About Asperger Syndrome

What is Asperger Syndrome?

Asperger syndrome (AS) is an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) characterized by social impairment, communication difficulties, and restrictive, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior.  It is considered a neurodevelopmental disorder, and is present from infancy or early childhood. Asperger syndrome is considered by many to be the mildest form of ASD and is synonymous with the most highly functioning individuals with ASD.

Characteristics of Asperger Syndrome

The social communication deficits in those with Asperger syndrome include lack of the normal back and forth conversation; lack of typical eye contact, body language, and facial expression; and trouble maintaining relationships.  Fixated interests and repetitive behaviors include repetitive use of objects or phrases, stereotyped movements, and excessive attachment to routines, objects, or interests.  Persons with ASD may also respond to sensory aspects of their environment with unusual indifference or excessive interest.

What are the Chances of Having a Child with Asperger Syndrome

The prevalence of AS is not well established.  It is often not recognized before age 5 or 6 because language development is normal.  Although ASD varies significantly in character and severity, it occurs in all ethnic and socioeconomic groups and affects every age group.  Experts estimate that as many as 1 in 88 children age 8 will have autism spectrum disorder. No studies have yet been conducted to determine the incidence of Asperger syndrome in adult populations, but studies of children with the disorder suggest that their problems with socialization and communication continue into adulthood.  Males are four times more likely than females to have Autism Spectrum Disorder.

History of Asperger Syndrome

In 1944, an Austrian pediatrician named Hans Asperger observed four children in his practice who had difficulty integrating socially.  Although their intelligence appeared normal, the children lacked nonverbal communication skills, failed to demonstrate empathy with their peers, and were physically awkward.  Their speech was either disjointed or overly formal, and their all-absorbing interest in a single topic dominated their conversations.  Dr. Asperger called the condition “autistic psychopathy” and described it as a personality disorder primarily marked by social isolation.

Asperger’s observations, published in German, were not widely known until 1981, when an English doctor named Lorna Wing published a series of case studies of children showing similar symptoms, which she called “Asperger’s” syndrome.  Wing’s writings were widely published and popularized.  AS became a distinct disease and diagnosis in 1992, when it was included in the tenth published edition of the World Health Organization’s diagnostic manual, International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10), and in 1994 it was added to the Diagnostic and Statistical  Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic reference book.   However, scientific studies have not been able to definitively differentiate Asperger syndrome from highly functioning autism.

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