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Dear Editor: What you should know about Asperger’s; and why it matters

“Whereas autism is often reflected in poor academics and developmental issues, children diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome usually possess an average or even above average IQ, which means they are not easily diagnosed since they are not inhibited from succeeding academically.

“However they may be mislabeled as ‘difficult’, ‘antisocial’, ‘awkward’ and even ‘weird’ in some cases.”

The following Letter to the Editor on children with Asperger’s Syndrome was sent to Wired868 by a group of UWI BSc Pharmacy students:

Photo: A boy with Asperger's Syndrome. (Copyright Thinkstock Photos)
Photo: A boy with Asperger’s Syndrome.
(Copyright Thinkstock Photos)

Like many of you reading this article, our group had no idea what Asperger’s was, or that it was even related to Autism, until recently. But completing a project on the topic quickly went from just another bit of course work, as we became fully engrossed in the dynamics of this disability.

So we thought we could use this opportunity to bring awareness of the syndrome to not only the people in our lives but the entire population of Trinidad and Tobago.

For those who may not know, Asperger’s Syndrome is a developmental disorder, which falls within the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). It is referred to as “High Functioning Autism” because when compared to people affected by other forms of ASD, those with Asperger Syndrome do not have significant delays in language or cognitive development.

Research also showed that, whereas autism is often reflected in poor academics and developmental issues, children diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome usually possess an average or even above average IQ, which means they are not easily diagnosed since they are not inhibited from succeeding academically.

However they may be mislabeled as “difficult”, “antisocial”, “awkward” and even “weird” in some cases. Most of these labels stem from the behaviours associated with Asperger’s which includes limited or inappropriate social interactions, “robotic” or repetitive speech, challenges with non-verbal communication or the tendency to discuss self, rather than others.

Photo: A depiction of a child with Asperger's Syndrome.
Photo: A depiction of a child with Asperger’s Syndrome.

Also common is the inability to understand social/emotional issues, obsession with specific and often unusual topics, one-sided conversations, awkward movements and/or mannerisms.

While conducting research for this project, all the children with Asperger’s that we encountered experienced repeated bullying and victimisation at schools.

One parent’s experience was that their child came home one day and was vehemently against returning to school. In this particular case, the school officials were made aware of the child’s condition but could not provide the necessary support to ensure that they were not victimised.

This leaves us with concerns over whether our school system is apt for children who are different. Are there enough professionals who can help children navigate through the complex social issues derived from this condition?

What are the options available for parents who have children with Asperger’s or any type of disability? What happens to parents who simply can’t afford to transfer their children to specialist schools or institutions where their children can get the level of help they require?

Photo: Education Minister Anthony Garcia. (Courtesy News.Gov.TT)
Photo: Education Minister Anthony Garcia.
(Courtesy News.Gov.TT)

Lastly, what can we do as concerned citizens to ensure that persons with Asperger’s or any other type of disability are still treated equally?

There is no cure or treatment for Asperger’s. However social skills treatment can be helpful to both children and adults who may interact with people diagnosed with the problem. Like many cases, early diagnosis is important because children who can be identified with Asperger’s at an early stage, have an increased chance of being successful in school and eventually living independent life as adults.

Diagnosis can also allow family members and others who may be in contact with the child, to understand the behaviours and feelings of a person with Asperger’s Syndrome.

In the spirit of Autism Month (April) this article is not only a call to raise awareness of Asperger’s Syndrome, but to get the conversation started about developmental and even mental disabilities.

The history of how the Autism society in Trinidad was founded and how it continues to operate today speaks to the lack of government and public support. It is sad that public involvement mostly comes when parents have children diagnosed and they seek support/help.

Photo: US comedian DL Hughley has openly talked about the challenges of raising a child with Asperger's Syndrome.
Photo: US comedian DL Hughley has openly talked about the challenges of raising a child with Asperger’s Syndrome.

While our society shows concern over many social issues, we believe that not enough attention is given to the problems regarding these type of disabilities and mental health. This mindset leads to very little being done to create awareness, especially in our public schools and by our elected officials. We firmly believe this must change.

There’s a quote by Nicholas Sparks which says “A person with autism lives in his own world while a person with Asperger lives in our world, in a way of his choosing.”

It is our job to ensure that our world is a safe haven for people with both Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome, so that they’ll have the freedom to be themselves.

For more information about our project on Asperger Syndrome, please check our Facebook Page: All About Asperger’s. A self test is available if anyone suspects a family member has the syndrome.

For more information visit the Autistic Society of Trinidad and Tobago website and for events and contact them to find out how you can contribute. They can be contacted at autismtt@gmail.com or telephone: 646-5506/225-6808

Photo: Autism and Asperger's Syndrome fall within the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
Photo: Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome fall within the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Editor’s Note: “All About Asperger’s” is a project being done by a group of year one BSc Pharmacy students at UWI to raise awareness of Asperger’s Syndrome.

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34 comments

  1. As the students admittedly said at the opening of the article”our group had no idea what Asperger’s was”, one can appreciate the need for educating the masses on the challenges faced by parents of and children with Asperger’s Syndrome or any type of disorder for that matter.
    The students have really embraced the purpose of education; enlightenment that encourages productive social changes for the benefit of a growing nation (rather than education for the purpose of landing a decent paying job to meet next month’s financial commitments).
    Kudos to the university for allowing the students to research a field foreign to many.
    Good Job

    • Earl Best

      Angelo, I think that to call anything designed “for the purpose of landing a decent-paying job to meet next month’s financial commitments” ‘education’ is to misunderstand and misuse the term. That said, I want to add that I agree wholeheartedly with all the rest of your post.

      Think we have any chance of bringing the current Minister of Education around to a saner view?

  2. This was a very informative & interesting article! I was not aware of the differences between autism & asperger’s & I truly hope that as a society we do all that we can, do bring awareness & sensitivity to those living with these disabilities,as well as supporting the families Who will need our encouragement & understanding.

  3. Very informative article!

  4. Amanda Aguilera-Lobin

    Excellent article!

  5. Didn’t realize Autism was somewhat related to Asperger Syndrome. This is a very informative article. Would like to say great job to the Year 1 Pharmacy Students in bringing Awareness.

  6. Very informative. Great piece!

  7. Excellent piece!

  8. Interesting read!

  9. Fantastic read! So informative ??

  10. This is a very good read!
    Didn’t realize this syndrome existed and that it was related to autism.
    It makes me wonder how many persons I have had interactions with that may have had this syndrome and I just causally labeled them as awkward.

  11. This is eye-opening and a fantastic article. The government should look at countries who already take an active stance on providing funding and training in schools for Autism and Asperger’s syndrome. There are many schools in North America that have specific classes for children with special needs while keeping them in the same public school system – and these kids succeed. We follow other trends like fashion, music and the like from North America, it’s time we look at their inclusion strategies and education system – to provide something that will really add value to society through it’s children.

  12. When I was in Primary I had a student that everyone labeled as harden and rude. But I felt there was something more I encouraged his mother to have him tested. He was on the spectrum and ADHD. Too often and to be fair to teachers because of a lack of training students are labeled and at times written off when really it’s no fault of their own. Sad yet another way we are failing our students ?

  13. Maven – check out the book “The reason why I jump”.

  14. lol. wow.

    “possess an average or even above average IQ, which means they are not easily diagnosed since they are not inhibited from succeeding academically. ”

    “However they may be mislabeled as ‘difficult’, ‘antisocial’, ‘awkward’ and even ‘weird’ in some cases.”

    you just repeated what i have heard about myself , mostly in trinidad, but right through

    • I tagged you on an immediate post on HONY… there I learned that further traits of aspergers are — brash harsh honesty, keen eyesight/insight, and the push to ‘fix” others and situations… how many times have i written you inbox on an agenda to the latter… for folk i dont even know, situations i have nothing to gain or lose ? kind of crazy.

    • This is a very interesting snd educational post. Ignorance has a lot to do with how these persons are usually treated in our society. Let’s hope that these messages are shared and understood.

  15. My wife works with both cases and it has also touched my extended family. It’s not an easy road. Specialized teachers need to be trained and soon, as the numbers, with new detection techniques,keep growing .

    • What are the implications when these things are not detected and the children don’t get special care?

    • Pure hell for the children. Pure hell for the families. I’ll ask my wife to contribute to this thread .

    • You may not know Lasana Liburd but my middle son has austism. He’s 18 now and much better off than what I thought he would be. Proper training, specialized teachers and much therapy has gotten him to this point. Will he ever hold a real job, I don’t know but he could do some work. My goals are for him to be independent and a productive member of society. Had he been in trini, he would have had almost zero chance of being successful. I owe so much to our local school system and our support system as well.

    • Well, I realise that autism and asperger’s syndrome are different now. I was just wondering exactly how either might cause the child to fail in local school system.
      I see autism is a learning disability so I grasp that. But how would an emotional disability–that might be a clumsy way of describing the asperger’s syndrome–affect a school child?

    • Hope she gives us a hand Michael Samuel. 🙂

    • Brent, I hope he finds something for his skill set. I’m sure that’s a possibility.

    • Have you seen the movie Rain man? That guy has Aspergers. They are very socially awkward and in all honestly struggle with simply things like literal vs figurative understandings. Trust me, people will recognize that they are different and they will have to have different learning styles to cope and develop.

    • Okay. I understand a bit better.

    • So I just walked in the door and David bombarded me with this conversation. I haven’t read the article as yet but this is what I can share off the top of my head.
      Autism is classified as a communication disorder, no two people are affected the same way. Think of it as a glitch in the passing of information, either incoming or outgoing.
      Until recently Asperger’s Syndrome had its own classification under pervasive development disorders but it is now classified as symptomatic of the autism spectrum.
      It is difficult for a person on the spectrum to identify with abstract concepts…feelings, God, spirituality…preferring to stick to the concrete…what they can see and touch. Imagine how that works for a child with autism in the Catholic School system.
      The question of implications if the child is not identified as being on the ASD spectrum really depends on the child. The range goes from low functioning (non-verbal, unable to care for themselves) to some of the highest functioning members of society. By highest functioning, I’m referring to some of the greatest artists, musicians, scientists, computer wizards of all all time. This is because when a person on the spectrum locks into their interest, their is no stopping their capabilities. Unfortunately conventional schooling doesn’t allow for hours and hours of computer programming or writing the perfect piece of music.
      There is so much more I can say but I don’t want to go on and on…what I will say is this.
      If you have access to an Applied Behaviour Analysis program or Individual Behaviour Intervention, stay the course…there is hope. It really does work.
      If you don’t have access to this type of programming, be the biggest advocate for your child. Find their interests and use those to work for you. There is no shame in a diagnosis of ASD. Be honest and open with the teachers and people who will have access to your child. Bring them onto your team and let the village help guide the gift God has given you.
      Christine Rudder.

      • Earl Best

        Christine,
        In what? 300-350 words, you have completely demystified a highly complex disorder. Wow! I hope you teach somewhere, preferably in a place where people are learning to teach.