What is Aspergers Disorder?

(The following information is obtained from the Autism Victoria fact sheet).

Asperger’s disorder is…..

A developmental disorder which falls within the Autism Spectrum. The main features of this disorder become obvious during early childhood and remain constant throughout life, although the common features and degree of actual impairment can vary. Rarely recognised before the age of three, it is more common in boys than girls. Core features of the syndrome are lack of social skills, limited ability to have a two way conversation and an intense interest in a particular subject. Most of these children attend normal primary schools. Individuals with Asperger’s syndrome experience difficulties in the following areas:

  1. Communication
  2. Social Interaction
  3. Social Behaviour

Communication

Although these children are often highly articulate, content of speech may be abnormal, tending to be pedantic and is often centred on one or two favourite topics. Sometimes a word or phrase is repeated over and over in stereotyped fashion. Usually, there is a comprehension deficit despite apparent superior verbal skills. Non-verbal communication, both expressive and receptive is often impaired.

Social Interaction

There tends to be impairment in two way social interaction due to an inability to understand the rules governing social behaviour. A lack of empathy with others and little or no eye contact may be evident. They can appear stuck at the egocentric stage of social and emotional development. They tend to perceive the world exclusively from their own point of view. Although interested in social relationships often social contact is made inappropriately.

Social Behaviour

Social behaviour is often naïve and peculiar. They can tend to become intensely attached to particular possessions often engaging in repetitive activities. They are often resistant to change and cope best when life is predictable. They prefer structure and may concentrate exclusively on matters in which they are interested. They are often ‘loners’ who never quite fit in because of eccentric behaviour, peculiar ways of speaking and a lack of social skills.

Common Features

Other features of Asperger’s syndrome can include:

Age of Onset

Asperger’s disorder tends to be diagnosed later than autism in young children. Parents of young children with autism often recognise problems with behaviour and in particular, language development by about 18 months to two years of age. Because children with Asperger’s disorder do not have delayed early language, or problems with cognitive development, there are few early signs that all is not well. It is more usual for parents to become concerned about their child’s emerging unusual or odd behaviour and social development but these tend to be identified later, usually from about 3 to 4 years of age. Diagnosis of Asperger’s disorder may not occur until the child has attended pre-school or some other early childhood setting such as crèche. This is probably because the child’s social and behavioural problems become more noticeable when the child is seen with peers in a more structured social setting where there are more demands for social interaction.

Some examples of how Asperger’s disorder affects children

Acquisition of language follows a normal or even accelerated pattern, but content of speech is abnormal - pedantic, and may centre on one or two favoured topics.

Little facial expression, vocal intonation may be monotonous and tone may be inappropriate.

Impairment in two-way social interaction including an inability to understand the rules governing social behaviour. May be easily led.

Problems with social comprehension despite superior verbal skills.

Very rigid, prefer structure.

Well developed verbal memory skills, absorb facts easily, generally good level of performance at maths and science.

Highly anxious with a dislike of any form of criticism or imperfection.

Most attend mainstream schools and are often victims of teasing which causes withdrawal into isolated activities.

Are seen to be “odd” or “eccentric”.

Please note that the diagnosis of Asperger’s disorder/syndrome is likely to be removed in the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual - Fifth Edition (DSM-V) to be released in 2013. It is proposed that Asperger’s will then be diagnosed as Autism (with modifiers/features).