Definition & Overview

Asperger syndrome is a form of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), but considered to be on the “high functioning” end of the scale. Other ASDs are childhood disintegrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder, and autistic disorder.

Asperger Syndrome was first described in 1944 by Austrian paediatrician Hans Asperger. However, it wasn’t until 1981 when the condition started to become widely publicized. In 1994, the American Psychiatric Association added Asperger syndrome in their diagnostic reference book “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders”.

Although the condition begins in early childhood, most patients aren’t diagnosed until they begin having difficulties in school or the workplace. In fact, many adults are only diagnosed with the condition when they seek help for other related conditions, such as anxiety and depression.

ASDs are not that common. Experts believe that some form of the condition affects only 1 in 88 children. Unfortunately, since Asperger syndrome has only recently gained the attention of the medical community, there haven’t been any studies on the prevalence of the condition. However, it has been noticed that the condition is more prevalent in males than in females.

Cause of Condition

The exact cause or causes of Asperger syndrome have yet to be identified, but experts believe that abnormalities in the brain play a large role in its development. Scientists have discovered that children with Asperger syndrome have brains with functional and structural differences in specific regions. It is possible that the differences formed during fetal development.

Experts also believe that the condition is hereditary because many of the patients being treated for the condition have a family history of Asperger syndrome or other forms of ASD. However, scientists have yet to identify a specific gene that is responsible for the condition.

Key Symptoms

Patients diagnosed with Asperger syndrome display a wide variety of symptoms, but no two patients are exactly alike. All of the symptoms are related to the two main features of the condition, which are: a) fixated interest and repetitive behaviors, and b) social and communication deficits.

Some of the most common symptoms are:

  • Speech difficulties, such as lack of rhythm, odd inflection, and monotone pitch
  • Speaks using a formal style, which is too advanced for their age
  • Appear to lack empathy
  • Delayed motor development
  • Heightened sensitivity
  • Unable to modulate voice to match the surroundings
  • Fixation on a particular interest
  • Unable to socialize or hold a conversation, other than their point of interest
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Repetitive speech
  • Will mostly talk about themselves instead of others
  • Display strange movements and mannerisms
  • Find it difficult to make eye contact
  • Unable to understand social and emotional issues
  • Have unusual rituals
  • Has the tendency to be highly skilled or extremely talented in specific areas such as arts

The symptoms of every patient differ. Some display only mild symptoms, while others may have severe symptoms.

Who to See & Types of Treatments Available

Many cases of Asperger syndrome weren’t diagnosed until adulthood, and only when they consulted a psychologist or psychiatrist to seek help for anxiety or depression. Unfortunately, there is no known cure for the condition. However, there is a possibility to improve the patient's social skills and reduce any unwanted behaviors.

If medications are used in a particular treatment option, these are mostly to treat anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, or hyperactivity.

Treatment for Asperger syndrome mostly consists of a combination of therapies, which depend on the symptoms being displayed by the patient. Some of the most commonly used are:

  • Speech, physical, or occupational therapy – these therapies are performed to improve the patient’s functional abilities.

  • Social skills therapies – these therapies focus on developing the patient’s ability to socialize with other people and understand different forms of non-verbal communication.

  • Behavior therapies – these are performed to address unwanted behavior and turn them into positive behavior.

  • Special education – patients with Asperger Syndrome are usually not able to participate in normal forms of education. Thus, special education is often customized to meet their unique educational needs.

While treatment is usually performed under the guidance of a psychologist, psychiatrist, or a trained counselor, treatment can also take place inside the home, especially for children who have been diagnosed with the condition.

However, before parents or guardians attempt to provide home treatment, they first need education on Asperger syndrome. By truly understanding the condition, they’ll know what to expect and how to handle any untoward situation.

Home treatment requires a supporting and loving environment. Parents will need a lot of patience and understanding. They will also need to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of the child and their own strengths and weaknesses as well.

Some of the most common techniques used in home treatment are:

  • Creation of routines – children with Asperger Syndrome benefit from routines

  • Providing instructions verbally, but visual supports will also be helpful

  • When teaching the child to focus on a particular subject, it’s important to remember that the child can be easily distracted by background noises. Thus, it is important to eliminate any background noise, no matter how soft.

  • Children with Aspergers syndrome can develop a fixation on television and video games. Thus, it is best not to place a TV or computer inside the child’s bedroom.

  • Children with the condition are also affected by stress. It is important to identify the triggers and avoid them. It is also important that the child learn how to deal with new situations or changes.

There may be different techniques used in the treatment of Asperger syndrome, but no technique or treatment program will be the better option for every case. Some children or adults will respond better to one form of treatment, while others may not respond to treatments that others benefit from. It’s important to recognize what type of treatment provides better results for the patient and to focus on that treatment.

References:

  • Bostic JQ, Prince JB. Child and adolescent psychiatric disorders. In: Stern TA, Rosenbaum JF, Fava M, Biederman J, Rauch SL, eds. Massachusetts General Hospital Comprehensive Clinical Psychiatry. 1st ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier;2008:chap 69.

  • Raviola G, Gosselin GJ, Walter HJ, DeMaso DR. Pervasive developmental disorders and childhood psychosis. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 19th ed.Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 28.

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