Aspects of Asperger

6th July 2001 at 01:00

OUR JOURNEY THROUGH HIGH FUNCTIONING AUTISM AND ASPERGER SYNDROME: A Roadmap. Edited by Linda Andron. pound;13.95. Jessica Kingsley. TES Direct pound;13.45

ASPERGER SYNDROME, THE UNIVERSE AND EVERYTHING. By Kenneth Hall pound;9.95. Jessica Kingsley. TES Direct pound;8.95

UNDERSTANDING AND WORKING WITH THE SPECTRUM OF AUTISM: An Insider's View. By Wendy Lawson pound;13.95. Jessica Kingsley. Available from TES Direct

BRIGHT SPLINTERS OF THE MIND. By Beate Hermelin pound;29.25. Jessica Kingsley. TES Direct pound;27.95

AUTISM WITH SEVERE LEARNING DIFFICULTIES. By Rita Jordan pound;12.99. Souvenir Press. Available from TES Direct

BLUE BOTTLE MYSTERY By Kathy Hoopman pound;7.95 Jessica Kingsley TES Direct pound;7.45

A step along the road of discovery for parents, children and professionals alike" reads the preface to one of these texts, almost all of which use the metaphor of a journey to describe living with autism and dealing with its challenges.

A Roadmap is a collection of pieces distilled from a family support programme run by UCLA. Putting aside the exhortatory language ("you may also find hope . in the signposts these families have passed") this book works on a basic descriptive level, illuminating many of the idiosyncrasies which mark "neuro-atypical" behaviour and development. Glen, as an 11-year-old, addressed a conference for professionals without anxiety, but had overwhelming fears of pictures of nude women and a cartoon character, Lola Bunny.

The text bridges a smattering of theory (such as central coherence) and practice (how to teach children to read social contexts). Michael, caught harassing his sister, is asked how he would feel if she was plaguing him. His answer: "I don't know, it isn't happening right now." This sets the scene for how to promote smooth social interaction.

Kenneth Hall was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome (AS) aged eight and his autobiography- a tour around AS and subjects as wide-ranging as Irish politics, gravity, God and the media - provides some fascinating insights into his world view.

Helpful for other children, siblings and parents, some of the explanations for his quirkiness are refreshingly banal, but probably underestimate the shift required by most parents and teachers in adapting to them: the noise of children's chattering is "like dynamite going off in my ears"; "I also love leaping around the furniture .".

In a highly able child who took his GCSE maths six years early, Kenneth reveals how AS is evident in making changes and decisions: he eats only one kind of cheese everyday: "lunch works best when it is the exact same each day."

Understanding and working with the Spectrum of Autism gives us a direct account from an adult with AS, including problems such as taking things literally, attention-tunnelling, thinking in unconnected pictures, non-generalised learning and inability to predict. It is compelling, if only because Wendy Lawson's attempt to deconstruct her own cognition reveals in its attention to detail and lists of "key concepts", the very traits she is trying to depict.

Beate Hermelin is renowned for her experimental work in abnormal psychology. Also described as "an exciting voyage of discovery" Bright Splinters of the Mind explains some of the cognitive strategies which underlie extraordinary talent in about 1 per cent of autistic people (regrettably still referred to as "idiot savants").

Examining special talents in music, visual arts and calculation, she shows that patterns of success and failure depend on rule-based strategies, not just rote memory or eidetic (visual) recall. This brilliant probing text dispels some myths. The freshness of savants' drawings, for example, stems from an inability to revisit and redo their creations, giving the impression always of a first draft.

In what is justifiably heralded as a "pioneering" book, Rita Jordan in Autism with Severe Learning Difficulties tackles the domain from the opposite end of the spectrum, guiding practitioners to working effectively with individuals who have additional severe learning difficulties. Within the triad of impairments associated with autism (social skills, communication, flexible thinking and behaviour), autism-specific teaching can be tailored to deal with challenging behaviour, social interaction and play.

The main message is that specific teaching and care approaches must take account of both autism and learning styles, responding to their discrete contributions.

Blue Bottle Mystery, written by a teacher and children's author, attempts to demystify AS through a fantasy based around a character with AS; but reality is much stranger and more complex than fiction and I much prefer the voices of "neuro-atypicals" themselves.

Alec Webster is professor ofeducational psychology, Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol

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