4th March 2005 at 00:00
Succeeding in College with Asperger Syndrome. By John Harpur, Maria Lawlor and Michael Fitzgerald. Jessica Kingsley. pound;13.95

Although there have been many books written about autistic spectrum disorders in recent years, few are addressed - as this is - directly to older students, their carers and tutors.

Drawing on interviews with students with Asperger syndrome, the authors take as their starting point the fact that the condition is associated with areas of passionate interest and a tremendous capacity to work to a routine.

Students with Asperger syndrome typically have difficulties with social interaction, rigidity, over-literalness, poor understanding of emotions and anxiety. The ability to doggedly pursue a narrow interest may be a virtue in academic work, but it also gets students into trouble when they stalk a "friend" whose non-verbal rejections they have failed to read.

Arguing that students with the syndrome can readily accept self-help advice, the book sets out a series of pithy scripts for dealing with college life. The content covers conversations, dating, personal hygiene, study skills, independent living, social contacts, sexuality, managing stress and self-monitoring.

There is little about theory or the curriculum here, or what makes for autism-friendly college environments. The onus is on the students to manage themselves, read faces, situations and social clues, and develop a repertoire for coping.

If the advice sometimes sounds alarmingly prescriptive - "Do not stand like an upright freezer," "Shower regularly, brush your teeth, keep your hair tidy and wear clean clothes" - these are exactly the kind of details that need to be spelled out.

Alec Webster

Professor of educational psychology, University of Bristol

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