Is Asperger’s Syndrome a learning Disability as it is commonly believed?
Well, there is no direct yes or no answer to that but it’s important to understand that the conditions in Asperger’s Syndrome are less severe than other kinds of autism spectrum disorders.
There are people with Asperger’s who have gone way beyond their potentials to become highly successful in life yet diagnosed to have the syndrome.
Thus, it is far from just a black-white topic, so let’s begin with understanding what exactly is Asperger’s Syndrome.
What is Asperger’s Syndrome?
Asperger’s syndrome or Disorder is defined as a severe and sustained impairment in social interaction and the development of restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests, and activities.
The disturbance must cause clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.
In contrast to Autistic Disorder, there are no clinically significant delays in language.
Besides, there are no clinically significant delays in cognitive development or the development of age-appropriate self-help skills, adaptive behaviour (other than in social interaction), and curiosity about the environment in childhood. (DSM –IVTM)
Treatments: Cognitive behavioural therapy & social skills training.
Diagnosis: based on symptoms.
People question, Can someone with Asperger’s Syndrome lead a normal life?
Well, to answer this question, we first need to understand it’s symptoms and effects on ones life.
Who is an Asperger’s SyndromeClient?
People born with Asperger’s, also known as Aspergians, suffer from certain impairments in social and motor functioning.
Some commonly found features in the Aspergians:
- Intellectual or Artistic Interest
- Speech Problems
- Delayed Motor Development
- Poor Social Skills
- The Development of Harmful Psychological Problems.
Intellectual or Artistic interest:
It is commonly noticed that people with Asperger’s Syndrome have a profound ability in a particular area of their interest.
They have achieved remarkable success and did not let their disability define their worth.
Some of the most famous personalities with Asperger’s include Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, and Susan Boyle etc.
Children with Asperger’s have difficulty maintaining their verbal pitch and have a peculiar inflection on certain words.
As they step into adulthood they do not outgrow these characteristics.
Hence it is seen Asperigans speaking loudly in quiet places such as a library or a church.
Delayed Motor Development:
In the area of motor development, Asperger’s Syndrome hinders the child’s ability to do the basic everyday activities of learning.
As a result of which they become highly irritated, this leads to frustration.
Due to the inability to hold a pencil or to grasp objects firmly children with this syndrome struggle to get along with their neurotypical class-fellows.
Poor Social skills:
Because of their limited fields of interest and low emotional ability, Aspergians feel isolated through most of their childhood and into adulthood.
Aspergians do try to make friends, but they are often either temporarily successful or completely unsuccessful due to their lack of social skills.
In the end, they sometimes display a lack of interest or even curiosity for the discussions, thoughts and opinions of the people they temporarily befriend.
The Development of Harmful Psychological Problems:
When puberty hits the developmental stage in young Asperigans; they are prone to be inflicted with potential psychological disorders.
The most common among them is anxiety and depression. Due to the lack of proper psychological care, Asperger’s usually take the hard road of suicide.
Before we jump into the debate whether Asperger’s Syndrome is a Learning Disability, we need to understand the concept of what it means to have a learning disability.
What is a learning disability?
Learning Disorders are diagnosed when the individual’s achievement on individually administered, standardized tests in reading, mathematics or written expression is substantially below that expected for age, schooling and level of intelligence.
The learning problems significantly interfere with academic achievement or activities of daily living.
Learning disorders are of four types:
- Disorders of Reading,
- Disorders of Mathematics,
- Disorders of written expression and
- Learning disorder not otherwise specified (NOS) (American Psychiatric Association, 1994).
Going by the definition, we can draw an understanding that Learning Disability affects the individual’s capacity to get along with reading, writing and speaking.
It hinders the individual’s capacity to be expressive and slows down the process of vocabulary growth, and the child faces difficulties in pronunciation and grammatical understanding.
Understanding Asperger’s Syndrome in the light of History
History reveals a number of personalities who have shown signs and symptoms of autism in their early and adult life yet went on to become celebrated individuals later on in their lifetimes.
According to Michael Fitzgerald, professor of psychiatry at Trinity College in Dublin, a long list of ‘geniuses’ ― including Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, George Orwell, H. G. Wells Ludwig Wittgenstein, Beethoven, Mozart, Hans Christian Andersen and Immanuel Kant ― all had Asperger syndrome. “I’m arguing the genes for Autism/Asperger, and creativity are essentially the same,” Fitzgerald apparently told a conference in London.
Taking into account the history of Albert Einstein, we see that he had delayed language development which is the hallmark of individuals with ASDs (Autism Spectrum Disorders).
Einstein also displayed a rigid set of expectations for his wife to follow, including three meals per day served in his study room and he had very rigid expectations about cleanliness and organization of his study and desk.
This sounds a lot like another criterion, “Insistence on sameness, inflexible adherence to routines, or ritualized patterns” specified in the DSM V. Einstein was also known for having difficulty with small talk.
He preferred to spend his time alone sailing rather than socializing.
Asperger’s Syndrome: A hurdle in the area of Learning?
While it is rightly stated that Learning Disability is the inability to get along with the challenges of everyday learning, it is crucial to understand that people with Asperger’s syndrome may experience challenges in specific areas of learning, but to say that they are totally disabled with regards to learning, needs to be challenged because people with Asperger’s syndrome usually have an average or an above-average intelligence.
Now considering the fact AS is different from the rest of its PDDs (Pervasive developmental Disorders) as there is no significant delay in speech or cognitive functions and thus it is not really impossible for Asperigans to become a celebrated physicist, musician, IT-expert – fields that are heavily technical and where a little social awkwardness is not a barrier to achieve their dreams.
It becomes very difficult to label a student with straight A’s in her academics as having learning disability because logic dictates that the student is fulfilling thee criteria on which the entire system is based though he/she might fall under various criteria of Asperger’s.
However, as it is the core principle of psychology, every individual is unique, and thus every disorder comes with its own challenges.
If a student has secured all the academic trophies of the state at the mere age of 17 or 18 yet entirely depends on an external factor to take care of his personal duties like to track time and remind him of when to take breaks, eat, sleep, and attend classes because he gets hopelessly lost in the intricacies of the equations.
Another person may absorb data from textbooks like a sponge, coupling it with a keen sense of reasoning and end up a powerhouse of knowledge and insights about history, biology, chemistry, and other key topics, but still fail to bring in good grades because the Asperger’s symptoms are such that the person is unable to sit through a regular written test despite knowing all the answers.
Reading through the entire section, we come to a conclusive understanding that though Asperger’s syndrome comes along with its own challenges to the person suffering from it, it can be very tricky to couple it with a learning disability.
While people with Asperger’s do have considerable difficulty to get along well with their peers and have a very difficult time understating and showcasing their emotions to their teachers and peers, they can still go on to do great work in their later life.
Getting the right professional help and a patient environment which can sustain their unruly and rigid habits will help them achieve their success and eventually lift them on the top of the success ladder which very few people make it to.
Since these extra steps are required for ultimate success, the case can be made that Asperger’s does indeed create a learning disability by default.
In cases where the student is unable to take the test to prove his intelligence, Asperger’s does indeed prove to be a learning disability.
It does indeed prove to become a tool to make the syndrome a mark of failure to the individual.
However, keeping aside the argument whether the testing system is a beneficial tool to brand a person worthy of being knowledgeable, Asperger’s syndrome tends to become a yardstick against which we determine the issue of learning disability.
In the end, the very question comes up, if Asperger’s syndrome is a learning disability?
It can be rightly said that it totally depends on the individual and the intensity of the manifestation of the Asperger’s in the person.
It can prove to be the very syndrome which will lift up the individual from the shackles of disabilities and make the person renowned around the world and it can be the very disability which can keep the person tied on to the chains of helplessness and rigidity.
In either case, Asperger’s syndrome can’t really be termed as a learning disability, but it can’t be totally exempted from it too.
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- A complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome by Tony Attwood.
- The Asperger Personal Guide: Raising Self-Esteem and Making the Most of Yourself as an Adult by Genevieve Edmonds & Dean Worton.
- Abnormal psychology by Butcher, Mineka, M.Hooley, 15th Edition.
- (Applied Behaviour Analysis, Program Guide)
- autism; lovetoknow.