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 Annual 2012

Annual 2012


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Getting the Diagnosis

ADHD or Asperger’s?

      You notice your child having difficulties with social and motor skills, or maybe he seems sensitive to high-pitched noises, certain fabrics or even fluorescent lighting. As a parent you may worry he has Asperger’s syndrome or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. How, you wonder, do you go about getting an accurate diagnosis?
     The National Institute of Mental Health estimate that approximately 2 million children in the United States have ADHD, with boys more likely to be diagnosed than girls. And while the incidence of Asperger’s, a form of high-functioning autism, is not well established, the National Institutes of Health estimate that two out of every 10,000 children have the disorder. Boys are three to four times more likely than girls to have Asperger’s. However, like other types of autism — collectively known as autism spectrum disorders — Asperger’s can be difficult to diagnose. The fact that a child can have a diagnosis of both Asperger’s and ADHD further adds to the confusion.
      “Severe cases of ADHD and mild Asperger’s can share many of the same attention-related symptoms, including difficulties with communication, social interaction and behavior. These similarities can make obtaining an accurate diagnosis challenging,” says Charlene Sigman, an East Bay educator and speech language pathologist. She, with her husband, Mitch, founded the Dublin-based School of Imagination and Happy Talkers program in 2001.
      “While both children with ADHD and Asperger’s can have sensory issues and difficulty interacting with their peers, children with Asperger’s tend to focus on only one activity with a level of intensity that excludes everything else in their environment, such as playing with a certain toy or talking about a certain subject incessantly,” Sigman says. “On the other hand, an ADHD child tends to be interested in multiple activities but may become easily distracted by their environment.”
      Treatment options also vary with the two conditions, although children with ADHD and Asperger’s can benefit from counseling and behavioral therapy and working in a structured setting both at home and school.
      “While many children are prescribed stimulants to help with ADHD, these same medications might either have a negative effect or be ineffective with a child who has Asperger’s,” Sigman says. “Children with Asperger’s seem to respond best to social skills training.”
      Sigman says the first step for parents who want to have their child evaluated for ADHD or Asperger’s is to request an evaluation from a developmental pediatrician.
      “If a parent notices their child experiencing delayed social and motor skills and extreme sensitivity to sensory stimuli, it’s important to get them evaluated at a young age,” Sigman says. “Before the age of 3, early intervention is key for vast improvement possibilities.”
      At the Children’s Learning Center in Alameda, students in grades K–12 with complex cases of ADHD, Asperger’s and emotional disturbances, learning disabilities, mild developmental delays or mild autism receive classroom instruction in small class sizes that emphasize academic skills, emotional functioning, self-esteem and self-control.
      “Our students are referred to us by public school districts throughout the East Bay,” says Esther Cohen, a clinical child psychologist and director of the center. “We have a lot of children with Asperger’s and some with ADHD who may have other coexisting conditions such as bipolar disorder, social anxiety disorder and depression.”
      Both the School of Imagination, which offers pre-K school programs and afterschool programs for older children, and the Children’s Learning Center can help parents navigate the school system and secure the proper resources they need for their child to succeed.
      “Often students will attend classes here for a set amount of time, and then return to their local public school,” Cohen says. “Our programs can help children learn how to interact more successfully in social situations, form good study habits, and develop independence.”

Help on the Way

•    The School of Imagination and Happy Talkers provides speech, behavioral and occupational therapy to children from throughout the Bay Area, pairing typically developing children and children with developmental disabilities in an all-inclusive setting. www.soi4kids.org, (925) 829-9555.

•    The Children’s Learning Center operates an elementary, middle and high school program in Alameda serving students from all across the East Bay. Placements are initiated by school districts, pediatricians and by parents directly. www.clcalameda.com, (510) 769-2322.

•    The Best Kind of Different: Our Family’s Journey with Asperger’s Syndrome by Shonda Schilling, wife of baseball legend Curt Schilling. Shonda shares her family’s journey of having all four children diagnosed with ADHD and one with Asperger’s. (William Morrow, 2010; www.thebestkindofdifferent.com).

•    The San Francisco Autism Society offers support groups online and in person for families with a child who has been disgnosed with autism or Asperger’s. It also sponsors workshops for families in locations throughout the Bay Area. www.sfautismsociety.virtualave.net/supportgroups.html.

•    To take an interactive test to determine if your child might have the symptoms of ADHD, visit www.cdc.gov/NCBDDD/adhd/widget/checklist/index.html.

•    Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, or CHADD, is a national nonprofit serving individuals with ADHD and their families. It offers online support through e-communities as well as local chapters across the United States and a directory of healthcare professionals who can diagnose and treat ADHD. www.chadd.org.


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