Asperger’s Syndrome is a newly recognized neurological disorder. It shares many of the same characteristics of autism, although people with Asperger’s Syndrome do not have the accompanying disabilities. Asperger’s Syndrome is considered to be a condition at the higher end of the Autism Spectrum. For many people with Asperger’s, intellectual functioning is not a problem. They are able to meet such mental challenges as instantly calculating square roots, learning foreign languages in amazingly short periods of time or calculating dates in history with incredible accuracy. Their mental abilities are so powerful that some people have termed children struggling with Asperger’s as “Little Professors”.
Those afflicted with this syndrome have difficulty understanding what those around them think and feel. As a result of this, they often behave inappropriately in social situations, or do things that may appear to be unkind or callous. Many Asperger sufferers have a difficult time in planning and coping with change despite average or above-average intelligence.
Autistic people live in a world of their own, but people with Asperger’s, “live in our world, but in their own way.” For this reason, they do not fit in with their peers. Children with Asperger’s appear to be “special” to adults who are intrigued with their mental abilities, but to other children their own age, they are different. Often those differences make them the scapegoat, since their lack of social skills makes them easy to blame for others actions. They want friends but don’t know how to get them. Their often inappropriate social skills alienate other people who often view them as “peculiar”.
Language acquisition comes rapidly for children and appears to be well above normal. Unfortunately, however, the social skills necessary to use these exceptional abilities in social situations is often totally lacking. Many do not appear to understand the social context of language, recognize the subtle differences in facial expression that convey additional meaning or interpret the body language that is being presented to them by others. In other words, while their skills are exceptional in many cases, their practical abilities are lacking.
While their language skills are exceptional in many cases, they are very literal in their interpretation of language. Their use of language gives the impression of understanding, but in reality they often are simply parroting what they have heard or read. They are poor in problem solving skills of a practical nature. While they can, for example, do complex mathematical calculations, they are unable to apply these to actual problem solving situations. They lack insight into the uses for their knowledge.
Individuals with Asperger’s are usually self-described as loners despite an often intense wish to make friends and have a more active social life. There is a need to facilitate social contact within the context of an activity-oriented groups (e.g. hobby clubs, self support groups). The little experience with the latter suggests that individuals with Asperger’s enjoy the opportunity to meet others with similar problems and may develop relationships around an activity or subject of shared interest.
Compeer volunteers who are matched with children with Asperger’s may see some of these behaviors: their friend may rename things in a childlike fashion, for instance, paper would be called papee. Your friend may not like water and will absolutely not step in a puddle, s/he may also rub things on his face, even a piece of paper; exemplifying sensitivity to touch. Your friend may be very close in your personal space when talking to you, an example of not being able to determine proper body space. S/he may not see a problem with the following: (an example of not getting social cues) following a girl around all day long saying nothing and only staring, then asking, “Why doesn’t she like me? I’ve been following her all day and staring at her.” While we may look at this as stalking, he sees nothing wrong with it and just does not “get” social cues. S/he may blow on his fingers before touching something, touch a doorway three times before entering – examples of some of the obsessive behaviors that accompany this disorder.
Very often, these children may be very interested in one subject; for instance, being able to memorize almanacs and facts about weather or technical things. When talking about a trip to the zoo, s/he may describe the animals he saw by the species and family of animals they belong to illustrating the “little professor” behaviors. These children prefer sameness. Major changes cause them stress, so if a volunteer is going to move or get married they need to be conscious of how important it is to not only prepare the child, but also to expect some acting out behaviors – if not with them, then within their environment.
We need to look at people struggling with Asperger’s from a different stance – finding the uniqueness within them and building on those things that make them feel successful and good about themselves. We also need to be non-judgemental and explain to them why some of their behaviors may be perceived differently than how they perceive them. Despite some of these behaviors, a relationship with a Compeer friend who has them can prove to be a very interesting experience.