Asperger's Syndrome (Asperger Syndrome, Asperger Disorder)

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: David Perlstein, MD, MBA, FAAP
    David Perlstein, MD, MBA, FAAP

    David Perlstein, MD, MBA, FAAP

    Dr. Perlstein received his Medical Degree from the University of Cincinnati and then completed his internship and residency in pediatrics at The New York Hospital, Cornell medical Center in New York City. After serving an additional year as Chief Pediatric Resident, he worked as a private practitioner and then was appointed Director of Ambulatory Pediatrics at St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx.

Diagnosing Autism

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Autism Signs, Causes, and Treatment

What are the signs and symptoms of Asperger's syndrome?

Social-behavioral symptoms can begin as early as infancy. Characteristic differences are seen in social development, but these changes are hard to identify in toddlers and may be attributed to another condition or not perceived as abnormal. Most cases of Asperger's syndrome are identified when the child is school-aged or older; studies have shown an average age at diagnosis of 11 years. Some of the symptoms that may be present are:

  • lack of social awareness;
  • lack of interest in socializing/making friends;
  • difficulty making and sustaining friendships;
  • inability to infer the thoughts, feelings, or emotions of others;
  • either gazing too intently or avoiding eye contact;
  • lack of changing facial expression, or use of exaggerated facial expressions;
  • lack of use or comprehension of gestures;
  • inability to perceive nonverbal cues or communications;
  • failure to respect interpersonal boundaries;
  • unusually sensitive to noises, touch, odors, tastes, or visual stimuli;
  • inflexibility and over-adherence to or dependence on routines; and
  • stereotypical and repetitive motor patterns such as hand flapping or arm waving.

Another defining characteristic of Asperger's syndrome is the presence of perseverative and obsessive interests in special topics (such as cars or trains, or even more narrow topics such as vacuum cleaners), which may be of little interest to others.

  • These interests are unusually repetitive and intense when compared to other children's interests.
  • Specific or narrow interests remain the focus of the child's interest and conversation in spite of efforts to redirect the child's attention.

Language development in children with Asperger's syndrome is generally normal, in contrast to other autistic conditions. Children with Asperger's syndrome have normal scores on tests for language function involving vocabulary, syntax, and grammar. In fact, some experts believe the presence of normal language development distinguishes Asperger's syndrome from high-functioning autism. However, the use or application of language skills is altered in people with Asperger's syndrome:

  • Their speech may be disorganized or not relevant to the discussion, or they may focus too intently on their defined area of interest (see above) in conversations. The child may switch topics for no apparent reason in conversation, often in an attempt to steer the conversation toward his or her area of interest.
  • Changes in voice and speaking (for example, speaking too loudly or dramatically, using an invariant tone or incorrect intonation, loud pitch, or speaking too rapidly or too slowly) can also be seen.
  • Language may be interpreted literally, and difficulties can arise with interpreting language in a specific context.
  • There are difficulties with understanding the subtle use of language, such as irony or sarcasm.

In school, children with Asperger's syndrome tend to excel with the rote learning often required in the early grades. As they get older, they may have more difficulties in school due to the nature of reading comprehension and written assignments. Special education support is sometimes, but not always, necessary.

Sometimes, people with Asperger disorder have other associated psychiatric conditions or may show behaviors that are typical for other conditions. Some common associated conditions include the following (but these are not always present):

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/14/2015

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