What is Asperger Syndrome?
Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) is characterized by difficulty engaging in social interaction. People with AS often exhibit repetitive patterns in behaviors, interests and activities. The combination of these factors means that a person with Asperger’s Syndrome usually has trouble functioning in social, occupational and non-structured environments.
Asperger’s Syndrome is frequently associated with Autism and falls under the same umbrella of Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD). In fact, AS has been called High Functioning Autism. This classification is controversial, however. While individuals with AS do exhibit many autistic-like behaviors, i.e. the inability to read non-verbal communication clues, withdrawal from social environments and impairment in social situations, they show just as many non-autistic symptoms. People with Asperger’s Syndrome most often show normal intelligence levels. There are no significant delays in their language or self-help skills development. Those with Asperger’s Syndrome also appear to have a greater chance of functioning in the “real world.”
What Causes Asperger Syndrome?
Asperger’s Syndrome has been included as a clinical diagnosis for only a short time and little research has been done on the disorder. Therefore, scientists are unsure about what causes Asperger’s Syndrome. Unlike Autism, abnormalities in brain structure have not been associated with the disease. It is hypothesized that brain chemical imbalances and heredity play a part in the development of the disease, but more research must be done before any one cause is proven.
What Are the Symptoms of Asperger Syndrome?
All cases of Asperger’s Syndrome are not the same. Below is a list of symptoms or characteristics that can be associated with the disorder:
- Deficiencies in social skills.
- Preference to sameness; trouble with transition or change.
- Routines that are obsessive.
- Preoccupation with particular subjects of interest, often complex topics like weather, music or history.
- Lack of common sense.
- Movements that are clumsy and awkward.
- Difficulty in reading and using non-verbal cues (body language), including eye contact, facial expressions, gestures and proper personal space.
- Sensitivity, often exaggerated, to sounds, tastes, smells and sights. The individual may prefer soft clothing and certain foods. Sounds and lights that others do not hear or see may bother him or her.
- Mannerisms that are repetitive, including tapping fingers or wringing hands.
- Normal intelligence levels.
- Normal language development.
What Are the Treatments for Aspergers Syndrome?
There is no specific treatment or cure for Asperger’s Syndrome. As with autism, both therapy and medication treatment options usually involve targeting the symptoms that are associated with the disorder.
Individual counseling can help in processing feelings associated with being socially handicapped, especially since those affected are often persecuted for it. Individuals may go through extensive education programs, which will teach them how to best modify behaviors or lifestyles to accommodate these behaviors. Social skills training is also available.
Medications that are effective in treating other mental illnesses are often used to target specific symptoms of Asperger’s Syndrome, such as hyperactivity, irritability, anxiety, obsession and compulsion.
A psychiatrist/physician with experience in treating AS can best evaluate which combination of medication and therapy will be most beneficial to the individual.
Parent education is also an important part of treatment. Parents learn not only about the disorder, but also how to structure their children’s lives to make the most progress. Below is a short list of tips for parents to help their children better understand the world:
- Keep speech simple and straightforward.
- Keep instructions simple – for complicated jobs use lists or pictures.
- Get confirmation that the child understands the meaning of the conversation; don’t accept a simple yes, no or head shake.
- Limit choices to two or three items.
- Pre-warn the child of any changes.
- Attempt to build some change into the routine, remembering to take it in small steps.
- Try to identify stress triggers and avoid them, if possible.
- Develop some rules for social interaction and stick with them.
How Common is Asperger Syndrome?
The number of AS cases in the United States appears to be limited. However, this could be due to the recent discovery of the diagnosis. Many cases of AS may be misdiagnosed as autism or even Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
The information that is published about the disorder indicates that AS is more common in males than females and has a later onset than autism. Most children are diagnosed between the ages of five and nine.
Asperger Syndrome Coalition of the United States
Center for the Study of Autism
Asperger Disorder Homepage