What is Asperger’s Syndrome?
Asperger’s Syndrome is on the Autistic spectrum of neurological disorders. Children diagnosed with Asperger’s commonly have language and communication skills. They can also have repetitive patterns in their thoughts and behavior and sometimes sure signs such as classic autism and Rett syndrome.
Asperger’s is named after a Viennese pediatrician, Hans Asperger. In 1944, Asperger published a paper on his observations he had carried out on four children. The paper was not widely released outside of Germany until 1981. Lorna Wing, an English doctor, published similar studies and coined the phrase Asperger’s Syndrome after the original doctor. Asperger’s was recognized as a distinct disorder in 1992 and entered the American reference journals in 1994.
Asperger’s original observations noted that the children were of normal intelligence but exhibited symptoms such as overly formal or disjointed speech, were likely to be obsessed with one topic of conversation and could be physically clumsy. He also noted that the children did not interact well with their peers, that they lacked empathy and spent a lot of time in social isolation. He originally termed the condition ‘Autistic Psychopathy’.
What are the symptoms of Asperger’s Syndrome?
Children with Asperger’s demonstrate a range of indicators. Although they are usually of normal or above normal intelligence, Asperger’s children have classic signs that mark them out. This is often spotted by parents at quite an early stage in their development, often before the age of three.
The most common and clearest indicator of Asperger’s is a child who becomes obsessive about one subject. For example, a child may fixate on trains but their interest will be intense and all-encompassing. They will want to know everything about the subject, from the small details to highly technical information which may seem way beyond their level of development.
The child will usually talk about this subject to the exclusion of all other topics and they are rarely distracted from their discourse. Because of the way an Asperger’s child speaks, often with a rigid formality uncommon for their age, and the vast wealth of information they can retain about a subject, they can seem like miniature adult experts.
Another common indicator is their speech. Aside from the excessive formality in their speech, Asperger’s children frequently have a disjointed and monotone vocalization. They often lack the ability to put expression into their voice. Information learned about their favorite subject may well be delivered in an almost robotic tone that often gives the impression of learning by rote. It can seem that they have learned their facts but not understood them.
Asperger’s children frequently become isolated from their peer group and are unable to socialize at a normal level in any situation. Because of their speech, their absorption in one subject and inability to interact about most everyday topics, it is difficult for children and adults to know how to interact with them and they can become sidelined.
There is also a greater chance of developmental delay in the motor skills of an Asperger’s child. The way they walk can be an early indicator. Asperger’s children tend to walk in a stilted fashion, often walking on their tip-toes at all times or having a ‘bouncy’ gait. They tend to be clumsy when faced with activities such as climbing frames, running, skipping, catching and throwing a ball or learning to ride a bike.
Asperger’s children can also develop OCD, ADHD and a variety of depression and anxiety disorders.
What causes Asperger’s Syndrome?
The simple answer is that we don’t yet know. Research is ongoing and the current thinking is that a group of genes may be responsible for the development of Asperger’s in some children. The amount of each gene could affect the degree of severity of the syndrome and likely changes from child to child.
How is Asperger’s Syndrome diagnosed?
There is no standardized test for Asperger’s as yet. Doctors rely on a few indicators for initial diagnosis. These may include:-
Lack of or abnormal eye contact
Not reacting to being called by name
Lack of social interaction
Unwillingness or inability to make normal gestures or point to specific objects or people
Being distant, not wishing to have interaction with peers or others.
The second stage of diagnosis can involve a range of child specialists. These may include neurologists, psychologists and speech therapists. A series of tests to determine such things as IQ, motor skills, levels of speech and communication and more, are used to determine if the child has Asperger’s and what degree of severity the child is presenting.
What is the treatment for Asperger’s Syndrome?
Treatment usually concentrates on improving the key areas of speech, obsessive routines and motor co-ordination. Although there is no single answer, as each child is individual in their presentation of Asperger’s, medical professionals agree that the sooner there is intervention the better the chances of good results.
A program will be designed that is specific to the individual child. This may include using the ‘small steps’ method of dealing with difficult situations, breaking down tasks into manageable steps that allow the child to cope more easily with difficult actions.
The child is also likely to be taught how to interact in groups, have speech training to help with their modulation and repetitive, obsessive speech patterns and there may be medication involved if the child suffers anxiety or depression. Parents are also likely to be taught strategies and techniques for coping with their Asperger’s child.
Although Asperger’s is treatable, for most children some degree of social inability is likely to remain with them into adulthood. Most Asperger’s Syndrome sufferers go on to lead lives in normal society but may need extra support to cope with interpersonal relationships and social situations.
Where can I get help?
There are several places to get help if you think your child has Asperger’s Syndrome or has been diagnosed with the condition.
Your first port of call should be your doctor. If your child is of school age, it is possible that their teacher may have picked up some of their unusual behaviors and will be able to give you additional information to take to your medical practitioner.
There are groups dedicated to information and help for Asperger’s Syndrome. One of these is the Autism Society of America. For UK residents, help can be found at the National Autism Society website. Both sites contain excellent information and also the ability to contact and befriend others who have similar problems.
Living with Asperger’s Syndrome, whether you are a sufferer or a carer, can be a tiring and isolating situation. Getting help and building a social network to support you is the best way forward.