Sunday, January 17, 2010

Effect of Asperger's Syndrome

The effects of Asperger's are important to understanding everything from eligibility for services to how those services need to help the person in need of them. This label will include information about how AS impairs development, how that effects the educational environment, and what can be done to help in each area.

Psychologists have established that there are three developmental domains: Psychological/Cognitive, Physical/Motor, and Social. For children with AS their impairments fall in subsets of these categories. Under Psychological/Cognitive there are three primary areas of impairment: Executive Function/Judgement, Cognitive Processing and Sensory Processing.

Executive Function

Executive Function impairment in AS is usually manifested in the form of general disorganization and what will appear to others as exercising poor judgement. It is not so much that people with AS are not able to reason their way through problems as that they reason through problems differently than others. Their judgement may be perfectly sound in their eyes.

Cognitive Processing

Cognitive Processing is two problems in one: accuracy and speed of processing. A person with AS may not be able to process information accurately because they are not able to receive and process all of the relevant information available to them. Even when they are able to process all of the information they may do so slower. If rushed they may leap to incorrect assumptions and conclusions much as they might when they are not able to process all of the information. I like to use driving as an example: one has to be able to see and process all of the relevant information about the location of nearby cars, state of traffic lights, and such fast enough to respond before an accident occurs. Imagine the consequences for those who process this information too slowly. An individual with AS might describe their academic and social situation to be a series of head-on collisions.

Sensory Processing

Perhaps the most difficult thing for those who do not have AS to understand about those who do is sensory overload. The next problem is that people with AS will tend to oscillate bak and forth between hyper-sensitivity and hypo-sensitivity (Ed Phipps). Helping children and adults with these sensory challenges can be very difficult. It is important to know what each individual's sensory challenges are. If there is a certain color or shape that consumes their attention, or loud sounds. There will also be times when the things that often bother them do not; this does not mean that they no longer bother the person only that it does not bother them at that moment. A long-term approach of desensitization is necessary whereby the individual is slowly introduced to new sensory stimuli. At times individuals with autism will "stim" on an item, that is focus on it. This should not be discouraged because it is often part of their self-soothing. Instead, work to establish rules and limitations on stiming over time. One might create an opportunity for the child to take space in a safe place with a stim until they have calmed down or for a specific amount of time (5 mins, for example). Over time this system of regulating stim and increasing sensory processing abilities will help the individual "outgrow " of their sensory processing challenges.

Motor Skills

Individuals with AS often have awkwardness in their motor development. Motor development is an area of impairment for some individuals with AS. They will often have awkward physical movements, difficulty coordinating their bodies for sports activities, and general clumsiness. This is also an area of impairment that tends to lead to bullying, bullies will note an individual's physical clumsiness as a sign that they cannot adequately defend themselves. There solution is increased coordinated physical activity, playing catch with a baseball or football, for example. Martial arts are also an excellent means of building physical discipline, mental discipline and learning how to apply a minimum of force in one's own defense; thus avoiding trouble with school officials when they want to punish the victim of violence because they are a "problem child." It is important to note that while video games do improve hand-eye coordination, they do so for the thumbs only. Writing and drawing with a pen or pencil will provide a broader degree of hand-eye coordination.

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