Asperger's syndrome is a developmental disorder that affects a child's ability to socialize and communicate effectively with others. Children with Asperger's syndrome typically exhibit social awkwardness and an all-absorbing interest in specific topics. Doctors group Asperger's syndrome with other conditions that are called autistic spectrum disorders or pervasive developmental disorders. These disorders all involve problems with social skills and communication. Asperger's syndrome is generally thought to be at the milder end of this spectrum. While there's no cure for Asperger's syndrome, if your child has the condition treatment can help him or her learn how to interact more successfully in social situations.
Causes of Asperger’s Disorder
Doctors and researchers don't understand what causes Asperger's syndrome, although there seems to be a strong genetic component. The disorder also seems to be linked to structural abnormalities in several regions of the brain.
Signs & Symptoms of Asperger’s Disorder
Signs and symptoms of Asperger's syndrome include:
Engaging in one-sided, long-winded conversations, without noticing if the listener is listening or trying to change the subject
Displaying unusual nonverbal communication, such as lack of eye contact, few facial expressions, or awkward body postures and gestures
Showing an intense obsession with one or two specific, narrow subjects, such as baseball statistics, train schedules, weather or snakes
Appearing not to understand, empathize with or be sensitive to others' feelings
Having a hard time "reading" other people or understanding humor
Speaking in a voice that is monotonous, rigid or unusually fast
Moving clumsily, with poor coordination
Having an odd posture or a rigid gait
Diagnosis of Asperger’s Disorder
Because Asperger's syndrome varies widely in severity and signs, making a diagnosis can be difficult. If your child shows some signs of Asperger's syndrome, your doctor may suggest a comprehensive assessment by a team of professionals.
This evaluation will likely include observing your child and talking to you about your child's development. You may be asked about your child's social interaction, communication skills and friendships. Your child may also undergo a number of tests to determine his or her level of intellect and academic abilities. Tests may assess your child's abilities in the areas of speech, language and visual-motor problem solving. Tests can also identify other emotional, behavioral and psychological issues.
Unfortunately, some kids with Asperger's syndrome are first misdiagnosed with another problem, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or obsessive-compulsive disorder, possibly because the symptoms of some conditions are similar to those of Asperger's. Additionally, other conditions may coexist with Asperger's, and this may delay the diagnosis.
Treatments of Asperger’s Disorder
The core signs of Asperger's syndrome can't be cured. But most children benefit from early specialized interventions that focus on behavior management and social skills training. Your doctor can help identify resources in your area that may work for your child. Options may include:
Communication and social skills training. Children with Asperger's syndrome may be able to learn the unwritten rules of socialization and communication when taught in an explicit and rote fashion, much like the way students learn foreign languages. Children with Asperger's syndrome may also learn how to speak in a more natural rhythm, as well as how to interpret communication techniques, such as gestures, eye contact, and tone of voice, humor and sarcasm.
Cognitive behavior therapy. This general term encompasses many techniques aimed at curbing problem behaviors, such as interrupting, obsessions, meltdowns or angry outbursts, as well as developing skills like recognizing feelings and coping with anxiety. Cognitive behavior therapy usually focuses on training a child to recognize a troublesome situation - such as a new place or an event with lots of social demands - and then select a specific learned strategy to cope with the situation.
Medication. There are no medications to treat Asperger's syndrome. But some medications may improve specific symptoms that may be complicating his or her progress - such as anxiety, depression or hyperactivity - that can occur in many children with Asperger's syndrome.
When to seek Medical Advice
All kids have their quirks, and many toddlers show a sign or symptom of Asperger's syndrome at some point. It's natural for small children to be egocentric, and many little ones show a strong interest in a particular topic, such as dinosaurs or a favorite fictional character. These aren't reasons to be alarmed.
However, if your elementary schoolchild has frequent problems in school or seems unable to make friends, it's time to consult your pediatrician. These difficulties have many possible causes, but developmental disorders such as Asperger's syndrome need to be considered. Children whose eccentricities interfere with learning and social development should have a comprehensive evaluation.