Asperger’s syndrome (AS), also referred to as Asperger disorder (AD) is a high-functioning autism spectrum disorder characterized by social impairment, stereotyped patterns of behavior, activities and interests – all of which occur without significant delay in language or cognitive development.
Cause and Features
The precise cause of Asperger’s Syndrome remains unknown, although the condition tends to run in families, leading research teams towards a potential genetic cause. In fact, some studies have pointed to specific brain abnormalities in children with Asperger’s Syndrome.
Many whom are diagnosed with Asperger syndrome have above-average intelligence and will excel in fields such as computer programming and science. They may have difficulty interacting socially with others around them, but there is no cognitive development delay, they are able to live independently, and they maintain a curiosity about their environment.
Children who might have Asperger’s Syndrome may show one or more of the following symptoms around age three:
- Not flexible about routines or rituals.
- Conversations may seem obsessive about one or two topics and they may continue discussing these topics even after others have lost interest.
- Speech use may be either too advanced or formal for their age, or lack tonal or volume fluctuation.
- They enjoy social contact, but have difficulty relating to others during conversations. They will tend to talk more about their own likes, dislikes and feelings, and may not respond to other people’s comments or emotions.
- May struggle with eye contact, facial expression, vocal volume, body language, and non-verbal communication. They may also fail to recognize verbal or non-verbal cues from others.
- Loud noises, bright lights, and strong tastes and textures may bother them.
- May act clumsy and have issues with body coordination.
- Delays in gross and fine motors skills make it hard for them to learn things such as riding a bike or handwriting.
Like many of the other autism spectrum disorders, Asperger’s is more common in males than females, and is typically not recognized until age three or later. Children with Asperger’s are often also diagnosed with ADHD or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
Asperger’s Syndrome symptoms may be noticed within the child’s first few months of life and potential problems will be obvious by age three. An experienced health care provider in treating and diagnosing autism will be needed to make the official diagnosis. Since Asperger’s syndrome has no physical test, diagnoses are based on specific criteria as outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
A variety of assessments will be conducted to determine the physical, emotional and mental state of the child as well as to rule out other potential causes. Each of these examinations will be looking closely for signs of Asperger’s syndrome. The battery of assessments conducted will often include the following professionals: psychologist, psychiatrist, speech therapist, neurologist, and other medical experts in diagnosis Asperger’s syndrome. In place of the physical, emotional, and mental assessments, parents may request for their child to receive an IQ test, motor skills test, personality and communications examination to reach a diagnosis.
Treatments for Asperger’s Syndrome
Like other conditions on the autism spectrum, there is not a cure, but there are treatments that can help the child function within regular social norms and be able to lead a successful life. Program possibilities may include one or more of the following:
- Talk therapy, or cognitive behavior modification, which encourages children to manage emotions, repetitive behaviors, and obsessions
- Special education programs that are structured to meet each individual student’s unique academic needs.
- Occupational or physical therapy designed to improve motor skills and correct sensory problems
- Social skills training to improve social skills and understanding of verbal and non-verbal cues
- No medications are meant to treat Asperger’s syndrome itself, but some may be prescribed to treat certain symptoms, such as the following: anxiety, hyperactivity, obsessive-compulsive behavior, and/or depression
Outlook for a Child with Asperger’s
Many children and their families learn how to cope with Asperger’s syndrome once the child is receiving treatment. Some children may still suffer from difficulties with social interactions or personal relationships; nevertheless, with the appropriate support, children with Asperger’s become adults who are able to work successfully in a variety of mainstream jobs while maintaining an independent lifestyle.
Difference between Asperger’s Syndrome and High-Functioning Autism
Although still considered separate conditions, the treatments and symptoms are nearly identical with the following exceptions:
- High-functioning autistic children will have delayed language development, however, those with Asperger’s syndrome will follow a regular developmental schedule for their age.
- Children with Asperger’s will have a higher than average IQ while those with autism will have a normal or below normal IQ.
- Asperger’s syndrome is usually noted as socially awkwardness and not identified as the disorder until a later age, while classic autism is usually noted within the first three years.
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Autism Speaks Inc. (2015). How are Asperger Syndrome and High Functioning Autism Different?
Autism Delaware. (2014). How Does Asperger’s Syndrome Differ from Autism?