by Dr. Tali Shenfield, Child Psychologist
Asperger’s Syndrome, also known as Asperger’s disorder, is a less severe type of autism. It is named after Austrian physician Hans Asperger who developed the first definitive description of the disorder in 1944.
While very mild forms of Asperger’s may not require formal treatment, other forms of the syndrome do. Asperger’s usually appears in childhood or the teenager years. It is distinguished by eccentric behavior, poor social skills and a tendency toward isolation. However, parents must be careful not to leap to an amateur diagnosis if their child, and especially their teenager, displays such “symptoms.” For example, poor social interaction, eccentricity and isolation would describe any number of otherwise perfectly fine 19th Century Englishmen, as well as other functional people today. It’s important to know the difference between a disorder and a simple variation from what our present day culture considers “normal.” That’s why it’s a good idea to consult a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist before pushing the panic button.
Mental health professionals typically use Autism Spectrum Disorder Assessments to diagnose Asperger’s disorder. The psychological assessment for Asperger’s disorder includes measures of cognitive functions, such as IQ, memory, attention, visual-motor integration, executive function, as well as some formal and informal measures of the person’s social-emotional development. While a number of formal questionnaires for distinguishing clinical from non-clinical individuals exists, a diagnosis should never be made on the basis of only one measure. Patients with this profile differ markedly from one another and only an experienced psychologist with expertise in this area can properly interpret the test information and make a diagnostic conclusion.
Asperger vs. Autism
There is a marked difference between autism and Asperger’s. Autism cuts off social awareness to a considerable degree and, to a certain extent, isolates the mind suffering from the disorder. While those afflicted with Asperger’s are still aware of other people’s social needs; they just have a hard time relating to those needs.
People suffering from Asperger’s have difficulty approaching people and their efforts to communicate can sometimes seem odd. They often carry on long conversations about very narrow subjects that they are interested in, without regard to whether or not anyone else is interested.
Those with autism generally do not interact with others to the degree that those with Asperger’s do. People with Asperger’s are interested in other people; it’s just that they have a hard time controlling their body language and facial expressions. They generally wear their emotions on their sleeves and may show boredom or disinterest without regard to the feelings of others. Since they actually want to interact, this lack of self-control can lead to frustration and even depression. Even so, people with Asperger’s are aware of other people’s intentions and emotions; they simply can’t act on that knowledge in a meaningful way. And so, they often impose strict rules of behavior on themselves, in an effort to compensate. This can make them appear too formal or robotic in social situations.
Common Attributes of Asperger
People with Asperger’s find communication difficult and may speak with a monotone inflection with low variation in pitch. They may talk with excessive formality or even too loudly. And they have a difficult time understanding subtle use of language such as sarcasm, metaphor and joking. They also have a difficult time understanding when a topic of conversation has changed and they tend to express whatever they are thinking at the time. Long one-sided conversations are one of the most prominent features of Asperger’s. They take the form of monologues about a favorite subject that never reach a conclusion. While this may be considered a part of the disorder, it is also an attempt at communication and social adaptation.
Other attempts at social adaptation include strict routines in eating and other activities as well as very formal speech patterns, which are an effort not to be offensive, and a dislike of change.
People with Asperger’s will often, but not always, show a marked clumsiness and delay in development of motor skills and hand/eye coordination can also be poor. Although, not all individuals with Asperger’s have these symptoms.
As you can see, Asperger’s is a complex disorder with many different symptoms and degrees of symptoms. While psychologists and psychotherapists can now diagnose Asperger’s with reasonable accuracy, we still have a ways to go in understanding the subtle causes of the disorder, as it manifests with considerable variation from individual to individual.
Author Bio: Dr. Tali Shenfield is a clinical psychologist at Richmond Hill Psychology Center, where she conducts psychotherapy and psychological assessments. She is an expert in Asperger syndrome and autistic spectrum disorders. When she has time for blogging she posts here articles here.