Asperger Syndrome and Your Child: A Parent's Guide

Asperger Syndrome and Your Child: A Parent's Guide

by Michael D. Powers, Janet Poland

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Asperger's Syndrome and Your Child, an informative, empathetic, and comprehensive guide to this elusive condition, answers the most common questions and offers an encouraging outlook for your child's future. Dr. Michael Powers weaves together a compassionate account of everything related to AS, offering such practical advice from getting the right diagnosis


Asperger's Syndrome and Your Child, an informative, empathetic, and comprehensive guide to this elusive condition, answers the most common questions and offers an encouraging outlook for your child's future. Dr. Michael Powers weaves together a compassionate account of everything related to AS, offering such practical advice from getting the right diagnosis to helping your child develop social skills. Infused with voices of real children who offer insights about their own conditions, the book gives perspective on how children live with the disorder. Asperger Syndrome and Your Child is an indispensable book for parents as well as teachers and other professionals who have someone with Asperger Syndrome in their lives.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Powers, an assistant professor at the Yale Child Study Center and director of the Center for Children with Special Needs in Connecticut, teams up with co-author Poland (The Sensitive Child) to offer a much-needed resource for parents and professionals looking to understand more about Asperger Syndrome. A neurological disorder characterized by difficulty with social interactions, communication issues, unusual patterns of behavior and interests as well as trouble integrating sensory information (children with AS often have acute senses of touch, taste and hearing), AS is part of the "autism spectrum" of disabilities. Part I of Powers's clearly written and reassuring text discusses the syndrome in general-what we know about it, what it feels like to have it-while Part II goes into greater detail about what parents can do to nurture AS children to help them "become their finest selves." Unlike people with autism, those with AS can communicate what life is like for them, and Powers includes their reflections along with case studies, FAQs and an abundance of caring and wise advice. For new parents of children with AS, this is an essential volume. (Oct.) Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.

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Read an Excerpt

Asperger Syndrome and Your Child
A Parent's Guide

Chapter One

Maps, Globes, Continents, and Seas
What Does Asperger Syndrome Look Like?

"My name is not Brendan. My name is Zimbabwe."

So began my interview with a lively, charming five-year-old.

"It's not my real name, you know. It's my pretend name that I like because Zimbabwe is such a beautiful country. Dr. Powers, do you know about continents?"

During the next three hours I learned which countries in Africa bordered Zimbabwe, the capitals of each, and the names of these regions during the time of European control. I learned about the difference between seas and oceans, a condensed explanation of tectonic plates, and the origin of the Mercator projection. I also learned about the strategies a little boy used to organize his world and his determined (but often unsuccessful) efforts to engage his peers with his knowledge and interests.

From precocious beginnings, Brendan had always been somewhat of an enigma. He was an early talker. He surprised his parents by reading "octagon" at age two. He quickly established himself as a wunderkind (or was it whirling dervish?) by three. He could see a picture on a Legos box and build it effortlessly. He remembered not only the names of his parents' friends' siblings, but also the type of car they drove.

Given a topic that caught his interest, he would amass facts and information. His topic branched quickly. Building Legos became an interest in vehicles, which begot an interest in airplanes, which begot propellers, which became his interest in wind currents around the globe. After a while no one was very surprised by a topic or fact that Brendan might introduce into a conversation.

Except the other children in kindergarten. They were never sure about what to expect from Brendan. He was pleasant enough, although somewhat standoffish. Well-behaved, but a bit temperamental sometimes, like the day the class was studying the number 100, and Brendan was going to bring in his collection of flags from countries around the world and distribute them among the children in groups of ten. Problem was, he had 141 flags, and despaired about which he might have to exclude to make it all come out even. His distress was evident to his classmates from the moment he entered the room. Brendan's tearful, often breathless description of his dilemma to his teacher confused some children and mildly frightened others. His rigidity and unpredictability made it hard for the other children to make friends with him.

Looking back, Brendan's parents laugh when recalling the names he has selected for himself over the years. Once, when memorizing the fifty states and capitals, he selected Wyoming for his new name and became indignant when his parents called him by his birth name. Brendan's parents theorize that he selected Wyoming and Zimbabwe as his names because they were last on the lists he had memorized in alphabetical order. But Brendan disagrees, insisting that he selected them because he likes the sounds of the words and because both are beautiful places.

In my efforts to understand this little boy, I am struck by the elegant simplicity of his assertion. The symbolism we attach to ourselves may be utterly personal, and often misunderstood. But it is no less special, and no less worthy of understanding by others. Recognizing Brendan's true self, and his right to that self, will be our challenge as we help him develop his gifts and share them with others.

And that is our challenge as we try to understand and appreciate the Brendans of the world. Whether we are their mothers or fathers or teachers or neighbors or favorite aunts, we and they will flourish when we learn as much as we can about the sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes exhilarating, condition known as Asperger Syndrome.

Many children with this disability grow up to lead full lives -- having careers, bringing joy to their families, and sometimes marrying. Others may lead quite restricted lives. Much depends on the degree to which they have learned to cope with the difficulties that the condition brings. There is a great deal we can do to help children with Asperger Syndrome bring their remarkable gifts to fruition, and in my years of experience working with children with developmental disorders, I have learned much about what parents can do that works well and what doesn't work so well.

The fall of 1976 provided me with my first clear experience of the paradox of Asperger Syndrome. While I had worked with children with autism at Rutgers University several years earlier, my first job as a special education teacher of seventh and eighth graders in New Jersey introduced me to Phillip.

Phillip was brilliant, yet confusing. He was shy and remote most of the time, except when delving into his current passion, usually about animals. At those times, he brightened, smiled, and welcomed me (and anyone else who would listen) into his world. My interest was piqued. I spent the next two years as Phillip's teacher, and also as his pupil.

Some twenty-five years later, the world I learned about from Phillip and many others holds an even greater fascination for me than when I began my studies in that junior high classroom. Through their stories, experiences, travails, and triumphs, the people with Asperger Syndrome whom I have known have taught me more about diversity, culture, courage, and the quirkiness of the world than I could ever have learned on my own. I will always be in their debt.

The Defining Traits of Asperger Syndrome

Asperger Syndrome (also called Asperger Disorder) is a neurological condition that affects social and emotional interaction. It is a developmental disability, which means that it is most likely present at birth and affects development throughout life.

The four essential qualities that characterize children with Asperger Syndrome are significant difficulties with social interactions, impaired communication, unusual or unusually rigid behaviors and interests, and unusual responses to stimulation and environment. Let's begin with the most important of the four.

Impaired Social Interaction. Six-year-old Sean, on meeting a new child at school, opened the conversation this way: "Did you know that Mars is a 4.5-billion-year-old planet? And although most people think it's red, it's really yellow and brown. In 1976, the Viking 2 lander took color pictures. . . ." Sean continued to spout facts about Mars, oblivious to the other child's rapidly declining interest.

Children with Asperger Syndrome may not appear unusual until they reach the preschool years, during which children broaden their social worlds, learn to socialize in a group, and forge friendships. At this stage, it becomes more evident that they are having difficulty learning the nonverbal and subtle aspects of social interaction that most children seem to learn effortlessly; they may not recognize the meaning and cues that come from other people's facial expressions or gestures or body language.

Children with Asperger Syndrome have difficulty learning the social graces that most children learn intuitively, although all children make errors as they learn. The easy give-and-take of play may be a mystery to children with Asperger Syndrome. Ben, a seven-year-old, was often invited to friends' houses for play dates, but he was never invited back. His mystified mother asked around until she learned that Ben's procedure, on arriving at the friend's house, was to collect an armful of books and retire to the bathroom, where he would read for the remainder of the time.

This book is meant to provide general advice only; it is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of medical and other appropriate professionals who may need to be consulted to help you best deal with your child's condition. The author and the publisher expressly disclaim all liability for any damage that may result from following the advice contained in this book.

Asperger Syndrome and Your Child
A Parent's Guide
. Copyright © by Michael Powers. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Michael D. Powers, Psy.D., is the director of the Center for Children with Special Needs in Tolland, Connecticut, and assistant clinical professor of psychology at the Yale Child Study Center. He has published numerous book chapters and articles in professional journals and is the editor of the award-winning book Children with Autism: A Parent’s Guide. He lives in northeastern Connecticut with his wife, Kristen, and their three sons.

Janet Poland is the coauthor of The Art of Parenting Twins, as well as the author of The Sensitive Child and The Demanding Child. She lives in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

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