Asperger’s syndrome is a form of autism.
People with Asperger’s Syndrome are very often of high intelligence but have difficulty understanding how to interact socially, which can lead to social isolation and eccentric behaviour.
A person with Asperger’s syndrome may also find it very hard to make friends.
The person may show signs of difficulty when it comes to reading or communicating through non-verbal cues such as facial expressions as well as show signs of difficulty understanding social cues.
Most people communicate naturally and instinctively.
However, communication is actually a very complex process and requires the automatic co-ordination of a number of different functions.
Verbal communication - to speak naturally and effortlessly requires that the cerebellum has hard wired the process of turning our thoughts into speech easily.
Listening skills - to understand what we are hearing requires that what we hear is automatically turned into comprehended thoughts.
Reading Body Language - reading body language accurately requires that we learn and automatize the meaning of non-verbal cues, for example smiling or frowning.
Emotional controls - to be comfortable socially requires that we learn how to control our emotions and use them in a way appropriate to the circumstance.
For people to be “natural” the above skills need to be fully developed and “automatized” - this process is determined by the development of the appropriate parts of the cerebellum – the skill learning centre of the brain.
With Asperger's Syndrome, one or more of these skills are not fully developed so sufferers will find that they are ‘overloading’ their working memory and not be taking into account all of the various information required for completely natural social interaction.
For example: when someone is having to work extra hard just to process what they are hearing they are unlikely to also be processing the change in intonation and so are far more likely to take words or phrases in a literal sense.
If listening skills aren’t automatic then more effort is required to focus on verbal communication leaving few resources to take in non-verbal information.
Identifying Asperger's Syndrome
Asperger's syndrome is mostly a 'hidden disability'. This means that you can't tell that someone has the condition from their outward appearance.
The characteristics of Asperger's syndrome vary from one person to another but are generally divided into three main groups:
Difficulty with social communication
For many people with Asperger's syndrome, understanding conversation is like trying to understand a foreign language. Sufferers have difficulty understanding gestures, facial expressions or tone of voice and often have difficulty knowing when to start or end a conversation and choosing topics to talk about. Jokes and sarcasm cause particular problems as does slang - for example, a person with Asperger's syndrome would be confused by the phrase 'That's cool' when people use it to say something is good.
Difficulty with social interaction
Many people with Asperger's syndrome want to be sociable but have difficulty with initiating and sustaining social relationships, which can make them very anxious. They often struggle to make and maintain friendships because they do not understand the unwritten 'social rules' that most of us pick up without thinking. For example, they may stand too close to another person, or start an inappropriate topic of conversation. They also often find other people unpredictable and confusing.
Difficulty with social imagination
People with Asperger's syndrome can be imaginative in the conventional use of the word. For example, many are accomplished writers, artists and musicians. But people with Asperger's syndrome can have difficulty with social imagination. For example they may be unable to imagine alternative outcomes to situations and find it hard to predict what will happen next. They also have difficulty understanding or interpreting other people's thoughts, feelings or actions. Some children with Asperger's syndrome may find it difficult to play 'let's pretend' games and prefer subjects rooted in logic and systems, such as mathematics.
Helping with Asperger's
There are over half a million people in the UK with an autism spectrum disorder such as Asperger's Syndrome - that's around 1 in 100.
People with Asperger's Syndrome come from all nationalities, cultures, social backgrounds and religions.
However, the condition appears to be more common in males than females; the reason for this is unknown.
There are many approaches, therapies and interventions, which can improve an individual's quality of life.
These include communication-based interventions, behavioural therapy and dietary changes.
Information about many of these can be found on The National Autistic Society's website at: www.autism.org.uk/approaches.
As understanding of the condition improves and services continue to develop, people with Asperger's syndrome have more opportunity than ever of reaching their full potential.
The Forest Therapy Centre firmly believes that with the right support and encouragement, people with Asperger's syndrome can lead full and independent lives.
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