There are other avenues to access information on Asperger's Syndrome or community services and supports. Every state's county government system has an office that serves infants and children, adolescents, and adults with a variety of different ways of being, covering autism, intellectual impairment, and mental health issues. (The same or neighboring office may address child welfare, domestic violence issues, and alcohol and substance abuse.) In some areas it is called the Office of Developmental Disabilities. In others, it is known as the county Mental Health — Mental Retardation Office — a title that has become antiquated and offensive (not to mention intimidating) to many parents. That is not to say that such an office is in every county; two or more counties may share a hub office. The phone number for your county's local disabilities office is located in the blue pages of your phone directory, or online at your county's human services website.
The Early Intervention Program
If your child is younger than five years old, when you call the office, ask for a referral to the Early Intervention Program in order to arrange an assessment of need. Early Intervention is a federally mandated program delivered by every state free of cost to families of children with developmental delays from infancy to school age, or five years old. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (or IDEA) stipulates the provisions for delivery of early intervention.
The Early Intervention Office will arrange to have someone come to your home at your convenience to assess your child for developmental delays. If your child qualifies for the program, he may be able to access a variety of professionals and therapists who will educate you about meeting his needs. The challenge in accessing Early Intervention for a child with Asperger's Syndrome is that Asperger's is so subtle that kids “fall through the cracks” and go undetected until they are much older than Early Intervention age. Additionally, according to the clinical criteria for Asperger's Syndrome, a child should demonstrate no cognitive or developmental delays. Lack of such delays would make a child ineligible for Early Intervention.
Your child may experience some physical fine- or gross-motor limitations that could make him eligible for the program, or the Early Intervention representative will support you in accessing any other local resources that may prove helpful. If your child is blind or deaf, he may also qualify for the program, but the services and supports offered will focus on your child's differences and will likely be unable to address Asperger's Syndrome.
What are the benefits of the Early Intervention Program?
Early Intervention is a family-centered program. The intent of the professionals involved is to work directly with you to accommodate your needs, address your concerns, arrange in-person contact according to your schedule, and link you to other people and opportunities that may prove helpful.
However, one area of developmental delay identified for Early Intervention eligibility is social-emotional development, or how well a child relates to others. If your child's social differences are significant enough to cause you concern and he is within Early Intervention age, you may be able to access certain services and support designed to help engage him socially.
Help from School
The symptoms of Asperger's Syndrome may go unnoticed until your child is of school age. If you have not been cognizant of your child's symptoms or you've been in a “let's wait and see” holding pattern, your child's educators may bring it to your attention. They may have noticed your child's distractibility, difficulty in understanding what is expected of him, seeming challenges in social connectedness, and other traits associated with Asperger's. They may recommend a consultation with the school psychologist, who may discuss Asperger's Syndrome with you.
The school psychologist will usually be a member of a school team called the Student Assistance Program, or SAP. As a rule, most school psychologists don't make clinical diagnoses such as Asperger's Syndrome, but the psychologist can partner with you and the SAP team as part of an assessment process to identify more specific areas of need that interfere with your child's ability to learn.
The school psychologist may assist with observations of your child during the school day or make a referral to a clinician who can make a diagnosis. The school psychologist will then work with the doctor's report to aid the SAP team in supporting your child's social and emotional needs and in making accommodations for your child in the general education curriculum.
If your parental instinct is telling you that your child is struggling socially or academically and you think it is possibly due to Asperger's Syndrome, address it with your child's school professionals as soon as possible. Be clear, direct, and concise about what you are thinking, feeling, and seeing, and request their support.