Building Life Skills for Children with Asperger Syndrome

Article excerpt

It took Captains Ada and Victor Cotto almost six years to get a proper diagnosis of Asperger syndrome for their son, Jose. In the years in between, Jose was misdiagnosed with anger management issues and then with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). His atypical behaviors and difficulty communicating with others created challenges at home, in school, and in the community. The family often avoided social outings that would inevitably lead to uncomfortable situations.

It was not until a child psychologist suggested that Jose be evaluated for Asperger's that Ada and Victor discovered what was at the root of their son's struggles.

"I had never heard of Asperger's before," says Ada. "I just knew I could not communicate with my kid. I had spent countless nights just sitting on the bed crying, not knowing what I was doing wrong."

Ada and Victor, who are both on active duty and stationed at Fort Benning, GA, quickly educated themselves about Asperger syndrome, which is considered to be a milder form of autism. They also learned that, because Asperger syndrome is not as easily recognizable as autism, it is often misdiagnosed. And they learned that effective treatment could make a world of difference in their son's life.

Understanding Asperger Syndrome

Children with autism and Asperger syndrome tend to share a number of characteristics, including difficulties with traditional school tasks and settings, and varying degrees of ability in the areas of communication and social interactions.

Unlike their peers with autism, children with Asperger syndrome often develop typical language, cognition, and self-help skills. In fact, they often have impressive vocabularies. Where they might have difficulty is with subtleties in language such as irony and humor.

The greatest challenges for these children often involve social skills and understanding the nuances of social interactions. Unlike many children with autism who seem somewhat aloof or uninterested in others, children with Asperger syndrome usually want to interact with others, although they may be very awkward in social situations.

These children often have difficulty engaging in conversations, joining in play activities, and initiating and maintaining friendships. And, although their intelligence may be average or above average, many struggle in school because they have difficulty managing assignments, maintaining attention throughout class, and working in groups.

Difficulties in school, along with their inability to relate easily to peers, can be stressful and stigmatizing for these children, especially in their adolescent years when there is such an emphasis on having friends and fitting in.

Seeking Support

For 13-year-old Jose, an accurate diagnosis meant that his parents and teachers began to understand his behaviors and challenges in a whole new light. It also helped explain Jose's isolation in school and lack of meaningful contact with other kids.

"Jose had no friends and no social interactions," shares Ada. "He would sit in a corner by himself during his lunch hour and read a book."

Even worse was when Jose's efforts to reach out would fail. "There's your kid who is just trying to establish a conversation with another kid, and then they bully him or make fun of him or completely ignore him," Ada recalls. "Jose would come back and say, 'You see why I don't talk to anybody. Everybody hates me. I hate this.'"

Ada and Victor researched options for programs for Jose and discovered the Southeast Regional Autism Center in Columbus, GA. A program of May Institute, the center specializes in using applied behavior analysis, or ABA, to teach social skills and other important life skills to children with autism, Asperger syndrome, and other developmental disabilities.

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Steps to Success

May Institute's work with individuals with disabilities is centered on building the necessary skills to live as independently and productively as possible. …