What is Asperger's?
Asperger's syndrome, also known as Asperger syndrome (AS) or Asperger disorder, is one of a group of neurodevelopmental disorders that affects an individual's behavior, communication, and how they interact socially. To know if someone has Asperger's requires a diagnosis from a mental health expert.
In 2013, Asperger's syndrome and autistic disorder were combined into one condition, known as autism spectrum disorders (ASD). This change was controversial because some experts believe that people with Asperger’s symptoms don’t meet the diagnostic criteria for ASD, and it should represent a condition related to, but not the same as, autism.
Characteristics and symptoms of Asperger's
Asperger's syndrome is associated with various issues related to cognition, speech, and social interaction. These include:
Cognitive behavior issues
Children and adults diagnosed with Asperger’s typically have normal to above-average intelligence. This usually refers to being book smart, as social interactions can be difficult for those with Asperger’s.
Some common cognitive traits in people with Asperger’s include:
- An exceptional rote memory
- An obsessive tendency to focus on details, which can result in missing out on the “bigger picture”
- An ability to easily comprehend technical or factual information
- Trouble absorbing abstract ideas
Language and speech issues
How do you know if someone has Asperger's syndrome? Someone with Asperger’s typically doesn’t experience a speech delay, which separates them from people with other autism spectrum disorders. They do, however, have specific language behaviors that differentiate them. A person with Asperger’s may exhibit the following:
- A scripted, formal, or “robotic” way of speaking
- Lack of inflection when talking
- Repetitive speech
- Trouble using language in a social context
- Loud or high-pitched speech
Individuals with Asperger’s normally have an advanced vocabulary and good grammar skills but might struggle to use language appropriately in social situations. A person with Asperger’s may speak with a loud voice, in a monotone or rhythmic manner.
How do you know if someone has Asperger's syndrome? People with Asperger’s syndrome typically have difficulty in social situations. Common symptoms that can impact social interactions include:
- Difficulties making and maintaining friendships
- Difficulty interpreting gestures
- Fascination with certain topics
- Inappropriate behaviors or odd mannerisms
- Isolation or minimal interaction with others
- Lack of common sense
- Limited eye contact or the tendency to stare at others
- A literal interpretation of all information received
- Preference for a strict schedule or routine
- Problems communicating feelings, controlling emotions, or expressing empathy
- Unable to recognize humor, irony, or sarcasm
- A tendency to engage in one-sided conversations (about oneself)
People with Asperger’s might appear clumsy or awkward. For example, they can have trouble with simple activities like catching a ball or swinging on the monkey bars. Other physical symptoms may include:
- Delay in motor skills
- Awkward movements
- Problems with coordination
- Sensitivity to loud noises, odors, clothing, or food textures
Causes of Asperger's
The precise causes of autistic disorders like Asperger’s syndrome have not been conclusively identified. However, a genetic component is believed to be involved, since Asperger's syndrome has been observed to run in families.
In some cases, autistic disorders have been linked to exposure to toxins or poisons, as well as prenatal infections and problems that occur during pregnancy. These environmental effects may modify or even increase the severity of the underlying genetic defect.
How do you know if your child has Asperger's syndrome? A doctor will look for signs of developmental delays in children, and may refer them to a specialist, like a child psychiatrist, pediatric neurologist, or a developmental pediatrician.
A diagnosis may be difficult to make because autism spectrum disorder varies widely in symptoms and severity. There isn't a specific medical test that can definitively determine if there is a disorder.
Often, pediatricians will:
- Ask how your child's behavior, communication, and social interactions have developed or changed over time.
- Quiz your child on topics that cover hearing, speech, language, developmental level, and social and behavioral issues.
- Involve other specialists to help determine a diagnosis.
- Use the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association.
- Recommend genetic testing to see whether your child has a genetic disorder such as Rett syndrome or fragile X syndrome.
Treatments for Asperger's
Treatment of Asperger's syndrome involves many steps. By itself, medicine is not effective, although medications may be prescribed to help control symptoms or other psychiatric conditions that may coexist with Asperger's syndrome. For example, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) medications are used for relief of anxiety or depression.
A number of behavioral therapies and educational interventions can help people with Asperger's syndrome, though they will differ from person to person. The type of interventions used must be based on the individual's age, needs, and severity of the symptoms. Types of treatments can include:
- A reduction of situations that tend to overstimulate or overload the senses.
- Create an environment that is predictable, structured, and organized.
- Educational support like helping with organization, note-taking, oral rather than written testing, and use of scripts.
- Life skills, social skills and self-advocacy training.
- Speech therapy that helps the person understand the use of language in social situations.
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Deutsches Arzteblatt International: "The Investigation and Differential Diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome in Adults."
Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders: "A family history study of Asperger syndrome."
Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders: "Conversational Behaviors in Youth with High-functioning ASD and Asperger Syndrome."
Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience: "Can Asperger syndrome be distinguished from autism? An anatomic likelihood meta-analysis of MRI studies."
Journal of Research in Medical Sciences: "Environmental factors influencing the risk of autism."
Neuropsychiatry: "Treatment of comorbid anxiety and autism spectrum disorders."
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