Asperger's Syndrome is a mild form of autism that can easily go undiagnosed. Learn signs & symptoms, as well as causes, risk factors, and treatments.
Asperger’s syndrome, also called Aspergers disorder, is a mild form of autism. Although the symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome are not as severe as other disorders in the autistic spectrum, individuals with Aspergers still experience limited communicative and social skills, as well as physical limitations. The signs of Asperger’s syndrome typically appear early on in young children, so it is important to recognize the signs of this unique autistic disorder.
About Asperger’s Syndrome
Asperger’s syndrome was first recognized in the 1940’s by Dr. Hans Asperger, an Austrian pediatrician who noticed symptoms similar to autism in several of his young patients. Asperger’s syndrome is different from other autistic spectrum disorders in that speech and language skills are not delayed with Aspergers. However, people with Asperger’s syndrome often use words in an unusual or backward way.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, conservative estimates show that about 2 in every 10,000 children have Aspergers disorder. However, symptoms of the disorder may be so mild that children go undiagnosed, even into adulthood. As an adult, individuals may be diagnosed with depression, anxiety disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, when they actually have Asperger’s syndrome. Many people are able to function well while having Aspergers, but the disorder may become more noticeable and more troublesome later in life.
Signs and Symptoms
According to the Autism Society, what distinguishes Asperger’s syndrome from autism is the fact that unlike autism, children with Aspergers do not have developmental delays in speech or cognitive skills. However, children with Aspergers suffer much of the same social and physical awkwardness as seen with autism, just in a milder form. In fact, some people may think a child with Asperger’s syndrome is just awkward compared to normal children, which is why a diagnosis of Aspergers disorder is often missed. Like autism, boys are affected by Aspergers more than girls. Although Aspergers is considered a high- functioning form of autism spectrum disorder, the condition can still have a profound effect on the child’s life, resulting in:
- Difficulty knowing how to behave in social situations
- Poor coordination and delayed motor skills
- Sensitivity to sights, sounds, smells and touch
- Difficulty understanding gestures, emotions and body language
- Social awkwardness in a group setting
- Over-reaction to stressful or uncomfortable situations
- May perform repetitive motions, like rocking back and forth
- Narrowly focuses on a specific subject or task
Causes and Risk Factors
Scientists have not yet determined what causes Asperger’s syndrome, but new research shows that abnormalities in the brain most likely cause the developmental disorder. In fact, researchers have used advanced imaging techniques to identify structural and functional differences in the brains of children with Asperger’s syndrome. These abnormalities may begin during fetal development when the brain is being formed. After birth, these changes may go on to affect the neural circuits, some of which control thought and behavior. There also seems to be a strong familial connection with Aspergers disorder, possibly because of a specific gene or a group of genes that become mutated or damaged in certain families. However, no definite cause of Aspergers has been identified yet.
There are several different treatments available for Aspergers disorder, depending on the severity of symptoms and developmental delays. The most ideal treatment plan includes treating the core symptoms of the disorder, such as a lack of communication skills, delayed motor skills and obsessive or repetitive routines. It is also important to incorporate treatment into an organized, daily schedule. Simple steps that are age- appropriate and engage the child’s attention are also important. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke list several approved treatments for Asperger’s syndrome, including:
- Social skills training (group therapy with other children)
- Behavioral therapy to discuss emotions and manage behaviors
- Occupational/physical therapy for motor skills
- Speech/language therapy for language problems
- Medication (if needed) for depression and anxiety
- Family training and support for at-home skills
One thing that all experts agree on is that the sooner a child is treated for Asperger’s syndrome the better because early treatment can identify developmental delays so that parents and educators can teach the child ways to cope. If you suspect that your child may have Asperger’s syndrome, talk to your pediatrician about developmental testing.