Q: What is the difference between autism and Aspergers Syndrome?
A: Lately, the medical community has begun to change the labels that are associated with autism. Children who have trouble communicating, have severely limited interests, and exhibit repetitive behaviors are determined to be on the autistic spectrum. There are many different categories that fall under the umbrella of the autistic spectrum. Some include: Autism, Aspergers Syndrome, and Pervasive Personality Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified (PPD-NOS). Here are the ways to recognize the differences between the three:
The New York Times explains that most parents suspect something is wrong by the time the child is 18-months old. Children with autism generally have difficulties in:
- Pretend play: Because children with autism think very concretely, they have trouble using their imaginations to create make-believe situations. This also leads to unusual distress when routines are changed.
- Social interactions: Children with autism often have trouble starting and maintaining a conversation. Perhaps because of this, children with autism prefer to play alone rather than interact with others.
- Verbal and non-verbal communication: Those with autism usually develop language more slowly and communicate with gestures instead of words. They also refer to themselves incorrectly (for example, he might say “you want food” when he means “I want water”).
Aspergers Syndrome was first described in the 1940s by an Austrian pediatrician, Hans Asperger, who noticed that he had many patients with deficient social and communicative skills even though they had normal language development and cognitive abilities. Here are some areas that Aspergers Syndrome differs from autism:
- Language Skills: Though people with Aspergers have trouble with communicating and creating real relationships, their language development is on par with others their age. Regardless, their speech patterns might be unusual or their inflections inconsistent.
- Intelligence Quota: While children with autism may have high or low intelligence quotas (IQ), children with Aspergers almost always have high IQs. Their high aptitudes do not always translate to intelligent performance, as those with Aspergers often get caught up in irrelevant details and ideas.
Pervasive Personality Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified (PPD-NOS)
PPD-NOS is actually a catch-all term for any disorder that is similar to autism or Aspergers Syndrome, but does not share all of the characteristics of either. Those with PPD generally have milder symptoms than those with autism and Aspergers.
The first step towards diagnosis is an assessment along with a developmental history and observation. Once the diagnosis has been established by a professional, different forms of treatment are available. As with most disorders that manifest themselves in childhood, studies show that autistic spectrum disorders are best when diagnosed and treated early.
Prevent Problems Rather Than React:
Many times, children with autistic spectrum disorders will engage in repetitive behavior. Instead of reacting to the problem when it occurs, it is extremely helpful to anticipate the problem and take steps to prevent it from occurring to begin with.
- Environmental Controls:
- Physical: Keep the physical environment consistent. Certain places should be designated for certain activities. For instance, the bedroom or kitchen table can be allocated for “calm sitting” for homework whereas the backyard or park can be designated for “active play.”
- Interpersonal: Maintain a consistent relationship with your child in both word and action. Your child should know that the same behavior will elicit the same response from you – regardless of your mood. This will decrease their anxiety and provide them with structure in their relationship.
- Daily Routine: Create a visual of a daily routine that you review with your child. Posting this schedule and reviewing it in the event of your child getting “stuck” can prompt your child to move out his or her rut.
- Reframing: If your child misinterprets a situation, using language to “reframe” the situation can provide your child with necessary tools to interpret it correctly in the future. Using “key words” can help the child reframe multiple situations.
Whether a child has autism, Aspergers, or PDD-NOS, every day life can be quite difficult. Don’t hesitate to look for help outside of your family – there are great resources out there – books, support groups, and other educational courses.