Dexter Statesman
The former Daily Statesman is now The Dexter Statesman.

Autism author featured at local event

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Easter Seals to sponsor Aaron Likens' appearance

Aaron Likens

Aaron Likens was 20 years old before he was diagnosed with Asperger's, a syndrome on the Austistic spectrum.

"I didn't have the Autism label growing up," Likens explains. "So, I just had the smart, quirky kid label."

Likens currently works for Easter Seals Midwest, formerly Touchpoint Autism Services as a community education specialist with the advocacy group. In that role, he speaks publicly about living with Asperger's -- the misconceptions of the disorder and the struggles he has faced and continues to face -- as he is constantly challenged to "adapt" in a world that is not always "Asperger's friendly."

Likens presents his story and his findings in public forums across the midwest, and on Wednesday, Jan. 21, he will be speaking about autism and living with Asperger's on behalf of Easter Seals at the Dexter Chamber of Commerce building. His public presentation will take place from 6-8 p.m. and will include a question and answer session. There is no cost to attend, however Easter Seals does request a confirmation RSVP by calling 573-339-9300.

Likens is not a complete stranger to Stoddard County. He has spoken previously both at Bloomfield and Dexter Schools. At the Bloomfield setting in October 2010, Likens appeared before a gathering of law enforcement officers from within the county to explain to them what they might experience if or when they should encounter an individual with Asperger's. At that gathering, he defined autism and its primary characteristics and discussed appropriate strategies for police response to autistic individuals.

Since his presentation at Bloomfield, Likens has also appeared at T.S. Hill Middle School, where he spoke to the entire student body about recognizing and better understanding their fellow students who deal with Asperger's on a daily basis.

The exact cause of Asperger's is not known. It is characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction and nonverbal communication. The extent of thost difficulities varies significantly from one Asperger's individual to another, as does the individual's ability to funciton in a "normal" classroom and job setting. The syndrome is named after Hans Asperger, who studied children with symptoms of nonverbal communication skills in the 1940s. The diagnosis became standardized in the early 1990s.

Asperger's is distinguished not just by one syndrome, but by a patter of symptoms. Lack of social interaction is a typical sign of a person with Asperger's. Intense preoccupation of a single subject, though that subject matter may change from time to time, is also common in a child with the syndrome. A child with Asperger's has little concept that his or her lengthy dialogue involving a subject in which they have a keen interest, might be of no interest at all to others. Their conversations are often one-sided with little regard for another's interest of the subject matter. This type of social awkardness often results in a lack of developing close or lasting friendships for an Asperger's child.

A typical Asperger's child will focus -- more aptly obsess -- on an object or a subject, but will display great difficulty in looking another person in the eye while talking or while being addressed. They might also acquire volumes of information on a relatiely narrow topic such as weather data or astronomy, and they often favor highly repetitive routines in their daily lives with a strong dislike of departing from the norm.

Likens is the author of "Finding Kansas, Living and Decoding Asperger's Syndrome." The book defines Asperger's from one who lives it every day and has been highly touted as one of the most highly regarded references for educators, parents and doctors dealing with Asperger's children and adults.

Belinda Worley of Dexter, who serves on the Parent Advisory Council for Autism for the southeast Missouri area and also on several committees through Easter Seals promoting ausitm awareness, will also be present at the Jan. 21 presentation. Representatives from Easter Seals will be on hand to answer questions about autism and to provide information for services in the southeast Missouri area.