The Benefits Of Early Diagnosis of Aspergers Syndrome

Our six year old is showing many signs of Aspergers Syndrome, We don't want to label him but know he probably has it. What should we do?

Parents of young children displaying signs of Aspergers Syndrome are often in a quandary about whether or not to seek a diagnostic evaluation. Some hold onto the hope that the child will "grow out of it" or comfort themselves with the opinions of well-meaning advice givers who tell them to steer clear of "labels." Worries about the child being stigmatized, possible damage to their self-esteem, or the need to protect parental egos prove powerful enough to deny the child the benefits of early identification of Aspergers Syndrome.
If this situation rings true for a child close to you, his or her parents may someday thank you for sharing the following observations and options with them:
The earlier Aspergers Syndrome is detected in childhood the greater the opportunity for intervention and maximum social and emotional growth. Although certain unusual and maladaptive behavior patterns may jeopardize social success and emotional well being, the less established these patterns the better it is for healthy outcome. Children with Aspergers Syndrome under the age of ten can expand their social repertoire before their peers begin to notice that there is something "different" about them. Due to their great capacity to store information and access it later, friendship building and emotional resilience can be taught like any other body of knowledge.
The benefits of early detection also extend within the classroom. Teachers can easily misinterpret common symptoms of Aspergers Syndrome, such as perseverative preoccupations, as oppositional refusal to follow their requests. Lack of social reciprocity may be misidentified as selfishness, or even worse, intentional uncaring behavior. Yet, when schools are fully informed of the child's diagnosis this empowers parents to advocate for their child and ensure that teachers have the necessary resources and knowledge to sensitively respond to Aspergers behaviors that emerge at school. Without the diagnosis, parents lack the legal entitlements to ensure their child receives these protections and provisions.
When Aspergers is identified early in life, and proper mental health treatment is followed, parents are placed in the key role of coaches of their child's social and emotional growth. Social stories, conversation coaching, social blending and predicting are just a few of the myriad of parenting tools that can expand a child's comfort zone and social success. Parents can make the difference between their child living a socially isolated life with their favorite things and information vs. finding fun and fulfillment with peers but still allowing time for things and information. The earlier parents adopt this role the easier it will be for the child to accept it later in life, such as in adolescence, when both developmental and maladaptive pressures often build resistance to such parental guidance.
Diagnosis also opens a door for parents who believe in the benefits of group support and specialized services that are customized for children with Aspergers Syndrome. It can be incredibly helpful to learn from the struggles and successes of other parents, and receive inside tips about the best camps, social skill groups, occupational therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, etc. When you tap into this vast network of other parents you will likely find how the most caring and compassionate people you can imagine.
Dr. Steven Richfield is a child psychologist and author in Plymouth Meeting. Contact him at 610-238-4450

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