Asperger Syndrome (AS) is a curious
disorder often misdiagnosed. A 44-year-old woman of my acquaintance, for
instance, was categorized at school as merely a slow learner, despite her
obvious, but admittedly peculiar, intellectual interests (and skill in solving
the Rubik's Cube), her physical clumsiness, as well as a wooden way of
speaking, failure to read the subtleties of body language and the multiple
dimensions of social discourse. Her style of thinking differs significantly
from the non-Aspergers population. She perseverates upon a single idea and
lacks flexibility of thought. Classically, she lacks a recognition of the
feelings and thoughts of others (known as a lack of "theory of
mind"). She, in turn, however, suffers heightened emotional frustration
that comes from not making sense of others' emotions, intentions, and tacit
behavior. Despite these obvious problems, this woman's eyes shine and she
laughs quickly and fulsomely.
years ago, Asperger Syndrome was not generally known in the English-speaking
world; in fact twenty years ago, this was the case. This is not to say that the
disorder is a recent one, or an innovation of educationalists and medical
science (as suggested by the uninformed).† As illustrated above, the spectrum
of disorders that is AS and other autism-related disorders, was misunderstood
by educators and other professionals.
described in a series of case studies by the Australian psychiatrist Hans
Asperger in 1944, the special interest in this higher functioning form of
autism was overshadowed by an interest in the symptoms of classic† autism
described by the American Leo Kanner. The identification of Asperger Syndrome,
though, suffered not just from being relegated to the background, but from an
indecision regarding precisely what the spectrum of conditions actually
constitutes. This remains the case. Interestingly the determination of a
diagnosis of AS using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental
Disorders Fourth Edition describes a pattern of behavior that differs
markedly from those presented by Asperger in his early writings. The book under
review, Learning and Behavior Problems in Asperger Syndrome, gives a
very interesting and thorough account of the differences.
book, edited by Margot Prior, also maps how people with AS, children and adults
alike, learn and how these learning patterns differ from more typical children.
Valuably, the contributors to the papers in this book provide excellent advice
and modus operandi for the effective inclusion of these children into
educational situations. Indeed, this book is not only useful for
schoolteachers, special education units, psychologists, and parents, but
teachers in higher education as well.
realization that some people with AS can be incorporated into traditional
educational settings, including those of university and colleges, of course
radicalizes our preconceptions regarding the educability of people with AS.
Certainly, their patterns of learning are different, but when differences are
taken account of, learning goals can be well and truly achieved. One of the
contributors to the book, Tony Attwood (an Australian clinical psychologist who
specializes in AS and related disorders), proposes several strategies for such
an integration to happen. What is so beautiful about this paper is that Attwood
includes ways for encouraging greater social interaction, and the making of
book also includes a personal account of living with Asperger Syndrome. Wendy
Lawson remembers her schooling in an era very unfriendly to differences. Typical
of people with AS, she has an acute, precise memory for things and events and
times. The account captures not only this, but the non-complex language-line of
the AS mind. She writes,
I heard the words "Wendy, aren't you changed yet?" I only felt
scared. What was I to become? What might I change into? What and when might
this change occur? Would it be a sudden change? Might it happen when I wasn't
looking…. I had to be vigilant, and maybe if I ran away from times when people
expected me to "change," "the change" might be avoided. If
it had been explained to me in other words, such as "Take your day school
clothes off here and put your PE school clothes on for PE," I would have
This excerpt well illustrates the
difficulties facing the literalists that are AS people and the difficulties
encountered by parents and educators associated with them. We have to modify
much of what we say; we have to be mindful that our shortcut language and tacit
displays of intent are explained in detail.
This is a fascinating book, but it is
less one for easy reading than a valuable resource book for professionals and
interested parents.† Highly recommended.
© 2005 Elizabeth McCardell
McCardell, PhD, Independent scholar, Australia.