What is Asperger's Syndrome?
Asperger’s syndrome/Asperger’s disorder is a complex disorder that is often confused with autism because of similarities in some behaviours. Perhaps the most defining characteristics of Asperger’s syndrome (AS) are the apparent developmental difficulties in social skills and behaviour that contrast with markedly good language acquisition and intellectual functioning.
There is general consensus that AS has a strong genetic contribution, but as yet no one single cause has been identified.
Asperger’s syndrome is often diagnosed later in development than autism, because language and cognitive development are within the normal range, allowing early signs of difficulty in social skills to go unnoticed. A formal diagnosis may not be given until elementary school, high school, or even later in adulthood, once differences in the individual’s ability to socialize become more apparent.
Diagnosis requires a comprehensive and multi-disciplinary approach that includes information gathered from a number of sources:
- From parents – including family genome and developmental history of the individual suspected of having AS.
- From professionals (e.g. child psychiatrist-child psychologist teams) – using standardized assessment tools such as the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS-G) and the Autism Diagnostic Interview – Revised (ADI-R). Also parent– and teacher–completed behaviour checklists that document various behaviours (including social interaction, communication, behaviour, and adaptive skills).
- From associate professionals – a thorough cognitive and language assessment using appropriate, standardised tests.
- Diagnostic teams will often ask families to complete genetic testing to rule out associated disorders, such as fragile X.
Areas of Difficulty
Asperger’s syndrome can affect a child in a number of ways. The main challenges include:
- Difficulty in reciprocal social interactions and in understanding the rules that govern such interactions (e.g. reading facial expressions and other body language, forgetting to take turns when speaking with others)
- Social withdrawal
- Unusual eye contact
- Underdeveloped sense of personal responsibility
- Unusual facial expressions (lack of some common facial expressions or use of extreme facial expressions)
- Speech abnormalities (e.g. little variation in tone of voice, flat or exaggerated intonation, speaking too loud or too softly)
- Speech content or preference of activities may be limited to one or two areas of special interest, interfering the ability to communicate with others and to become interested in other topics.
- High levels of anxiety, especially in social situations
- Preference for structure and resistance to changes in routines or to their physical environment
- Unusual sensory interests (e.g. aversion to particular sounds or textures, or seeking out of particular sounds or textures)
- Complex mannerisms (e.g. hand flicking or movements of the head, neck or fingers)
- Difficulty paying attention
Important strengths in children with Asperger’s can include:
- Good or even accelerated language development and acquisition in early childhood (e.g. use of formal language and use of complex vocabulary at a young age)
- Excellent verbal memory for facts, especially on specific topics of interest
- Good factual memory can help to facilitate performance on academic domains such as math and science
- Expertise in specific topics of interest
- Ability to learn some skills (e.g. social skills) that are more difficult, when taught specifically and with the use of concrete and visual methods