Asperger Syndrome

What is Asperger syndrome?

Asperger syndrome (AS) is a developmental disorder.  It is an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), one of a distinct group of neurological conditions characterized by a greater or lesser degree of impairment in language and communication skills, as well as repetitive or restrictive patterns of thought and behavior.  Other ASDs include:  classic autism, Rett syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (usually referred to as PDD-NOS). Unlike children with autism, children with AS retain their early language skills.

The most distinguishing symptom of AS is a child’s obsessive interest in a single object or topic to the exclusion of any other.  Children with AS want to know everything about their topic of interest and their conversations with others will be about little else.  Their expertise, high level of vocabulary, and formal speech patterns make them seem like little professors.  Other characteristics of AS include repetitive routines or rituals; peculiarities in speech and language; socially and emotionally inappropriate behavior and the inability to interact successfully with peers; problems with non-verbal communication; and clumsy and uncoordinated motor movements.

Children with AS are isolated because of their poor social skills and narrow interests.  They may approach other people, but make normal conversation impossible by inappropriate or eccentric behavior, or by wanting only to talk about their singular interest.    Children with AS usually have a history of developmental delays in motor skills such as pedaling a bike, catching a ball, or climbing outdoor play equipment.   They are often awkward and poorly coordinated with a walk that can appear either stilted or bouncy.

What causes Asperger syndrome?

Research suggests that a combination of genetic and environmental factors may account for differences in development. It is not caused by a person’s upbringing, their social circumstances and is not the fault of the individual with the condition.

Symptoms

  • Individuals with Asperger syndrome, have difficulties with interpreting both verbal and non-verbal language like gestures or tone of voice.
  • Many have a very literal understanding of language, and think people always mean exactly what they say.
  • They may find it difficult to use or understand:
    • facial expressions
    • tone of voice
    • jokes and sarcasm
    • vagueness
    • abstract concepts
  • they may still find it hard to understand the expectations of others within conversations, perhaps repeating what the other person has just said (this is called echolalia) or talking at length about their own interests.
  • People with Asperger syndrome often have difficulty recognising or understanding others’ feelings and intentions and expressing their own emotions.
  • This can make it very hard for them to navigate the social world.
  • They may:
    • appear to be insensitive
    • seek out time alone when overloaded by other people
    • not seek comfort from other people
    • appear to behave ‘strangely’ or in a way thought to be socially inappropriate.
  • The world can seem a very unpredictable and confusing place to people with Asperger syndrome, who often prefer to have a daily routine so that they know what is going to happen every day.
  • They may want to always travel the same way to and from school or work, or eat exactly the same food for breakfast.
  • They may not be comfortable with the idea of change, but may be able to cope better if they can prepare for changes in advance.
  • Many people with Asperger syndrome have intense and highly-focused interests, often from a fairly young age. Many channel their interest into studying, paid work, volunteering, or other meaningful occupation.
  • People with Asperger syndrome may also experience over- or under-sensitivity to sounds, touch, tastes, smells, light, colours, temperatures or pain. For example, they may find certain background sounds, which other people ignore or block out, unbearably loud or distracting. This can cause anxiety or even physical pain. Or they may be fascinated by lights or spinning objects.

Management

The ideal treatment for AS coordinates therapies that address the three core symptoms of the disorder:  poor communication skills, obsessive or repetitive routines, and physical clumsiness.  There is no single best treatment package for all children with AS, but most professionals agree that the earlier the intervention, the better.

An effective treatment program builds on the child’s interests, offers a predictable schedule, teaches tasks as a series of simple steps, actively engages the child’s attention in highly structured activities, and provides regular reinforcement of behavior.  It may include social skills training, cognitive behavioral therapy, medication for co-existing conditions, and other measures.

Individuals with Asperger Syndrome might benefit from:

  • speech therapy
  • occupational therapy
  • psychological therapy
  • building social skills

References

  • https://www.autism.org.uk/about/what-is/asperger.aspx
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