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Asperger's Syndrome and Autism

You've probably heard of autism, but what is Asperger's syndrome?

Potential Causes continued...

How would fetal hormone testing be used if parents could find out ahead of time about the possibility of Asperger's syndrome, and might parents consider the termination of a pregnancy based only on this indeterminate possibility?

"I'd certainly be very concerned if the test was used in that way," Baron-Cohen says. "Autism isn't necessarily a condition where quality of life is in any way decreased, especially when it comes to AS. These individuals -- if they are given the right support -- can lead a very valuable life."

Researchers can only speculate for now about how this link, if proven, might impact future treatments. "Some people think we might be able to intervene at the hormonal level," Baron-Cohen says, "by changing the hormones in the womb, but again this is ethically very complex." After all, a lot of people with AS want to be better understood and accepted by others, not treated or cured. "AS is not just a disability. People with AS might have an unusual memory for detail or an ability to focus on things for hours and hours," he says regarding the many positive and at times puzzling aspects of this condition.

Treatment and Diagnosis

One of the most important things to remember when talking about Asperger's syndrome is how different each case is, Newman says. "To hear that a person is autistic really gives you next to no information. The person's language abilities, their ability to interact with others, their behavioral patterns all vary greatly."

Treatment typically involves behavior modification and therapy, and sometimes medications for other co-existing mental health conditions. "The best treatment that is available is something called applied behavior analysis," Newman says. "The New York State Department of Health did a test for analyzing all of the available treatments, and they came to the conclusion that this is really the only form of treatment that had peer-reviewed data to strongly support its effectiveness."

Lou Schuler tells WebMD what it's like to have a child with Asperger's syndrome; his son Harrison was diagnosed with the condition when he was 6 years old. "I don't think it will ever be that you get one cookie cutter treatment that works for everyone," he says, and perhaps this is true of all children facing difficulties.

Meanwhile, many kids with Asperger's syndrome survive childhood despite never getting diagnosed or treated for it. Given how expensive and extensive the proven treatment services are, without a proper diagnosis Schuler says no one -- except folks that are extremely wealthy -- could afford the services.

"I don't think there is a downside to getting diagnosed or labeled," Schuler says. "One of the more destructive things you can do is pretend your kid can be educated and cared for the same way kids without these special needs are." If you ignore or deny problems, your kids might not get the attention or services they need. "That is virtually a guarantee that they will not only be different, but they will be unhappy -- maybe even tragically so," Schuler says.

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