Asperger Syndrome: What is it? Symptoms, Diagnosis, Causes and Treatment

Doctors commonly use it to describe those individuals who have trouble speaking and writing, but who actually have a normal level of intelligence.

When you meet someone with Asperger syndrome, some things may immediately catch your attention, for example that they are just as smart as everyone else, but have greater difficulties with social skills and abilities.

Another distinguishable characteristic is that you tend to obsessively focus on a single topic or to perform the same behaviors over and over again in a repetitive manner, which is known as stereotypy .

Doctors used to think of Asperger’s as a separate condition. But it wasn’t until 2013 that the latest edition of the standard book used by mental health experts, called The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), changed the standardized way it is classified.

Today, Asperger syndrome is technically no longer a diagnosis in itself, but is considered to be part of a broader category called autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This group of related mental health problems share some symptoms. Even so, many people still use the term Asperger.

The condition involves what doctors call a “high-functioning” type. This indicates that the symptoms that occur are less marked and complicated than other types of autism spectrum disorders.

On the other hand, the DSM-5 gives us a new diagnosis, which was called pragmatic social communication disorder, it has some signs and symptoms that are intertwined with Asperger’s, but they are considered as two different disorders.

Symptoms

They usually start early in life. If you are a parent of a child who has it, you may notice that they cannot look directly into the eyes or that they seem uncomfortable in social interaction situations where they do not know what to say or how to respond when another person turns to him.

Thus, it also happens with some frequency that you do not pay attention or do not understand social signals that are obvious to other people, such as body language or facial expressions. For example, you may not realize that if someone crosses their arms and frowns, it means that they are upset.

Another commonly reported sign is that they do not seem capable of displaying certain emotions in situations that seem to require it, such as smiling when happy or laughing at a joke.

If your child has the condition, then it may be happening that he talks about himself most of the time and tends to focus very intensely on a single particular topic that could be repeated a lot, especially on a topic that interests him. You may also perform repetitive motions over and over again (stereotypy).

Another characteristic that seems to occur is that he is irritable at the changes or that he simply does not accept them. So, for example, you need to eat the same food for breakfast every day.

However, children and adults with Asperger syndrome experience a wide variety of symptoms, and no two cases are actually exactly alike.

Some people will face minor problems that do not interfere with their daily lives, while others will have difficulty functioning in academic, social, and work settings.

Knowing the symptoms of Asperger’s can help parents and patients obtain an accurate diagnosis, so the following will be specifically highlighted:

Social symptoms

A telltale sign of Asperger syndrome is having difficulties in social situations.

Common Asperger’s symptoms that can affect social interaction or communication include:

  • Problems making or keeping friends.
  • Minimal isolation or interaction in social situations.
  • Poor eye contact or tendency to look at others.
  • Problems interpreting gestures.
  • Inability to recognize humor, irony, and sarcasm.
  • Inappropriate behavior or strange mannerisms.
  • Problems expressing empathy, controlling emotions, or communicating feelings.
  • Lack of common sense.
  • Tendency to participate in one-sided conversations (about oneself).
  • Fascination with certain subjects.
  • Interpretation of the information as literal.
  • The preference for a strict or routine schedule.

An adult or child with Asperger’s may not show all of these signs, but in general, they tend to struggle in social situations.

Some people may interpret a child’s symptoms as simply rude behavior.

People with Asperger’s may not recognize when someone is feeling uncomfortable, disinterested, or offended.

Because they don’t always recognize social cues, they can speak out loud at inappropriate times, such as during a church service.

Speech and language problems

Unlike other autism spectrum disorders, a person with Asperger’s does not generally experience a speech delay. But they do have specific language behaviors that set them apart.

A child or adult with Asperger’s may exhibit the following:

  • A “scripted”, formal, or “robotic” type of speech.
  • Lack of inflection when speaking.
  • Repetitive speech.
  • Problems using language in a social context.
  • Speak loud or high-pitched.

People with Asperger’s generally have advanced vocabulary and good grammar skills, but they may not be able to use language appropriately in social situations.

To an outsider, the speech pattern of a child with Asperger’s may seem unusual. They can speak in a very monotonous or rhythmic way, with a strong voice.

Cognitive behaviors

Generally, children and adults with Asperger’s have normal or above average intelligence. While some excel academically, others may struggle.

Some common cognitive traits in people with Asperger’s include:

  • A memory of superior memory.
  • Ability to understand technical or objective information.
  • Problems absorbing abstract information.
  • Tendency to focus on details, which can lead to loss of “the bigger picture.”

Children with Asperger’s may also experience trouble concentrating or have an associated non-verbal learning disability that can affect their reading, writing, or math skills. Still, many do not have cognitive problems.

Physical symptoms

Children with Asperger’s can experience physical symptoms, such as:

  • Delayed motor skills.
  • Uncomfortable movements.
  • Coordination problems.
  • Sensitivity to loud noises, smells, clothing, or food textures.

Children with Asperger’s may seem clumsy or uncomfortable. They may have trouble with simple activities, such as catching a ball or swinging on bars on a playground.

But, there will always be the possibility that some children do not have any motor skill problems.

How to get a diagnosis

If you notice the above-mentioned signs in your child, see your pediatrician. He may refer you to a mental health expert, like these:

  • Psychologist: diagnoses and treats problems with emotions and behavior.
  • Pediatric neurologist – treats brain conditions.
  • Developmental pediatrician – specializes in speech and language problems and other developmental problems.
  • Psychiatrist – Has experience with mental health disorders and can prescribe medications to treat them.

The condition is often treated with a team approach, this means that you may see more than one doctor for your child’s care.

The doctor will ask questions about your child’s behavior, including:

  • What symptoms do you have and when did you first notice them?
  • When did your child learn to speak, and how does he communicate?
  • Are you focused on any topic or activity?
  • Do you have friends and how do you interact with others?

You will then observe your child in different situations to see first-hand how he communicates and behaves.

What Causes Asperger Syndrome?

If it is accepted that Asperger syndrome falls within the category of the autism spectrum, then the causes of this syndrome would be expected to be the same as those of autism.

Thus, although the precise causative factors of autistic disorders have not been identified today, it is thought that a hereditary (ie genetic) component is involved, which has been confirmed in a wide variety of cases.

On the other hand, autistic disorders can also be related to environmental aspects such as toxic exposures, teratogens, problems with pregnancy or childbirth, and prenatal infections.

These environmental influences can act together to modify or potentially increase the severity of the underlying genetic defect.

Some authors have suggested a causal role for exposure to certain types of vaccines (particularly against diseases such as measles and thimerosal, known as a mercury preservative used in some vaccines) in autism.

However, the overwhelming majority of epidemiological evidence does not show conclusive results to speak of an association between immunizations and autism, which is why experts have debunked this theory.

Common diagnoses that go with Asperger’s

Some conditions, which have their own set of signs and symptoms, are more common in children and adults with Asperger’s. These may include:

  • Depression .
  • Anxiety.
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
  • Tourette syndrome.
  • Epilepsy.

These coexisting conditions can cause other symptoms that are not necessarily characteristic of Asperger’s.

Treatment

Every child is different, so there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Your doctor may need to try some therapies to find one that works.

Treatments can include:

  • Social skills training – This may require it to be done in groups or individual sessions, therapists will try to demonstrate to your child how to interact with others and express themselves in more appropriate and socially accepted ways.
  • Speech and language therapy: This helps significantly to improve communication skills. For example, you will learn to use a normal top-down pattern when speaking instead of a flat tone.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – Helps you change the way you think so that you can better control your repetitive emotions and behaviors. He will be able to handle things like explosions, landslides, and obsessions.
  • Parenting Education and Training: You will learn many of the same techniques that your child is taught so that you can work on social skills with him at home. Some families also see a counselor to help them deal with the challenges of living with someone with Asperger’s.
  • Applied Behavior Analysis: It is a technique that encourages positive social and communication skills in your child, it also discourages behavior that he prefers not to see. The therapist will use praise or other “positive reinforcement” to get results.

As for medications, there is no FDA-approved drug that specifically treats Asperger’s or autism spectrum disorders.

However, some medications can help with related symptoms, such as depression and anxiety. Your doctor may prescribe some of these:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
  • Antipsychotic medications.
  • Stimulant medications.

With proper treatment, your child can learn to control some of the communication and social challenges he faces. You will be able to do well in school and be successful in life.

The Asperger sometimes comes with special talents

Many people with Asperger syndrome see their symptoms as gifts. Some positive attributes that distinguish these people include:

  • A high IQ.
  • The ability to focus on something intensely.
  • A remarkable memory of memory.
  • A unique sense of humor.
  • A high regard for fairness and honesty.

Many people with Asperger’s have special talents and abilities. There are many adults with this disorder who are successful lawyers, doctors, artists, authors, teachers, and educators.

In fact, some people with Asperger’s are offended by the idea that their symptoms should be “treated” or “cured.”

Asperger’s is not a one-size-fits-all disorder

No two people with Asperger’s are exactly the same. The disorder manifests itself in a number of ways, and many people experience different symptoms than others. Some have only mild problems, while others face big challenges.

The main lesson for parents is to see a professional if your child experiences unusual signs or symptoms that may indicate he or she has an autism spectrum disorder. This can ensure a more accurate and faster diagnosis that allows for more appropriate treatment to help them cope better with their difficulties.