Cheat Sheet

Asperger’s Syndrome For Dummies (UK Edition)

Asperger’s Syndrome is a condition on the autistic spectrum that affects how someone makes sense of the world, processes information and relates to other people. Whether you live with Asperger’s yourself or want to support someone who does, this Cheat Sheet give you the helpful hints you need to make the right choices.

Recognising the Characteristics of Asperger’s Syndrome

Unusual behaviour is characteristic of people with Asperger’s Syndrome or other conditions on the autism spectrum. The autism spectrum applies to people who have difficulty with social communication, social interaction and social imagination.

Unwritten social rules and social expectations are widespread in our society. If a pause occurs in conversation, people fill it with chit chat about the weather, even if they aren’t particularly interested in the weather. People ask other people if they’re feeling okay out of politeness, rather than because they really want to know the true answer. These sorts of social niceties are often a mystery to people with Asperger’s Syndrome. In fact, many people with Asperger’s Syndrome have to learn such things by rote, if they’re able to learn them at all.

If you have Asperger’s Syndrome, you may have difficulties with the following things:

  • Understanding social interactions, social rules and social expectations

  • Recognising other people’s feelings and emotions (by their facial expressions, tone of voice, or body language and gestures)

  • Making friends and keeping friends, even though you may want to have friends

  • Making conversation (knowing when to start or end a conversation and what to talk about)

  • Understanding jokes, sarcasm, idioms and metaphors (you may take language very literally)

  • Figuring out what other people are thinking (you may find other people confusing and unpredictable)

  • Imagining alternative outcomes to a given situation

How You May Respond to an Asperger's Syndrome Diagnosis

Some people feel very relieved when they or their child receives an accurate diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome or another Autistic Spectrum Condition. Other people feel that a label stigmatises them and aren’t happy using the label to describe themselves. Thinking about the pros and cons of diagnosis and what it means for you, your child and family is worthwhile.

Here are some of the pros and cons that you may want to consider:

First, the pros:

  • An accurate diagnosis gives people with ASCs and their families access to the right specialist support and services.

  • An early diagnosis for children provides access to early intervention, which may increase opportunity and quality of life later on.

  • A diagnosis acts as a signpost to professionals, family and friends to help them know how best to support the individual.

  • A diagnosis may help you to understand yourself and the struggles or successes you have faced in your life.

  • A diagnosis may bring a sense of relief.

  • A diagnosis may give access to appropriate financial help.

Now the cons:

  • You may feel that having a label is demeaning.

  • A diagnosis emphasises disability and makes people see a label rather than an individual person.

  • A diagnosis may make you feel upset, guilty or angry.

  • A diagnosis may be difficult to come to terms with.

Helping a Child with Asperger’s Syndrome Communicate

Children with Asperger’s Syndrome or another condition on the autism spectrum often struggle to understand what’s being said to them. To get around this, you can try several different communication styles. First, make your instructions, questions or conversation clear. To make sure you’re communicating clearly, try the following:

  • Speak slowly, and give only one instruction at a time: For example, rather than saying, ‘Go and brush your teeth then get dressed,’ ask your child to brush his or her teeth, then wait until that task is finished before you ask your child to get dressed. The same thing goes with questions. One thing at a time is always best.

  • Avoid sarcasm, metaphors and idioms: People on the spectrum find these really difficult to understand because they tend to take words and expressions literally. So if you want your child to know that you’re keeping an eye on him or her, don’t tell your child that (you can’t put an eye on someone without doing yourself a lot of damage) or worse, say “I’ve got eyes in the back of my head” (how scary!). If you remark that it’s “raining cats and dogs,” expect your child to look outside and be a little confused.

  • Be clear about what you mean, and be concrete when you talk about abstract concepts: This applies especially with things like feelings, which children on the spectrum will have even more difficulty understanding.

  • Be patient and give your child plenty of time to respond to any questions or requests: It will take your child more time to process verbal information than you may expect, so count to ten before expecting a response or before repeating your question.

Getting Along with a Sibling Who Has Asperger’s Syndrome

Finding out about Asperger’s Syndrome will help you get along with a sibling with the condition. The more you know, the more you’ll be able to understand your sibling. Get to know how AS impacts on his or her life. This knowledge will help you avoid scenarios that may cause conflict, and you’ll know how to help your sibling out when he or she gets into difficulties.

Helpful tips for getting along with siblings include

  • Give them space and time to be alone: Sometimes your sibling will need to be solitary, so don’t interrupt them.

  • Be as calm and as patient as you can with them: Even if they’ve just broken your favourite CD; don’t lose your temper. Explain why you’re upset or cross and then let it go.

  • Use clear language, and let your sibling know how you feel: Remember that people with AS can only know that they’ve upset you or done something you don’t like if you actually tell them.

  • Accept them for who they are: Having a diagnosis of AS doesn’t change a person; he or she is still your sibling.

  • Use their special interests or skills as a motivator to spend time with you: Offer to attend a game fair, play chess, do a puzzle or whatever else they particularly enjoy.

  • Be patient and give them time to talk to you: Try chatting on car journeys when you don’t need to look each other in the eye and you won’t be interrupted.

  • Try to put yourself in their shoes: Consider what living in an autism-unfriendly world is like, where most people don’t understand you and you find communicating with others very difficult.

  • Show them that you care and that they have someone on whom they can depend for help, however they may want it: Support your sibling in any way you can; at times you may be the closest person to your sibling, and knowing you’re there can be hugely important to him or her.

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