What Is Asperger Syndrome?
Asperger syndrome (AS) is one of a group of neurological disorders known as autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). AS is considered to be on the mild end of the spectrum. People with Asperger syndrome have difficulty primarily in three areas:
- social interaction
- engaging in repetitive behavior
- rigidity in thinking and a focus on rules and routines
Some people with ASDs, including those with AS, are classified as high functioning. High functioning autism (HFA) means that these individuals do not have the delayed language acquisition and cognitive development that is typical of many people with autism spectrum disorders. Often, individuals diagnosed with AS have normal or above normal intelligence. In addition, people with this condition are frequently able to be educated in mainstream classrooms and hold jobs.
AS cannot be cured, but early diagnosis and intervention can help a child be less socially awkward, achieve his or her potential, and lead a productive life.
What Causes Asperger Syndrome?
Changes in the brain are responsible for many of the symptoms of this disorder. However, doctors have not been able to determine precisely what causes these changes. Genetic factors and exposure to environmental toxins, such as chemicals or viruses, have been identified as potential contributors to the development of the disorder. Boys are more likely to develop AS than girls.
What Are the Symptoms of Asperger Syndrome?
Symptoms vary from person to person, but children with Asperger’s often have an obsessive focus on a narrow topic of interest. Children with AS may develop an all-consuming interest train schedules or dinosaurs, for example. This interest can be the subject of one-sided conversations with peers and adults. The person with AS is oblivious to the other person’s attempts to change the topic of conversation. This is one of the reasons that children with AS may be considered socially awkward.
People with AS have extreme and sustained difficulty with social interaction. Unable to read facial expressions and body language, many children with AS find it hard to recognize other people’s feelings. Many people with this disorder do not make eye contact when speaking with others. People with AS may also speak in a monotone and display few facial expressions. They may also have difficulty knowing when to lower the volume of their voices to accommodate their location.
Children with AS may also have difficulty with essential motor skills, such as running or walking. These children may lack coordination and be unable to do certain tasks, such as climbing or riding a bike. Children with AS are often described as bouncy and awkward.
How Is Asperger Syndrome Diagnosed?
There is no single test that can tell you whether your child has AS. In many cases, parents report developmental or behavioral delays or difficulties. If your child is in school, his or her teacher may note developmental problems. These issues should be reported to your doctor.
He or she can assess your child in key areas, such as:
- language development
- social interaction
- facial expressions when talking
- interest in interacting with others
- attitudes toward change
- motor coordination and motor skills
Because there are no specific tests for diagnosing AS, many patients have been misdiagnosed with other health problems, such as attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). If this happens, you child may need to be evaluated again to determine the correct diagnosis.
How Is Asperger Syndrome Treated?
There is no cure for Asperger syndrome. However, there are various treatments that can reduce symptoms of the disorder and help your child reach his or her full potential. Treatment is often based on the child’s specific symptoms.
Medications are often used to treat AS symptoms. Examples include:
- aripiprazole to reduce irritability
- guanfacine, olanzapine, and naltrexone to reduce hyperactivity
- selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) to reduce repetitive behaviors
- risperidone to reduce agitation and insomnia
While medication can be helpful for controlling the symptoms of AS, there are other treatments that can be improve communication skills, emotional regulation, and social interaction. Many children with AS also receive:
- social skills training
- speech and language therapy
- occupational therapy
- physical therapy
- cognitive behavioral therapy
Parents are often provided with therapy as well. Parental training can help you cope with the challenges involved in raising a child with AS.
What Is the Long-Term Outlook for a Child with AS?
Although there is no cure for AS, many children with the disorder grow up to live healthy and productive lives with treatment and early intervention. Though many still struggle with social interactions, most adults with AS are able to live independently.