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Autism Spectrum Disorders Health Center

Asperger's Syndrome

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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.

How Is Asperger's Syndrome Diagnosed?

If symptoms are present, the doctor will begin an evaluation by performing a complete medical history and physical and neurological exam. Many individuals with Asprger’s have low muscle tone and dyspraxia, or coordination issues. Although there are no tests for Asperger's syndrome, the doctor may use various tests -- such as X-rays and blood tests -- to determine if there is a physical disorder causing the symptoms.

If no physical disorder is found, the child may be referred to a specialist in childhood development disorders, such as a child and adolescent psychiatrist or psychologist, pediatric neurologist, developmental-behavioral pediatrician, or another health professional who is specially trained to diagnose and treat Asperger's syndrome. The doctor bases his or her diagnosis on the child's level of development, and the doctor's observation of the child's speech and behavior, including his or her play and ability to socialize with others. The doctor often seeks input from the child's parents, teachers, and other adults who are familiar with the child's symptoms.

How Is Asperger's Syndrome Treated?

Right now, there is no cure for Asperger's syndrome, but treatment may improve functioning and reduce undesirable behaviors. Treatment may include a combination of the following:

  • Special education: Education that is structured to meet the child's unique educational needs.
  • Behavior modification: This includes strategies for supporting positive behavior and decreasing problem behaviors.
  • Speech, physical, or occupational therapy: These therapies are designed to increase the child's functional abilities.
  • Social skills therapies: Run by a psychologist, counselor, speech pathologist, or social worker, these therapies are invaluable ways to build social skills and the ability to read verbal and non-verbal cues that is often lacking in those with Asperger's.
  • Medication : There are no medications to treat Asperger's syndrome itself, but drugs may be used to treat specific symptoms such as anxiety, depression, hyperactivity, and obsessive-compulsive behavior.

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