Asperger's Syndrome

What is Asperger’s Syndrome?

Asperger’s Syndrome is a developmental disorder. Young people with Asperger’s Syndrome have a difficult time relating to others socially and their behavior and thinking patterns can be rigid and repetitive.

Generally, children and teens with Asperger’s Syndrome can speak with others and can perform fairly well in their school work.  However, they have trouble understanding social situations and subtle forms of communication like body language, humor and sarcasm.  They might also think and talk a lot about one topic or interest or only want to do a small range of activities.  These interests can become obsessive and interfere with everyday life, rather than giving the child a healthy social or recreational outlet.

Boys are three to four times more likely than girls to have Asperger’s Syndrome. Most cases are diagnosed between the ages of five and nine, with some diagnosed as early as age three.

What is the difference between Asperger’s Syndrome and Autism Spectrum Disorder?

The name for Asperger’s Syndrome has officially changed, but many still use the term Asperger’s Syndrome when talking about their condition.  The symptoms of Asperger’s Syndrome are now included in a condition called Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). ASD is now the name used for a wide range of autism-like disorders. Some providers may still use the term Asperger’s Syndrome, but others will say “ASD – without intellectual or language impairment.”  These two syndromes are, for the most part, the same.

What are the Symptoms of Asperger’s Syndrome?

Children with Asperger’s Syndrome exhibit poor social interactions, obsessions, odd speech patterns, limited facial expressions and other peculiar mannerisms. They might engage in obsessive routines and show an unusual sensitivity to sensory stimuli.

While all children with Asperger’s Syndrome are different, what sets them apart are their unusual social skills and obsessive interests. For a child with Asperger’s Syndrome, you may see one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Inappropriate or minimal social interactions
  • Conversations that almost always revolve around themselves or a certain topic, rather than others
  • Not understanding emotions well or having less facial expression that others
  • Speech that sounds unusual, such as flat, high-pitched, quiet, loud, or robotic
  • Not using or understanding nonverbal communication, such as gestures, body language and facial expression
  • An intense obsession with one or two specific, narrow subjects
  • Becoming upset at any small changes in routines
  • Memorizing preferred information and facts easily
  • Clumsy, uncoordinated movements, including difficulty with handwriting
  • Difficulty managing emotions, sometimes leading to verbal or behavioral outbursts, self-injurious behaviors or tantrums
  • Not understanding other peoples’ feelings or perspectives
  • Hypersensitivity to lights, sounds and textures

Children with Asperger’s Syndrome often show no delays in their language development. They are likely to have good grammar skills and an advanced vocabulary, but they also tend to be very literal. They have trouble using language in a social context.

There may be no obvious delay in their cognitive development. Children with Asperger’s Syndrome can have problems with attention span and organization, but they usually have average intelligence.

What Causes Asperger’s Syndrome?

The causes of Asperger’s Syndrome are unknown. Genetics and brain abnormalities may be involved.

We do know that Asperger’s Syndrome is NOT the result of a child’s upbringing or poor parenting. Asperger’s Syndrome is a neurobiological disorder, meaning it is just a part of the child’s brain development, whose causes are not fully understood.

How is Asperger’s Syndrome Diagnosed?

As mentioned above, Asperger’s Syndrome is no longer diagnosed as a condition in and of itself. It is part of the range of conditions included in Autism Spectrum Disorder.

If a parent is concerned about a child’s social development, unusual language patterns, and odd behaviors, a pediatrician should be consulted.  The pediatrician can determine if the child should be seen by a specialist, such as a developmental pediatrician, psychologist, or other clinician who is familiar with ASD.

Testing and assessment usually involve a team of medical and psychological professionals. The specialists will ask the parent many questions about the child’s development and current skills and problems.  They will also interact with the child and conduct assessments to evaluate what symptoms the child shows when interacting with others.  They may also assess the child’s language and intellectual abilities. A medical doctor might ask questions or order tests to make sure there are no other medical concerns for the child.

Asperger’s Syndrome (also known as “Autism Spectrum Disorder - without intellectual or language impairment”) may be difficult to diagnose.  Sometimes this condition can be confused with other conditions such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) or Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD).  Making sure to evaluate the child’s social and communication skills, their patterns of behavior and thinking, and how these symptoms have developed over time will help the assessor provide the correct diagnosis.

How is Asperger’s Syndrome Treated?

Because each case is different, treatment plans must be built according to each child’s needs. They should be adjusted over time as those needs change.

Treatment of Asperger’s Syndrome usually includes:

  • Social skills training
  • Behavior supports
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Parent education and training
  • Speech-language therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Special education classes
  • Medication

At present, there is no “cure.” By learning to cope with the symptoms and pick up on social cues, a child can learn to overcome some of the challenges he faces. With help, parents can learn how to best support their child.  People with Asperger’s Syndrome can do well in school and go on to be contributing members of their community.

When Should I Seek Help?

Treatment should be done while a child's brain is still developing. If you notice signs of Asperger’s Syndrome or any of the symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder in your child, see your pediatrician. She or he can refer you to a mental health expert who specializes in diagnosing this type of disorder.