Help Your Teens Take Control of Asperger's Syndrome and Nonverbal Learning Disorder

Janet Price and Jennifer Engel Fisher
An Interview With Janet Price and Jennifer Engel Fisher, Authors of Take Control of Asperger’s Syndrome
By Lacy Compton
What prompted you to write a book for an audience of young people with Asperger’s syndrome and Nonverbal Learning Disorder?

Janet: There is a lot of information available that is geared toward parents, but very little out there geared toward kids and teens themselves. I moderate an Internet forum about Nonverbal Learning Disorder, and parents frequently ask, “How do I explain this diagnosis to my child? How can I help them understand it in a positive way?”

Jennifer: Both Asperger’s syndrome and Nonverbal Learning Disorder have been the center of attention over the last several years. Most books written about these disabilities focus on research and target the parent population. This book’s audience is teenagers with AS or NLD, so they can learn strategies for their success in the world.

How did you have to adapt your material and your experiences to focus on the unique teenage audience? Why do you think it’s important to address this audience separately?

Janet: Teens in general are at an age where they can sometimes feel like they are the only ones going through things. Teens on the spectrum feel that even more intensely. That’s why I think it’s important to address this audience separately—so teens on the spectrum can hear from other teens on the spectrum that they’re not alone; far from it.

Jennifer: The teenage years are difficult in general so imagine what it is like for a student with AS or NLD. The challenges that teenagers face with this disability are different from the challenges of an elementary school student with the same disability; therefore, teenagers deserve their own identity.

What special problems do teens and tweens with these disorders face that may not be addressed by their childhood therapies?

Janet: Therapy and early intervention are critically important. However, therapy and intervention often focus on “fixing” areas that are impacted by the disorder. What therapies and interventions don’t always address are the strengths that can also come with this neurological profile, or how students can take pride in being different.

You spend a lot of time emphasizing the idea of self-advocacy. Why is it important for teens with these disorders and other learning struggles to learn to be self-advocates?

Janet: I think that Katie Miller, the award-winning artist with Asperger’s syndrome who was interviewed in our book, says it best. She says, “If you just tell people what you are having trouble with and what you need, they’ll usually want to help you. Eventually people will sense that you’re different, and if they don’t know why they’re more hesitant with you. If they can put a name to it, they are more accepting.”

Jennifer: The chapter on self-advocacy is probably my favorite chapter in the book. Self-advocacy takes place in a variety of settings, from students telling a friend that they have a hard time making eye contact to letting their teacher know that they need more time on a test. Self-advocacy is a life skill.

One of the biggest issues for kids and teens who have these disorders is changing the way they think about social interactions. What are some tips you would give to teens and kids with AS and NLD who want to make friends and improve their social skills?

Janet: I think the most important thing to remember is that friendship doesn’t have to be all or nothing. If a friend does something that upsets or hurts a student, there are usually many more options than to either just put up with it, or dump them as a friend. We try to help kids and teens think through these options with the examples in our book.

Jennifer: Sometimes students with AS or NLD perceive a social interaction one way when actually, it was very different from what they perceived. In our book, there are several scenarios and scripts that offer guidance and instruction on how to improve teens’ social pragmatics.

How should teens talk to their friends about their disorders? What advice would you give for telling others about AS or NLD?

Janet: I think that’s a personal decision, whether or not to share information about a disorder. I do think that when some of the difficulties that are common to AS or NLD begin to get in the way of maintaining friendships, it might be helpful to explain in order to give people an opportunity to understand why, to accept a person the way she is, and to help when she needs it.

Jennifer: For some people, sharing personal information in general is difficult. Although it may be hard to do so, in some settings it would be in their favor for teens to do so. Making and keeping friends or applying for a job are examples where sharing this information is important.

What advice (briefly) would you give to teens with these disorders that are struggling to succeed in school?

Jennifer: There are so many resources schools have to offer to give support to students who have difficulty with organization, executive dysfunction, or writing. Talking to a teacher or guidance counselor to seek out those resources is a step in the right direction. The book has an entire chapter with tips and strategies to help students with AS or NLD be successful in school such as utilizing technology effectively.

What tools do you see teens with AS and NLD utilizing to help them succeed that may be new or exciting?

Jennifer: Technology, technology, technology! Products such as portable word processors, electronic planners such as the iPad, electronic books such as the Kindle, and timers are tools to help students with AS or NLD succeed in school. New products come out all the time so checking the web for ideas is important.

How can teens use technology, particularly the Internet, to connect with other kids with these disorders?

Janet: The Internet is such an important resource to allow kids and teens with AS or NLD to find each other. In our book, we’ve listed some of the most popular websites and discussion boards frequented by kids and teens with AS or NLD. I know that as a parent, when my son was first diagnosed with NLD and I didn’t know anybody in my area who was dealing with this issue, it was powerful and uplifting to be able to connect with parents in other parts of the country who could reassure me that they, too, were going through exactly the same things. We still serve as a source of support for one another.

You include quotes from other teens in the book. How important is it that teens learn from others’ experiences, and in turn, share their own experiences with these disorders? What do you see them gaining from this sharing?

Janet: It’s one thing to hear from a parent, or a therapist, or a teacher what kinds of strategies can help a student manage his disability. It’s much more compelling for a teen to hear from someone his own age, who is struggling with the same things he is, that this is the strategy that helped him or her, or that trying this didn’t work so well.

Jennifer: There are just some things that teenagers do not want to learn from other adults, and they need the safety of sharing with their peers without being judged. The quotes in our book allow teens to learn this information from others like them. We hope that these quotes and the other material in this book will make a difference for teenagers with AS and NLD.

About the Authors

Janet Price is an educational advocate and parent of a teenager with NLD. She co-moderates a popular Internet forum on NLD. Jennifer Engel Fisher is an educational consultant and organizational coach. Janet and Jennifer serve as program directors for the Weinfeld Education Group in Washington, DC.

To read more about Take Control of Asperger’s Syndrome or to order the book, click here.