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Asperger Syndrome

About AS:

  • It is a neurological disorder that affects the way information is processed in the brain.
  • AS is a hidden disability. Many people appear very competent, but they have difficulties in the areas of communication and social interaction.
  • AS has a genetic and hereditary component and may have additional or interactive environmental causes as yet unknown.
  • AS is a developmental disability. All individuals have social/emotional delays, but continued growth seems to be life-long.
  • The incidence of AS is thought to be 1 in 250. As many as 50% of people with AS may be undiagnosed.
  • There are currently four males diagnosed with AS for every one female, but the true ratio may be as high as one female for every two males.

AS affects each person differently, although there is a core set of features that most people with AS have, to different extents:

  • People with AS have normal to very high intelligence and have good verbal skills.
  • Challenges with the use and understanding of language in a social context.
  • Trouble understanding what someone else is thinking and feeling (called theory of mind or perspective taking).
  • Needing to be taught social behavior that is “picked up on” intuitively by others.
  • Difficulty understanding non-verbal cues such as hand movements, facial expressions, and tone of voice.
  • Challenges with organization, initiation, prioritizing, all called executive functioning tasks.
  • Focusing on small details rather than the bigger picture
  • Most people with AS have intense interest areas such as movies, geography, history, math, physics, cars, horses, dogs or reptiles. These interest areas change every 3 months to several years
  • Friendships are usually formed through mutual interest areas or activities.
  • Most people with AS view the world in black and white with difficulty compromising or seeing the gray areas.
  • Most individuals with AS describe themselves as feeling different, like aliens in our world.
  • Anxiety and/or depression are major components for many people with AS and may affect their ability to function.
  • Some individuals with AS have extreme and debilitating hyper- or hypo-sensitivity to light, noise, touch, taste, or smell. The environment can have a profound impact on their ability to function.

The Difference Between Service, Therapy and Emotional Support Animals

Many times, the terms service, therapy and emotional support are mistakenly used interchangeably to describe an animal accompanying a person with a disability. While animals falling into each of these categories can be invaluable additions to the lives of their owners, their training and characteristics are notably different and as such they have varying responsibilities and rights.

Service Animals
Undergoing rigorous and highly specific training, service animals are taught to provide special, sometimes life-saving services to persons with disabilities. Dogs are most commonly used for this type of work, with certain breeds, such as Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers, being popular for their temperament, versatility, size and intelligence. Due to the nature of their roles, service dogs are granted certain rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act, like being allowed to accompany their owners into establishments inside which pets are not generally allowed. Service dogs can be trained to provide countless services to their owner depending on his or her needs, from alerting their owners to the sounds of smoke alarms or ringing phones to pulling their wheelchairs or leading them through a crowd.

Therapy Animals
Therapy animals also receive extensive training but their role in a person’s life is a little different than that of a service dog. These animals provide psychological and physiological therapy to individuals other than their handlers, visiting hospitals, schools, nursing homes and other such institutions. These animals are trained to socialize and interact with those around them during their time on duty, participating in various activities while maintaining a calm demeanor. While dogs are also common in animal-assisted therapy, horses and dolphins, amongst many others, have been known to take on the challenge. Professional handlers may not be in charge of an animal’s training, however their training must meet certain criteria as specified for the organization for which they will work.

Emotional Support Animals
While emotional support animals are not required to undergo special training, their presence in a person’s life can be tremendously beneficial. By providing comfort, support and a calming presence, this type of animal can help relieve anxiety and reduce stress. Emotional support animals do not fall under the same category as service or therapy animals, however they are afforded certain rights. The Fair Housing Act allows ESAs to bypass “no pet” policies in housing complexes while the Air Carrier Access Act permits these animals to travel alongside their companions in an aircraft, as long as they possess the proper documentation.

Service, therapy and emotional support animals offer guidance and assistance to their owners or handlers in unique yet indispensable ways. For a person with a disability, these types of animals can make a world of difference.