A lot of the emails I receive are from parents of children who have recently been diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome and are looking for information in terms of treatment. I welcome these emails and if you do have any questions, I am more than happy to answer or try to point you in the right direction for the information you need. (If you wish to contact me directly – please just click here).
However, I thought it was time to briefly cover the subject of treatment. The first thing I need to say is that there are no hard and fast answers here, and to anyone new to the subject of Autism or Aspergers Syndrome, I feel it important to issues a warning: there are a lot of charlatans out there claiming miracle cures and therapies – in truth, the science behind many of these claims is spurious to say the least, and often with a financial motive.
Before we go any further, it is vital that you grasp the fact that Aspergers Syndrome and Autistic Spectrum Disorders refer to physical fundamental differences within the brain, which occur during development in the womb. In short, the architecture of the brain and the way it works are different from the norm and are physical and biological in nature, not purely psychological.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT):
Symptoms of Aspergers or Autism tend to show up at around the age of four years of age – this tends to be the age where most children start in earnest to pick up basic social skills, so this is initially when those differences start to become apparent. The wonderful thing about children however, is how adaptable they are. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is undertaken by a professional therapist and is essentially a talking exercise with set goals and can be used to help address some of the milder social symptoms of Aspergers and Autism, essentially by promoting and practicing the social areas these struggle with. The ethos of CBT is very much one of alleviating the severity of symptoms and in cases of Autism Spectrum Disorders, it tends to be used as an individual therapy, as apposed to a group exercise.
CBT isn’t suitable for everyone and tends to be suitable for children with only mild to intermediate symptoms, but if your child has been diagnosed, it most certainly is worth attempting an assessment for this kind of therapy.
I will be very frank here. I have read a lot of nonsense online about the dietary needs of children on the Autistic Spectrum, including misleading articles suggesting that diet is a cause of ASD’s, which is simply wrong.
There are considerations however:
Generally dietary needs in children vary from child to child. Some children become hyperactive with too much sugar, or react badly to specific additives, preservatives or flavourings. This is equally true of children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders, but there is a key difference. ASD’s in general tend to make coping with these episodes difficult and the period it takes to calm down is likely to be considerably longer.
Obviously as with any child it is necessary to monitor their diet and their reactions to certain foods and in the case of children with ASD’s it is important to bear in mind that any negative behavioural reactions are likely to be a more severe.
A common problem with Aspergers and Autism in particular, is one of digestion. For reasons which still remain unclear, bowel and digestive problems often occur in people with these conditions – and they usually start around puberty. These problems can manifest as Irritable Bowel Syndrome and in some cases can lead to more serious problems. This is an issue that parents of children on the Autistic Spectrum should bear in mind in terms of ensuring their children have the best chance to avoid these issues by maintaining a healthy balanced diet. I recommend having a discussion with dietician, while your child is still young.
Medication is obviously a very complicated subject. Views seem to vary so much it is difficult to make informed choices are gain an informed opinion. One of the most common medications prescribed for children with Aspergers at the moment are known as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (or SSRI Anti Depressants). The most common of which is a low dosage of Fluoxetine Hydrochloride (you may have heard of it as Prozac). SSRI’s are generally considered safe medications, but they are not without their side effects and I feel that it is important for parents to research these medications when they are prescribed for your own peace of mind and obviously to monitor any positive or negative effects.
My personal opinion is that many of these medications do change (albeit temporarily) basic brain chemistry, and although they can have benefits, it is always a good idea to seek a second opinion and to be as informed as possible.
The severity of Autism varies tremendously and the help and support a child needs should be dependent on their needs, not their diagnosis. It is important that you discuss your child’s needs with the school, but equally I am not an advocate of intervention for interventions sake. Children with these conditions have enough differences to cope with and any help provided by the school do need to bear that in mind and any intervention must be constructive, not obstructive.
Perhaps one of the most difficult things for these children is the growing awareness that they are not the same as their peers. All too often, children with Aspergers Syndrome do very well academically, but as they get older, the social gap between their peers and themselves becomes wider and wider. Making friends and learning to maintain friendships is an important life skill, but one that is extremely difficult for them to master. Schools can help in this respect by helping these children present their strengths and giving them a common focus that they and their peers can all relate too.
Children with Aspergers Syndrome often develop “Special Interests” and engaging them in activities involving these interests can be a good way to break down barriers and help to improve social skills, but equally it is important to move away from those interests and to carefully introduce social activities into their routines.
Typically as they get older, children / teenagers with Aspergers Syndrome tend to become more socially isolated as they fall further behind in social development, but that doesn’t always need to be the case. With the right activities and interests it is possible for children with Aspergers to form social ties in alternative ways.
Autism Support Groups for Parents are becoming much more common and it is important that you as parents learn from other peoples experiences. Raising a child with Aspergers is always going to have its challenges (and rewards) and it isn’t going to be an easy path, but with the support and help, it can be made much easier. Look at online social groups and forums, and never be afraid to ask questions. Ultimately knowledge is always going to be a benefit.