Asperger’s Syndrome is an autism spectrum disorder – collectively named so because of the broad range of symptoms and severity associated with autism. Symptoms vary from so mild that the person can function as well as anyone else, to so severe that they are completely unable to be a part of normal society.
Asperger’s is one of the milder forms of autism and sufferers can often lead normal lives. In fact, many people with milder symptoms are never diagnosed and claim that Asperger’s is simply a variation of normal rather than a medical disorder.
The condition is named after the Austrian pediatrician Hans Asperger who, in 1944, studied and described children in his practice who lacked nonverbal communcation skills, demonstrated limited empathy with other children and were physically clumsy. Many years later, the condition was officially recognised and diagnosed. It is primarily defined by a difficulty communicating with others and having problems with social situations. It is also often accompanied by repetitive patterns of behaviour and a intense interests.
As the BBC points out, Asperger’s sufferers’ difficulty with communication and social situations could manifest itself through the following symptoms:
Failing to notice or understand the body language of others such as facial expressions and tone of voice
- Appearing insensitive to the feelings or views of the listener and continuing to talk, unaware of the listener’s interest
- Appearing over-precise in what they say
- Taking comments literally (for example, misunderstanding jokes, metaphors or colloquialisms)
- Developing obsessions with objects, interests or routines which tend to interfere further with building social relationships (this is known as stereotyped or repetitive behaviour)
The exact cause of Asperger’s is still unknown but it is thought that, like autism in general, the answer may lie in genetics. There is no cure and treatment is focused on improving symptoms and helping the sufferer to function properly in society.
An early diagnosis is important as most children’s symptoms improve in adulthood, although social and communication difficulties may persist. If left undiagnosed and untreated, Asperger’s can lead to isolation, confusion and depression.
Specialist education, behavioural and social skills training are often used to aide symptoms. Obsessional behaviour and depression can also be treated with drugs.
Click here to read about World Autism Awareness Day and Dan Aykroyd’s battle with Asperger’s.