Asperger Disorder (page 2)
Asperger's Disorder was first described in the 1940s by Viennese pediatrician Hans Asperger who observed autistic-like behaviors and difficulties with social and communication skills in boys who had normal intelligence and language development. Many professionals felt Asperger's Disorder was simply a milder form of autism and used the term "high-functioning autism" to describe these individuals. Professor Uta Frith, with the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience of University College London and author of Autism and Asperger Syndrome, describes individuals with Asperger's Disorder as "having a dash of Autism." Asperger's Disorder was added to the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) in 1994 as a separate disorder from autism. However, there are still many professionals who consider Asperger's Disorder a less severe form of autism.
What distinguishes Asperger's Disorder from autism is the severity of the symptoms and the absence of language delays. Children with Asperger's Disorder may be only mildly affected and frequently have good language and cognitive skills. To the untrained observer, a child with Asperger's Disorder may just seem like a normal child behaving differently.
Children with autism are frequently seen as aloof and uninterested in others. This is not the case with Asperger's Disorder. Individuals with Asperger's Disorder usually want to fit in and have interaction with others; they simply don't know how to do it. They may be socially awkward, not understanding of conventional social rules, or may show a lack of empathy. They may have limited eye contact, seem to be unengaged in a conversation, and not understand the use of gestures.
Interests in a particular subject may border on the obsessive. Children with Asperger's Disorder frequently like to collect categories of things, such as rocks or bottle caps. They may be proficient in knowing categories of information, such as baseball statistics or Latin names of flowers. While they may have good rote memory skills, they have difficulty with abstract concepts.
One of the major differences between Asperger's Disorder and autism is that, by definition, there is no speech delay in Asperger's. In fact, children with Asperger's Disorder frequently have good language skills; they simply use language in different ways. Speech patterns may be unusual, lack inflection or have a rhythmic nature or it may be formal, but too loud or high pitched. Children with Asperger's Disorder may not understand the subtleties of language, such as irony and humor, or they may not understand the give and take nature of a conversation.
Another distinction between Asperger's Disorder and autism concerns cognitive ability. While some individuals with Autism experience mental retardation, by definition a person with Asperger's Disorder cannot possess a "clinically significant" cognitive delay and most possess an average to above average intelligence.
While motor difficulties are not a specific criteria for Asperger's, children with Asperger's Disorder frequently have motor skill delays and may appear clumsy or awkward.
Learn more about:
- Working with an Individual with Aspergers
- Educational Issues
- Adults with Aspergers
- Helpful Resources
The essential features of Asperger's Disorder are severe and sustained impairment in social interaction and the development of restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interest, and activity. The disturbance must clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, and other important areas of functioning. In contrast to Autistic Disorder, there are no clinically significant delays in language. In addition there are no clinically significant delays in cognitive development or in the development of age-appropriate self-help skills, adaptive behavior, and curiosity about the environment in childhood.
A. Qualitative impairment in social interaction, as manifested by at least two of the following
- Marked impairment in the use of multiple nonverbal behaviors such as eye-to-eye gaze, facial expression, body postures, and gestures to regulate social interaction
- Failure to develop peer relationships appropriate to developmental level
- A lack of spontaneous seeking to share enjoyment, interests, or achievements with other people (e.g., by a lack of showing, bringing, or pointing out objects of interest to other people)
- Lack of social or emotional reciprocity
B. Restricted repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests, and activities, as manifested by at least one of the following:
- Encompassing preoccupation with one or more stereotyped and restricted patterns of interest that is abnormal either in intensity or focus
- Apparently inflexible adherence to specific, non-functional routines or rituals
- Stereotyped and repetitive motor mannerisms (e.g., hand or finger flapping or twisting, or complex whole-body movements)
- Persistent preoccupation with parts of objects
C. The disturbance causes clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.
D. There is no clinically significant general delay in language (e.g., single words used by age 2 years, communicative phrases used by age 3 years)
E. There is no clinically significant delay in cognitive development or in the development of age-appropriate self-help skills, adaptive behavior (other than in social interaction), and curiosity about the environment in childhood.
F. Criteria are not met for another specific Pervasive Developmental Disorder or Schizophrenia.
Diagnosis of Asperger's Disorder is on the increase although it is unclear whether it is more prevalent or whether more professionals are detecting it. The symptoms for Asperger's Disorder are the same as those listed for autism in the DSM-IV. However, children with AS do not have delays in the area of communication and language. In fact, to be diagnosed with Asperger, a child must have had normal language development as well as normal intelligence. The DSM-IV criteria for AS specifies that the individual must have "severe and sustained impairment in social interaction, and the development of restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests and activities," that must "cause clinically significant impairment in social occupational or other important areas of functioning."
The first step to diagnosis is an assessment, including a developmental history and observation. This should be done by medical professionals experienced with Autism and other PDDs. If Asperger's Disorder or high functioning autism is suspected, the diagnosis of autism will generally be ruled out first. Early diagnosis is also important; children with Asperger's Disorder who are diagnosed and treated early in life have an increased chance of being successful in school and eventually living independently.
Working with an Individual with Asperger Syndrome
Children with Asperger's Disorder may present a challenge for educators. While they appear capable and are good with memorization and factual information, they may be weak in comprehension and cognitively inflexible. Educators need to capitalize on their abilities, discovering their strengths and interests in order to develop their talents.
People with Asperger's Disorder particularly need assistance in developing their social and communication skills. Children and young adults who received social and communications skills training are better able to express themselves, understand language and become more skillful at communicating with others, increasing their likelihood of successful social interactions. Early intervention means a better chance for independent living and further education.
While few programs are designed specifically to address Asperger's Disorder, some of the treatment approaches used for people with "high functioning" Autism, such as Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) and Treatment & Education of Autistic and Related Communication of Handicapped Children (TEACCH), may be appropriate for a person with Asperger Syndrome. ABA is based on the idea that behavior rewarded will more likely be repeated. ABA is typically done on a one-to-one basis and may focus on specific behaviors and communication skills. TEACCH was developed at the School of Medicine at the University of North Carolina as a structured teaching approach that used the child's visual and rote memory strengths to improve communication, social and coping skills. Pictures and charts that show a daily schedule help the child with Asperger's Disorder to anticipate what will happen during the day. This is particularly important for children with Asperger's Disorder since they usually have difficulties with changes in routine.
Reprinted with the permission of the Autism Society.
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