Select a Topic
- What is Asperger’s Syndrome?
- Diagnosing Asperger’s Syndrome
- What Causes Asperger’s Syndrome?
- Help for Asperger’s Syndrome
- More Information on Asperger’s Syndrome
What is Asperger’s Syndrome?
Asperger's Syndrome is a neurobiological disorder that is classified as one of the pervasive developmental disorders (PDD). Often it may be incorrectly called Asperger's disease; however, it is actually a condition characterized by significant impairment in social interaction as well as the development of repetitive and restricted fields of interest, activities, and interests.
Comparing Asperger's Syndrome and Autism
While there are some similarities between Asperger's Syndrome and Autism, individuals with Asperger's usually have average to above-average IQ, and do not demonstrate clinically significant delays in language or self-help skills.
While they may have an extremely good command of language and a very rich vocabulary, they are unable to use language appropriately in a social context and often speak in monotone, with little nuance and inflection in their voice.
Children with Asperger's may or may not seek out social interaction, but always have difficulty in interpreting and learning the skills of social and emotional interaction with others, leading to significant impairment in relationships and peer interaction.
Although parents often notice problems at an early age, diagnosis is usually only made during preschool or later.
Diagnosing Asperger’s Syndrome
Asperger's Syndrome was first identified in 1944, but was only officially recognized as a diagnostic category in the DSM IV in 1994. As a result, many children were misdiagnosed over the years with ADD, ADHD, Autism, OCD, or schizophrenia.
Many different terms are currently applied, leading to great confusion on the part of parents and educators. Asperger's Syndrome may also be referred to as high functioning autism (HFA), pervasive developmental disorder (PDD), pervasive developmental disorder - not otherwise specified (PDD - NOS), atypical PDD, or even nonverbal learning disability (NLD).
There is still debate as to exactly how Asperger's Syndrome should be classified. In addition, it is not always an easy, clear-cut diagnosis to make. As a result, diagnostic errors continue to be made and this often affects treatment, as well as access to appropriate help and information.
Asperger’s in Children
If you feel your child is unlike other children in terms of social interactions, communication, and behavior, and the symptoms outlined below sound familiar, then it is advisable to get a professional opinion.
Many parents notice that their child is developmentally different, but are often blinded by the fact that their child is very bright and even more advanced than age-mates in certain areas such as memory or vocabulary.
It also often only becomes an issue when peer interactions are observed and problems arise, such as in school settings. The earlier you take your child for an evaluation, the more he or she will benefit from treatment should a diagnosis be confirmed, and specialized education can be arranged.
Psychological & Communication Symptoms:
- Struggles with nonverbal communication/gestures to regulate social interaction such as eye contact, facial expressions, body postures, and/or subtle conversational cues
- Fails to develop peer relationships appropriate to developmental level
- Doesn’t often seek out interactions and prefers to play alone
- Lacks reciprocity in social or emotional situations (often appears unaware of others' emotions)
- Lacks responsiveness
- Uses oddities of speech such as very formal tone void of slang
- Lacks variations in speech such as tone, pitch, and accent
- Misinterprets figurative speech, subtle humor or sarcasm as literal and ill-intended
- Exhibits concentration problems, often caused by inability to ignore irrelevant stimuli, communication comprehension difficulties, or fixation on things besides task at hand
- Suffers from language regression, such as losing previously acquired ability to say certain words or sentences
Physical & Behavioral Symptoms:
- Exhibits restricted and repetitive behavior
- Displays obsessive or inappropriate attachment to certain objects
- Remains inflexible and insists on certain rituals or routines, leading to intense distress when changed
- Shows signs of uncoordinated motor movements (clumsy)
- Shows signs of heightened sensitivity – tends to be distressed by loud noises, bright lights, or strong tastes or textures
- Displays abnormally intense preoccupations/fixation with certain activities or areas of interest (i.e. stamps, coins, flags, cars, or airplanes)
- Throws temper tantrums
Parents may find themselves going from one doctor to another, becoming more confused and frustrated in their attempts to help their child.
It may be advisable to do research before making an appointment if you suspect Asperger’s syndrome, and note down your child’s symptoms and behaviors. Ask your family doctor to refer you to a reputable specialist that deals specifically with child developmental problems.
Asperger’s in Adults
Like many disorders, sometimes an accurate diagnosis of Asperger’s is not reached until adulthood. However, while an adult with Asperger’s may develop language normally, they typically have extreme difficulty with social interactions, communication skills, and motor coordination. They are usually either painfully shy or obnoxiously outgoing, and as a result, are often misunderstood for their inappropriate reactions (or lack thereof).
While they may function at a reasonable level, these difficulties can drastically affect their daily lives, from struggling to develop peer or personal relationships, becoming overwhelmed by sensory overload at grocery stores, and fixating on hobbies—all which interfere with the ability to hold a job.
Proper assessment in adults should factor in cognitive and functional abilities with emphasis on psychological and communication, as well as any comorbid conditions. Left untreated, a severe case of Asperger’s can lead to serious harm for the individual as well as others, resulting from characteristics such as an innate lack of concern for consequences, societal naivety, and misinterpretation of relationships, rules, and judgment. However, properly diagnosed and treated, many children and adults with Aspergers Syndrome can lead productive lives, especially if they are guided into a career which suits their skills and level of emotional, social and cognitive abilities.
In addition to the above childhood symptoms that can persist into adulthood, adults may also have:
- Sexual problems, resulting from inappropriate conduct and inability to form adult relationships due to lack of empathetic and/or social skills
- Weight issues or eating disorders such as anorexia, often caused by anxiety, sensory sensitivity associated with food, or routines or rituals interrupting meal patterns
- Comorbid emotional conditions such as anxiety, depression, mood swings, and irritability
- Seizures, epilepsy – though unlikely, one third of people with autistic-spectrum disorders develop these conditions
Who is More Likely to Develop Asperger's Syndrome?
While both boys and girls can have Asperger's, the syndrome is more common in boys.
Currently, there is no cure for Asperger’s and the condition is a lifelong one. However, with correct treatment and therapy, many people with Asperger's can go on to lead normal lives and may even excel in certain areas of occupational functioning, especially areas which do not involve ‘people skills’.
What Causes Asperger’s Syndrome?
The causes of Asperger’s Syndrome remain unknown, although there appears to be a definite genetic component, as it tends to run in families. Asperger's is NOT caused by bad parenting or problems in the family.
Evidence has shown that there may be certain 'triggers' which precipitate the condition, including environmental factors like pollution, food intolerances (particularly to foods containing wheat, gluten, sugar and dairy products), digestive problems, and even childhood vaccinations (particularly the MMRI).
There are also suggestions that Asperger's Syndrome may sometimes be linked to high levels of Candida in the stomach. Clearly much more research is needed in this area.
Help for Asperger’s Syndrome
While there is no specific treatment or 'cure' for Asperger's Syndrome, there are many interventions that can significantly improve the functioning and quality of life of people and children with Asperger's. It is important to properly classify the condition and remember that it is not Asperger's disease, but rather a syndrome.
Additional Help for Asperger's Syndrome
Social Skills Training
This should be one of the most important components of a treatment program. Children with Asperger's Syndrome can be helped to learn social skills by an experienced psychologist.
Body language and nonverbal communication can be taught in much the same way as one would teach a foreign language. Children with Asperger's can learn to interpret nonverbal expressions of emotion and social interaction. This can assist them with social interaction, peer relationships, and prevent the isolation and depression that often occurs as they enter adolescence. In addition, recognizing that it is not Asperger's disease but rather a condition can go a long way in mentally accepting the characteristics associated with the syndrome.
Teenagers can sometimes benefit from group therapy and can be taught how to use the teenage 'slang' and language forms of their peer groups.
Because children with Asperger's Syndrome may differ widely in terms of IQ and ability levels, schools should learn to individualize educational programs for these children. Some of them may cope well in a mainstream class with additional support, while others may need to receive specialized education.
In all cases, teachers should be aware of the special needs of Asperger's children, who often need a great deal more support than first appears necessary.
Psychotherapeutic approaches that focus on supportive therapy and the teaching of social skills and concrete behavioral techniques are more effective than approaches that concentrate on in-depth emotional therapy, which may be too uncomfortable and stressful for the person with Asperger's.
Children can benefit from play therapy and 'story' therapy aimed at raising awareness of nonverbal communication, development, teaching of empathy, and learning of social skills.
Although there is no conclusive evidence, there are strong suggestions that changes in diet may significantly reduce the symptoms in some children with Asperger's Disorder.
Many parents report that their children become much more manageable when certain classes of food are eliminated from the diet. These include dairy products, sugar, gluten, wheat, and some artificial colorants and preservatives like MSG and tartrazine.
It is worth consulting a trained nutritionist to assist with dietary intervention, as parents should not simply eliminate important foods from their children's diets without expert advice.
Psychopharmacological Interventions or Drug Therapy
Many children and adults with Asperger's Disorder do not need any form of medication, while others need to be treated symptomatically.
While there are no specific 'Asperger's' drugs, psychiatric drugs can be used to treat some of the problems which may manifest or be associated with Asperger's, such as ADD/HD, depression, mood swings, temper tantrums, irritability, aggression, obsessions, compulsive behaviors, and anxiety.
Many of the drugs used to treat the other pervasive developmental disorders like autism are also used to treat some of the associated symptoms of Asperger's. Like many psychiatric drugs, these often come with unwanted side effects and the risk of addiction. Their benefits should always be weighed against the potential harm they could cause, particularly in the case of children. Bear in mind that, when properly used, there are many alternative therapies that can be used in a supportive way very effectively in the overall management plan for children and adults with Asperger’s Syndrome.
More Information on Asperger’s Syndrome
Other Disorders Related to Asperger’s Syndrome
Asperger’s Syndrome is classified along with four other developmental disorders under the heading of pervasive developmental disorders (PDD).
The other four are autism, childhood disintegrative disorder (CDD), Rett's disorder and PDD - not otherwise specified (PDD - NOS). Children with Asperger’s are also more likely to develop other disorders such as:
- Tourette's Syndrome
- ADD and ADHD
- Anxiety disorder
- Bipolar disorder
- Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)
- Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Learning disorders such as dyslexia or dyspraxia
Tips for Concerned Parents
- Learn all you can about Asperger’s Syndrome.
The more you know about your child’s problems and differences, the more you can do to help them.
- Find a support network of health care professionals that suit your child.
Depending on your child’s difficulties, therapists, teachers, and tutors will begin to play a key role in your child’s development. Make sure that a clear line of communication exists between you and all those working with your child.
- Help others to understand your child.
Parents know their children best, and are aware of what sets them off as well as what comforts them. Inform educators and professionals of these things so that their time spent with your child is more productive and personal.
- Adapt their environment.
Respond to your child’s sensory needs by providing appropriate amounts of stimulation without overwhelming them. Small things such as buying soft fabrics, cutting scratchy labels off clothes, or dimming bright lights in the house can go a long way in helping a sensory-sensitive child.
- Concentrate on your child’s strengths.
Asperger’s children usually develop extreme interests in certain subjects. Help your child develop these into constructive passions by providing reading and learning material in this area. Visit museums and galleries, and take trips to interesting places. If your child struggles with other learning difficulties such as math or spelling, it may be helpful to use their passions when teaching these other subjects.
How Diet Can Help with Asperger’s Syndrome
- Reduce and eliminate foods containing artificial ingredients, preservatives and coloring
- Reduce and eliminate foods with high sugar, salt and fat content
- Incorporate more fresh foods into the diet
- Always eat breakfast; this meal is key for regulating energy levels, brain power, and moods
- Have healthy go-to foods on hand, such as apples and peanut butter, carrots, and celery, granola bars, fruit and nut mixes, yogurt with fruit, hard boiled eggs, cheese and crackers
- For picky eaters not fond of vegetables or ‘healthy foods’, check out health food stores or farmers’ market for homemade sauces, herb vinegars, and dressings free of preservatives or chemicals to add flavor to meals