Asperger's syndrome (or disorder) is a developmental disorder in which people have difficulties understanding how to interact socially. People with Asperger's syndrome may not recognize verbal and nonverbal cues or understand normal social rules, such as taking turns talking or recognizing personal space.
Asperger's syndrome and autism belong to a class of disorders called pervasive developmental disorders. Asperger's syndrome shares some similarities with autism. Like those with autism, children with Asperger's syndrome have abnormal social interactions, facial expressions, and gestures, and unusually focused interests. Unlike those with autism, children with Asperger's syndrome usually have normal intelligence and language development (although the rhythm, pitch, and emphasis are irregular), age-appropriate self-reliance, and interest in the world around them.
Children with Asperger's syndrome have a better outlook than those with other developmental disorders. Many lead productive, independent lives in adulthood.
Asperger's syndrome affects males more than females. Its cause is unknown, although it tends to run in families, suggesting a possible genetic link.
Symptoms during childhood
Parents often first notice the symptoms of Asperger's syndrome when their child starts preschool and begins to interact with other children. Children with Asperger's syndrome may:
- Not pick up on social cues and lack inborn social skills, such as being able to read others' body language, start or maintain a conversation, and take turns talking.
- Dislike any changes in routines.
- May appear to lack empathy.
- Be unable to recognize subtle differences in speech tone, pitch, and accent that alter the meaning of others’ speech. Thus, your child may not understand a joke or may take a sarcastic comment literally. Likewise, his or her speech may be flat and difficult to understand because it lacks tone, pitch, and accent.
- Have a formal style of speaking that is advanced for his or her age. For example, the child may use the term “beckon” instead of “call,” or “return” instead of “come back.”
- Avoid eye contact.
- Have unusual facial expressions or postures.
- Be preoccupied with one or only few interests, which he or she may be very knowledgeable about. Many children with Asperger's syndrome are overly interested in parts of a whole or in unusual activities, such as doing intricate jigsaw puzzles, designing houses, drawing highly detailed scenes, or astronomy.
- Talk a lot, usually about a favorite subject. One-sided conversations are common. Internal thoughts are often verbalized.
- Have delayed motor development. Your child may be late in learning to use a fork or spoon, ride a bike, or catch a ball. He or she may have an awkward walk. Handwriting is often poor.
- May have heightened sensitivity and get overstimulated by loud noises, lights, or strong tastes or textures. For more information about these symptoms, see sensory integration dysfunction .
- Have advanced rote memorization and math skills. Your child may be able to memorize dates, formulas, and phone numbers in unusually accurate detail.
Treatment for Asperger’s syndrome strives to improve your child's abilities to interact with other people and thus to function effectively in society and be self-sufficient. Since each child with Asperger's syndrome has differences in the number and severity of symptoms, treatment should be designed to meet individual needs and available family resources. Specific treatments are based on symptoms.