What is Asperger’s Syndrome?
Asperger's Syndrome is a neurobiological disorder that is classified as one of the pervasive developmental disorders (PDD). Often it may be incorrectly called Asperger's disease; however, it is actually a condition characterized by significant impairment in social interaction as well as the development of repetitive and restricted fields of interest, activities, and interests.
Comparing Asperger's Syndrome and Autism
While there are some similarities between Asperger's Syndrome and Autism, individuals with Asperger's usually have average to above-average IQ, and do not demonstrate clinically significant delays in language or self-help skills.
While they may have an extremely good command of language and a very rich vocabulary, they are unable to use language appropriately in a social context and often speak in monotone, with little nuance and inflection in their voice.
Children with Asperger's may or may not seek out social interaction, but always have difficulty in interpreting and learning the skills of social and emotional interaction with others, leading to significant impairment in relationships and peer interaction. Although parents often notice problems at an early age, diagnosis is usually only made during preschool or later.
Diagnosing Asperger’s Syndrome
Asperger's Syndrome was first identified in 1944, but was only officially recognized as a diagnostic category in the DSM IV in 1994. As a result, many children were misdiagnosed over the years with ADD, ADHD, Autism, OCD, or schizophrenia.
Many different terms are currently applied, leading to great confusion on the part of parents and educators. Asperger's Syndrome may also be referred to as high functioning autism (HFA), pervasive developmental disorder (PDD), pervasive developmental disorder - not otherwise specified (PDD - NOS), atypical PDD, or even nonverbal learning disability (NLD).
There is still debate as to exactly how Asperger's Syndrome should be classified. In addition, it is not always an easy, clear-cut diagnosis to make. As a result, diagnostic errors continue to be made and this often affects treatment, as well as access to appropriate help and information.
Asperger’s in Children
If you feel your child is unlike other children in terms of social interactions, communication, and behavior, and the symptoms outlined below sound familiar, then it is advisable to get a professional opinion.
Many parents notice that their child is developmentally different, but are often blinded by the fact that their child is very bright and even more advanced than age-mates in certain areas such as memory or vocabulary.
It also often only becomes an issue when peer interactions are observed and problems arise, such as in school settings. The earlier you take your child for an evaluation, the more he or she will benefit from treatment should a diagnosis be confirmed, and specialized education can be arranged.
Psychological & Communication Symptoms:
- Struggles with nonverbal communication/gestures to regulate social interaction such as eye contact, facial expressions, body postures, and/or subtle conversational cues
- Fails to develop peer relationships appropriate to developmental level
- Doesn’t often seek out interactions and prefers to play alone
- Lacks reciprocity in social or emotional situations (often appears unaware of others' emotions)
- Lacks responsiveness
- Uses oddities of speech such as very formal tone void of slang
- Lacks variations in speech such as tone, pitch, and accent
- Misinterprets figurative speech, subtle humor or sarcasm as literal and ill-intended
- Exhibits concentration problems, often caused by inability to ignore irrelevant stimuli, communication comprehension difficulties, or fixation on things besides task at hand
- Suffers from language regression, such as losing previously acquired ability to say certain words or sentences
Physical & Behavioral Symptoms:
- Exhibits restricted and repetitive behavior
- Displays obsessive or inappropriate attachment to certain objects
- Remains inflexible and insists on certain rituals or routines, leading to intense distress when changed
- Shows signs of uncoordinated motor movements (clumsy)
- Shows signs of heightened sensitivity – tends to be distressed by loud noises, bright lights, or strong tastes or textures
- Displays abnormally intense preoccupations/fixation with certain activities or areas of interest (i.e. stamps, coins, flags, cars, or airplanes)
- Throws temper tantrums
Parents may find themselves going from one doctor to another, becoming more confused and frustrated in their attempts to help their child. It may be advisable to do research before making an appointment if you suspect Asperger’s syndrome, and note down your child’s symptoms and behaviors. Ask your family doctor to refer you to a reputable specialist that deals specifically with child developmental problems.
What Causes Asperger’s Syndrome?
The causes of Asperger’s Syndrome remain unknown, although there appears to be a definite genetic component, as it tends to run in families. Asperger's is NOT caused by bad parenting or problems in the family. Evidence has shown that there may be certain 'triggers' which precipitate the condition, including environmental factors like pollution, food intolerances (particularly to foods containing wheat, gluten, sugar and dairy products), digestive problems, and even childhood vaccinations (particularly the MMRI). There are also suggestions that Asperger's Syndrome may sometimes be linked to high levels of Candida in the stomach.