Asperger’s Syndrome was first identified in the 1940s as a disorder that existed on the high end of the autism scale. An Austrian pediatrician noticed what he termed Asperger’s Syndrome in children, mostly boys, who had some symptoms of autism (problems with socialization, communication, and delayed motor development), but possessed normal intelligence and speech development. At the time, the belief was that those suffering from Aspergers had a mild form of autism. However, in 1994 the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders classified Aspergers separately from autism. Then, in the most recent publication of the DSM (DSM-V) which took effect in 2013, Aspergers Syndrome was classified as an Autism Spectrum Disorder (or ASD). Learn about Aspergers Symptoms in Children!
When do people begin to manifest the symptoms of Aspergers Syndrome?
Aspergers syndrome most often manifests first in childhood. The goal is to diagnose a child by the age of 2, but unlike children suffering from more severe forms of autism, the symptoms of Aspergers in young children may be easy to miss. A child suffering from Aspergers may seem like a child who is shy or has some typical problems socializing, or is just acting “different.” This is different from a child suffering from a more severe form of autism who may not want to socialize and may have some delayed language development. A child with Aspergers Syndrome wants to socialize, but sometimes doesn’t know how, and has normal verbal development.
How common is Aspergers Syndrome?
It’s difficult to say just how common Aspergers Syndrome is, but it’s likely that 1 in 88 children may suffer from an autism spectrum disorder, and boy are 4 times more likely than girls to suffer from an autism spectrum disorder like Aspergers.
How do I know if my child might have Aspergers Syndrome?
It is important to diagnose Aspergers Syndrome early, and not confuse Aspergers symptoms in children with those of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Only a doctor can make an official diagnosis, but the following is a checklist of symptoms of Aspergers in children that parents and caregivers can use as a guideline. No one will have all or even most of these symptoms.
Aspergers symptoms in children may include:
- Above average intelligence, but some learning difficulties, particularly in math, reading or writing.
- Robotic, repetitive or even, “scripted” speech.
- Formal, high pitched or too loud speech.
- A tendency to talk about themselves, or have conversations that always come back to themselves.
- Inappropriate or minimal social interactions.
- Good verbal cognitive abilities but problems with reading non-verbal communication (gestures, body language, facial expressions)
- Fond of (or obsessed by) complex topics like music or patterns.
- Fond of collecting things.
- Struggle to maintain eye contact.
- Problems understanding sarcasm
- Problems understanding humor.
- Have excellent rote memory (can recite baseball stats) but struggle remembering more abstract concepts.
- Problems understanding emotional responses in others.
- Awkward or uncoordinated movements (may struggle with pedaling a bike or catching a ball.)
- Problems with recognizing and sharing in another person’s happiness.
- Strange behaviors or mannerisms.
- Repetitive behaviors such as snapping fingers, rocking, or twisting.
- Difficulty controlling emotions (laughing or crying at inappropriate times.)
- Problems with executive functioning (planning and executing tasks like completing and turning homework in on time, inability to keep track of possessions, etc.)
Some of the above symptoms may be present in a child with Aspergers, but the only specific requirements for an official diagnosis are that the child must have normal intelligence and normal language development, while suffering from a significant impairment of social skills that leads to problems functioning in school.
What are some examples of how children with Aspergers struggle with social interaction?
The most obvious area where children with Aspergers suffer is in the area of social interaction. A child with Aspergers will want to socialize, but may begin conversations with lists of facts or statistics and then not even notice when other people have stopped listening. They may speak in a formal or repetitive manner, and string together a massive amount of information on their favorite subject without seeming to connect it to anything. Children with Aspergers tend to be overwhelmed when attempting to interact with others because of their difficulties understanding body language (gestures, smiling, winking, frowning) and non-linear speech (sarcasm, irony, etc). A child with Aspergers may talk too loudly in a movie theater and not understand the “shushing” sound or gesture, which can lead to frustration and inappropriate emotional outbursts.
What causes Aspergers Syndrome?
Unfortunately, no one has been able to isolate a cause, or a single gene for Aspergers Syndrome. The best researchers can say is that it is a group of genes that contribute to Aspergers. It does appear that Aspergers runs in families, however, and when it is found in one twin, the other likely has it as well.
How is Aspergers Syndrome treated?
While there is no cure for Aspergers Syndrome and no medication specifically for it, there are a number of treatments available for children with Aspergers, from behavioral, physical and speech therapy to medication to treat concurrent issues like anxiety and depression.
Here are some of the more common treatments and strategies to help a child with Aspergers Syndrome:
- Create a highly structured environment. For example, keep to a routine, such as eating, sleeping and studying at the same time every day.
- Utilize “social skills training.” Social skill training is a type of group therapy that helps kids develops the social skills they need to get by in everyday situations.
- Participate in cognitive behavioral therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of therapy that focuses on reworking the way one thinks and reacts. This might be especially helpful for children who have trouble controlling their emotions, or who rely on repetitive behaviors to cope with stress.
- Physical therapy can help children who struggle with motor skill and coordination.
- Speech therapy can help children learn to communicate appropriately, and recognize emotions and non-verbal cues with more ease.
Will my child with Aspergers get better?
Yes. Many children with Aspergers Syndrome are able to eventually live independent lives with satisfying careers and relationships, although they will always require support from their families and friends.
How will my child with Aspergers be treated by other children?
There is a possibility that your child with Aspergers or ASD will be bullied. In a 2012 study by the Interactive Autism Network researchers found that 63% of children with ASD had been bullied, and noted that children with ASD were more than three times more likely to be bullied than their neurotypical (children without ASD or other disorders) siblings. Parents reported that the bullying most often (73%) took the form of teasing, being picked on and made fun of, while the next most common form of bullying was exclusionary (being left out of activities or isolated at lunch or recess.) 53% of children with ASD who had been bullied had been provoked into physical altercations or having a meltdown. This is often the “point” of the bullying behavior.
Bullying appears to be at its worst between the 5th and 8th grades, although it can occur earlier and later. Unfortunately, children with Aspergers Syndrome were more often bullied than their counterparts with other ASD diagnoses. This may be due to the fact that children with Aspergers are more often integrated in normal public school classrooms, while children who fall elsewhere on the ASD spectrum may be in special education or private schools. Another variable that may put a child with Aspergers at a higher risk of being bullied is to have other problems (like ADHD or anxiety) on top of the ASD diagnosis.
How will my child with Aspergers treat other children?
There is the possibility that a child with Aspergers may seem to “bully” other children. However, it is often the lack of social skills (talking loudly, not understanding when another child has finished an interaction, becoming upset when another child doesn’t follow specific rules) rather than cruelty or aggression. Sometimes a child with Aspergers may not understand that things he or she says are hurtful. When a child with Aspergers says, “You’re really fat,” to another child, they are often simply stating a fact, and not trying to hurt anyone’s feelings.
Can my child with Aspergers succeed in school?
Absolutely. Children with Aspergers often have above average intelligence and an insatiable curiosity about the world around them. They also have the ability to focus intently on things that interest them, and they often reach the solution to a problem in innovative ways. Teachers and other education professionals will need to do many of the things listed above in order to help children with Aspergers succeed in school. It helps to focus learning activities around something the child is interested in, and it is, of course, essential to create a highly structured environment where activities are rigorously scheduled and the amount of chaos and uncertainty is kept to a minimum.
Important and positive things to remember about having a child with Aspergers Syndrome.
Children with Aspergers can become independent and functioning members of society, with their own careers and relationships. Often, they have above average intelligence, and this, combined with their ability to focus intensely and remember massive amounts of details, makes them ideal for any number of vocations. In fact, many healthcare professionals, as well as prominent or famous people with Aspergers or ASD want to shift the discussion away from the idea of Aspergers as a disorder and focus on the idea of Aspergers as a difference. Temple Grandin (who was named one of Time’s most influential people and who suffers from ASD) credits her autism for the ability to propose ingenious and non-traditional methods of solving problems.