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Understanding Asperger’s Syndrome

Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) is a type of ASD or autism spectrum disorder characterized by difficulties in verbal and nonverbal communication, restrictive and/or repetitive behavior patterns, and general social impairment. Boy with Asperger's SyndromeLike all conditions related to autism spectrum disorder, Asperger’s Syndrome is a neurodevelopmental disorder that can occur in children during early childhood or as early as infancy and remain throughout adulthood.

Asperger’s Syndrome is considered to be on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum. Although children with this condition will have it for as long as they live, they could still learn to overcome some associated traits, learn new skills and even utilize their innate abilities to make up for what they lack as a result of the disorder. In fact, many children with Asperger’s grow up able to function quite well in their environment and even have careers of their own, albeit with a few behavioral traits that other people may consider unique or eccentric.

Asperger’s Syndrome was named after Dr. Hans Asperger, a pediatrician who described the symptoms of the condition in 1944 after observing young patients who exhibited behavior associated with AS. Asperger initially called it a type of personality disorder, naming it “autistic psychopathy”. It wasn’t until 1981 that Asperger’s observations were supported by several case studies published by Dr. Lorna Wing, who called the group of symptoms observed in child patients as “Asperger’s syndrome.”

Symptoms of Asperger’s Syndrome

There are certain behaviors that are associated with the condition, but it is rare for any one individual to exhibit all symptoms. An individual with Asperger’s may exhibit several or a combination of these symptoms, such as:

  • Significant inability to interact socially in a normal manner, such as the inability or difficulty in using nonverbal communication including facial expressions, gestures, postures and eye contact; failure or inability to react to other people or show appropriate reactions to their environment; inability in sharing interests with peers and other individuals; failure to make friends with children in the same age group.
  • Dislike for events or situations that are disruptive to established routine.
  • Repetitive and restricted behavioral patterns, activities and interests, including strict adherence to mundane rituals and routines, and obsession with or abnormal interest in a specific subject or topic.
  • Seeming lack of empathy.

Signs of Asperger’s Syndrome

Unlike autistic children, a child with Asperger’s Syndrome may not exhibit any problems with cognitive development and language acquisition. He or she may not even have any issues with adaptive behavior apart from his or her inability to interact socially in what is considered a normal manner. Certain characteristics may also develop in children with Asperger’s, such as:

  • early ability in learning to express themselves verbally.
  • strong interest in numbers and letters; may even show the ability to decode words, regardless of whether or not they understand the meaning.
  • inappropriate interactions with other children as opposed to normal social interactions.

The average child may speak or play with other children as a means to establish contact and start friendships but a child with Asperger’s Syndrome may hug, stalk or even yell at other children as a means to greet or befriend them. If other children show fear, anxiety or anger and avoid them, AS children may be puzzled, not really understanding the response they received.

Causes of Asperger’s Syndrome

There are no clearly defined causes associated with Asperger’s Syndrome, although many researchers believe the condition is genetic and may be inherited. Researchers, for example, have observed that individuals with Asperger’s have family members who also have the disorder. The condition is believed to be based biologically in the brain, although which area or part of the brain is affected remains unknown. Factors that expose the unborn child to toxins, infections or problems associated with pregnancy and birth may also contribute to the development of AS in a child.

Difference With Autism

Children with Asperger’s syndrome, unlike those with autism, are more capable socially in that they have good cognitive and language skills. AS children can also interact with other people, unlike autistic children who are uninterested and aloof. AS children, however, tend to be awkward socially and usually do not have a good comprehension of social rules. Although they look other people in the eye, eye contact is limited and they may not understand what certain gestures, and voice pitch and tone mean. Many children with Asperger’s Syndrome also tend to have delayed motor skills, and may seem clumsy. They do also have oral intelligence.

Is Asperger’s Syndrome Common?

AS may affect as many as 2.5 out of every 1,000 children. It is more common in males than in females.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome is done by a medical professional who has a background in autism and other pervasive developmental disorder. Children undergo an observation by a therapist and parents or guardians are interviewed regarding the child’s developmental history. Using the DSM-IV criteria, children are assessed based on their interests, social and occupational functions, behavioral patterns and other activities.

The main goal of treatment for children with Asperger’s is to help the child improve his social and communication skills, and manage his behavior. There is no one-size-fits-all therapy that can be used on a child, and any treatment should be adjusted to fit the child’s needs and capabilities. Activities designed for the child are structured and therapeutic. As with any treatment, children with Asperger’s will benefit best with early intervention that involves intensive cooperation among members of the child’s family and medical professionals. Parents and older siblings may undergo training to lead the therapy sessions while supervised by the therapist. Sessions may be delivered at home, at school or at a specialized clinic or center.

Is There a Cure for Asperger’s Syndrome?

Although there is no cure for the condition, there is growing evidence that a small group of individuals with autism improve enough in terms of behavior and personal traits, so much so that they do not meet the set criteria used for diagnosing autism spectrum disorder as they grow older. The reason why this happens in a few individuals is still unclear.

Call Spectrum Behavioral Services at (561) 491-2335 to see how we can help.