People today are becoming more aware of a syndrome that is called Asperger. Named after a German man Hans Asperger, it is a high functioning type of Autism. The CDC estimates that 1 in 110 children in America are born with Autism, this is a whoping 1% of the us population. Aspergers Syndrome is seen more frequeintly in boys than in girls.
According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition (DSM-IV, 1994) as well as the International Classification of Diseases, 10th edition (ICD10) (3) & (15), Asperger’s Syndrome is characterized by an:
- Impairment of social interaction
- Impairment of social communication
- Impairment of social imagination, flexible thinking and imaginative play
- Absence of a significant delay in cognitive development
- Absence of general delay in language development
So what is Asperger’s syndrome?
As mentioned, asperger is a form of autism, or more specifically “Autism Spectrum Disorder” (ASD). This is a neurological condition that causes an impairment of language and communication skills, as well as repetitive thinking and habits.
Parents usually sense there is something unusual about their child by the time of his or her third birthday. Unlike children with autism, children with aspergers don’t loose their early language skills. The first indicators of the disorder are usually certain “Motor development delays” – crawling or walking late, or more commonly, clumsiness.
What are the most common signs or symptoms?
The most common sign is a child’s obsessive interest in a single object or a particular topic! Children can become experts on trains, makes and models of cars, or sports statistics. They want to know everything about their topic of interest and they are obsessed with that topic! Usually these children aren’t interested in talking about anything else.
Another common symptom is how they talk! Speech therapists refer to their speech as “marked by a lack of rhythm, an odd inflection, or a monotone pitch.”
An aspergers child might lack the understanding to talk softly when entering a library or a movie theatre. This is mainly because of their deficit in understanding social situations. For instance, they are not able to make normal conversation because of their inappropriate or eccentric behavior, or by wanting to only to talk about one particular topic.
How is it diagnosed?
Most doctors rely on the presence of a core group of behaviors to alert them to the possibility of a diagnosis of Aspergers. These are:
- abnormal eye contact
- the failure to turn when called by name
- the failure to use gestures to point or show
- a lack of interactive play
- a lack of interest in peers
Some of these behaviors may be apparent in the first few months of a child’s life, or they may appear later. Problems in at least one of the areas of communication and socialization or repetitive, restricted behavior must be present before the age of 3.
Diagnosis is a two-stage process.
- The first stage begins with developmental screening during a “well-child” check-up with a family doctor or pediatrician.
- The second stage is a comprehensive team evaluation to either rule in or rule out Aspergers. This team generally includes a psychologist, neurologist, psychiatrist, speech therapist.
The comprehensive evaluation includes neurologic and genetic assessment, with in-depth cognitive and language testing to establish IQ and evaluate psychomotor function, verbal and non-verbal strengths and weaknesses, style of learning, and independent living skills. An assessment of communication strengths and weaknesses includes evaluating non-verbal forms of communication (gaze and gestures); the use of non-literal language (metaphor, irony, absurdities, and humor); patterns of inflection, stress and volume modulation; pragmatics (turn-taking and sensitivity to verbal cues); and the content, clarity, and coherence of conversation. The physician will look at the testing results and combine them with the child’s developmental history and current symptoms to make a diagnosis.
This article is part of a series that I am writing on Aspergers Syndrome. Additional articles include:
“Aspergers in Adolescence”
“What is social skills training?”
“Famous people with Aspergers” (you might be surprised!)