There are a number of developmental disorders among which Asperger syndrome is seen to occur at a higher frequency. It is named after the Austrian paediatrician, Hans Asperger who observed and studied this syndrome in some children.
Asperger syndrome is known by different names such as Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), Autism spectrum condition (ASC), pervasive developmental disorder (PDD) and Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA).
What is Asperger Syndrome?
Asperger syndrome is a developmental disability. It is a mild form of autism. Individuals suffering from Asperger syndrome exhibit significant difficulty with social interaction and non-verbal communication. These individuals see, hear and feel the world around them differently than an average individual. Asperger syndrome is not a disease or an illness. It is not curable and is a life-long condition.
Symptoms of Asperger Syndrome
The symptoms of Asperger syndrome are seen as early as at age of two years and lasts throughout the person's life. A pattern of symptoms are present and it may vary from person to person. Taking part in everyday activities involving family, schooling and work is very difficult for children with Asperger syndrome. Some commonly observed symptoms of Asperger syndrome include:
- Individuals with Asperger syndrome feel awkward in social situations.
- There is difficulty in verbal communication and they are unable to respond very well to the ongoing conversation.
- They cannot understand the body language of the other person.
- Individual's with Asperger syndrome are often emotionless and lack expressions.
- Their talks are one-sided and focused on one subject, which is often repeated a number of times. Similarly, the patient depicts repeated movements.
- They have a tendency to talk about self.
- They are unable to maintain eye contact.
- Patients with Asperger syndrome dislike change and these individuals carry out the same habits every day.
- They are many a time hypersensitive to certain sensory stimuli viz., certain colors, high pitch sound etc.
- They show physical clumsiness and use unusual language.
It has been noted that individuals with Asperger syndrome have above average intelligence and have an inherent ability to focus on a particular task.
Due to problems with social interactions, individuals suffering from Asperger syndrome often wonder why they are different and reasons out why the world does not accept them.
Epidemiology of Asperger Syndrome
Asperger syndrome is seen to have global prevalence with more men being affected than women. It is seen in all cultures, ethnicities, social and religious backgrounds.
Prognosis of Asperger Syndrome
If detected early and managed with proper cognitive and behavioural skills, significant improvement is noted among Asperger syndrome patients. Individuals suffering from Asperger syndrome have normal life span but have increased psychological problems such as depression and anxiety disorders.
Causes of Asperger Syndrome
The cause of Asperger syndrome is not understood. It arises early during the developmental years. Combination of both genetic and environmental factors plays a major role in development of Asperger syndrome. It has been seen that during pregnancy, the exposure to certain teratogenic chemicals can lead to development of Asperger syndrome.
Diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome
Asperger syndrome often remains undiagnosed until the child encounters difficulties at school. It is diagnosed at the age of four to eleven years. Diagnosis of the condition is done by a multi-disciplinary team.
- A pediatric neurologist treats brain condition while a developmental pediatrician helps in management of speech and language problems.
- The psychologist diagnoses the problems with overall behaviour analysis. This is necessary to avoid misdiagnosis of a different condition instead of Asperger syndrome. Overall diagnosis of Asperger syndrome is very challenging since the child may show variable symptoms. A clinical examination and a medical history are acquired by questioning the individual with more emphasis on childhood behaviour.
Asperger syndrome can be diagnosed using various screening tools like Asperger syndrome Diagnostic Scale (ASDS), Childhood Autism Spectrum Test (CAST), and Autism Spectrum Screening Questionnaire (ASSQ) etc.
Differential Diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome
The other things to be considered during differential diagnosis include medical disorders such as Schizophrenia, Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive compulsive disorder, depression, nonverbal learning disorder, bipolar disorder and social cognitive deficit due to alcohol abuse. There are considerable similarities between all these disorders and it important to distinguish one from the other.
Treatment of Asperger Syndrome
There is no definite treatment available for Asperger syndrome. Only strategies are present to manage this syndrome. Mostly the cognitive behavioural therapy is very helpful for patients suffering from Asperger syndrome. Medications such as antipsychotic drugs and stimulants are given to treat depression and anxiety related problems.
Alternative Therapies for Asperger Syndrome
Individuals with Asperger syndrome are given cognitive behavioural therapy to help them learn social skills, self-control of emotions and repetitive behaviours. There are various training programs available. Depending on the symptoms present in a particular individual, specific skills sets are to be developed as follows:
- Applied Behavioural Analysis or Social skills training are given for improvement in Asperger syndrome child's interaction with others so that they can express themselves. The therapist uses techniques to inculcate positive feelings in the child by encouraging positive social behaviour and good communication skills.
- To improve the communication skills, the child suffering from Asperger syndrome is given speech-language therapy. This also helps in maintaining eye contact.
- In order to have better control over emotions and repetitive behaviour, cognitive behaviour therapy is given to handle emotional outbursts.
- To overcome sensory and co-ordination issues, occupational therapy, sensory integration and physical therapies are provided.
- Even parents are given special education and training so that they can teach social skills to their child at home.
When a child with Asperger syndrome is given knowledge of the right skill sets, it improves their social and communication skills and enables them to overcome the challenges they encounter. This helps them to achieve success in life.
Asperger syndrome is a medical disorder classified under Autism Spectrum Disorder. These children are often misunderstood to be naughty by adults. There is a need to understand the cause and mechanism of the development of Asperger syndrome. Further awareness has to be created in the society about this disorder so that such individuals are not misunderstood and are accepted.