Asperger syndrome

Asperger syndrome is a developmental disorder that affects how the brain processes information. It shapes a child's social, emotional and communication skills, and behaviours. Asperger syndrome usually becomes obvious during childhood and remains throughout life, with varying degrees of disability. There is no cure. However, a combination of support, regular routine, training and medication may assist the parents and child.

Asperger syndrome is an autism spectrum disorder
Asperger syndrome is one of the 'autism spectrum disorders'. People with Asperger syndrome can show a wide range of behaviours and social skills. Some people's skills are clearly 'normal' most of the time, some may seem 'odd' at times, while some are quite different from other people.

History of Asperger syndrome
Asperger syndrome became a recognised developmental disorder in 1994. Prior to that, a person with Asperger syndrome was considered to be socially awkward or unsociable. Some people were misdiagnosed as having a psychiatric disorder or labelled obsessive compulsive or simply thought of as 'odd'.

Children with Asperger syndrome
Many of the behaviours of children with Asperger syndrome are 'normal' for young children if they happen some of the time, however, if they happen most of the time they may indicate Asperger syndrome. The pattern of difficulties can be quite different for each person.

Asperger syndrome children will have many behaviours that are similar to those with autism, but they have better language and cognitive skills.

Some characteristics of Asperger syndrome
People with Asperger syndrome may display some of the following characteristics:
  • Difficulty in forming friendships.
  • A preference for playing alone or with older children and adults.
  • Ability to talk well, either too much or too little, but difficulty with communication.
  • Inability to understand that communication involves listening as well as talking.
  • A very literal understanding of what has been said. For example, when asked to 'get lost', as in go away, a person with Asperger syndrome will be confused and may literally try to 'get lost'.
  • Inability to understand the rules of social behaviour, the feelings of others and to 'read' body language. For example, a person with Asperger syndrome may not know that someone is showing that they are cross when frowning.
  • Behaviour varies from mildly unusual to quite aggressive and difficult.
  • Having rules and rituals that they insist all family members follow.
  • Anger and aggression when things do not happen as they want.
  • Sensitivity to criticism.
  • A narrow field of interests. For example a person with Asperger syndrome may focus on learning all there is to know about cars, trains or computers.
  • Eccentricity.
About 10 times more boys than girls are diagnosed with Asperger syndrome , however, it is possible that girls with Asperger syndrome are better at learning and copying social skills.

Some people can be very talented
Some people with Asperger syndrome are very talented in their chosen field of interest. They may enjoy academic and vocational success. While strengths and abilities differ from one individual to the next, a person with Asperger syndrome may have:
  • Normal or higher than average intelligence.
  • Extensive vocabulary - but many people have difficulty with the practical use of language (see above).
  • Expertise in their chosen topic of interest - although this can become difficult in social situations as they may only talk about one topic.
  • Excellent factual memory for their chosen topic of interest
  • Dedication and commitment to their job if they work in a supportive environment and their job is suited to their interests.
  • The drive to perform well at school or work, if given a supportive and inclusive environment.
Asperger syndrome is not a disease
Asperger syndrome is not a disease or illness. A person does not catch it or recover from it, however, the effects often lessen as people get older and learn coping skills. It is present from birth but it usually takes a long time for people to be convinced that the unusual behaviour and difficulties of a child fit the pattern of Asperger syndrome.

Causes of Asperger syndrome
It is not clear exactly what causes Asperger syndrome. In many families with affected children, there are other family members who have some similar difficulties. There is also a link in some families with autism. This supports the belief that Asperger syndrome may be inherited. Sometimes, Asperger syndrome has developed after problems during the pregnancy or birth, or as a result of a viral infection before or soon after birth.

Diagnosing Asperger syndrome
Parents may be aware for some time that their child's behaviour is different, but it may be years before the pattern of behaviour is linked to Asperger syndrome. There are several sets of criteria or rating scales that can be used to diagnose Asperger syndrome, including questions about social and emotional abilities, communication skills, learning abilities, movement skills and special interests.

Treating Asperger syndrome
There is no cure or specific treatment for Asperger syndrome. However, social skills training can be helpful. Obtaining a diagnosis of the condition may mean that children and their families can access special services, such as teacher support time. Diagnosis can also allow the family and others to understand the behaviours and feelings of the child. This can assist in developing more realistic expectations of the child, taking a planned approach to routines and incremental changes, and managing stress.

Different and Normal - my life with Asperger Syndrome.