Asperger Syndrome (AS) is sometimes called ‘mild autism’ but there is nothing mild about being a teenager who finds it nigh on impossible to get things right with his peergroup. People with AS are at their most vulnerable at a time when the people they go to school with are at their least sensitive. In the social jungle of secondary school teenagers with AS are the Wildebeest. Unsurprisingly there is a high incidence of depression amongst adolescents with AS.
People with AS have huge potential but they need a low-stress high self-esteem environment for their education. Either we personalise their experience in the mainstream via modifications to their curriculum and learning environment or we have to consider alternative provision. No set of grades is worth the loss of mental health through chronic stress.
There are a whole swathe of life-skills that we need to teach explicitly to people with AS. We cannot spend all our time in pursuit of academic qualifications that will, in themselves, open no doors if they are carried to interview by anxious young people who cannot interact or take the initiative.
Solution-focused interventions and Asperger Syndrome dovetail really well.
One of the key techniques used in SFBT is the identification of ‘exceptions’. People with AS will have one or two strengths/passions that simply cry out ‘nurture me’ to a solution-focused therapist /teacher. We need to focus more on their exceptional potential in these areas and less on all the delays/deficits.If we insist on hammering away at the delays/deficits directly we may induce fight or flight responses. The fight is their ‘challenging behaviour’; the flight is the shut-down into some tried and tested bolt-hole that they have ready if we tax them too much.
If we do nurture the exception(s) in a collaborative way, we make them happier, we open up possibilities, and we earn trust. Trust that can be used to address all those thing we wanted to adjust in the first place. And as always ‘success breeds success’.
Talking of life with his autistic son, Nobel prize winner Kenzaburo Oe reflected,
“I feel human beings can heal themselves, the will to be healed, and the power of recovery are very strong in us. That’s the most important thing I’ve learnt in my life with my son.”
The most important resources in the battle for a decent quality of life is our children’s innate desire to help themselves. They have an agenda and we do best when we can ally our agenda to their agenda. Their ‘passions’ can be a source of analogies, success, confidence, esteem, and vocations. So as soon as they are able we need to start collaborating with our child to mitigate the impact of their atypical neurology on their lives.
We do this by observing their strategies and strengths and latching onto these and nurturing them – and also demanding others do likewise or get out of the way.
Our job as parents and tutors is to help them embark on a journey during which time we strive to make ourselves redundant and they become personal navigators – with sufficient knowledge and skills to be able to take on stewardship of their life.
Kevin Foley BA (Hons) Econ. PGCE, MA Autism