What is Asperger’s Syndrome?

Asperger’s syndrome is a type of pervasive development disorder (PDD) according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV). The disorder falls in with other similar autism spectrum disorders. It is considered a form of high-functioning autism, since autistic-like symptoms do not present as dramatically as they do in children and adults with classic autism.

The disorder was first introduced by Hans Asperger (1906-1980), a noted pediatrician and psychiatrist from Australia. In the mid to late 1940s, Asperger published accounts of children with a condition he referred to as “autistic psychopathy.” These children were similar to children with autism but displayed better language skills. Primarily, these children exhibited extremely poor social skills, motor control and an obsessive interest in a single subject.

While Hans Asperger and other professionals discussed what is now known as Asperger’s syndrome in-depth throughout the 1940s, 1950s and beyond, the disorder has only recently become officially recognized. Asperger’s syndrome did not appear in the DSM until 1994. Since its first appearance, scientists and researchers have learned much about Asperger’s and other autism spectrum disorders, including effective therapies and genetic components.

Symptoms of Asperger’s Syndrome

Asperger’s, as with other autistic disorders, generally presents at a young age. Children exhibit signs of poor social skills and interpersonal relationships shortly before beginning school. As the child progresses, the following symptoms typically become more apparent:

1. Language articulation difficulties – children may have average to below average language skills. However, most AS children have above average language skills with some difficulty articulating their thoughts
and ideas. Speech and communication is generally limited to the child’s view only. Repetitive speech is common and the child will often repeat the same phrases over and over again.

2. Poor social interactions, self-centered social skills and similar signs well outside the norm for children of the same age group. AS children may appear to have no regard for the feelings, thoughts or desires of others. They may have little interest in playing with other children, but prefer instead to play near or just outside of small groups.

3. Unusually focused interest in a particular topic or subject area. For example, an AS child may appear obsessed with trains, planes, parts of equipment, computers or other areas of interest. The child is not just interested in their chosen subject, but seemingly consumed by it.

4. Unusual, repetitive behavior patterns and movements, coupled with usually poor balance or ability to judge where they are in space.

5. The child may seem to lack common sense and require strict adherence to rules, routines and behavior patterns.

Life with Asperger’s Syndrome

For most children and adults with Asperger’s, life is more challenging, but just as enjoyable as it is for those without neurological difficulties. Children diagnosed with AS can lead relatively normal, professionally successful lives. They simply need more assistance learning social skills, motor control, and coping. In fact, many children with AS go on to become highly successful in fields relative to their area of keen interest.

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