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.
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 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Michael Clatch, PsyD, therapist in Glenview, Illinois
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