Asperger's syndrome is a pervasive developmental disorder, or PDD. Like other PDDs, Asperger's is characterized by difficulties in communication and socialization, but it is mildest of the disorders on the autism spectrum. It is four times more common in boys than in girls and is usually diagnosed in children between 2 and 6 years of age.
Although children and adolescents with Asperger's often have great trouble fitting in with peers, some of the characteristics of the disorder, such as extremely focused attention to detail, can be advantageous to adults in the job market. Usually, by the time an individual with Asperger's has reached adulthood, self-awareness has increased and adaptive behavior patterns have made well-established, making life much more manageable.
Causes of Asperger's Syndrome
The causes of Asperger's Syndrome are still unknown, although the disorder is believed to have a genetic component since siblings are at increased risk. Previously, it was suspected that there was link between Asperger's and the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine and PDDs, but several studies have proven that there is no such link.
Symptoms of Asperger's Syndrome
Children with Asperger's usually have above average intelligence and good language skills, but stand out as different because of their behavior and speech patterns. Their speech may be unusually rhythmic or have unusual pitch or inflection. Children with the disorder may have trouble with abstract language and so have trouble understanding irony or subtle humor. They may also have difficulty empathizing, in good part because they have trouble interpreting the facial expressions and body language of others. Therefore, they are usually socially awkward, finding it difficult to make friends. Other symptoms of the disorder, which may range from mild to severe, include:
- Lack of eye contact
- Lack of facial expression
- Preoccupation with one topic, often an abstruse one
- Preoccupation with charts, maps or schedules
- Unusual facial expressions
- Awkward body gestures
- Difficulty adapting to change
- Inability to engage in normal conversation
- Ritualized behavior patterns
- Compulsive repetitive actions
- Hypersensitivity to certain stimuli, such as loud noises
It is also relatively common for children with Asperger's to have an exceptional talent or expertise in one area, such as mathematics or music.
Diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome
Diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome can be difficult because some of the symptoms of the disorder are common to individuals with others disorders, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder or attention deficit/ hyperactivity disorder. It is also possible for a child with Asperger's to suffer from another disorder as well, complicating diagnosis further. Where Asperger's syndrome is suspected, mental health care professionals take a complete patient history, perform a full examination, and administer one or more psychological tests to confirm the diagnosis.
Treatment of Asperger's Syndrome
There are several treatments available for children with Asperger's syndrome. Treatment methods may include applied behavioral analysis, communication and social skill training, and medication. Medications are usually administered to treat the anxiety or depression that may accompany the condition. While there is no cure for Asperger's, effective treatment can help the child adapt and function with greater comfort. Many individuals with Asperger's syndrome go on to lead happy and fulfilling lives, complete with desirable employment and long-term meaningful relationships.