You can best serve your child by learning about Asperger's syndrome and providing a supportive and loving home environment. Remember that your child, just like every other child, has his or her own strengths and weaknesses and needs as much support, patience, and understanding as you can give.
Educating yourself about the condition and about what to expect is an important part of helping your child develop independence and succeed outside of his or her home. Learn about Asperger's syndrome by talking to your doctor or contacting Asperger's organizations. A good source is OASIS @ MAAP: The Online Asperger Syndrome Information and Support Center at www.aspergersyndrome.org. Learning about Asperger's will reduce your and your family members' stress and help your child succeed.
The following are some suggestions on how to help your child who has Asperger's syndrome. Some of the ideas will be helpful, and some may not work for you. Flexibility, creativity, and a willingness to continue to learn will all help you as you raise your child.
General strategies for success
- Children with Asperger's syndrome benefit from daily routines for meals, homework, and bedtime. They also like specific rules, and consistent expectations mean less stress and confusion for them.
- Many people with Asperger's syndrome do best with verbal (rather than nonverbal) teaching and assignments. A direct, concise, and straightforward manner is also helpful.
- People with Asperger's syndrome often have trouble understanding the "big picture" and tend to see part of a situation rather than the whole. That's why they often benefit from a parts-to-whole teaching approach, starting with part of a concept and adding to it to demonstrate encompassing ideas.
- Visual supports, including schedules and other written materials that serve as organizational aids, can be helpful.
- Be aware that background noises, such as a clock ticking or the hum of fluorescent lighting, may be distracting to your child.
- Children with autism spectrum disorders (which include Asperger's syndrome) may be especially interested in video games, computers, or other screen-based media such as TV. If possible, keep televisions, video games, and computers out of your child's bedroom. When children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) have these devices in their bedroom, they are more likely to sleep fewer hours. This is especially true when video games are in the bedroom. If your child doesn't get enough sleep, his or her ASD symptoms may be worse.
- Children with Asperger's syndrome often mature more slowly. Don't always expect them to "act their age."
- Try to identify stress triggers and avoid them if possible. Prepare your child in advance for difficult situations, and teach him or her ways to cope. For example, teach your child coping skills for dealing with change or new situations.
Strategies for developing social skills
- Your child may not understand the social norms and rules that come more naturally to other children. Provide clear explanations of why certain behaviors are expected, and teach rules for those behaviors.
- Encourage your child to learn how to interact with people and what to do when spoken to, and explain why it is important. Give lots of praise, especially when he or she uses a social skill without prompting.
- Practice activities, such as games or question-and-answer sessions, that call for taking turns or putting yourself in the other person's place.
- Help your child understand others' feelings by role-playing and watching and discussing human behaviors seen in movies or on television. Provide a model for your child by telling him or her about your own feelings and reactions to those feelings.
- Teach your child how to read and respond appropriately to social cues. Give him or her "stock" phrases to use in various social situations, such as when being introduced. You can also teach your child how to interact by role-playing.
- Foster involvement with others, especially if your child tends to be a loner.
- Teach your child about public and private places, so that he or she learns what is appropriate in both circumstances. For example, hugging may not be appropriate at school but is usually fine at home.
Strategies for school
- Use visual systems, such as calendars, checklists, and notes, to help define and organize schoolwork.
- Orient your child to the school setting. Before the school year starts, take time to "walk through" your child's daily schedule. You can also use pictures to make your child familiar with the new settings before school starts.
- Be aware of and try to protect your child from bullying and teasing. Talk to your child's teacher or school counselor about educating classmates about Asperger's syndrome.
- Ask your child's teacher to seat your child next to classmates who are sensitive to your child's special needs. These classmates might also serve as "buddies" during recess, at lunch, and at other times.
- Encourage your child's teacher to include your child in classroom activities that emphasize his or her best academic skills, such as reading, vocabulary, and art.
- Set up homework routines for your child by doing homework at a specific time and place every day. This will help your child learn about time management.
- Use rewards to motivate your child. Allow him or her to watch TV or play a favorite video game or give points toward a "special interest" gift when he or she performs well.
- Some children with Asperger's have poor handwriting. Typing schoolwork on a computer may be one way to make homework easier. Using computers can also help children improve fine motor skills and organize information. Occupational therapy may also be helpful.