Therapy helps youth with Asperger syndrome

Did you know?

The diagnosis of Asperger syndrome changed in May 2013 when the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders came out with its fifth edition, known as DSM-5.

The manual, which is used by psychiatrists and psychologists to diagnose disorders of mental health, eliminated “Asperger syndrome” and replaced it with “autism spectrum disorder.” If a person was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome before May 2013, his or her diagnosis stays the same, but can be considered to have autism spectrum disorder when seeking services and support.

To understand more about the change, we asked Lauren Harris, therapist for the Aspirations Intensive Outpatient Program at Linden Oaks at Edward in Naperville, to talk about it.

Here’s what she had to say: “In the past, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders had separate diagnoses for what was termed autistic disorder and Asperger syndrome. Now, what they have done (in the fifth edition of the manual) is edited that to consider them under one autism spectrum disorder umbrella. What used to be Asperger syndrome, we would now consider as autism spectrum disorder, level one (out of three levels, one indicating patients need less support than three).

“It doesn’t seem that much has changed (since the diagnosis of Asperger was removed), but it’s only been one year. What it might have done is increase discussion and dialogue on how Asperger syndrome is similar in some ways to autism.The world, to my knowledge, still recognizes Asperger syndrome at this point; it is not in the DSM–5, but there are other medical manuals, like the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD) that still recognize it.”


What are the treatments available for Asperger syndrome?

There is no cure for Asperger syndrome and the autism spectrum disorders. The ideal treatment plan coordinates therapies and interventions that meet the specific needs of individual children. There is no single best treatment package for all children, but most health-care professionals agree that early intervention is best.

An effective treatment program builds on the child’s interests, offers a predictable schedule, teaches tasks as a series of simple steps, actively engages the child’s attention in highly structured activities, and provides regular reinforcement of behavior.

Source: the National Institutes of Health

On the web: To learn more about Treehouse Pediatric Therapy, visit TreehousePediatric

Mason Hacker climbs to the top of a ladder to rescue turtles, walks on a swinging platform and walks like a crab. It’s just an ordinary day for the 8-year-old during a session at Treehouse Pediatric Therapy in Woodridge.

“I like coming here,” said the second-grader from Highlands Elementary School in Naperville. “I get to do a lot of fun activities.”

In April 2013, Hacker was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, which is now referred to as autism spectrum disorder. Shortly after receiving the diagnosis, his parents met with Deb Zeitlin, an occupational therapist at the clinic that also provi.

“We first came to Treehouse after getting the diagnosis,” said his mom, Carrie. “At the beginning, we were all kind of lost. I wasn’t sure what would be happening here when we started working with Deb.”

Hacker said Mason was having difficulties at school. Zeitlin came up with an occupational therapy plan to address them.

“Mason initially came to me because he was having general troubles keeping up in gym because of coordination,” said Zeitlin, of Naperville. “His teachers were concerned about his handwriting, and he had a really tough time grasping a pencil.”

The plan of action wasn’t just for Mason; it was a family affair.

“I don’t just treat the child,” Zeitlin said. “There are so many situations that involve everyone, it’s more like family occupational therapy. The family has been so supportive and consistent, and has really followed through.”

Zeitlin said occupational therapy enables people of all ages to live life to its fullest by helping them promote health and live better with an injury, illness or disability.

“It is a practice deeply rooted in science and is evidence-based, meaning that the plan designed for each individual is supported by data, experience, and ‘best practices’ that have been developed and proven over time,” Zeitlin said.

Since last year, Mason has been meeting with Zeitlin each week and has made significant progress.

“At Treehouse, he is learning through play,” said his mom. “It is very much centered on games, and Deb challenges him. Mason has always enjoyed coming and is motivated to do his best here. He strives to impress Deb.”

However, it’s Zeitlin who is impressed.

“Mason is incredibly smart and often surprises me (that) he is only in second grade,” Zeitlin said. “I love what I do. Seeing him grow as a person and seeing all of the changes are so exciting. Things just clicked for him, and he’s ready to graduate.”

Along with improving both fine and gross motor skills and his handwriting, Mason has gained confidence and improved his conversational and social skills. Hacker attributes her son’s success to the collaborative effort at home, school and Treehouse Pediatric.

“With all three of us focusing in on the same thing, it has really helped a lot,” said the mom. “So much has changed in the past year, and we are so much more comfortable with everything. We have learned so much.”

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