Asperger's syndrome is a high-functioning form of autism first described in 1944. In 1984, Asperger's was added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-4), but this was revised in 2013 when many types of autism were rolled into a single diagnosis: autism spectrum disorder. One of the things that set Asperger's apart from some other forms of autism is that people with this syndrome are generally high-functioning, though their social skills may be lacking.
Most people with autism find social situations difficult, including those with Asperger's syndrome. Generally, people with Asperger's struggle to understand social cues and cannot understand the perspectives of other people. They do not know how to empathize with other people and may not respond appropriately when someone is outwardly happy or sad.
One thing that sets Asperger's syndrome apart from other forms of autism is that people generally have strong language skills and are highly intelligent. They often have a very narrow field of interest that manifests as savant-like abilities. Like some other forms of autism, Asperger's may also result in repetitive behaviors and tics like rocking or finger-twisting. People with this syndrome often prefer strict, rigid routines and can get upset when things do not go according to plan.
Because people with Asperger's syndrome are so high-functioning, the condition has become part of the Neurodiversity Movement. Some people with Asperger's may decide to seek treatment to work through any behaviors that they feel are holding them back. Others value the way Asperger's causes them to see the world and believe it helps them contribute in a unique way.
It is difficult to pinpoint a cause for Asperger's syndrome. Researchers have discovered that children with Asperger's have structural and functional differences in their brains compared to children who do not have Asperger's. They think these differences may be due to embryonic cells migrating during fetal development, changing the parts of the brain responsible for behavior and thought. Asperger's is also believed to have a genetic component because it runs in families.
Every child on the autism spectrum has a unique pattern of behavior. Some are higher-functioning than others. While most signs of Asperger's syndrome are seen before a child turns two, some children do not receive an accurate diagnosis until later in life. Because every case is so unique, it can be hard to determine the severity of the syndrome.
One of the hallmarks of Asperger's syndrome is difficulty reading social cues. Generally, children with Asperger's prefer to play alone and may ignore their names when called. They may be unable to make eye contact and may experience speech delays. Carrying on a conversation may be difficult and some people speak with an abnormal rhythm. In social situations, they have a hard time picking up on non-verbal cues and are unaware of other people's emotions.
There are some physical signs of Asperger's, as well. In addition to repetitive movements, children with Asperger's syndrome can become fixated on specific objects. For example, they may be fascinated with the spinning wheels of a toy car but uninterested in the car itself. Sensitivity to light, sound, and touch may also be an issue, and they are commonly very picky about food.
Infants and toddlers develop in their own time, but notable developmental delays are often seen by age two for most children with Asperger's syndrome. Some of the common signs are not smiling by the age of six months, no babbling by 12 months, not saying any words by 16 months, and not using two-word phrases by 24 months. Also, if a child loses any social or language skills they have already demonstrated, parents should speak to a pediatrician.
The main treatment for Asperger's syndrome is a combination of therapies that address clumsiness, poor communication skills, and repetitive movements. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, but, generally, the earlier treatment starts, the better. Treatments should incorporate the child's interests and follow a predictable schedule, so the child is more receptive.
With proper treatment, most children with Asperger's syndrome can learn to work through their difficulties, though it may take some time to integrate socially. Personal relationships may always pose a challenge. Most adults with Asperger's syndrome can lead an independent life, work at a regular job, and be quite successful, though they may need moral support and encouragement.
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