predetermined prompts so that if the AS child finds themselves in an unusual situation or one that they don’t understand the parents have already prompted them with scripted lines that they have practiced.
With these already practiced lines, the AS child has a chance that one of the lines will work for them and help relieve an uncomfortable interaction.
A very basic example of this would be when an AS student is on the playground and is unsure if someone whats to play with them or wants to be left alone.
The AS student can use the practiced line of ” Would you like to play with me or would you rather play by yourself?”
While that seems very basic, for an AS child that can be a breakthrough.
Many times this interaction is only accomplished because the parents or loved ones practiced the possible situations that could occur and which predetermined phrases would work the best.
For some children it may be appropriate for only one phrase and others could really benefit from a multitude of practiced lines to increase their chances of success.
This technique may not make the AS child feel confident enough to initiate conversation or ask to play in a group.
Although, it might just get the child off the bench and walking around with the possibility of interaction as they feel confident enough that if someone interacts with them they might just have a line for that.
2. Set Routines And Daily Timetables
One of the staples of raising a small child is understanding that they don’t have a concept of time.
Their only evaluation of time is through their daily timetables or routines.
They know in the morning they have breakfast, in the afternoon they take a nap and at nighttime if the parent is on their game they will have a nighttime routine like reading a book or singing their child a song before bed.
This is true for a child without a disability but even more so for a child with Asperger’s.
Their day goes by much more smoothly and with less anxiety when they know their schedule beforehand. They can use the routines in the daily schedule as a marker for time.
We have all forgot our watch, phone or calendar book at home a time or two.
While we know this is not the end of the world. We all know it throws us off just enough for our day to go a bit less smooth.
We are wondering if we will be late if we are missing an important phone call or an even more important meeting that day.
We feel a little less in control of our day which many times causes anxiety. Now imagine how it feels for a small child or a child with a disability.
They need the be able to use their routines as landmarks for their day. Very similarly to landmarks used for directions.
It makes you feel more comfortable when you are coming up to your left turn according to your directions and you have been given an addition landmark to confirm you are turning in the right location.
Routines give children confidence and a sense of control over their own day as they feel good about knowing what is coming next.
Now in the real world, we all know it is impossible to adhere to a perfect routine all the time. As a matter of fact, children do benefit from small changes in their schedule from time to time which helps practice adversity.
Although, as a whole, children do best when they feel in control of their own destiny. When routines are strategically placed throughout the child’s day the anxiety and uncertainty that comes with having AS is minimized.
3. Start Friendships Slowly
As parents we never want our children to be disappointed but at the same time, we don’t want to hold them back either. Friendships may occur differently when it comes to children with AS or Autism.
It’s never a bad idea to start anything off slowly but play dates, gathering or even friendships can be seen by a special needs child as an uncomfortable experience if not done in accordance with their anxiety level. Start off by measuring your child’s level of anxiety concerning social interactions.
Do they do well or at least tolerate large crowds or busy areas? Do they prefer small confined gathering or even one on one playdates?
Measure your child tolerances and then plan accordingly.
Once you have an idea, which won’t be difficult as you know your child’s preferences well, then plan social interactions with the intention of starting small and working up to a more integrative setting.
If a one on one setting is preferred then know that playdates or playing, in general, may look quite different with children with AS or ASD. Many times they will react with children in a more parallel play model.
Parallel play is where the children will be playing in the same area but with different toys or games.
This is noticed in smaller children without special needs but can be seen at older ages in children with Asperger’s or Autism.
This is just fine and a normal part of working through the levels of AS. As the child becomes more comfortable and more mature they may start interacting with the playdate.
If the child can handle larger groups or crowd but doesn’t do well with social interactions then one tip may be to have them watch a game or activity from a distance but participate passively.
Like being a scorekeeper in a neighborhood ping pong game or help take stats at a local baseball game.
This will help the child feel like part of the game but not push them to interact until they are ready.
4. Talk To School Personnel
When your child has been diagnosed with high functioning ASD one of the first things you want to do is communicate that diagnosis with your child’s school.
Their teacher will be the first line of defense in ensuring that your child gets the appropriate accommodations during the school year.
When a child has a diagnosed special need they will need to contact the school district or neighborhood school to see what services they have to accommodate their child’s needs.
Some special needs children can have more than one disability. It is important to have a professional test them in order to best instruct your child.
Dyslexia is another disability that can disrupt your child’s learning. Click the link to learn more on how to help children with dyslexia.
In some cases, the neighborhood school may not be able to serve that child but the school district should have a school and program that fits that child’s needs.
Once the child is enrolled in the appropriate school the steps will be taken by school personnel that handles students who need special accommodations.
A parent meeting will be set up with all stakeholders that may be involved with the student’s learning.
From there, an initial IEP (Individualized Education Plan) will be started and the student should begin receiving services that day or the next.
Parents should feel free to ask questions at the meeting.
Procedural Safeguards are the documentation discussing the rights of the parents and it should be given to the parents either before the meeting or during.
One of the biggest mistakes that parents make is not familiarizing themselves with the guidelines associated with their child’s IEP. Knowing the ins and outs of their child’s accommodations within their IEP will help foster consistency throughout their schooling.
It is also important to understand that while getting your child’s needs met within the guidelines of their IEP is crucial to their success it should also be said that these accommodations are education-based.
The school will implement the goals and objectives written in the IEP but it is not meant to help parents in all aspect of their child’s care.
While there are many other services that the school can connect you with to help meet as many of your child’s needs as possible the main function of an IEP is to help your child educationally.
5. Help Prevent A Meltdown
Children with special needs have a very hard time communicating their needs.
When those needs are not being met or they are not able to communicate those needs in a clear manner difficult behaviors can manifest.
It is critical to practice with your child on how to communicate their needs before they get too frustrated which can create what is called a “Meltdown”.
A meltdown can mean many different things but typically it is when a child as gone past their point of no return resulting in a tantrum or severe outburst.
Help your child by working with them on what emotions are and how they feel with each emotion.
When they understand what emotions are and how to recognize them it will be much easier to establish a plan for how to deal with different situations either good or bad.
Talking with your child about what is an appropriate reaction to different circumstances and how it makes them feel will put them in touch with their emotions.
This will help them identify the proper reaction and give them more confidence in how to deal with different emotions.
One great way to do this is with a emotions chart.
Whether your child is younger or older having the ability to communicate non-verbally might be helpful when verbal communication is either mentally restricted or if they are just having difficulty explaining how they are feeling.
Once a meltdown has occurred your strategies are limited and many professionals recommend letting the tantrum play out if the environment is safe.
That is why preventing a meltdown is so important. If your child as many strategies to help them communicate their feeling the chance of having a meltdown is a lot less likely.
Meet Julia: Introducing an ASD puppet by Sesame Street
Let’s take a break with one of the first special needs sesame street puppets, Julia. This is a great video to introduce children without special needs to children with ASD. It is also a great resource that allows children with ASD to see that they are not the only ones with needs that are special.
6. Not Sure, Talk To A Professional
It is very easy to just dismiss your child’s behaviors as them being “too smart” or “awkward”.
While it is possible that they just need to mature or learn a certain organizational skill to help them past a difficulty. It is doing the child a disservice if they are not getting the help they need.
While it is important not to label a child unless it is necessary. Having a professional evaluate your child might help them in the long run.
If you are not sure or you are noticing behaviors that are associated with high functioning ASD or HFASD then talking to a professional is the next step.
When determining whether or not your child as HFASD then there are a couple of professions that can help diagnose your child.
A psychiatrist’s main focus is mental health conditions and can prescribe medication if necessary.
A developmental pediatrician can work with speech and language issues and other developmental problems. A pediatric neurologist is a specialist in conditions of the brain and can help determine if your child needs further help.
A psychologist is able to consult and treats problems with emotions and behavior and are a great resource for helping a child without special needs or ones with HFASD.
Many parents don’t what to admit that their child might have a special need.
It is certainly understandable not to want your child to be labeled if their issue can be handled with a tweak in their schedule or even there diet.
Although, if they are in need of special help then getting that help as soon as possible will start the routines and practices that will help them be more successful in the future.
7. Enact A Safety Word Or Phrase
The idea is for your child to benefit and grow with each social engagement.
Each time they go to the park with a friend or have a friend over to play they are practicing the skills they need to help buffer the limitations of their special need.
While it is important to slowly increase your child’s boundaries or areas of comfort so that they can grow and improve their social effectiveness.
It is also important to create something so if they start to get overwhelmed or they need to backtrack they can.
Setting up a safety word will allow your child to communicate with you, a loved one or a teacher that they need a break or their anxiety level has increased to a point where they are no longer comfortable.
Let’s say, Jimmy, who has high functioning ASD, and his family have decided that he is ready to go on his first school field trip by himself. Although, when he gets there he starts noticing that being in an unfamiliar setting, the large crowds and not having his parents there is starting to overwhelm him greatly.
Rather than having him explain all of this to his teacher. His parents have already discussed Jimmy’s safe word with the teacher so all Jimmy has to say is “Ms. Smith…Dump Truck”.
Ms. Smith knows that “Dump Truck” is Jimmy’s safe word and he is on the verge of a meltdown. She can give Jimmy a break from the stimulation that is causing him to be uncomfortable.
This gives the teacher the time to reassure him and use some principles that have helped Jimmy calm down in the past. If all else fails the teacher can call his parents and at the very least a meltdown has been diverted.
With this fictional scenario about Jimmy, you can see that a safe word can be beneficial and can be modified to fit many different situations.
Giving your child an opportunity to communicate swiftly and accurately to help prevent them from getting to the point of a meltdown is worth its weight in gold.
Having a strategy ready to implement such as a safe word when they are overwhelmed and communication has gotten to a point where it is no longer an easy option can greatly increase your child’s success when engaging in social events.
8. Work On Social Communication
Children with ASD all across the spectrum have a hard time picking up facial expressions or body gestures. While these are communication traits that are learned unconsciously for most it is not the case for the child with ASD.
Not being able to pick up on these social cues can put children at a disadvantage. Knowing when to start or stop a conversation with someone can many times be seen by the look on the persons face.
Someone who does not have these skill can miss an opportunity for a successful conversation or not see that a person is not interested.
Another aspect is a child with high functioning ASD might not understand that their facial expressions and body language also express how they feel.
Sometimes they overemphasize an expression and not know it. Other times they will walk into a room and a person will mention that they look uncomfortable and be confused about how they know that.
One way of teaching your child facial expression and body gestures is to use photos of different expressions both body and facial to help them identify what they mean and how to react to them.
Understanding that folded arms, slouching or a frowning face can all be signs that someone does not want to participate in a conversation or activity.
Alternatively, a person showing eye contact, an open body posture and a smiling face might be the perfect person to ask if they want to play
Helping your child improve their abilities to interpret the body language and facial expression of others could be the difference between your child watching other children play or actually interacting with them positively.
9. Reinforce Health Eating
Now, this is an interesting topic. There are many different strategies and differing opinions on how to help a child with Asperger’s start a healthy eating routine.
Many times parent go straight for the “Grannies Law” technique which is if you eat all your _______ then you get dessert.
This technique has been used for centuries and can be successful given the right child and situation.
Although, many experts believe that rewarding children with sweet desserts might hurt the child’s internal motivation to eat healthy because it is the right thing to do for their body.
Some studies show that when the reward or treat is taken away the child will no longer eat the food in question.
This is because the food-based reward technique does not increase the likeability of the food or the internal belief that they should eat it because it is good for them.
Although, (of course) a different 2011 study in Appetite concluded that using non-food rewards was shown to be helpful.
If there is a low intrinsic motivation situation like eating vegetables rewarding children with stickers or a small toys seems to work well as they increase interest in the food and give the child a reason to try them.
In many cases, they realize the food not so bad and they put up less of a fight.
Now as all parents know that have a child with ASD, getting them to eat in the first place can be difficult. If they’re eating many times it will be the same thing over and over.
Sometimes it will be foods that are of orange color or something smooth like applesauce.
On the opposite side, you can also have children that have a hard time feeling the sensation of being full so they are at an increased risk of obsessive eating and any type of food reward would be counterproductive.
Some children will not eat certain food due to texture and others will only eat foods based on that texture.
When parents try to change their child’s food habits it is usually met with resistance and tantrums.
Some children with ASD may choose restrictive food choices due to compulsive behavior and others may have sensory issues that complicate their ability to eat different types of food.
There are many different ways to help your child start the process of choosing healthy foods. One way is to have the child just try one bite and reward them for “trying” the food.
The reward is not for eating it but for trying a different type of food. The child will associate trying foods with a positive outcome which will hopefully help with the next bite of food they try next.
Another way is to try the food or non-food reward system for making good choices during a meal. If it works great but experts recommend scaling back the reward once the child is comfortable with the desired food.
If the problem is severe and they are only eating pancakes and goldfish along with having a gluten intolerance then it is time to seek the help of professional services like intensive feeding clinics.
This is where professionals will help re-teach the child proper eating patterns in a more clinical setting.
Having an understanding of different techniques to help your ASD child make better food choices will make dinner time a less stressful which will encourage a more positive experience.
10. Don’t Blame Yourself!
When a parent firsts get the diagnosis that their child has a disability it can be devastating.
The grieving process starts not for the child itself but for the dreams and aspirations that they had for their child before the diagnosis.
They grieve the dream of their child being the captain of the football team or a grand ballerina in the future.
Although, they slowly realize that the dream is still alive but in different ways.
They start to notice all the unique benefits that their child possesses and not just the disability that they were diagnosed with.
A parent with Asperger’s takes great pride in the accomplishments their child makes no matter how big or small.
Although, every now and then thoughts pop up in their head like “was this my fault?” and ” was this fate?”
These types of thoughts are part of the grieving process and parents will eventually see that these thoughts are not reality and only redirects their main focus from helping their child succeed in the milestones that are appropriate for them.
As parents, we teach our children to give themselves a break or “just keep moving forward”.
Many parents need to take their own advice and give themselves a break.
Parent of special needs children are the most resilient and hard-working people on the planet and sometimes they just need to give themselves a mental pat on the back.
Keep seeing the best in your child. Keep fighting the good fight so your child keeps adapting and thriving.
Keep finding ways to help them see life as unrestricted as possible and give your self a break.
You deserve it!
11. Applied Behavior Analysis
Behavior Analysis is the act of studying behavior.
Applied Behavior Analysis is using the foundations of learning and motivation from the results of a particular child behavior analysis.
ABA is one of the most studied treatments with several thousand published research studies regarding all spectrum types of ASD.
According to Autism Speaks ABA is one of the best scientifically validated approaches to understanding behavior and how it is affected by the environment.
In this context, “behavior” refers to actions and skills. “Environment” includes any influence – physical or social – that might change or be changed by one’s behavior.
ABA uses positive reinforcement to encourage positive behavior in a way that the correct behaviors are more likely to be repeated in the future.
One of ABA’s main focuses is to help teach new skills. ABA supports children with systematic instruction, teaching real life support skills and of course working on social and communicative skills.
ABA can involve as much as 30 hours or more a week of one-on-one therapy. Certified Therapists create an individual plan that is organized around the needs of the child.
Many times ABA can be stressful for the child at first as many new things are but once they settle in the child can benefit greatly.
As the child progresses and gets older many times the length of the instruction is slowly decreased and they are given time to put the fundamentals into real-time action.
While most parents and experts have seen great success with ABA there are some, including adults that were childhood recipients of ABA, believe that ABA could be harmful.
They believe that the premise of ABA is to make children with ASD “normal” rather than accepting differing mental diversities.
While this is something to consider in your own research.
Many parents have attributed lifelong successes based on the attributes their children learned throughout their Applied Behavioral Therapy sessions.