What is Asperger’s?
Asperger’s, also known as Asperger syndrome (AS) or Asperger disorder (AD), is an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) that affects social interaction and non-verbal communication.
While there is no cure, early intervention can reduce the impact Asperger’s has on a person’s life.
Asperger’s is a developmental disorder that shapes a person’s social, emotional and communication skills, as well as behaviours. People with Asperger’s have a normal to high level of intellectual ability and function, which is how the disorder differs from others on the autism spectrum.
Asperger’s usually becomes obvious during childhood and remains throughout life, with varying degrees of disability. Boys are eight times more likely to be diagnosed than girls, though this might be due to the fact that girls are better at learning and copying social skills, and can better disguise their condition.
Symptoms of Asperger’s
Some Asperger’s behaviours are normal for young children, but if they occur most of the time, they may be indicators that specialist assessment is required. Signs and symptoms include:
- behaviour varying from mildly eccentric, odd and unusual, to aggressive and difficult
- clumsiness or poor coordination skills
- lack of common sense
- learning difficulties and/or a delay in learning to speak
- obsessional interest in a subject – for example, an obsession with bus timetables or natural disasters, but little to no interest in other subjects
- poor social interaction – no interest in talking, playing or interacting with others in any way, despite a high level of language
- sensitivity to criticism.
The intellectual ability of people with Asperger’s can range from normal to superior – they often show a high level of language skills, but some may experience delays in learning to speak. As with any form of autism spectrum disorder, no two people with Asperger’s show exactly the same signs.
Causes of Asperger’s
Asperger’s, as an autism spectrum disorder, has no single known cause. Given its complexity, and the fact that symptoms and severity vary, there is probably a range of causes.
While environment and genetics may play a role, there is no evidence to suggest autism is caused by a child’s upbringing or social circumstances.
One of the greatest controversies surrounding autism spectrum disorder is whether a link exists between autism and childhood vaccination, in particular the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine. Despite extensive research, no reliable study has revealed a link between the two.
Diagnosis and treatment of Asperger’s
As yet, there is no cure for Asperger’s. Early diagnosis and targeted intervention can help reduce the impact of Asperger’s on a child’s life.
Medical specialists will diagnose Asperger’s by assessing a child against a range of criteria related to social and communication skills, restricted and repetitive interests, and stereotyped patterns of behaviour.
If diagnosed, there are a number of early intervention options to treat Asperger’s. These can include:
- Behaviour therapy – a psychologist may help identify triggers for behaviour difficulties and advise a family how to develop ways to avoid or manage these issues.
- Environment changes – occupational therapists may help with picture cards and other aids to help structure a child’s home environment.
- Medication – this may be used for depression or if a child is violent or aggressive.
- Social skill development – applied behaviour analysis (ABA) therapists work one-on-one with a child to help them ‘learn how to learn’ as well as develop social and communication skills.
- Special education settings – there are a number of early intervention programs and specialist schools.
- Speech therapy – speech pathologists help autistic children to connect with others through conversation by improving their language and social skills.
People with Asperger’s are more likely than the general population to experience medical conditions such as anxiety, depression and epilepsy.
Further information and sources