5th November 2004 at 00:00
ASPERGER'S SYNDROME IN YOUNG CHILDREN: A DEVELOPMENTAL GUIDE FOR PARENTS AND PROFESSIONALS. Laurie Leventhal-Belfer and Cassandra Coe. Jessica Kingsley. pound;15.95 (pbk)

The authors of this American text (one a clinical psychologist, the other a social worker) draw on their 15 years' experience of working with families to present an authoritative and realistic account of Asperger syndrome, and how and when to intervene.

In 1944, Hans Asperger published his case studies of four boys aged six to 11 who had good language and cognitive skills but were poor at social interaction (hence his description of them as "little professors").

Starting from an account of normal developmental stages, the text provides a series of "red flags" that alert us to Asperger-like behaviour, such as use of parroted phrases, poor eye contact and a tendency to take things literally.

How useful is a diagnosis of Asperger syndrome, since so many of the facets presented appear in the repertoire of almost all children at some point? The authors have it about right when they say that regardless of labels, the challenge is to find the best way to help facilitate children's communication, relationships and learning, when concerns arise. Applying that rule to a range of interventions, such as psychotherapy, diet, medication, circle time, social stories, reward charts, and sensory integration training, among others, leads to a wealth of ideas for creative problem-solving by parents and educators.

The publishers describe this book as a landmark text, and I agree, if only because the authors are cautious not to enter the "best methods" debate that typifies much of the writing on autistic spectrum disorders. They are honest enough to predict that understanding and practice will inevitably move on to much more finely differentiated diagnosis and treatment of these kinds of communication and social interaction differences in childhood.

Alec Webster

Professor of educational psychology, University of Bristol

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