Asperger's therapies

Clinical psychologist and author Tony Attwood answers questions about the most effective therapies to help treat Asperger's syndrome.

Photo: kryczka/iStockphoto

Q: How does anxiety play a role in Asperger’s? And how can parents determine when the symptoms of Asperger’s requires medical intervention?

A: We now suspect that high levels of anxiety may be a constitutional aspect of Asperger’s syndrome due to research studies on the amygdala, which is a part of the brain often associated with the perception and management of emotions such as anxiety. People with Asperger’s syndrome tend to be very good at worrying and the decision for intervention is a difficult one. Should the child or parent’s quality of life be severely affected by the anxiety then intervention, in terms of medication and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, may be warranted.

When anyone is anxious there is a tendency to develop coping strategies of being very controlling, having inflexible routines and expectations, and avoiding anxiety provoking situations. It is when these coping strategies become abrasive or a problem for the individual or others that intervention may be warranted. 

Q: I’ve read mixed opinions on treatments of Asperger’s. Some say medication and others suggest sensory integration therapy. In your opinion, what are the best treatments for Asperger’s?

A: In my opinion, each person with Asperger’s syndrome is unique and would benefit from access to a range of different therapies. There is no single strategy that has a monopoly on successful outcomes and, over time, the child may benefit from fragments or the complete program associated with a particular approach that ranges from medication to sensory integration therapy.

Q: Our child was diagnosed late and missed out on early intervention. What can we do to help accelerate his progress?

A: Children with Asperger’s syndrome can be developmentally delayed in a number of areas and also accelerated in others. For example, social and emotional maturity may be delayed but some aspects of intellectual ability and sensory sensitivity may be quite advanced. Each child has a unique profile of abilities, but the child will have difficulties with each of the stages of development in comparison to their peers, particularly in the area of friendship. 

Tony Attwood is a clinical psychologist and an international authority on Asperger’s syndrome. His book, Asperger’s Syndrome: A Guide for Parents and Professionals, provides detailed information on diagnosis, problems of social relations, sensory issues, motor control and other typical issues which face people with Asperger’s.

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