What is Asperger syndrome?
Asperger syndrome is a condition that has effects on a person’s behavior, language, communication, and social skills.
It is an autism spectrum condition. Technically, it is no longer a specific diagnosis since it was removed from the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5 (DSM-5) in 2013; however, this change was controversial and many people still use the term. Notable features of Asperger syndrome include high intellectual ability and typical-to-strong verbal skills, but poor social interaction and pervasive, absorbing interests in special topics. It is a life-long condition.
The name “Asperger’s” was coined by a British psychiatrist in the 1980s who based the concept on a study done by Austrian pediatrician, Hans Asperger in 1944. Unfortunately, research has since uncovered that Dr. Asperger participated in the Nazi euthanasia program during WWII and now controversy exists over the use of his name.
Asperger syndrome may also be called Asperger’s syndrome or Asperger disorder.
What causes Asperger syndrome?
Experts are not sure what causes Asperger syndrome but it appears to be a combination of genetic and environmental reasons. Asperger syndrome affects around 2.5 out of every 1000 children across all cultures and socioeconomic statuses. It is five times more common in boys than girls.
Rather than considering it a defective way of thinking, many people believe it is just a different way of thinking. Some people credit it with making them the successful person they are today.
What are the symptoms of Asperger syndrome?
Symptoms start early in life and may include:
- Average of above-average intelligence
- An inability to pick up on social cues, body language, expressions (ie, not realizing somebody is angry because they scowl and cross their arms), or other nonverbal communication
- An unwillingness to make eye contact or gazing too intently at someone
- Difficulty in coping with change or variations
- Hypersensitivity to light sounds or tastes
- Lack of emotions (unlikely to smile or laugh at a joke)
- Lack of social awareness or awkwardness in social situations
- Monotone speech and difficulty processing information or with the give and take of conversation
- Obsessiveness about a single activity or topic
- Poor socialization skills or difficulty in making and sustaining friendships
- Repetitive behavior or activities
- Self-centered behavior
- Uncoordinated behavior or clumsiness
On the positive side, people with Asperger syndrome are more likely to have:
- An original way of thinking
- An aptitude for recognizing patterns
- Great attention to detail
- Outstanding focus and persistence
- The capacity to persevere in specific interests without being swayed by the opinion of others
- The ability to work independently
Some people with Asperger syndrome also have other conditions such as ADHD, anxiety, and depression and may need different levels of support than others.
How is Asperger syndrome diagnosed?
If you suspect your child has Asperger syndrome, take them to your doctor or a pediatrician.
Because of the change in the DSM-V, if your child’s symptoms and behavior meet the criteria, they will be diagnosed with having Autism Spectrum Disorder rather than Asperger syndrome. Because traits of Asperger syndrome differ from person to person, diagnosis is sometimes difficult. The average age of diagnosis is 11.
It is thought that many of the world’s most successful historical figures, such as Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, Mozart, and Thomas Jefferson may have had Asperger syndrome.
How is Asperger syndrome treated?
Not everybody with Asperger syndrome requires treatment, although sometimes learning strategies to cope with certain social situations may help.
Interventions that may be of benefit include:
- Life-skills training
- Organizational skills training
- Providing an environment that is predictable, structured and organized
- Reducing overstimulation or sensory overload
- Support with note-taking or allowing oral rather than written testing
Medications may be prescribed to help with concurrent conditions, such as ADHD, anxiety or depression.