Emotional & Behavioral Disorders: Autism & Asperger's Syndrome

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  1. 0:05 Emotional and Behavioral Disorders
  2. 0:57 Autism
  3. 2:49 Asperger Syndrome
  4. 5:11 Lesson Summary
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Taught by

Valerie Houghton, Ph.D.

Valerie holds a Ph.D. in Health Psychology.

In this lesson, we will explore the similarities and differences of two emotional and behavioral disorders: autism and Asperger syndrome. Discover the characteristics of these disorders and how they affect the people who have them.

Emotional and Behavioral Disorders

Professor Eli M. Bower's life's work was dedicated to the education and understanding of children. One of his lingering contributions is his use of the five characteristics to define emotional and behavioral disorders. Although, according to some, while Bower's definition is highly subjective, it remains the standard. According to Bower, if a child's educational performance is affected by one or more of the five characteristics over an extended period of time, the child is said to have a disorder. The five characteristics are: inability to learn, inability to maintain interpersonal relationships, showing inappropriate behavior, having the pervasive mood of depression, and showing fear in association with problems. In this lesson, we will discuss autism and Asperger's, which are two of the syndromes that fit into Bower's definition.


Establishing routines is important for autistic children
Autism Routine Example

Dr. Leo Kanner (1894-1981) was one of the first people to study autism.

He was both a physician and a psychiatrist who defined autismas a developmental disability that appears during the first few years of life. Although there is an ongoing debate as to what causes autism, the result of the disorder is a neurological defect that affects the functioning of the brain.

Autism varies significantly between individuals and is considered to be an elusive disorder. However, the American Psychiatric Association considers individuals with autism to be mentally handicapped and places autism into three general categories.

Impairment in Social Interaction

The first category is impairment in social interaction. Children with autism have difficulty relating to others and thus are said to have impairment in social interaction. This impairment is due to not recognizing the social cues that are given to them. For example, during the course of conversation, people without autism use eye contact, correctly interpret facial expressions, and wait for their turn to speak. A child with autism isn't able to do this and thus is said to show inappropriate behavior by their lack of social skills.

Dr. Hans Asperger oberved boys with high-functioning autism
Dr Hans Asperger

Impairment in Communication

Impairments in communication is the second category and includes speech and language delays. By the time other preschool students are speaking, the majority of autistic preschool children are not.

Autism affects the speech center in the brain, so the child with autism needs to be taught alternative methods of communication, such as sign language.

Repetitive Patterns of Behavior

The third category is displaying a repetitive pattern of behavior. A child with autism is often overwhelmed by all of the sensory stimuli they receive. In order to organize all of the input or to block out the excess stimuli, they use routines and rituals as a way to organize their world.

Asperger Syndrome

Asperger syndrome is defined as a form of autism that affects how a person processes information. It was named after a pediatrician by the name of Dr. Hans Asperger who observed autistic-like behaviors in boys who had normal intelligence and normal language development. These boys were classified as having high-functioning autism and, in today's terms, they would be classified as having Asperger syndrome.

In other words, a person who has Asperger syndrome has autism. However, they are in the classification of autism known as high-functioning because they have normal intelligence and are not developmentally delayed in learning language.

Children with Asperger syndrome do not understand slang or idiosyncrasies in language
Autism Social Miscommunication

Like children with autism, children with Asperger syndrome have impairments in social interactions and show repetitive patterns of behavior. Although the characteristics of Asperger syndrome vary greatly from person to person, the three social areas they all have difficulty with are communication, interaction, and imagination.

Difficulty with Social Communication

Like an individual with autism, an individual with Asperger syndrome is said to have difficulty with social communication because they simply do not understand the idiosyncrasies of conversation. For example, if you said, 'That's cool!' a person with Asperger syndrome would not comprehend that 'cool' means good and would become confused as to why you were referencing temperature in the course of the conversation.

In addition, they have difficulty in understanding facial expressions, sarcasm, and body language.

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