Getting to Know the Child with Asperger Syndrome

By Gibbons, Melinda M.; Goins, Shelley | Professional School Counseling, June 2008 | Go to article overview

Getting to Know the Child with Asperger Syndrome

Gibbons, Melinda M., Goins, Shelley, Professional School Counseling

Asperger syndrome (AS) is a disorder characterized 1 by social skill deficits and display of repetitive behaviors. This article explores the diagnostic components of AS and describes the major school-related issues for children who have the disorder. Specific interventions that school counselors can implement to help increase these students' academic and social success are discussed.

   In some ways, Tom is a typical 9-year-old student.
   He started talking at age 1 and was using
   sentences by age 2. He is advanced at math
   but struggles in language arts. He has a fascination
   with trains and gives long, detailed
   descriptions of how engines work. But, in
   other ways, he is just different. He seems more
   interested in playing with things rather than
   with people. When he is with people, Tom
   often misreads social cues, almost like he cannot
   understand nonverbal behavior. He
   expresses emotions, but often not in appropriate
   ways or times. Sharing and taking turns is
   extremely difficult for him. Make-believe
   games are nearly impossible; he does not seem
   to understand the "rules" of these types of
   activities. In physical activities, he seems clumsy
   and has an unusual stance, sometimes walking
   or running on his toes. Teachers often
   remark that he is just different or a bit odd.


The child in the above example has Asperger syndrome (AS) and might be referred to his school counselor because of academic and social skill difficulties. Students with AS often require behavioral, social, and academic assistance in order to be successful in school. The ASCA National Model[R] (American School Counselor Association, 2005) indicates that school counselors are advocates, leaders, and collaborators in the school. Furthermore, the ASCA National Model states that school counselors must be able to work with all types of students. School counselors can use the skills outlined by ASCA to effectively help their students with Asperger syndrome, as well as the parents and teachers of these children.

Recently, there has been increased interest related to AS. A pervasive developmental disorder, AS is characterized by deficits in social interaction and display of repetitive behaviors (American Psychiatric Association [APA], 2000). AS is a relatively new diagnosis, having only been included in the APA's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in its most recent editions. Currently, the estimates of prevalence rates for AS range from 3.6 to 7.1 per 10,000 children, with a male to female ratio of 2.3 to 1 (Stoddart, 2005). While children with the symptomatology of AS have been in schools for quite some time, only recently have these students begun receiving a formal diagnosis and treatment. The quick ascent in the number of students with this diagnosis suggests that school counselors must become aware of not only the diagnosis, but also how to work with the large number of students who display the characteristics of AS. The purpose of this article is to describe the common issues in children with AS and to provide techniques and ideas for working with these students, their teachers, and their parents.


Although AS was not included in the DSM until 1994, it was first identified in the 1940s by Hans Asperger (Myles & Simpson, 2001). Asperger syndrome is included within the spectrum of autism disorders, but there are differences between AS and traditional autism (APA, 2000). The criteria for a diagnosis of Asperger syndrome include social impairment; behavior that is patterned, repetitive, and focused; and the absence of language or cognitive delays. Autistic disorder also includes social impairment and patterned behavior, but must additionally have symptoms of language, cognitive, or other developmental delays (APA). So, although AS has some common features with autism, it does not include impaired cognitive ability or problems with language development. …

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