Perhaps you've noticed that your child has difficulties in social situations, or problems communicating effectively. Or maybe an unusual preoccupation with a particular subject or object beyond regular childhood curiosity.
Then, something shocking your doctor suggests having your child tested for Aspergers Syndrome (AS), a form of autism.
If youre like most people, youve probably never even heard of Aspergers Syndrome. Thats because it wasnt an accepted medical diagnosis before 1994. There was some argument as to whether or not it was a distinct form of autism -- as opposed to being on the mild end of the Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD) scale.
Because it is considered a relatively new disorder, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes conservatively estimates that two out of 10,000 children have Aspergers Syndrome. And, as with other forms of autism, boys are 3-4 times more likely to have AS than girls.
The Aspergers Syndrome Story
Aspergers Syndrome was named when English psychiatrist Lorna Wing used the term in a 1981 paper citing the work of Dr. Hans Asperger. In 1944, Dr. Asperger, an Austrian psychiatrist and pediatrician, observed and documented four children exhibiting problems adapting socially.
The children had normal intelligence but lacked non-verbal communication skills. They also had an overly formal way of speaking, and tended to have an obsessive interest in just one subject or thing.
It wasnt until Dr. Wing published several case studies of children with similar symptoms that Dr. Aspergers interpretations became more widely known and accepted.
What Aspergers Syndrome Is and What it Isnt...
Simply put, Aspergers Syndrome is a form of autism. It falls within the group of Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD), in which autism is the general term.
What this means is that children with Aspergers Syndrome have difficulty communicating or interacting in social settings, expressing emotions or empathy toward others, and may have eccentric language and behavior patterns.
Aspergers Syndrome is a developmental disorder. This means the brain of someone with AS processes information differently than most people.
What Aspergers Syndrome is not is an illness per se. It is a neurological problem within the brain, causing impairment in language, communication skills, and repetitive thoughts and behaviors.
Often, those with Aspergers Syndrome are thought to be eccentric and unique.
Does Your Child Have Any of These Symptoms Indicating Aspergers Syndrome?
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes says symptoms of Aspergers Syndrome may become obvious as early as infancy, but more likely by the age of three.
Although children retain their early language skills, some other things to look for include:
Crawling or walking late, and later clumsiness
An obsessive preoccupation with a particular subject or object to the exclusion of any others
Talking incessantly about one particular topic, but in a random stream of facts and statistics with no point or conclusion
High level of vocabulary and formal speech patterns
Peculiarities in speech and language, such as lack of rhythm, odd inflections, or in monotone
Taking figures of speech literally
Socially and emotionally inappropriate behavior and the inability to interact successfully with others
Difficulties with non-verbal communication, including no use of gestures, flat facial expressions, or a stiff gaze
Clumsy and uncoordinated motor movements
Causes Too Early to Know
Because Aspergers Syndrome is such a new medical diagnosis, its exact cause is still unknown. But there is strong research evidence to suggest a genetic connection. In fact, according to Dr. Joan Gomez in her book Living With Aspergers Syndrome, the brother or sister of someone with AS is 50 times more likely to also have the disorder. The particular gene or group of genes has not been isolated yet. Research is ongoing and promising in this direction.
Another possible cause may be the development of brain abnormalities during pregnancy, during birth, or complications of childhood illnesses.
Because the diagnosis of Aspergers Syndrome is so new to the medical community, much more research must be done before a true cause can be determined.
Your AS Child Can Have a Normal and Productive Life
Although there is no known cure for Aspergers Syndrome yet, there are many ways your child can learn to cope with his or her condition.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, your childs treatment plan must address three areas of their disorder:
1. Poor communication skills, particularly in social situations
2. Obsessive or repetitive routines
3. Poor motor coordination
Treatment includes social skills training, cognitive behavioral therapy, occupational or physical therapy, and speech and language therapy.
Many children with Aspergers Syndrome grow up having learned how to cope with and manage their disability. They often lead lives holding mainstream jobs, maintaining intimate relationships, raising children, and being socially active.
The best means of handling your childs diagnosis of Aspergers Syndrome is to educate yourself. Find out everything you can about AS by reading, asking questions of medical and psychological professionals, going online to find support groups in your area and all other resources.
The important thing to remember is that your child is unique and precious just like any other child. The greatest gifts you can give him or her is a strong sense of self and high self-esteem, encouragement, and love.