Asperger’s Syndrome

Asperger's syndrome is an autistic spectrum disorder which affects the way people communicate and interact with others and the way they see the world. A range is used since autism affects different individuals in diverse ways. People with classic autism, for example, often have below-average intellect, while those with Asperger's syndrome are usually very intelligent.

Asperger's syndrome is a permanent condition which has no cure; however, most people are able to live a long and rewarding life with the right help and support around them.

Asperger's syndrome differs to classic autism because people with the condition are inclined to have milder symptoms and do not usually experience learning difficulties. Autistic spectrum disorders are not uncommon, affecting around 1 in 100 children in England. Asperger's syndrome is more common among boys than girls, but it is not known why.

What causes Asperger's syndrome?

The exact cause of Asperger's syndrome is unknown and experts believe there are many probable factors which may contribute to a child developing Asperger's syndrome. Most experts believe a combination of neurological, environmental, genetic and psychological factors cause autistic spectrum disorders, but research in this area is ongoing.

Research suggests that autistic spectrum disorders can be caused by genetics, however, no specific gene has been identified and experts also believe that environmental factors play an important role. Risk factors for autistic spectrum disorders include a mother smoking during pregnancy, a mother suffering from an infection during pregnancy (such as rubella) and exposure to harmful chemicals and pollution.

Research has also suggested that the development of the brain is different in people with autistic spectrum disorders, as the relationship between the limbic system, the cerebral cortex and the amygdale appears to be scrambled, which explains why people with autism find it difficult to control their emotional responses.

Asperger's syndrome is not caused by anything individuals do to themselves, and it is also not caused by an individual's upbringing or their social situation.

Symptoms of Asperger's syndrome

People with Asperger's syndrome experience difficulties in three main areas. These include:

  • Social interaction.
  • Social communication.
  • Social imagination.

These difficulties can make it difficult for people with the condition to form friendships and they may seem aloof and distant. Symptoms of Asperger's syndrome include:

  • Difficulty starting conversations.
  • Difficulty understanding humour: people with AS tend to take everything literally.
  • Difficulty understanding abstract and imaginary concepts.
  • Difficulty reading other peoples' expressions and moods.
  • Difficulty with social norms: people with AS may stand too close to people, for example.
  • Seeming isolated and disinterested in others.
  • Struggling to understand other people.
  • Difficulty imagining situations and coming up with ideas: children often play with the same toy and repeat their actions on a daily basis and they struggle with role play and pretend games.
  • Preference for routine.
  • Interest in logic.

Often, people with Asperger's syndrome develop a profound, almost obsessive interest in a hobby or subject. They are also often very good at problem solving, counting and remembering dates and facts and many like to collect things.

People with Asperger's syndrome do not usually have learning difficulties or speech problems, but they may have sensory difficulties, which can differ in severity and may involve senses being over or under-developed. Children often get upset when they hear loud noises or see bright lights, for example.

How is Asperger's syndrome diagnosed?

It can be difficult to diagnose Asperger's syndrome because people with the condition do not look outwardly different to others and symptoms can be mild and discarded as a child behaving badly, being quiet or timid or not having much awareness in other people. Many cases of Asperger's syndrome are not diagnosed until adulthood as a result of this.

If you have symptoms associated with Asperger's syndrome, your GP will ask about your symptoms and carry out short exercises. If your GP thinks you have Asperger's syndrome, they will refer you to a specialist for additional tests and once a specialist has confirmed a diagnosis, treatment can begin.

Coming to terms with a diagnosis can be difficult for both the individual and their parent. However, there is support available and a concrete diagnosis can be a relief, as a diagnosis also sets the wheels in motion in terms of treatment and support at school or help with finding employment.

Treatment for Asperger's syndrome

There is no cure for Asperger's syndrome but with the right help and support many people with the condition live happy and fulfilling lives. Many people with the condition do well at school and go on to undertake further study and employment.

Treatment for Asperger's syndrome usually involves a combination of therapies, known as interventions. Interventions are designed to promote independence and address problem areas, such as behaviour, interaction or communication. Examples of therapies include behavioural therapy, changes in diet and nutrition, communication skills programmes and educational support.

Living with Asperger's syndrome

Asperger's syndrome is a lifetime condition which impacts the way people view the world and interact with others. There is no cure though there are interventions and support instruments that help to make life easier and enable people with the condition to gain a better understanding of the world around them. As well as support from healthcare professionals and teachers, charities such as The Autistic Society can provide information, advice and support for people who have autistic spectrum disorders and for their relatives.

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