Parents want the best for their children. When a child is born, mom and dad imagine a future, make plans, and talk about all the wonderful adventures they will have with their child.
Rarely does this imagined future contain serious illnesses, learning disabilities, and major struggles. When a child is diagnosed with a mental or physical disability, parents are left trying to understand what this means for their child’s future and how they will cope with the difficulties. It is then that parents have to revise their plans for the child’s future and accept that the future may look different that they had planned.
Asperger’s Syndrome is a neurological condition that affects both children and adults. Common symptoms include difficulty with social functioning and communication, difficulty with emotional regulation and executive functioning, difficulty adapting to changes in routine, and obsessive interest in certain subjects. People with Asperger’s do not easily pick up on social signals and have a difficult time understanding things within a social context. As a result of these difficulties, they are often described as socially awkward.
Asperger’s is often diagnosed during childhood. There are several things parents should consider after their child is diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome:
- Individual counseling is often recommended for children with Asperger’s. Children may struggle with feelings of isolation and social anxiety. They may also experience high stress levels because they have to work harder than their peers to understand communication and social issues.
- Many psychologists also refer their Asperger’s patients to social skills groups. Typically these groups consist of about 5-10 children close to the same age who have Asperger’s syndrome. Children receive social support by talking about their difficulties, and the group is also a place for children to practice social skills.
- Parents can help buffer children’s stress by showing unconditional acceptance of the child. This acceptance is important when the child is teased or rejected by peers, or when the child says or does something socially inappropriate that embarrasses their parents. Instead of receiving sharp criticism, these children will benefit from gentle explanations of why the behavior was inappropriate, followed by a discussion of more appropriate alternative behaviors.
- Because children with Asperger’s rely heavily on routines and predictability, they may have difficulty adapting to life changes. Such changes may include divorce, relocation, changing schools, and going away to college. Parents can help prepare their children for such changes by asking direct questions about their children’s concerns. Questions may include: “What are your biggest concerns or fears about this change?” “What do you hope things will be like after this change?” “How can I make this change easier for you?”
- Finally, parents can consider seeking their own social support. Look for support groups for parents of children with Asperger’s or other disabilities. If there are no groups available, consider starting one yourself using meetup.com or another site. Parents may also benefit from individual counseling to learn to cope with feelings of sadness, anxiety, stress, and frustration that may come up.