Asperger syndrome (AS) is a developmental disorder. It is an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), one of a distinct group of neurological conditions characterized by a greater or lesser degree of impairment in language and communication skills, as well as repetitive or restrictive patterns of thought and behavior.
Other ASDs include:
- Classic autism
- Rett syndrome
- Childhood disintegrative disorder
- Pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (usually referred to as PDD-NOS)
The most distinguishing symptom of AS is a child’s obsessive interest in a single object or topic to the exclusion of any other. Children with AS want to know everything about their topic of interest and their conversations with others will be about little else. Their expertise, high level of vocabulary, and formal speech patterns make them seem like little professors.
Other characteristics of AS include:
- Repetitive routines or rituals
- Peculiarities in speech and language
- Socially and emotionally inappropriate behavior
- The inability to interact successfully with peers
- Problems with non-verbal communication
- Clumsy and uncoordinated motor movements
Unlike children with autism, children with AS retain their early language skills.
Children with AS are isolated because of their poor social skills and narrow interests. They may approach other people, but make normal conversation impossible by inappropriate or eccentric behavior, or by wanting only to talk about their singular interest.
Children with AS usually have a history of developmental delays in motor skills such as pedaling a bike, catching a ball, or climbing outdoor play equipment. They are often awkward and poorly coordinated with a walk that can appear either stilted or bouncy.
Parents of children with Asperger syndrome can typically trace differences in their children’s development to as early as 30 months of age. Developmental screening during a routine check-up by a general practitioner or pediatrician may identify signs that warrant further investigation. Diagnosis is most commonly made between the ages of four and eleven.
The exact cause is unknown, although research supports the likelihood of a genetic basis.
The ideal treatment for AS coordinates therapies that address the three core symptoms of the disorder: poor communication skills, obsessive or repetitive routines, and physical clumsiness. There is no single best treatment package for all children with AS, but most professionals agree that the earlier the intervention, the better.
An effective treatment program:
- Builds on the child’s interests
- Offers a predictable schedule
- Teaches tasks as a series of simple steps
- Actively engages the child’s attention in highly structured activities
- Provides regular reinforcement of behavior
It may include social skills training, cognitive behavioral therapy, medication for co-existing conditions, and other measures.
With effective treatment, children with AS can learn to cope with their disabilities, but they may still find social situations and personal relationships challenging. Many adults with AS are able to work successfully in mainstream jobs, although they may continue to need encouragement and moral support to maintain an independent life.