What is autism?

Asperger's is a type of autism without intellectual or language impairment. The best treatment for Asperger's is therapy and medication.
Asperger's is a type of autism without intellectual or language impairment. The best treatment for Asperger's is therapy and medication.

Asperger’s syndrome is one of several conditions now understood to be a type of autism spectrum disorder. Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects the way people communicate and behave. Though Asperger’s is no longer a diagnosis, the term is still used at times to indicate a type of autism without intellectual or language impairment.

Autism affects people across all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups, though it is four times more likely to be diagnosed in boys than in girls. About one in 54 children has been diagnosed with autism.

What is Asperger’s syndrome?

Asperger’s and autism can mean many different things depending on the person. Generally speaking, the kind of mild autism that used to be called Asperger’s affects communication and behavior. People with mild autism often have difficulty with social interactions because it is hard for them to communicate with other people. 

Though people with Asperger’s may find conversations to be hard or frustrating, they generally have average to high intelligence and strong verbal skills. They tend to engage in repetitive behavior and may have trouble understanding complicated feelings, gestures, or sarcasm.

Signs and symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome

People with mild autism tend to have difficulty with social interactions. This can show itself as difficulty understanding others’ feelings, expressing your own feelings, understanding gestures, and making eye contact. Sometimes people with autism are very literal and can’t understand jokes. Other people with autism sound different when they talk, using a flat tone of voice or repeating words and phrases.

Another obstacle to socializing for people with autism can be repetitive behaviors and obsessions. Others may not understand why an autistic person always eats the same dinner or wears the same clothes. It can also be hard for other people to understand why someone with autism collects items like coins or stamps, or memorizes facts about their favorite actors.

While most people with autism have trouble socializing, some also have physical symptoms. These can include awkward movements, clumsiness, and high sensitivity to certain noises and sounds.

Causes of Asperger’s syndrome

There is no one cause of autism. A combination of genetic and environmental factors can increase the risk of autism. Anyone can have the type of autism referred to as Asperger’s syndrome, but the following factors increase risk:

  • Sex, since boys are more likely to be diagnosed with autism
  • Family history of autism
  • Premature birth, especially in babies born before 26 weeks’ gestation
  • Other medical conditions such as Fragile X syndrome, Rett syndrome, or tuberous sclerosis
  • Possibly parents’ ages, but more research is needed 

Diagnosis for Asperger’s syndrome

There is no one test for autism. All children are screened for autism at their 18-month and 24-month checkups. The screening will generally include: 

  • Asking about a child’s behavior and developmental milestones
  • Observing the child to see how they interact with those around them and their environment
  • Asking the child to perform tasks that test their thinking skills and decision-making ability 

In  addition, a child’s pediatrician may perform tests to rule out other issues that may cause autism-like symptoms, including: 

Treatments for Asperger’s syndrome

There is no one treatment for autism, and autism does not mean anything is wrong with you that needs to be cured. Treatment generally focuses on managing autism symptoms — for instance, learning how to better communicate and reducing any repetitive behaviors that interfere with your life. Treatment options can include therapies and medications. 

Therapies

Behavior therapies address the social and behavioral issues that can cause distress for people with autism and interfere with their relationships. Family therapy can help family members learn the best way to interact with family members who have autism. 

Speech or language therapy may be beneficial to help with issues like monotone speech. It may also help with understanding figures of speech and implied meaning. Occupational therapy can help with sensory integration, and physical therapy may be helpful with balance and coordination issues. 

Medications

There is no medication that can treat the core characteristics of autism, but there are medications that can help with some symptoms. Certain medications can be prescribed for the hyperactivity that some autistic people experience, for example. Antidepressants may help with anxiety. It’s important to keep all doctors involved up to date on all medications since some can interact and cause adverse effects. 

Special diets

Maintaining a healthy diet is important for people with autism. Children with autism have been shown to have thinner bones than children without autism. While some people promote gluten-free or casein-free diets to treat autism, there is no evidence that these approaches work. In addition, these diets may limit bone-building foods, causing harm. 

Possible complications and side effects

The medications used to treat some symptoms of autism can have adverse effects. Discuss any new medications with your doctor, and let a medical professional know if you’ve been feeling worse since starting a new medication.

Antidepressant side effects can include:

Additionally, antidepressants in children can trigger feelings of hostility, anxiety, and impulsivity, along with suicidal thoughts

Stimulants are often used to treat hyperactivity and inability to focus in people with autism. Stimulant side effects can include:

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Medically Reviewed on 2/8/2021
References
SOURCES:

ADHD: Primary Care Perspectives: "Side Effects of Stimulants."

Advanced Neonatal Care: "Autism spectrum disorders and prematurity: a review across gestational age subgroups."

American Academy of Pediatrics: "Laboratory Tests—Autism Toolkit."

Autism Science Foundation: "Treatment Options."

Autistic Self Advocacy Network: "Position Statements."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Data & Statistics on Autism Spectrum Disorder."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?"

Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews: "Family therapy for autism spectrum disorders."

Chonam Medical Journal: "Addressing the Side Effects of Contemporary Antidepressant Drugs: A Comprehensive Review."

Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute for Child Health and Human Development: "Nutritional Therapy for Autism."

Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute for Child Health and Human Development: "Speech-Language Therapy for Autism."

Harvard Health Publishing: "Asperger's syndrome."

healthychildren.org: "How Pediatricians Screen for Autism."

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