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Living with Asperger’s Across the Lifespan

two friends laughing in park
 

When a child is first diagnosed with Asperger’s (AS), a parent’s first reaction may be, “When will my child outgrow this?” Many parents remain hopeful that with support and time, their child will learn to overcome the challenges they face. The truth is some aspects of Asperger’s will remain with the child throughout the child’s entire life.

Despite the implications that accompany AS, though, the needs of the child will change as they mature. Through continued support it should be possible to provide the skills needed for adolescence, young adulthood, and beyond, to understand where problems exist and how to address these issues. In order to better understand these issues, it is helpful to look at each developmental stage of the child and the impact that Asperger’s has on development.

Asperger’s in the Preschool-Aged Child

Many children with AS will not exhibit signs until age 5. These children may avoid spontaneous social interaction and communication with peers. They may also be delayed in speech, or exhibit signs of physical clumsiness. Children may also not manifest significant signs that indicate any developmental issues at all.

Parents who recognize social or language deficits at this stage of their child’s development should seek professional assistance. After a diagnosis is made, early intervention (EI) will be recommended. EI services can be used to build vital language and social skills.

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The social skills developed through early intervention services are often viewed as vital to the child’s development across the lifespan and ability to overcome some of the deficits associated with AS. Social skills training provided in the early years of development help to reshape neurological development to create the needed pathways for spontaneous social interaction. Even though children with AS may struggle with social issues in the early years of their development, with the right supports many of these deficits can be ameliorated as the child matures.

Asperger’s in the Elementary School Child

Children with AS are frequently identified in elementary school. Specific issues related to hyperactivity, inattention, or outbursts may be noted, prompting the need for a formal assessment.

In this stage of development, parents must be supportive of their children and work with school and health professionals to understand their child’s needs. Many children with AS are provided with additional services to support their education. Many schools work to provide the supports needed by the child to deliver education in the mainstream classroom.

While this type of education is often possible, in some instances it may require full special education services, to fully meet the child’s needs. Parents need to educate themselves about these options and work with educators to ensure that their child receives needed support. Parents should also seek social skills training for their child. Social skill development in early elementary is an important component of successful lifelong development.

Asperger’s in the Middle and High School Child

Children with Asperger’s syndrome enrolled in middle and high school will face their greatest challenges for socialization. Many AS children are educated in mainstream classrooms, and their social needs are often overlooked by the school.

Because of their behavioral profile, children with Asperger’s may feel isolated from peers. Peer socialization is such an important component of child development at this stage, children with AS may experience mental health issues including anxiety or depression. Parents must be able to recognize these issues and provide intervention, help, and support when necessary.

Here again, advocacy for social skills training will be imperative for helping the child navigate this difficult stage of development. Social skills will be an important component of ensuring that children with AS are able to engage in meaningful relationships.

Additionally, the introduction of self-monitoring for the child may be helpful. Self-monitoring works to enhance the child’s awareness of important deficits. These issues can be critical to successful social development.

Asperger’s in Young Adults

As the child with Asperger’s transitions into young adulthood, they prepare for work and a career. Studies on the success of adults with AS suggest that these individuals function well and are able to attend college and graduate school as well as acquire a high degree of self-sufficiency.

Parents can continue to support their child by understanding these issues and providing emotional reinforcement when necessary. Social and self-monitoring skills developed as part of the child’s development will be critical for ensuring success in this stage of development.

Asperger’s in Adults

Research regarding the presence of Asperger’s symptoms in adults indicates that many of the skills developed in adolescence and young adulthood will have a positive effect on growth. Many adults with AS will see a decline in classic autism symptoms and maladaptive behaviors. This will occur as a result of the individual’s ability to self-monitor and to recognize where problems exist.

The old adage “with age comes wisdom” is clearly at play in this situation. As the child with AS develops into the adult with AS many of the challenges that once caused intense anxiety and stress abate, enabling the AS adult to feel comfortable in his or her own skin. This is not to say that adults with AS will not still struggle to cope with AS; rather what it implies is that as the individual ages he or she will be better equipped to address life’s challenges and to effectively cope with the symptoms of the condition.

Asperger’s in the Elderly

Unfortunately, the physiological, psychological, and psychosocial changes associated with aging will have a significant impact on the older adult with AS. While the changes will occur over a period of time, loved ones of older adults with AS may notice that some of the more profound symptoms associated with the condition begin to reemerge.

This is typically due to the fact that aging creates competing demands for the body’s resources, making it more difficult for individuals with Asperger’s to keep symptoms at bay. Older adults with AS that had once mastered self-monitoring to fit better into social situations may find themselves struggling to employ this coping tool.

As a result, older adults with AS may become more withdrawn and may find social interaction more difficult than they did as children. Education, advocacy, and support for older adults with Asperger’s is clearly needed to help ensure that these individuals do not suffer.

What Changes, What Stays the Same?

The information provided here regarding AS across the lifespan clearly indicates that while symptoms for the affected individual may abate through adolescence, young adulthood and middle age, the symptoms can re-emerge in old age. What this indicates is that individuals with AS will never be able to completely overcome their symptoms.

Rather these individuals will benefit from coping skills, social skills, and therapeutic interventions aimed at improving their capabilities and quality of life. For older adults, the re-emerging of AS symptoms can make this a difficult time for both people with AS and their loved ones. Recognizing these difficulties and how age impacts the symptoms of Asperger’s will be critical for helping adults with this condition as they age.

© Copyright 2014 by Michael Clatch, PsyD, therapist in Glenview, IL. All Rights Reserved.

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Comments
  • ellis March 31st, 2014 at 10:30 AM #1

    But I do think that it is important to note for people that with time you can better learn how to manage many of your symptoms, learn what some of your triggers are and how to relieve these out of your life so that you can interact better with others.

  • Lester March 31st, 2014 at 2:34 PM #2

    It’s too bad that this often doesn’t show up until around the age of 5 because you would hope that if it presented sooner you would be able to tackle it a little sooner

  • April April 1st, 2014 at 3:41 AM #3

    I kept reading and looking at all of these times of lives and thinking about what would be the hardest time to have to live with something like this and I can to the conclusion that there would never be an easy or easier time. Any stage of life is going to bring its own difficulties and challenges and aspergers is going to add to those in very different ways depending on where you are in your life and who you are with I would suppose. I guess as you get older you do in some ways find things that could make it a little easier to help deal with it and know what works for you, and your friends learn those things too, but there will always be the challenge of having new people in your life and going through certain things over and over again that are just going to be unavoidable.

  • Kate A April 2nd, 2014 at 7:32 AM #4

    I wonder why this becomes hard all over again for elderly people? You would think that they have become very accustomed to dealing with this day to day so that the symptoms could abate over time. But I guess that this just goes to show that many times people do regress as they get older and go back to their childhood.

  • Aspie F April 3rd, 2014 at 12:18 AM #5

    Sadly, as an adult with AS, I’m watching my elderly AS parent go through exactly that. This explains some of it.

  • orson April 3rd, 2014 at 3:39 AM #6

    Middle school and high school can be hard even for the “perfect” student. Can you even begin to imagine the challenges that would be waiting for students with AS or any symptoms that remotely resembled anything like that?

    I hate to think of how hard being integrated into a social group could be for them and how difficult it must be to make it through a school day that is not rigorously planned out to meet their own unique and special needs.

    There will always be some educators and students who are very open and willing to make this an easy transition but there will be just as many more who think that their job is to make things even more challenging.

  • Clarence April 5th, 2014 at 5:12 PM #7

    There will lways be times when this has an impact on your family’s life but it doesn’t have to be the death sentence that many people have made it out to be either/. Of course there will be some trials and tribulations, there always will be for any childhood journey, but the truth is that this is what makes our families unique and special and without some of these we could be just like everyone else, and that seems kind of boring to me. I would much rather have some of our own personal ups and downs and know that we have gotten through them together tight and close knit than to think that we were all just the same as the next guy.

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