When you meet someone who has Asperger's syndrome, you might notice two things right off. He's just as smart as other folks, but he has more trouble with social skills. He also tends to have an obsessive focus on one topic or perform the same behaviors again and again.
Doctors used to think of Asperger's as a separate condition. But in 2013, the standard book that mental health experts use, called The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), changed how it's classified.
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Today, Asperger's syndrome is part of a broader category called autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This group of related mental health issues shares some symptoms. Even so, lots of people still use the term Asperger's.
The condition is what doctors call a "high-functioning" type of ASD. This means the symptoms are less severe than other kinds of autism spectrum disorders.
The DSM-5 also includes a new diagnosis, called social pragmatic communication disorder, which has some symptoms that overlap with Asperger's. Doctors use it to describe people who have trouble talking and writing, but have normal intelligence.
They start early in life. If you're a mom or dad of a kid who has it, you may notice that he can't make eye contact. You may also find that your child seems awkward in social situations and doesn't know what to say or how to respond when someone talks to him.
He may miss social cues that are obvious to other folks, like body language or the expressions on people's faces. For instance, he may not realize that when somebody crosses his arms and scowls, he's angry.
Another sign is that your child may show few emotions. He may not smile when he's happy or laugh at a joke. Or he may speak in a flat, robotic kind of way.
If your child has the condition, he may talk about himself most of the time and zero in with a lot of intensity on a single subject, like rocks or football stats. And he might repeat himself a lot, especially on a topic that he's interested in. He might also do the same movements over and over.
He also may dislike change. For instance, he may eat the same food for breakfast every day or have trouble moving from one class to another during the school day.