Asperger's Syndrome

What is Asperger's Syndrome?

Asperger's Syndrome (AS) or Asperger's Disorder is a neurobiological disorder named for Viennese physician Hans Asperger. In 1944, Asperger published a paper describing behavioral patterns in several young boys who had normal intelligence but exhibited autistic-like behavior and marked social and communication deficiencies. While AS has been in the DSM IV since 1944, professionals and parents have just recently recognized the disorder.

Individuals with AS can exhibit a variety of characteristics ranging from mild to severe, such as noticeable deficiencies in social skills, difficulty with transitions or changes. They prefer sameness, often have obsessive routines and may be preoccupied with a particular interest. They have a great deal of difficulty reading body language, other nonverbal cues and determining proper personal space. They are overly sensitive to sounds, tastes, smells and sights and may prefer soft clothing and certain foods. They may also be bothered by sounds or lights no one else seems to hear or see.

It's important to remember that a person with AS perceives the world differently. Therefore, many behaviors that seem odd or unusual are due to neurological differences – not intentional rudeness, bad behavior or "improper parenting."

By definition, individuals with AS have normal intelligence. Many individuals – though not all – exhibit exceptional skill or talent in a specific area. Because of their high degree of functionality and naiveté, they are often viewed as eccentric or odd and can easily become victims of teasing and bullying. While language development seems normal on the surface, they often have deficits in context and intonation. Vocabularies may be extraordinarily rich and some children sound like "little professors." However, they can be extremely literal and have difficulty using language in a social situation.

At this time there is a great deal of debate as to where exactly AS fits. It is presently described as an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Some professionals feel that AS is the same as High Functioning Autism (HFA), while others feel it is better described as a Nonverbal Learning Disability (NLD). AS shares many of the characteristics of HFA, NLD and PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified) because it was virtually unknown until a few years ago. Some individuals who were originally diagnosed with HFA or PDD-NOS are now being given the AS diagnosis and many have a dual diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome and High Functioning Autism.

We have included a simplified version that will help you understand Asperger's Syndrome and its effects. Please note that not all Asperger Syndrome children exhibit superior intelligence. It is our understanding that the majority of children diagnosed with AS do have at least an IQ in the normal range and it is possible for them have IQs in the superior range. It is important that you take the time to read through several explanations of AS, many of which are available on the O.A.S.I.S. Web site. Use all available resources as well as the professionals working with you to further your knowledge about Asperger's Syndrome.

A More Down-to-Earth Description

By Lois Freisleben–Cook, M.D.

I saw that someone posted the DSM IV criteria for Asperger's but I thought it might be good to provide a more down-to-earth description. Asperger's Syndrome is a term used when a child or adult has some features of autism but may not have the full-blown clinical picture. There is some disagreement about where it fits in the PDD spectrum. A few people with Asperger's syndrome are very successful and until recently were not diagnosed with anything but were seen as brilliant, eccentric, absent minded, socially inept, and a little awkward physically.

Although the criteria state no significant delay in the development of language milestones, what you might see is a "different" way of using language. A child may have a wonderful vocabulary and even demonstrate hyperlexia but not truly understand the nuances of language and have difficulty with language pragmatics. Social pragmatics also tend be weak, leading the person to appear to be walking to the beat of a "different drum." Motor dyspraxia can be reflected in a tendency to be clumsy.

In social interaction, many people with Asperger's syndrome demonstrate gaze avoidance and may actually turn away at the same moment as greeting another. The children I have known do desire interaction with others but have trouble knowing how to make it work. They are, however, able to learn social skills much like you or I would learn to play the piano.

There is a general impression that Asperger's syndrome carries with it superior intelligence and a tendency to become very interested in and preoccupied with a particular subject. Often this preoccupation leads to a specific career at which the adult is very successful. At younger ages, one might see the child being a bit more rigid and apprehensive about changes or about adhering to routines. This can lead to a consideration of OCD but it is not the same phenomenon.

Many of the weaknesses can be remediated with specific types of therapy aimed at teaching social and pragmatic skills. Anxiety leading to significant rigidity can be also treated medically. Although it is harder, adults with Asperger's can have relationships, families as well as happy and productive lives.

Lois Freisleben–Cook's description was originally a post to the bit.listserv.autism newsgroup/listserv.

The O.A.S.I.S. Web page, links and formatting of those links are copyright © Barbara L. Kirby.

Related Resources:

Asperger's Syndrome

O.A.S.I.S.

DSM IV


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