Autism and Asperger Syndrome
Autism and its milder form Asperger Syndrome, often referred to together as autistic spectrum disorders (ASD) are conditions which make it hard for sufferers to communicate or interact with others, or to develop what most people would consider ‘normal’ emotional responses. Around half a million people – that’s one in a hundred – have ASD in the UK. The condition can be mild, in which case the impact on ordinary life is low, or so severe that sufferers struggle to function in social situations. It can make the world seem a strange and scary place.
So what are the main symptoms of ASD in kids? Often they will be late learning to walk and talk, and have difficulties communicating their feelings or needs. Even after they have learned to talk, they will have difficulty maintaining a conversation. As they get older they may seem distant and detached, uninterested in affection, come out with unexpected or inappropriate things in social situations and struggle to do what they’re told.
ASD sufferers lack what’s called a ‘social imagination’. This doesn’t mean they have no imagination at all. Far from it! Instead they tend to take jokes, slang and phrases like ‘that song is wicked’ literally. They won’t be interested in making friends or playing games, may become obsessed with things or routines, and will appear insensitive to other’s people’s feelings.
There are no specific medical tests to confirm ASD, but a doctor will be able to give a diagnosis by the time a child is three years old. Nor is there any specific cure but, depending on the severity, kids will be assigned a range of specialists who will help your child as he or she develops.
All of this can make living with an ASD-sufferer challenging, yet many kids with mild Aspergers cope fine in ordinary schools and go on to live fulfilling, independent lives. Your doctor or specialist will be able to recommend support groups, and for an insider’s view of the condition, the acclaimed novel The Curious Incident of The Dog in The Night by Mark Haddon describes the world from the perspective of a 15 year old by with Aspergers.
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