Asperger’s Syndrome: Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

Asperger's Syndrome
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On meeting someone with Asperger’s syndrome, you may notice two things. The first is that they are just as brilliant as everyone else; secondly, they may have some difficulty socializing. They also tend to focus obsessively on one subject and repeat behaviors over and over again.

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Asperger syndrome, also known as Asperger’s, was until 2013, a unique condition listed under the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Today, it is classified under the broader group called Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Asperger syndrome is a developmental disorder characterized by difficulties in understanding social cues and nonverbal communication, as well as obsessive interest in a particular subject and repetitive patterns of behavior.

It is known as a high-functioning type of disorder because its symptoms are less severe than other types of autistic disorders. Intelligence and language are relatively better in Aspergers than others.

Signs and symptoms of this developmental disorder can be observed from the age of two and typically lasts throughout the person’s lifetime. There is no known cause of Asperger’s syndrome.

Although it may be inherited, the genetic factors associated with the disorder have not been determined conclusively. Treatment options for the diseases are aimed at improving communication skills and physical clumsiness and reducing the obsessive and repetitive patterns.

The methods of treatments could also involve cognitive behavioral therapy, speech therapy, social skills training, physical therapy, parent/guardian training, and medications for conditions that could be associated with the disorder such as mood swings or anxiety.

Children with Asperger’s usually improve as they get older, but the social and communication challenges may remain. The condition was estimated to affect about 37.2 million people all over the world.

Affecting more males than females. Females are usually diagnosed at a later age. Asperger’s syndrome was first described by a Viennese pediatrician, Hans Asperger, in the 1940s.

He observed autism-like symptoms and behaviors in the boys in his care. He described the children as clumsy, lacking in communication skills and the understanding of other people’s emotions.

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Some people living with Asperger syndrome say they feel overwhelmed by the world, which can cause some anxiety. Furthermore, understanding and relating with other people, and taking part in daily activities involving family, school, work, or social life can be rather challenging.

What are the signs and symptoms of Asperger Syndrome?

 

Asperger’s syndrome is typically observed early in life. You may notice your child not being able to make eye contact or may feel awkward in social situations and not know what to say or how to respond when spoken.

As they grow older, these symptoms may be easier to handle. Adults with Asperger’s often have above-average intelligence. They may, however, experience other symptoms that may affect their everyday lives.

The symptoms of Asperger’s are grouped into three groups. These are:

Communication Symptoms

People with Asperger’s may struggle with communicating. They may not be able to make small talk and can sometimes sound stiff when talking, with no inflections or change of tone. This is sometimes referred to as robotic.

They may have a repetitive speech and may not be able to regulate the tone of their voices to suit their environments. For instance, raised voices in a church or library.

However, people with AS may have strong verbal skills that may translate to a broader vocabulary, especially in areas of interest.

Non-verbal cues such as facial expressions, hand gestures, and body language may be difficult to pick up. Eye contact may also be limited.

Behavioral and Emotional symptoms

A common symptom shared by most people with AS is engaging in repetitive behavior. This may include eating the same thing for breakfast before work, opening the door a certain way, or tying shoelaces in a particular manner.

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People with AS may also have some difficulty in understanding emotional issues such as grief or frustration. They may find seeing the world from another perspective quite challenging and may have a hard time reacting to words, actions, or behaviors appropriately.

Furthermore, they may have exaggerated emotional outbursts due to the inability to cope with emotional situations, changes in patterns, or feelings of frustration.

Difficulties in motor coordination and clumsiness are not uncommon in people living with AS; this may show as difficulty performing tasks like walking, sitting, or tying shoes.

People with Asperger’s are often obsessive over a specific topic or interest. They may have a deep understanding of this subject and often insist on talking about it when engaging with others.

There are, however, some symptoms people with AS have that may be deemed as beneficial. For instance, they have an incredible ability to concentrate on a subject for a very long time, especially when they find it interesting.

Also, their attention to detail makes them far better at problem-solving.

Diagnosis

There are no specific tests to diagnose Asperger’s syndrome in a person. If you notice the symptoms above, it is best to see a mental health professional specializing in autistic disorders such as psychologists, neurologists, and psychiatrists.

Diagnosis may be based on social observation, physical testing to rule out underlying health conditions that could cause the symptoms, and mental health examination to determine the cause of the symptoms.

Treatment

There is no cure available to treat AS. There are, however, treatment options available to help people cope with the disorder.

These include:

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Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)

This helps to change behavior and way of thinking, so the person can better control their emotions and repetitive behaviors. Outbursts, obsessions, and meltdowns can be appropriately handled.

Social skills training

This aims to teach people with AS how to interact with others and express themselves more appropriately. These social skills are often best learned by modeling after typical behavior.

Parent/Caregiver education and training

This is to learn the skills and techniques your child or ward is being taught to practice with them at home. Some families also opt to see a counselor to help them deal with the challenges of living with someone with Asperger’s Syndrome.

Speech-language therapy

This seeks to improve communication skills. For example, they will learn how to modulate tone when speaking rather than speaking in a flat tone. They will also learn how to keep up a two-way conversation and understand social cues like body language and hand gestures.

Medication

There are currently no approved drugs by the FDA for the treatment of Asperger’s syndrome or any autism spectrum disorder. There are, however, medications that can be used to treat associated symptoms such as anxiety or depression.

These include:

  • Antipsychotic drugs
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
  • Stimulant medicines

With the appropriate treatment, a person with AS can learn to handle social and communication difficulties they may face.

Asperger's Syndrome
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Victor Anunobi
Victor Anunobi is an environmentalist, writer and movie enthusiast living in the city of Lagos, Nigeria. He enjoys long walks, food and alternative music.
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