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Demystifying Aspergerís Syndrome
What exactly is
Aspergerís Syndrome? Itís a neuro-biological disorder at the higher-functioning
end of the autism spectrum. It may be
called Asperger Syndrome, Aspergerís Syndrome or Asperger Disorder. Symptoms
vary from mild to severe.
While sharing many similar characteristics as other Autism Spectrum Disorders, AS has been recognized as a well-defined medical diagnosis in Europe for about 60 years, but only included in the U.S. medical diagnostic manual since 1994.
People who have AS and similar disorders exhibit serious deficiencies in social and communication skills, although their IQís are typically normal to extremely high range. Individuals with AS are usually educated within mainstream schools, but most of them require special education services.
Individuals with AS do desire to fit in socially and to make friends, but they have a lot of difficulty connecting socially with others. AS patients may develop mood disorders such as anxiety or depression, especially in teenage years. Diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorders should be made by a physician to rule out other diagnoses and to discuss possible interventions.
Characteristics of Aspergerís Syndrome
Each person displays different symptoms; one person may have only a few symptoms, while another person may have many of the symptoms outlined below:
- Marked impairment in the use of multiple non-verbal behaviours such as: eye fixation, facial expression, posture, and gestures
- Difficulty in developing peer relationships; children with AS may be more comfortable with adults than children
- Difficulty in following a routine, cannot persevere well
- A passion for world maps and globes
- ďRoteĒ learning (learning by memorizing only)
- Interest in only one subject, excluding other subjects
- Clumsy, has difficulty judging own personal space
- Extra sensitive to loud noises, food textures or smells
- Impaired language and speaking skills (volume, intonation, rhythm)
- Verbose style of speaking like a teacher would
- Cannot comprehend othersí feelings
- Difficulty reading othersí social cues
- Gives socially and emotionally inappropriate responses
- Literally interprets language word for word
- Repetitive motor skills
- Difficulty having a two-way conversation
Successful treatment of Aspergerís Syndrome usually involves one or more social, behavioural or educational interventions. The personality and cognitive skills of those with AS are often seen as beneficial by others, even to the point of advancing their professional lives. There is much controversy over AS as some experts feel that AS has a separate diagnostic entity, but not the same as autism. Those diagnosed with AS are thought to have a higher functioning form of autism.
Aspergerís syndrome is named after Dr. Hans Asperger, a pediatrician from Austria who described this condition in 1944. He defined four boys who displayed no empathy, had difficulty making friends, had one-sided conversations, were absorbed in one specific interest only and were clumsy. He referred to these boys as ďlittle professorsĒ.
Today, many physicians feel that some attributes of AS are beneficial for people with AS:
- increased ability to focus on details
- capacity to persevere on specific interests without being swayed by othersí opinions
- ability to work independently
- recognizing patterns that others donít notice
- intensity and a unique way of thinking
Interestingly, many well-known historical figures who might have had Aspergerís Syndrome include Mozart, Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and Marie Curie.
Causes of Aspergerís Syndrome
AS seems to run in families and though research is divided on this topic, some research indicates genetics as a cause, and points to toxic exposure, problematic pregnancy or birth, or prenatal infections as potential causes.
How common is Aspergerís Syndrome?
AS is five times more prevalent in boys than in girls. Recently, the number of autism spectrum disorders has increased in the U.S. In fact, recent studies show that 2.5 out of 1000 children have AS.
How is AS diagnosed?
Conducted by health professionals, the diagnosis is based upon interviews and observations of the individual along with data provided their family members and possibly teachers or counselors.
AS can be comorbid with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or with another anxiety disorder. Even if an anxiety disorder is not present, people with AS suffer from hypersensitivity to loud noise. Tantrums, self-injury and/or depression may occur. Some individuals with AS show obsessive-compulsive behaviour and difficulty managing their anger. The degree of severity of AS can vary greatly and not everyone with AS will experience depression or disruptive disorders.
Treatment involves a multi-disciplinary approach. Medical therapy is not effective in treating AS, although medications can be prescribed to help control some symptoms. Sometimes serotonin reuptake inhibitor medications are used to relieve anxiety or depression. Medical treatment for ADHD may also be given if the person has significant hyperactivity.
Many behavioural and educational interventions may be used to help people with AS. The type of intervention depends on the individualsí age and requirements which could include:
- trying to reduce overstimulation of sensory input
- supporting executive function skills by providing a structured and organized environment providing language therapy and the use of language in social settings
- training in social skills including awareness of social cognition, gesticulation, facial expression and conversation.
- life skills training
- educational support with organization, taking notes, allowing oral tests instead of written ones, assistance with reading
It is very difficult to project the prognosis since different individuals have different degrees of impairment, but treatment can dramatically improve the long-term outlook. Generally, when people with AS have social, behavioural and educational support, they can lead, happy, normal and productive lives.
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