What is Asperger’s Syndrome?
Asperger’s syndrome is a type of autism spectrum disorder characterized by the presence of social interaction difficulties with repetitive and restricted patterns of interests and behavior. It is different from autism because there is preservation of cognitive and linguistic development. Asperger’s is also known as Asperger disorder. The condition also may show atypical use of language and physical clumsiness.
A Boy with Asperger’s Syndrome Showing Preservation of Cognitive Abilities
Asperger’s syndrome was named after the pediatrician who first described it in 1944, Hans Asperger. However, this condition is still in question whether it is distinct from high functioning autism. Because of this, the prevalence is not specifically established.
Most children with Asperger’s syndrome improve as they grow and develop, but some may have persistence of social and communication problems. Asperger’s syndrome is one of the pervasive developmental disorders, which is a type of psychological disturbance. It begins in infancy and childhood and has a steady course of disease. It may have remissions and relapses, but may lead to maturation-related brain changes.
Along with the other autism spectrum disorders, Asperger’s syndrome is very similar to autism in terms of causes and signs. However, autism has delays in cognitive development and gross impairment in communication, which Asperger’s syndrome lack.
Because of overlap with other autism spectrum disorder, other people propose to remove the diagnosis of Asperger ‘s syndrome and include it under autism spectrum disorder, which will just be rated according to severity.
Asperger’s Syndrome Symptoms, Facts, Characteristics
Asperger’s syndrome is characterized by different patterns of symptoms. The main manifestations of this condition is: a) an impairment in social interaction, b) restricted and repetitive behavioral patterns, c) stereotyped interests and activities, d) absence of delay in language and cognitive development.
Specific symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome are characterized per class of manifestations. These include:
- Impaired social interaction
The most evident sign of Asperger’s syndrome is lack of empathy. There is also difficulty to maintain friendship and inability to share achievements and enjoyment with other people. There is absence of showing of interest with other people and lack of emotional reciprocity. During social interactions, a patient with Asperger’s syndrome may also have impaired non-verbal behaviors such as facial expression, eye contact, gesture and posture.
People with Asperger’s syndrome do not withdraw themselves from other people, but has awkward interaction with other people. Patients also often talk about themselves and fail to respond with the listener’s feelings and privacy. Because of this affected people often engage in active social interaction, but may not regard other’s feelings and may be known as insensitive.
Impairment in Social Interaction is a Common Manifestation of Asperger’s Syndrome
People with Asperger’s may be able to have theoretical understanding of emotions, but may fail to apply it in real life situations. Others may be able to apply rigid non-verbal behaviors such as forced eye contact.
People with Asperger’s syndrome are also not predisposed to doing bad actions towards other people. Often they become the victims. Those who have engaged in criminal offenses towards other people may have other psychiatric conditions affecting their social relationships.
- Repetitive and Restricted Behaviors
Patients may exhibit repetitive motor movements such as twisting, flapping and others. These motor behaviors are often voluntary as opposed to involuntary tics. These are sometimes referred to as odd mannerisms.
- Restricted interests and activities
People with Asperger’s syndrome also often have interests on a narrow subject and fail to understand the whole picture. For example, a person may memorize star names, but lack understanding about them.
- Language and Cognitive Development
Patients usually learn language skills, but may have atypical applications such as literal interpretations, verbosity, abrupt transitions, formal speech, misuse of metaphor, and deficits in auditory perception. There is marked verbosity, circumstantial speech and poor prosody. There is also scripted, repetitive and robotic speech in some situations.
Although Asperger’s syndrome may have these manifestations, the intelligence of the patients is not affected. Most of them have above-average or average intelligence.
Asperger’s Syndrome Causes
The exact cause of Asperger’s syndrome is not yet understood, but genetics have a role to play in the development of Asperger’s syndrome. There is a high incidence of Aspergenr’s syndrome running in families. The exact gene causing it is yet to be known.
Some incidences of autism spectrum disorders have been linked to factors that affect the developing embryo during the first 8 weeks of gestation. There is an alteration in the brain development after conception because of problems on embryonic cell migration.
The presence of problems in the brain development leads to under functioning of the neural connections in the brain. There are also hypotheses on the affectation of cerebellar functions as well as serotonin levels in the brain.
Asperger’s Syndrome Diagnosis
The diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome starts when parents observe changes in the behavior of their child starting at toddler hood. Pediatricians also perform routine developmental screening for pediatric clients and may warrant further evaluation of the condition. The diagnosis is typically made from 4 to 11 years of age.
Diagnostic tests include several screening procedures such as the Autism Spectrum Screening Questionnaire and Asperger Syndrome Diagnostic Scale.
The specific test for Asperger’s syndrome include the semi-structured parent interview, which is the Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised and a play interview with the suspected child, which is the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule.
Careful diagnosis should be made because some cases are being diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and may lead to medication mistakes.
Asperger’s Syndrome Treatment
Treatment for Asperger’s syndrome is focused on reducing the symptoms and improvement of the social functioning of affected children. Treatment modalities include:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
This therapy helps in the improvement of stress management and to control repetitive behavior and routines. This involves the changing or controlling of behaviors by cognitive restructuring.
Children are given social training to improve the social interaction skills. Patients are taught in the use of proper language and non-verbal skills.
Physical and Occupational Therapy
These helps in the improvement of motor coordination as well as sensory stimulation to improve the behavioral and social patterns of affected clients.
Speech therapy coupled with pragmatics helps in the improvement of two way communication, which teaches children to listen to other people during social interactions.
Antipsychotic and axiolytic drugs are given to patients with Asperger’s syndrome to improve or reduce repetitive actions and behaviors that are dangerous for patients. Atypical antipsychotics include risperidone and olanzapine. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, an anxiolytic drug, consist of sertraline, fluvoxamine or fluoxetine.
The incidences of Asperger’s syndrome usually improve or lessen during adulthood. There have been no reports of long-term effects and the patients usually have normal life-expectancy.