The Truth About Asperger’s
Asperger’s syndrome (AS) is a pervasive developmental disorder named for an Austrian pediatrician named Hans Asperger. In 1944, Dr. Asperger’s published a paper describing four children who had autistic-like problems in the areas of social interaction and communication, but displayed normal to above average intelligence and verbal skills. He referred to these smart, sometimes precocious, quirky kids as “little professors.”
Children with Asperger’s syndrome exhibit a wide variety of signs and symptoms ranging from mild to severe social awkwardness and an all-absorbing interest in specific topics are common. Like Autism, Asperger’s syndrome affects far more boys than girls.
Signs and symptoms
Upon diagnosis with Asperger’s syndrome parents often, in hind sight, recognize signs of the disorder as early as 24-30 months of age. However without the benefit of hindsight it is sometimes difficult to appreciate the problem until the child enters school where difficulty with social interaction often becomes more apparent. In fact, young children with Asperger’s syndrome may be extremely bright and may meet all of the usual developmental milestones. School-age children with Asperger’s syndrome exhibit a range of characteristics, with varying degrees of severity. It has been recognized that a child with Asperger’s may exhibit the following signs and symptoms in these areas:
- difficulty making friends
- engages in one-sided, long-winded conversations, without noticing if the listener is listening or trying to change the subject
- displays unusual nonverbal communication, such as lack of eye contact, few facial expressions, or awkward body postures and gestures
- does not empathize with or seems insensitive to others’ feelings and has a hard time “reading” other people or may have difficulty understanding humor
- doesn’t understand the give-and-take of conversation or engage in “small talk”
- seems egocentric or self-absorbed
- may speak in a voice that is monotone, rigid, jerky or unusually fast
- can be extremely literal or have difficulty understanding the nuances of language, despite having a good vocabulary
- shows an intense obsession with one or two specific, narrow subjects, such as baseball statistics, train schedules, weather or snakes
- likes repetitive routines or rituals
- may memorize information and facts easily, especially information related to a topic of interest
- may have clumsy, uncoordinated movements, an odd posture or a rigid gait
- may perform repetitive movements, such as hand or finger flapping
- may engage in violent outbursts, self-injurious behaviors, tantrums or meltdowns
- may be hypersensitive to sensory stimulation, such as light, sound and texture
Another common sign exhibited by children with Asperger’s syndrome is the characteristic of poor (shared) joint attention early on in life. Joint attention is an early-developing social skill where in two people (usually child and adult) share the experience of looking at an object or observing an event. It includes the ability to point out objects and follow another’s gaze. This ability or skill is foundational to pragmatic language and appropriate social development.
Children with AS often exhibit above-average intelligence or IQ on standardized tests and good
verbal skills. However they lack basic understanding of the rules of social communication. As a result there are often considered inconsiderate, ill-mannered or even rude. For children with Asperger’s syndrome, their unusual social skills (as well as obsessive interests) may often interfere with their ability to function socially.
AS is considered to be part of the autistic spectrum and is differentiated from other PDDs, in that early development is normal and there is no language delay.
The diagnosis of AS is complicated due to the lack of adoption of a standardized diagnostic screening. Instead, several different screening instruments and sets of diagnostic criteria are utilized. The exact cause of AS is unknown and the prevalence is not firmly established, due partly to the use of differing sets of diagnostic criteria.
In a total population study of children between ages 7-16 in Goteborg, Sweden, minimum prevalence of Asperger’s Disorder was 36/10,000 (55/10,000 of all boys, and 15/10,000 of all girls), and the male/female ratio was 4:1.”(Aspergers.com,1996)
- Asperger’s Disorder which is defined in section 299.80 of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR) by six main criteria. These criteria explain AS as a condition in which there is:
- Qualitative impairment in social interaction;
- The presence of restricted, repetitive and stereotyped behaviors and interests;
- Significant impairment in important areas of functioning;
- No significant delay in language;
- No significant delay in cognitive development, self-help skills, or adaptive behaviors (other than social interaction); and,
- The symptoms must not be better accounted for by another specific pervasive developmental disorder or schizophrenia (American Psychiatric Association, 2000).
The above quoted is for educational purposes only.
AS is often not identified in early childhood, and many individuals do not receive diagnosis until after puberty or when they are adults.