Determining Where Your Child Is

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By Dan Coulter

You have a child with Asperger Syndrome. Where is he? Not geographically. I mean in the larger sense of: where is he or she in preparing for adulthood?

If you’re depending on your observations alone, you may not be getting a complete picture of your child’s capabilities and challenges. How often have you found out your child didn’t understand something that you assumed he knew? How often has she surprised you with knowledge that you had no idea she possessed, or displayed a talent you didn’t know he had?

Over the years, I’ve heard lots of stories about surprises. Parents who find out at the end of a school quarter that their child has been struggling for months. Teachers who are stunned that a student who didn’t appear to be paying attention actually retained everything that was taught.

Just like a traveler needs to know where he’s starting from to plan a route to his destination, we need to know where our kids are to help them navigate a successful path to adulthood.

My wife and I saw the importance of assessment as we were making a DVD designed to help people with Asperger Syndrome find and keep a job. Many people with Asperger Syndrome sabotage their career efforts by applying for jobs that don’t suit them or that don’t offer the right work environment. Part of the solution is a realistic assessment of their capabilities and challenges before they start the job search process. Another part is making regular assessments after they land a job to ensure they stay on track.

Assessment was a significant factor for six successful employees with Asperger Syndrome who we interviewed for our employment DVD. Assessment helped their employers provide reasonable accommodations, and helped the employees adapt their behaviors to suit the workplace. According to their supervisors, all these employees are highly productive. Some are even more productive than their “typical” coworkers. This reminded us of the importance of early and ongoing assessment of children with Asperger Syndrome to help parents and teachers meet their evolving needs.

Some of the lessons we learned researching the work DVD apply to assessments at any age. Here are 10 steps to keep in mind when evaluating a child’s progress toward adulthood:

1. Make your own observations. If you find it helpful, write them down on a regular basis. Writing down your thoughts can help crystallize them in your mind, and looking back over past entries can help you see patterns and changes over time.

2. Try to observe your child in a variety of situations and environments. Children with Asperger Syndrome can react very differently in different circumstances.

3. Do your research. Find out what a child typically does at what developmental stage so you can gauge your child’s progress. Keep in mind that there is no absolute developmental timetable, but that you can look for certain kinds of progress in certain age ranges. Remember that Asperger Syndrome often involves developmental delay. Your child may do certain things months or years later than other children and still be capable of mastering skills needed for adulthood.

4. Interview your subject. Often, the best way to find out what your son or daughter or student knows is to ask him or her. Keeping the lines of communication open can give you continuous helpful feedback.

5. Seek a range of perspectives. Talk with family members, teachers, counselors, health professionals, coaches and others who have significant contact with your child to get their input.

6. Periodically, you may find behavior assessment tools, psychological testing, or career aptitude testing helpful. Three good behavioral assessment tools we’ve found have been produced separately by Brenda Smith Myles, Ph.D., Teresa Bolick, Ph.D., and The Ziggurat Group. If you have psychological testing done, it’s good to work with a professional who is familiar with Asperger Syndrome. (Please be aware that some psychological tests primarily report behaviors that are different from the norm. This can make it seem as though the testing is weighted toward only revealing problems with your child. You need to put such results in context by assessing them in light of your child’s positive qualities. A good mental health professional can help you put the results of such a test into perspective.) School counselors can be helpful in administering career aptitude tests. Some high schools routinely administer these tests during students’ freshman or sophomore years.

7. For someone with Asperger Syndrome, it’s particularly important to assess social skills. If you find your child is struggling in this area, it’s often helpful to enroll him in a social skills group –- or find a club or organization where she can use her special interests and skills. Some children with Asperger Syndrome become obsessive about computer or video games, especially if their attempts to approach peers have been rejected. Parents sometimes need to maneuver such children out of their computer comfort zones and into situations where they can develop face-to-face social skills for adulthood.

8. Combine all your input to make an overall evaluation. You may sometimes find perspectives from your input sources don’t agree. But if you have multiple perspectives, you’re more likely to get an accurate overall picture.

9. Make your assessments and adaptations routine. It’s good to do your own, informal assessment at least four times a year. This can be as simple as holding a few conversations and comparing what you hear with your own observations. If you do psychological or other formal testing, you may only need one session to create a baseline, or testing every few years. Some children may need more frequent formal testing.

10. Use your findings to adapt your parenting or teaching, and share key findings with others who you feel have a need to know.

There may be some cookie-cutter children somewhere who wouldn’t benefit from parenting and teaching that’s continually evaluated and updated to meet a child’s changing needs.

But I’ve never met one.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR -- Dan Coulter is the producer of the DVDs "Asperger Syndrome at Work” and “Manners for the Real World: Basic Social Skills.” You can find more articles on his website:

Copyright 2010 Dan Coulter All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission.

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