In addition to being five times more prevalent in boys than girls, Asperger's syndrome or Asperger syndrome has been estimated to affect two out of every 1,000 children today. It is classified under the umbrella of autism spectrum disorders.
Definition & Facts
Commonly described as a significantly mild form of autism, Asperger’s syndrome is a pervasive disorder affecting developmental capabilities. Like other autism spectrum disorders, Asperger's syndrome affects a person's ability to communicate and interact socially.
Although Asperger’s syndrome patients have normal to above-average intelligence, they usually have pervasive, absorbing interests in specific topics and difficulties with social interactions. The severity of symptoms often varies among affected individuals.
Depression and other mental disorders like anxiety disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorders often accompany Asperger's. Successful treatment almost always involves one or several behavioral, social, and educational interventions.
The cognitive and personality characteristics of this disorder may be beneficial for professional advancement. Many individuals with Asperger's syndrome believe such characteristics help the advancement of their professional lives.
Symptoms & Complaints
- Difficulty in establishing same-age friendships. Children with Asperger’s syndrome often feel more comfortable in the company of adults or much younger children.
- The tendency to engage in one-sided and long-winded conversations without realizing when the supposed listener tries to change the subject or loses interest.
- Unusual nonverbal communication including awkward gestures, body postures, facial expressions, and lack of eye contact.
- Lack of empathy or seeming insensitive to the feelings of others.
- Difficulty when it comes to understanding and relating subtle forms of communication such as sarcasm, humor, and even body language.
- Inability to engage in small talk or comprehend the give-and-take of conversation.
- Egocentrism or self-absorption.
- Occasional use of an unusually fast, rigid, jerky or monotone voice.
- Inability to understand the nuances of language like idioms or sayings, despite demonstrating an otherwise good vocabulary.
Obsessive interests and unusual social skills tend to set children with AS apart from their peers even though the affected are all different from each other. They may, however, share some or all of the symptoms listed below:
- Intense obsession with specific subjects.
- Strong preference for repetitive routines to the extent of becoming upset at minor alterations.
- Exceptional memory, especially of information related to topics of interest.
- Clumsy, uncoordinated movements, stiff gait, or odd posture.
- Repetitive movements like flapping of hands
- Tantrums, meltdowns, violent outbursts, or self-destructive behaviors.
- Hypersensitive to sensory stimulation like sound, texture, and light.
- Daydreaming or zoning out when overstimulated.
In some cases, it could be related to pregnancy or birth issues, exposure to environmental toxicants, prenatal infections, and teratogens. Additionally, these environmental factors might act in combination to increase the severity of the already existent genetic defect.
Although a few authors suggest that exposure to the measles vaccines and thimerosal (a component of vaccines that contains mercury) plays a causal role in the development of Asperger's syndrome, scientific research shows no evidence supporting the association. As such, experts have discredited the theory.
Diagnosis & Tests
The diagnosis Asperger's syndrome is based on observation and interviews of the individual as well as interviewing the people they interact with more such as family members and teachers. The American Psychiatric Association published the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which includes the diagnostic criteria for every recognized psychiatric condition. The 5th edition DSM classifies Asperger's syndrome in the same diagnostic category as autism and pervasive developmental disorders.
Diagnosing Asperger's begins with a medical history. Clinicians will inquire about the patient's developmental progress in acquiring motor skills and language skills as well as their history of social interaction. A psychological assessment may be conducted which assesses the patient's intellectual, cognitive, and adaptive functioning as well as their personality.
The patient will also be assessed for their neurological functioning including an assessment of motor skills and facial recognition. The patient's communication skills will also be assessed as well as the presence of any psychiatric disorders like depression and anxiety.
Treatment & Therapy
A multidisciplinary approach is involved in the treatment of Asperger's syndrome. Unfortunately, medical treatment is not effective when it comes to treating Asperger syndrome. However, medications can be prescribed to help in controlling troubling symptoms or the symptoms of other psychiatric conditions coexisting with Asperger's syndrome. Use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) medicine to ease anxiety or depression is applicable for some cases.
If the patient exhibits significant hyperactivity or distraction, use of medications to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may be appropriate. Although it might not be necessary for a particular individual, several educational and behavioral interventions can help those with Asperger's syndrome. An individual's age and needs are the determining factors when it comes to selecting the type. Those known to provide benefits include:
- Reduction of overload or overstimulation of sensory input.
- Providing a predictable, structured, and organized environment to support the development of executive function skills.
- Training on organizational skills
- Speech therapy or language therapy addressing ambiguity in language as well as the use of language in social settings.
- Training programs on social skills, which includes using facial expressions and gestures, awareness of social cognition, and conversational language.
- Educational support such as assistance with note-taking, organization, use of scripts, use of subtle language, reading and allowing oral testing as opposed to written testing.
- Training self-advocacy.
Prevention & Prophylaxis
People with Asperger's syndrome and the parents of children with this condition need to be diligent about seeking medical help because of the greater likelihood for those with Asperger's developing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and schizophrenia.
Although there still is no known way of preventing Asperger's syndrome, early diagnosis and intervention offer the best way in which you can prevent both the emotional and behavioral complications associated with this disorder.