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Asperger's syndrome is a developmental
disorder that makes it very hard to interact with other people. Your child may
find it hard to make friends because he or she is socially awkward.
People with Asperger's syndrome have some traits of
autism. For example, they may have poor social skills,
prefer routine, and not like change. But unlike those who have autism, children
with Asperger's syndrome usually start to talk before 2 years of age, when
speech normally starts to develop.
Asperger's syndrome is a
lifelong condition, but symptoms tend to improve over time. Adults with this
condition can learn to understand their own strengths and weaknesses. And they
can improve their social skills.
Both Asperger's syndrome and
autism belong to the group of disorders called
pervasive developmental disorders.
exact cause of Asperger's syndrome is not known. And there is no known way to
prevent it. It tends to run in families. So researchers are doing studies to
look for a genetic cause. Asperger's syndrome is more common in males than in females.
Asperger's syndrome is usually noticed at age 3
or later. Symptoms vary, so no two children are the same. Children with
If you are concerned about your child's behavior
or communication style, talk to your child's doctor. He or she will ask you
about your child's development and ask if other people have noticed your
child's social problems.
The doctor may refer you to a specialist
to confirm or rule out Asperger's syndrome. The specialist may test your
child's learning style, speech and language, IQ, social and motor skills, and
Treatment is based on your child's unique symptoms. It may change often
so that it's most useful for your child.
Doctors, teachers, and
mental health counselors can help your child improve his or her behavior and
build social and learning skills. School programs, job training, and
counseling can help too. Many children with Asperger's
syndrome also have other conditions, such as
obsessive-compulsive disorder. So they may need other
treatments, such as medicine.
At home, you can help build your
child's confidence and skills. Use rules and daily routines, visual aids, and
role-playing. Focus on your child's strengths. Encourage your child to explore
interests at home and at school. And stay informed about what is happening in
your child's classroom.
Federal law requires public schools to have
programs for people ages 3 through 21 with special needs. Contact your school
district to find out what services your child can be a part of.
It takes patience and support to help your child reach his or her full
potential. And it may take time to find a doctor who has experience treating
people with this condition.
Try to learn as much as you can about
this condition, and talk to others about it. The more that teachers, your
child's peers, and other people learn, the better they can help and support
Many parents find comfort and build acceptance with
help from support groups, counseling, and a network of friends, family, and
Learning about Asperger's syndrome:
Although there are many possible symptoms of
Asperger's syndrome, the main symptom is significant
trouble with social situations. Your child may have mild to severe symptoms or
have a few or many of these symptoms. Because of the wide variety of symptoms,
no two children with Asperger's are alike.
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
A child with one or two of these symptoms does not
necessarily have Asperger's syndrome. To be diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome,
a child must have a combination of these symptoms and significant trouble with
Although the condition is in some ways
autism, a child with Asperger's syndrome typically has
normal language and intellectual development. Also, those with Asperger's
syndrome typically make more of an effort than those with autism to make
friends and engage in activities with others.
symptoms persist through the teen years. And although teens with Asperger's can
begin to learn those social skills they lack, communication often remains
difficult. They will probably continue to have difficulty "reading" others'
Your teen with Asperger's syndrome (like other teens)
will want friends but may feel shy or intimidated when approaching other teens.
He or she may feel "different" from others. Although most teens place emphasis
on being and looking "cool," teens with Asperger's may find it frustrating and
emotionally draining to try to fit in. They may be immature for their age and
be naive and too trusting, which can lead to teasing and bullying.
All of these difficulties can cause teens with Asperger's to become
withdrawn and socially isolated and to have
some teens with Asperger's syndrome are able to make and keep a few close
friends through the school years. Some of the classic Asperger's traits may
also work to the benefit of your teen. Teens with Asperger's are typically
uninterested in following social norms, fads, or conventional thinking,
allowing creative thinking and the pursuit of original interests and goals.
Their preference for rules and honesty may lead them to excel in the classroom
and as citizens.
Asperger's syndrome is a lifelong condition,
although it tends to stabilize over time, and improvements are often seen.
Adults usually have a better understanding of their own strengths and
weaknesses. They are able to learn social skills, including how to read others' social
cues. Many people with Asperger's syndrome marry and have children.
Some traits that are typical of Asperger's syndrome, such as attention to
detail and focused interests, can increase chances of university and career
success. Many people with Asperger's seem to be fascinated with technology, and
a common career choice is engineering. But scientific careers are by no means
the only areas where people with Asperger's excel. Indeed, many respected
historical figures have had symptoms of Asperger's, including Wolfgang Amadeus
Mozart, Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, and Thomas Jefferson.
Many children with Asperger's
syndrome also have coexisting conditions and may have symptoms of these
conditions also. They include:
Asperger's syndrome is a developmental condition in which people have difficulties
understanding how to interact socially. A diagnosis is best made with input
from parents, doctors, teachers, and other caregivers who know or who have
observed the child. Asperger's syndrome is diagnosed when specific criteria are
met. These include:
Your doctor will take a medical history by asking questions
about your child's development, including information about motor development,
language, areas of special interest, and social interactions. He or she will
also ask about the mother's pregnancy and the family's history of medical
Testing can help your doctor find out whether your
child's problem is related to Asperger's syndrome. Your primary care provider
may refer your child to a specialist for testing, including:
When making a diagnosis, your doctor will see if your child
meets the criteria published in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR), a publication of the American
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. Each child with Asperger's syndrome has
differences in the number and severity of symptoms, so treatment should be
designed to meet individual needs and available family resources. Specific treatments are based on symptoms.
Start by contacting your local
school district to find out which services are available for your child. Become
informed about your
child's educational rights. Federal law requires
public schools to provide appropriate educational services for people ages 3 to
21 who have disabilities (including Asperger's). Also, there may be state and
local laws or policies to aid children with Asperger's.
meet with school personnel to identify goals and establish an individualized
education program (IEP). IEPs are designed to fit the child's specific needs
based on the evaluation of his or her level of disability.
Look at what is being offered at
different schools to find out which services your child needs and where you can
best find them. Qualities to look for include:
Stay informed about what is happening in your child's
classroom. Frequent communication can be managed with a communication diary
that goes back and forth between teacher and parent.
Treatment is geared toward
improving communication, social skills, and behavior management. A treatment
program may be adjusted often to be the most useful for your child.
Take advantage of your child's strengths by encouraging him or her to
explore interests at home and at school. Activity-oriented groups and focused
counseling can also be helpful.
Many children with Asperger's
syndrome also have other coexisting conditions, including
attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD),
obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD),
social anxiety disorder, and
depression. These conditions can place extra demands
on parents who are already dealing with a child with extra needs. These
conditions may require treatment with medicines and other therapies.
have not yet found a way to prevent Asperger's syndrome. Some advocacy
groups claim the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine causes Asperger's and
autism. But numerous studies have not found a link between these conditions and
the vaccine.2 Doctors recommend that you have your
children immunized, because not doing so puts them and others in your community
at risk for serious diseases and even death.
You can best serve your child by
Asperger's syndrome and providing a supportive and
loving home environment. Remember that your child, just like every other child,
has his or her own strengths and weaknesses and needs as much support,
patience, and understanding as you can give.
about the condition and about what to expect is an important part of helping
your child develop independence and succeed outside of his or her home. Learn about
Asperger's syndrome by talking to your doctor or contacting Asperger's
organizations. A good source is OASIS @ MAAP: The Online Asperger Syndrome Information and Support Center at www.aspergersyndrome.org. Learning about Asperger's will reduce your and your family
members' stress and help your child succeed.
The following are some suggestions on how to help your
child who has Asperger's syndrome. Some of the ideas will be helpful, and some
may not work for you. Flexibility, creativity, and a willingness to continue to
learn will all help you as you raise your child.
Volkmar FR, et al. (2008). Asperger's syndrome of Pervasive developmental disorders. In RE Hales et al., eds., The American Psychiatric Publishing Textbook of Psychiatry, 5th ed., pp. 882–884. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Publishing.
Peacock G, Yeargin-Allsopp M (2009). Autism spectrum disorders: Prevalence and vaccines. Pediatric Annals, 38(1): 22–25.
Other Works Consulted
Reiff MI (2011). Autism spectrum disorders. In CD Rudolph et al., eds., Rudolph's Pediatrics, 22nd ed., pp. 352–355. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Sadock BJ, et al. ( 2007). Pervasive developmental
disorders. In Kaplan and Sadock's Synopsis of Psychiatry, Behavioral Sciences/Clinical Psychiatry, 10th ed., pp. 1191–1205.
Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
Volkmar FR, et al. (2009). Asperger's syndrome section of Pervasive development disorders. In BJ Sadock, VA Sadock, eds., Kaplan and Sadock's Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry, 9th ed., vol. 2, pp. 3554–3559. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
Woodbury-Smith MR, Volkmar FR (2009). Asperger syndrome. European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 18(1): 2–11.
April 5, 2012
John Pope, MD - Pediatrics & Fred Volkmar, MD - Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
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