Asperger’s Disorder was first described in the 1940s by Viennese pediatrician Hans Asperger who observed autistic-like behaviors and difficulties with social and communication skills in boys who had normal intelligence and language development. Many professionals felt Asperger’s Disorder was simply a milder form of autism and used the term “high-functioning autism” to describe these individuals. Asperger’s Disorder was added to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 1994, as a separate disorder from autism. However, there are still many professionals who consider Asperger’s Disorder a less severe form of autism.
What distinguishes Asperger’s Disorder from Autism Disorder is the severity of the symptoms and the absence of language delays. Children with Asperger’s Disorder may be only mildly affected and frequently have good language and cognitive skills. To the untrained observer, a child with Asperger’s Disorder may just seem like a normal child behaving differently.
Children with autism are frequently seen as aloof and uninterested in others. This is not the case with Asperger’s Disorder. Individuals with Asperger’s Disorder usually want to fit in and have interaction with others; they simply don’t know how to do it. They may be socially awkward, not understanding of conventional social rules, or show a lack of empathy. They may have limited eye contact, seem to be unengaged in a conversation, and not understand the use of gestures.
Interests in a particular subject may border on the obsessive. Children with Asperger’s Disorder frequently like to collect categories of things, such as rocks or bottle caps. They may be proficient in knowing categories of information, such as baseball statistics or Latin names of flowers. While they may have good rote memory skills, they have difficulty with abstract concepts.
While motor difficulties are not a specific criteria for Asperger’s, children with Asperger’s Disorder frequently have motor skill delays and may appear clumsy or awkward.
Diagnosis of Asperger’s Disorder is on the increase, although it is unclear whether it is more prevalent or whether more professionals are detecting it. The symptoms for Asperger’s Disorder are the same as those listed for autism in the DSM-IV; however, children with AS do not have delays in the area of communication and language. In fact, to be diagnosed with Asperger’s, a child must have normal language development as well as normal intelligence.
The first step to diagnosis is an assessment, including a developmental history and observation. This should be done by medical professionals experienced with autism. If Asperger’s Disorder or high-functioning autism is suspected, the diagnosis of autism will generally be ruled out first. Early diagnosis is also important as children with Asperger’s Disorder who are diagnosed and treated early in life have an increased chance of being successful in school and eventually living independently.
To find out more about Asperger’s Disorder, please call the Autism Society of America at 800-328-8476. You can also visit them online at www.autism-society.org.
Phone code: 1733