What Is Asperger's Syndrome

What Is Asperger’s Syndrome?

What Is Asperger’s Syndrome?

Asperger’s syndrome, often referred to simply as Asperger’s, is a developmental disorder characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction and nonverbal communication, along with restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests. Individuals diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome may have difficulty relating to others socially, and they often experience narrowed interests or obsessive behaviors that are specific aspects of their interests. The Special Olympics Arizona team is breaking down this developmental disorder and focusing on its symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatment options, and relationship to autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

What Is Asperger’s Syndrome?

Asperger’s syndrome is a neurodevelopmental disorder that falls under the umbrella of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Individuals with Asperger’s syndrome often have difficulty relating socially to others but are generally able to converse and perform well in school. They may experience narrowed interests, become obsessive about a certain topic or only want to do a small range of activities. Individuals with Asperger’s syndrome typically have normal to above-average intelligence and language development but struggle with social skills and understanding social cues. Asperger’s is technically one of the autism spectrum disorders, but many doctors will refer to it as a high-functioning type of autism, in which individuals may experience less severe autism symptoms than other individuals who have been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. It was first described by Austrian pediatrician Hans Asperger in the 1940s. 

Symptoms of Asperger’s

As with many developmental disorders, the symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome can vary widely among individuals. All individuals who have been diagnosed with Asperger’s do not experience the same symptoms at the same severity, but some common symptoms of Asperger’s include: 

  • Difficulty with Social Interaction: Individuals with Asperger’s may have difficulty understanding social norms, making eye contact, interpreting facial expressions, and engaging in reciprocal conversations.
  • Repetitive Behaviors and Special Interests: Like other forms of ASD, individuals with Asperger’s may engage in repetitive behaviors or have intense, narrow interests in specific topics.
  • Sensitivity to Sensory Stimuli: Many individuals with Asperger’s are sensitive to sensory stimuli such as noise, light, textures, or certain smells.
  • Rigid Thinking and Routine: People with Asperger’s may have difficulty adapting to changes in routine or environment and may prefer predictability and sameness. They can experience difficulty with changes, sometimes have obsessive-compulsive tendencies or may be diagnosed with OCD. 

Adult Asperger’s Symptoms

In adults, symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome may manifest differently than they will in children. Symptoms may include challenges in forming and maintaining relationships, difficulties in the workplace, and heightened anxiety or depression. Adults may experience clumsiness or hypersensitivity, especially when it comes to sensory stimuli. Similar to the narrowed interest that children with Asperger’s may experience, adults may also have obsessions with certain topics. 

What Causes Asperger’s Syndrome?

While there is no one specific cause of Asperger’s, there is a large range of influences that are thought to play a part in this developmental disorder. There can be a number of different combinations of genetic, non-genetic, or environmental influences that may be the cause of Asperger’s. Research demonstrates that autism spectrum disorders, including Asperger’s, tend to run in families. Changes in certain genes increase the risk that a child will be born with or develop autism. If a parent carries one or more of these gene changes, they are at increased risk of passing the gene change onto their child. This can happen even if the parent does not have Asperger’s. There are also certain environmental factors that can increase the chances of an individual developing Asperger’s. Some environmental factors that increase the chances of a child developing Asperger’s include: increased parent age from either parent; pregnancy and birth complications, including premature birth, low birth weight, multiple pregnancies, or pregnancies spaced less than one year apart.

Diagnosing Asperger’s Syndrome

Diagnosing Asperger’s syndrome typically involves a comprehensive evaluation by healthcare professionals, including pediatricians, psychologists, or developmental specialists. The diagnostic process may include the following:

  • Clinical Assessment: Healthcare providers may conduct interviews with the individual and their family members to gather information about developmental history, social skills, and behavioral patterns.
  • Observational Assessment: Direct observation of the individual’s social interactions, communication skills, and behavior may be conducted to assess for signs of Asperger’s syndrome.
  • Standardized Assessments: Standardized tools such as the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) or the Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (ADI-R) may be used to assist in the diagnostic process.

Asperger’s Treatment

While there is no cure for Asperger’s syndrome, various interventions and therapies can help individuals manage symptoms and improve their quality of life.

Speech-Language Therapy

Speech-language therapy can help individuals with Asperger’s improve their communication skills, including understanding nonverbal cues, maintaining conversations, and expressing thoughts and feelings effectively.

Is Asperger’s Autism?

Yes, Asperger’s syndrome is considered a form of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). It is characterized by similar features as other forms of ASD, including difficulties with social interaction, communication, and behavior. However, individuals with Asperger’s typically have normal to above-average intelligence and language development, distinguishing it from other forms of ASD.

What Is the Difference Between Asperger’s Syndrome and Autism Spectrum Disorder?

In the past, Asperger’s syndrome was considered a separate diagnosis from autism spectrum disorder (ASD). However, with the publication of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 2013, Asperger’s syndrome was removed as a distinct diagnosis, and individuals who would have previously been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome are now typically diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), with varying levels of support needs. As a result, the term “Asperger’s syndrome” is no longer used diagnostically but may still be used colloquially to describe individuals with specific characteristics within the autism spectrum.

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