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Asperger Syndrome

Symptoms and treatment of Asperger's Syndrome

Asperger syndrome (AS), part of the autism disorders spectrum (ADS), is a neurodevelopmental disorder, the symptoms of which include both problems in social interaction and odd behaviors. AS was first recognized in 1944, but it has only recently been the subject of substantial research, and is often referred to as "high-functioning autism." Although experts now believe that there may be a genetic component, the exact cause is unknown.

Symptoms

Symptoms may be subtle, particularly in children, and accompanied by normal cognitive and language development. The symptoms include:

  • Difficulty relating to peers and functioning in groups
  • Problems reading social cues and body language
  • Repetitive or inappropriate behaviors, such as flapping or smelling the fingers
  • Intense and unusual interests or activities
  • Motor clumsiness, often noted by an awkward gait or difficulties learning behaviors such as catching a ball
  • Unusual sensitivities to smells, sounds or light

Adults with AS frequently are noted for lack of empathy, pedantic conversational style and difficulties fitting into social situations. However, many individuals who are famous for their intense focus and accomplishments may have AS, and have learned to make their symptoms work for them.

Children with AS are frequently bullied, teased and rejected by peers, and sometimes even by teachers. Social problems frequently worsen with age. Individuals with AS also frequently experience anxiety and depression, probably due to their difficulties socializing and forming relationships.

Treatment

No medication has proven effective in the treatment of AS. However, research has shown two interventions to be effective: cognitive behavior therapy (which helps individuals change behavior by changing their thinking), and social skills training (which trains children in appropriate social behaviors). Emphasis also is placed on individualized assessments and treatments that build on strengths and structure the environment to maximize learning and success.

Most recently, another treatment called neurofeedback has shown promise. Neurofeedback is a procedure in which electroencephalograms (EEGs) are used to teach individuals with AS to control brain activity. This treatment is based on brain-imaging research that has shown that individuals with AS tend to exhibit different brainwave patterns involving the medial temporal lobe and the prefrontal cortex, which controls planning, impulse control and initiation and monitoring of behavior.

Resources

Community resources for AS are becoming more common. Growing knowledge has resulted in legislation in the U.S., the U.K., Australia and other nations to provide appropriate education and services to children with AS.

Online resources provide information and guidance. For example, OASIS is an online information and support resource that includes articles, discussion boards and links to news.

Autism Speaks is an excellent advocacy organization dedicated to increasing public awareness of ASDs, providing support to families affected by ASDs, raising funds and promoting autism research.

Online support groups such as Asperger Syndrome Support Group Online provide information as well as social outlets for AS individuals. Individuals share experiences and resources, and there are also links for parents and families. Many cities have local support groups, and a number of websites provide links to therapists and other resources.

Individuals with AS and their families can expect to struggle as they attempt to clarify the AS diagnosis and access resources for education and treatment. This is especially true in small school districts where personnel have little or no experience with the disorder. It is critical that parents seek assessment from trained and experienced professionals as soon as they suspect a neurodevelopmental problem, even if that means going outside the school system.

On the other hand, all indications are that things are improving rapidly. Pediatricians are becoming more educated about autism and more often providing developmental assessments. With increasing awareness, early diagnosis will permit early intervention, which is most effective. Increased research is providing more treatment options.

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