Asperger's syndrome, also called Asperger's disorder, is a type of pervasive developmental disorder (PDD). PDDs are a group of conditions that involve delays in the development of many basic skills, most notably the ability to socialize with others, to communicate, and to use imagination.
Although Asperger's syndrome is similar in some ways to autism -- another, more severe type of PDD -- there are some important differences. Children with Asperger's syndrome typically function better than do those with autism. In addition, children with Asperger's syndrome generally have normal intelligence and near-normal language development, although they may develop problems communicating as they get older.
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Asperger's syndrome was named for the Austrian doctor, Hans Asperger, who first described the disorder in 1944. However, Asperger's syndrome was not recognized as a unique disorder until much later.
What Are the Symptoms of Asperger's Syndrome?
The symptoms of Asperger's syndrome vary and can range from mild to severe. Common symptoms include:
Problems with social skills: Children with Asperger's syndrome generally have difficulty interacting with others and often are awkward in social situations. They generally do not make friends easily. They have difficulty initiating and maintaining conversation.
Eccentric or repetitive behaviors: Children with this condition may develop odd, repetitive movements, such as hand wringing or finger twisting.
Unusual preoccupations or rituals: A child with Asperger's syndrome may develop rituals that he or she refuses to alter, such as getting dressed in a specific order.
Communication difficulties: People with Asperger's syndrome may not make eye contact when speaking with someone. They may have trouble using facial expressions and gestures, and understanding body language. They also tend to have problems understanding language in context and are very literal in their use of language.
Limited range of interests: A child with Asperger's syndrome may develop an intense, almost obsessive, interest in a few areas, such as sports schedules, weather, or maps.
Coordination problems: The movements of children with Asperger's syndrome may seem clumsy or awkward.
Skilled or talented: Many children with Asperger's syndrome are exceptionally talented or skilled in a particular area, such as music or math.
What Causes Asperger's Syndrome?
The exact cause of Asperger's syndrome is not known. However, the fact that it tends to run in families suggests that a tendency to develop the disorder may be inherited (passed on from parent to child).
How Common Is Asperger's Syndrome?
Asperger's syndrome has only recently been recognized as a unique disorder. For that reason, the exact number of people with the disorder is unknown. While it is more common than autism, estimates for the United States and Canada range from 1 in every 250 children to 1 in every 10,000. It is four times more likely to occur males than in females and usually is first diagnosed in children between the ages of 2 and 6 years.