Asperger's

Asperger's syndrome is an autism spectrum disorder marked by impaired social interactions. It's also known as high-functioning autism.

Definition

Asperger's syndrome (AS) is an autism spectrum disorder marked by impaired social interactions and limited repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, and activities. This syndrome has no significant delays of language acquisition but motor skills may be delayed. Clumsiness and awkwardness may be present but are relatively mild.

It's conservatively estimated that two out of every 10,000 children have the disorder. Boys are three to four times more likely than girls to have AS.

Symptoms

  • Abnormal nonverbal communication
  • Failure to develop peer relationships
  • Being singled out by other children as "weird" or "strange"
  • Lack of spontaneous seeking to share enjoyment, interests, or achievements with others
  • Markedly impaired expression of pleasure in other people's happiness
  • Inability to return social or emotional feelings
  • Inflexibility about specific routines or rituals
  • Repetitive finger flapping, twisting, or whole body movements
  • Unusually intense preoccupation with narrow areas of interest
  • Preoccupation with parts of whole objects
  • Repetitive behaviors, including repetitive self-injurious behavior

Causes

Current research points to brain abnormalities as the cause of AS. Using advanced brain imaging techniques, scientists have revealed structural and functional differences in specific regions of the brains of normal versus AS children. These defects are most likely caused by the abnormal migration of embryonic cells during fetal development that affects brain structure and "wiring" and then goes on to affect the neural circuits that control thought and behavior.

Scientists have always known that there had to be a genetic component to AS and the other ASDs because of their tendency to run in families. Recent research indicates that there are most likely a common group of genes whose variations or deletions make an individual vulnerable to developing AS with varying severity and symptoms.

Treatments

Treatment focuses on the three main symptoms: poor communication skills, obsessive or repetitive routines, and physical clumsiness.

An effective treatment program builds on the child's interests, offers a predictable schedule, teaches tasks as a series of simple steps, actively engages the child's attention in highly structured activities, and provides regular reinforcement of behavior. This includes:

  • Social skills training: teaches the necessary skills to interact more successfully with other children
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy: talk therapy that helps to manage their emotions better and cut back on obsessive interests and repetitive routines
  • Medication for co-existing conditions such as depression and anxiety
  • Occupational or physical therapy for children with sensory integration problems or poor motor coordination
  • Specialized speech/language therapy to help with the pragmatics of speech
  • Parental training of behavioral techniques and support

Sources

  • American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition
  • National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
  • National Institutes of Health, US Department of Health and Human Services
  • National Institutes of Health - National Library of Medicine
Last reviewed 02/17/2015