What is Asperger's syndrome?
Asperger's syndrome is a developmental disorder that makes it very hard to interact with other people. Your child may find it hard to make friends because he or she is socially awkward.
People with Asperger's syndrome have some traits of autism. For example, they may have poor social skills, prefer routine, and not like change. But unlike those who have autism, children with Asperger's syndrome usually start to talk before 2 years of age, when speech normally starts to develop.
Asperger's syndrome is a lifelong condition, but symptoms tend to improve over time. Adults with this condition can learn to understand their own strengths and weaknesses. And they can improve their social skills.
Both Asperger's syndrome and autism belong to the group of disorders called autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), once known as pervasive developmental disorders. You may hear the term ASD used to describe Asperger's syndrome.
What causes Asperger's syndrome?
The exact cause of Asperger's syndrome is not known. And there is no known way to prevent it. It tends to run in families. So researchers are doing studies to look for a genetic cause. Asperger's syndrome is more common in males than in females.
What are the symptoms?
Asperger's syndrome is usually noticed at age 3 or later. Symptoms vary, so no two children are the same. Children with Asperger's:
- Have a very hard time relating to others. It doesn't mean that they avoid social contact. But they lack instincts and skills to help them express their thoughts and feelings and notice others' feelings.
- May be bothered by loud noises, lights, or strong tastes or textures.
- Like fixed routines. Change is hard for them.
- May not recognize verbal and nonverbal cues or understand social norms. For example, they may stare at others, not make eye contact, or not know what personal space means.
- May have speech that's flat and hard to understand because it lacks tone, pitch, and accent. Or they may have a formal style of speaking that's advanced for their age.
- May lack coordination; have unusual facial expressions, body postures, and gestures; or be somewhat clumsy.
- May have poor handwriting or have trouble with other motor skills, such as riding a bike.
- May have only one or a few interests, or they may focus intensely on a few things. For example, they may show an unusual interest in snakes or star names or may draw very detailed pictures.
How is Asperger's syndrome diagnosed?
If you are concerned about your child's behavior or communication style, talk to your child's doctor. He or she will ask you about your child's development and ask if other people have noticed your child's social problems.
The doctor may refer you to a specialist to confirm or rule out Asperger's syndrome. The specialist may test your child's learning style, speech and language, IQ, social and motor skills, and more.
The diagnosis of ASD typically occurs during childhood, but an adult can be diagnosed with ASD.
How is it treated?
Treatment is based on your child's unique symptoms. It may change often so that it's most useful for your child.
Doctors, teachers, and mental health counselors can help your child improve his or her behavior and build social and learning skills. School programs, job training, and counseling can help too. Many children with Asperger's syndrome also have other conditions, such as ADHD or obsessive-compulsive disorder. So they may need other treatments, such as medicine.
At home, you can help build your child's confidence and skills. Use rules and daily routines, visual aids, and role-playing. Focus on your child's strengths. Encourage your child to explore interests at home and at school. And stay informed about what is happening in your child's classroom.
Federal law requires public schools to have programs for people ages 3 through 21 with special needs. Contact your school district to find out what services your child can be a part of.
How can you help your child succeed?
It takes patience and support to help your child reach his or her full potential. And it may take time to find a doctor who has experience treating people with this condition.
Try to learn as much as you can about this condition, and talk to others about it. The more that teachers, your child's peers, and other people learn, the better they can help and support your child.
Many parents find comfort and build acceptance with help from support groups, counseling, and a network of friends, family, and community.
Frequently Asked Questions
Learning about Asperger's syndrome: