Asperger Syndrome

Asperger Syndrome: Overview

Alternative names: Sometimes referred to as Asperger Disorder or Asperger's Syndrome

Asperger syndrome is a condition similar to autism but without the problems in language development.  Autism is classified by the American Psychiatric Association as one of a group of disorders known as pervasive developmental disorders, which includes, besides Asperger syndrome, the conditions childhood disintegrative disorder, Rett disorder, and general pervasive developmental disorder.

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Asperger's syndrome is no longer classified as a diagnosis on it's own.  Instead, it falls under the 'autism spectrum disorder' (ASD).  An earlier version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of mental Disorders (DSM-IV) included specific criteria for diagnosing Asperger Syndrome.  In the next version (DSM-V), Asperger Syndrome is included in the same diagnosis group as ASD – a group of related mental health disorders that have common symptoms.  Asperger's is less severe than some other mental health issues in the ASD and is therefore referred to as a "high-functioning" autism spectrum disorder.

Incidence; Causes and Development; Contributing Risk Factors

Asperger Syndrome is much more common than people think, affecting people from all nationalities and cultural and social backgrounds.  It occurs roughly five times more often in men than women.  The number of people diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome is on the rise but this is most likely due to the increase in knowledge of the disorder and improvements in the diagnosis system.  Most recent studies estimate that around 1 out of every 400 children will be affected by Asperger Syndrome.

The cause of Asperger Syndrome is still being researched but we can expect it to be similar to the cause of autism.  It has not yet been possible to identify the exact cause of autism but an inherited genetic component is considered to be the main contributor.  Asperger Syndrome has been found to run in families, validating this observation.

Asperger Syndrome is considered to be an inherited genetic defect with a severity that can be amplified by the following external factors:

  • Problems at birth
  • Prenatal infections
  • Toxic exposures
  • Teratogens

Signs and Symptoms

Asperger Syndrome symptoms are usually more severe in children.  The symptoms will continue as a child progress into a teen and into adulthood.  The individual usually learns social skills but will still struggle with communication problems.  Some of the symptoms include:

  • Lack of social awareness with trouble detecting social cues and body language
  • Difficulties with social interaction and communication
  • Restrictive and repetitive behaviors, interests or activities
  • Obsessive focus on one topic
  • Appearing to lack empathy for others
  • Appearing to be introverted
  • Having difficulty playing games that use imagination
  • Late motor skills development, such as catching a ball, using cutlery, or writing
  • Repetitive motor patterns such as hand flapping or arm waving
  • Failure to respect interpersonal boundaries
  • Lack of interest or difficulty in making and sustaining friendships

Diagnosis and Tests

Diagnosing and testing for Asperger Syndrome can often be difficult as it varies significantly for each individual.  Identifying symptoms and significant issues within social settings can often be a good indicator.  If a child is suspected of having Asperger Syndrome, it is best for the parents to visit a doctor who can refer them to a variety of professionals, including a pediatrician, a speech and language therapist, a psychiatrist and or a psychologist.  The specialist(s) will be able to make a diagnosis based on interviews and observations made with the individual and their family members.

Treatment and Prevention

Unfortunately, there is no cure for Asperger Syndrome but a variety of treatments can be used to help an individual to cope.

There are medical treatments that can be prescribed to help control some of the symptoms.  In certain cases medical treatments for ADHD can be tried for significant hyperactivity or distraction and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) medications can be used to aid with anxiety.

Other forms of treatment can include:

  • Speech/language therapy
  • Social skills training
  • Adaptive skills or life skills training
  • Learning supports such as organizational, oral rather than written tests, and use of scripts
  • Self-advocacy training

Prognosis; Complications

After receiving a diagnosis and beginning treatment an individual may find it easier to understand why they are experiencing certain things and will be better equipped to deal with these situations.  Treatment can drastically improve the long-term prospects of an individual by providing social, educational and behavioral support.

Asperger Syndrome can coexist with other conditions such as ADHD or anxiety disorders.  In some situations these secondary conditions can cause very disruptive behaviors such as uncontrolled outbursts, self-harm and aggression or, in some cases, depressionObsessive-compulsive behaviors and problems with anger management can also be found in people that suffer with Asperger Syndrome.

It is important to note that the severity will differ between individuals and not all people will experience associated disorders and behaviors.

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