Asperger syndrome is a pervasive developmental disorder resulting in social and behavioral problems. Autism is another condition within this category. Whether Asperger syndrome is a distinct disease or a type of autism is a matter of debate within the medical community. Children with Asperger syndrome usually have normal intelligence and do not have the language problems typical of autism.
The cause of Asperger syndrome is unknown. Some experts believe a variety of factors may be responsible for the faulty brain development.
A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition. Asperger syndrome is more common in boys.
Symptoms usually become noticeable around 2 ½ or 3 years of age. Symptoms may range from mild to severe.
Symptoms may include:
- Difficulty interacting with others
- Trouble making friends
- Poor understanding of other people's feelings
- Insensitivity to social cues and facial expressions
- Inappropriate social and emotional responses
- Preoccupation with one's own world
- Not sharing enjoyment, interests, or achievements with others
- Following repetitive routines
- Single mindedness
- Limited interests, usually one or two subjects
- Repeating words or phrases over and over
- Intent interest in a few topics
- Good rote memory without understanding the information
- Limited verbal skills or using words in odd ways
- Difficulty imagining things or thinking abstractly
- Taking things very literally
- Focusing on small details and having trouble seeing the bigger picture
- Ability to read without understanding the words
- Problems with nonverbal communication
- Poor eye contact
- Few facial expressions, except for anger or unhappiness
- Impaired body posturing or use of gestures
- Clumsy movements
- Hand flapping
- Poor coordination
- Inflexibility or trouble accepting change
- Difficulty accepting loss or criticism
- Desire to finish any tasks that are started
There are no tests for Asperger syndrome. The diagnosis is based on observations of the child's behavior. Psychological and IQ tests may be given. Medical tests may be ordered to help rule out other conditions. Children and their families can benefit from early intervention. Knowing what is wrong also helps families understand why the child acts differently than other children.
There is no treatment to cure Asperger syndrome. Treatment aims to control symptoms and improve social skills. Patients often learn to function independently as adults. However, they usually continue to experience problems with social interaction. They also may develop mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety. Children with Asperger syndrome need love and understanding, as well as a structured schedule.
Drugs to help control symptoms may include:
- Mood-altering drugs
- Drugs to control seizures
Behavior modification therapy and training can help children develop social skills. Learning how to make and keep friends is difficult for these children. As they grow up, many find the lack of friends troubling.
Caring for a child with Asperger syndrome can be a high-stress job. Counselors help parents learn how to manage their child's behavior. Suggestions include:
- Give warnings that an activity is about to end and provide ways to "save" the task for later. For instance, a favorite television show may be taped for later viewing.
- Try to incorporate some flexibility into the day.
- Set limits on the amount of time the child can spend on a single, obsessive activity.
- Keep directions simple.
- Use precise words.
- Limit choices to two or three things.
- Avoid using figures of speech.
- Make lists.
- Do not assume a child with this disorder understands what has been said simply because he or she can repeat it back to you.
- Start explaining at an early age what is appropriate behavior for public and private places.
- Do not make idle threats or promises.
- Give praise for accomplishments, especially social skills.
Children with Asperger syndrome usually have a normal IQ but have special educational needs. They often can attend regular schools. Educators should be informed of the child's needs. Asperger children are often teased or bullied, because they seem different.
There are no guidelines for preventing Asperger syndrome and other pervasive developmental disorders.