Why are so many people being diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome these days?
ABC Local Radio 774's Lindy Burns posed this question to Dr Cheryl Dissanayake, Director of the Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre (OTARC) at La Trobe University, on Monday 15th February 2010.
Dr Dissanayake spoke about the changes in definition of ASD, and increased understanding and awareness of what the spectrum contains, as being possible factors in the increased rate of diagnosis. She also discussed the fine grey line between the diagnoses of high functioning autism and Aspergers Syndrome. She feels strongly that it is not being over-diagnosed, rather that their research is showing 1 in 100 individuals are affected by the condition.
Another theory for the increasing rate of diagnosis I'd like to put forward is the dramatic change in the way we structure the provision of education to our children. In generations past, classrooms tended to be quiet and well ordered places, where front-facing rows of children sat mostly in silence, receiving instruction from their teacher. Copying from the blackboard, rote learning, silent reading, and obedience were highly valued. Social skills were required in the playground, but not as much in the classroom.
Contrast to today, where classrooms are busy, noisy places were active group-based learning is prized. Children are sat around tables facing each other, eye contact is expected frequently, and advanced social skills are required in order to 'work together on inquiry based topics'. The Aspie child is easily overwhelmed by the requirement to deal with a multitude of personalities and expectations, in a noisy and at times chaotic environment. Instructions are given verbally, and creativity-based mini-tasks follow one another other quickly. For a child who needs written or visual instructions, and time to process them, it can all get too much.
The response? An internal shutdown, with mental withdrawal to a calmer place, or an aggressive outburst to the child or request that 'pushes them over the edge'.
Does any of this fit with your own, or your child's experiences?
To hear the ABC Radio interview with Dr Cheryl Dissanayake, click here