your loved one display these warning signs of Asperger's
/ no friends
Obsessions / focused
on one subject
Lack of eye contact
Sensitivity to noise
/ touch / feel of clothing
Slow to begin talking
Odd speech / extreme
logic / very proper speech
Anger / aggression
/ hitting others
Appears lost / in
or motor skills problems
An Autism Spectrum Disorder
Asperger syndrome (AS) is a neurobiological disorder that is part of a group of conditions called autism spectrum disorders. The term "autism spectrum" refers to a range of developmental disabilities that includes autism as well as other disorders with similar characteristics.
They are known as spectrum disorders because the symptoms of each can
appear in different combinations and in varying degrees of severity:
two children with the same diagnosis, though they may share certain
patterns of behavior, can exhibit a wide range of skills and abilities.
As a result, general terms such as "low-functioning,"
"high-functioning," "autistic tendencies," "pervasive developmental
disorder," and others are often used to describe children whose
behaviors fall within the spectrum. Kids with AS share many of the same
symptoms as those with "high-functioning autism."
It's estimated that 2 out of every 10,100 children have the disorder,
according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and
Stroke. Boys are more than three to four times more likely than girls to
be affected by AS. Because milder cases are being identified more
frequently, the incidence appears to be increasing. However, like other
autism spectrum disorders, AS is often difficult to diagnose and treat.
About Asperger Syndrome
The disorder is named after Hans Asperger, a Viennese pediatrician
who, in 1944, first described a set of behavior patterns apparent in
some of his patients, mostly males. Asperger noticed that although these
boys had normal intelligence and language development, they had
severely impaired social skills, were unable to communicate effectively
with others, and had poor coordination.
According to the Asperger Syndrome Coalition of the United States,
the onset of AS may be later than what is typical in autism — or at
least it is recognized later. Many kids are diagnosed after age 3, with
most diagnosed between the ages of 5 and 9.
AS is characterized by poor social interactions, obsessions, odd
speech patterns, and other peculiar mannerisms. Kids with AS often have
few facial expressions and have difficulty reading the body language of
others; they might engage in obsessive routines and display an unusual
sensitivity to sensory stimuli (for example, they may be bothered by a
light that no one else notices; they may cover their ears to block out
sounds in the environment; or they might prefer to wear clothing made
only of a certain material).
Overall, people with AS are capable of functioning in everyday life,
but tend to be somewhat socially immature, relate better to adults than
peers, and may be seen by others as odd or eccentric.
Other characteristics of AS may include motor delays, clumsiness,
limited interests, and peculiar preoccupations. Adults with AS have
trouble demonstrating empathy for others, and social interactions
continue to be difficult.
Experts say that AS follows a continuous course and usually lasts a
lifetime. However, symptoms can wax and wane over time, and early
intervention services can be helpful.
Signs and Symptoms
Because the symptoms of AS are often hard to differentiate from other
behavioral problems, it's best to let a doctor or other health
professional evaluate your child's symptoms. It's not uncommon for a
child to be diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) before a diagnosis of AS is made later.
A child with AS might have these signs and symptoms:
inappropriate or minimal social interactions
conversations almost always revolving around self rather than others
"scripted," "robotic," or repetitive speech
lack of "common sense"
problems with reading, math, or writing skills
obsession with complex topics such as patterns or music
average to below-average nonverbal cognitive abilities, though verbal cognitive abilities are usually average to above-average
odd behaviors or mannerisms
It's important to note that, unlike kids with autism, those with AS
might show no delays in language development; they usually have good
grammatical skills and an advanced vocabulary at an early age. However,
they typically do exhibit a language disorder — they might be very
literal and have trouble using language in a social context.
Often there are no obvious delays in cognitive development. Although
kids with AS can have problems with attention span and organization, and
have skills that seem well developed in some areas and lacking in
others, they usually have average and sometimes above-average
What Causes Asperger Syndrome?
Researchers and mental health experts are still investigating the
causes of autism and AS. Many believe that the pattern of behavior that
characterizes AS may have many causes. Research points to the
possibility of brain abnormalities as a cause of AS, given that there
have been structural and functional differences in specific regions of
the brain recognized by using advanced brain imaging.
There seems to be a hereditary component to AS, and research
indicates that in some cases AS may be associated with other mental
health disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder.
Contrary to the incorrect assumptions some may make about people with
the disorder, AS is not caused by emotional deprivation or the way a
person has been brought up. Because some of the behaviors exhibited by
someone with AS may be seen by others as intentionally rude, many people
wrongly assume that AS is the result of bad parenting — it isn't. It's a
neurobiological disorder whose causes are not yet fully understood.
Currently, there is no cure for the disorder — kids with AS become
adults with AS. But many lead full and happy lives, and the likelihood
of achieving this is enhanced with appropriate education, support, and
Diagnosing Asperger Syndrome
Asperger syndrome can be very difficult to diagnose. Children with AS
function well in most aspects of life, so it can be easy to attribute
their strange behaviors to just being "different."
Experts say that early intervention involving educational and social
training, performed while a child's brain is still developing, is very
important for kids with AS.
If your child exhibits some of the symptoms and behaviors that are
typical of AS, it's critical to seek help from your doctor. He or she
can refer you to a mental health professional or other specialist for
When a specialist assesses your child, a thorough "psychosocial"
evaluation will be performed. This includes a careful history of when
symptoms were first recognized, the development of motor skills and
language patterns, and other aspects of personality and behavior
(including favorite activities, unusual habits, preoccupations, etc.).
Particular emphasis is placed on social development, including past
and present problems in social interaction and development of
friendships. A psychological evaluation and assessment of communication
skills are usually conducted to determine which strengths and skills
might be deficient.
Treating Asperger Syndrome
Because AS can present patterns of behaviors and problems that differ
widely from child to child, there isn't a "typical" or prescribed
treatment regimen. However, depending on what their strengths and
weaknesses are (or depending on what their development history is), kids
may benefit from these treatments:
parent education and training
specialized educational interventions
social skills training
sensory integration training for younger kids, usually performed by
an occupational therapist, in which they are desensitized to stimuli to
which they're overly sensitive
psychotherapy or behavioral/cognitive therapy for older kids
It will help if you involve all of your child's caregivers in the
treatment. The health professionals who are caring for your child should
know what the others are doing, and you will often find yourself acting
as the "case manager" in this scenario. Teachers, babysitters, other
family members, close friends, and anyone else who cares for your child
also should be involved.
It's important to know that many people can provide assistance.
Finding the right program for your child is key and getting help early
is important. Kids with AS can and do experience great gains with the
appropriate treatment and education.
Helping Your Child
Although AS presents challenges for kids and their parents, you can help your child adjust and offer support in many ways:
Look into educational or training programs for parents. You're your
child's first teacher and you'll continue to be the cornerstone in
supporting his or her development.
Teach your child self-help skills. Learning these skills helps kids achieve maximum independence.
Because it's not always obvious that a child has AS, alert others to
the fact that your child has special needs. As a parent, you may have
to take on the role of educator when dealing with teachers, medical
personnel, and other caregivers.
Find a program that addresses your child's specific needs or areas
of "deficiency." The Autism Society of America (ASA) encourages family
members to talk to the program director to determine if the curriculum
or program addresses their child's particular issues.
Choose special programs or treatments that focus on long-term
outcomes and that take the developmental level of your child into
Remember that your child is part of a family unit and that his or
her needs should be balanced with the those of other family members.
Get support for yourself and other family members. You can't help
your child if you are not meeting your own emotional and physical needs.
Your community may offer support groups at a local hospital or mental
health center. There is considerable state-to-state variation in the
types of government-sponsored services and other programs available to
children with autism spectrum disorders and their families.
Your Child's Future
Currently, few facilities are specifically dedicated to providing for
the needs of kids with AS. Some children are in mainstream schools
where their progress depends on the support and encouragement of
parents, caregivers, teachers, and classmates. However, some go to
special schools for kids with autism or learning disabilities.
Many people with AS can function well in most aspects of life, so the
condition does not have to prevent your child from succeeding
academically and socially.
You may feel overwhelmed and discouraged if your child is diagnosed
with AS. Remember that your child's treatment team can provide enormous
support and encouragement for your child — and your family.