Asperger syndrome is often considered a high functioning form of autism. People with this syndrome have difficulty interacting socially, repeat behaviors, and often are clumsy. Motor milestones may be delayed.
Hans Asperger labeled this disorder "autistic psychopathy" in 1944. The exact cause is unknown. More than likely, an abnormality in the brain is the cause of Asperger syndrome.
There is a possible link to autism, and genetic factors may play a role. The disorder tends to run in families. A specific gene has not been identified.
The condition appears to be more common in boys than in girls.
Although people with Asperger syndrome often have difficulty socially, many have above-average intelligence. They may excel in fields such as computer programming and science. There is no delay in their cognitive development, ability to take care of themselves, or curiosity about their environment.
People with Asperger syndrome become over-focused or obsessed on a single object or topic, ignoring all others. They want to know everything about this topic, and often talk about little else.
People with Asperger do not withdraw from the world in the way that people with autism withdraw. They will often approach other people. However, their problems with speech and language in a social setting often lead to isolation.
People with Asperger syndrome have trouble forming relationships with children their own age or other adults, because they:
Children with Asperger syndrome may show delays in motor development, and unusual physical behaviors, such as:
Many children with Asperger syndrome are very active, and may also be diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Anxiety or depression may develop during adolescence and young adulthood. Symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder and a tic disorder such as Tourette syndrome may be seen.
There is not a standardized (used and accepted by almost everyone) test used to diagnose Asperger syndrome.
Most doctors look for a core group of behaviors to help them diagnose Asperger syndrome. These behaviors include:
Symptoms may be noticeable in the first few months of life. Problems should be obvious by age 3 years.
Physical, emotional, and mental tests are done to rule out other causes and look more closely for signs of this syndrome. The team that will see your child includes a psychologist, neurologist, psychiatrist, speech therapist, and other professionals who are experts in diagnosing children with Asperger syndrome.
There is no single best treatment for all children with Asperger syndrome. Most experts feel that the earlier treatment is started, the better.
Programs for children with Asperger syndrome teach skills by building on a series of simple steps, using highly structured activities. Important tasks or points are repeated over time to help reinforce certain behaviors.
Types of programs may include:
Medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), antipsychotics, and stimulants may be used to treat problems such as anxiety, depression, and aggression.
With treatment, many children and their families can learn to cope with the problems of Asperger syndrome. Social interaction and personal relationships may still be problems. However, many adults work successfully in mainstream jobs and are able to have an independent life, if they have the right kind of support available.
Call for an appointment with your health care provider if your child:
Pervasive developmental disorder - Asperger syndrome; Autistic spectrum disorder - Asperger
Bostic JQ, Prince JB. Child and adolescent psychiatric disorders. In: Stern TA, Rosenbaum JF, Fava M, Biederman J, Rauch SL, eds. Massachusetts General Hospital Comprehensive Clinical Psychiatry. 1st ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier;2008:chap 69.
Shah PE, Dalton R, Boris NW. Pervasive developmental disorders and childhood psychosis. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 18th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 29.
Asperger Syndrome Fact Sheet. NINDS. January 2005. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. NIH Publication No. 05-5624. Last updated Octboer 19, 2009.
Reviewed by: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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