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What is Asperger Syndrome?

What is Asperger Syndrome?

Asperger Syndrome (or Asperger's Disorder) is a neurobiological disorder named for a Viennese physician, Hans Asperger, who in 1944 published a paper which described a pattern of behaviors in several young boys who had normal intelligence and language development, but who also exhibited autistic-like behaviors and marked deficiencies in social and communication skills. In spite of the publication of his paper in the 1940's, it wasn't until 1994 that Asperger Syndrome was added to the DSM IV and only in the past few years has AS been recognized by professionals and parents.

Individuals with AS can exhibit a variety of characteristics and the disorder can range from mild to severe. Persons with AS show marked deficiencies in social skills, have difficulties with transitions or changes and prefer sameness. They often have obsessive routines and may be preoccupied with a particular subject of interest. They have a great deal of difficulty reading nonverbal cues (body language) and very often the individual with AS has difficulty determining proper body space. Often overly sensitive to sounds, tastes, smells, and sights, the person with AS may prefer soft clothing, certain foods, and be bothered by sounds or lights no one else seems to hear or see. It's important to remember that the person with AS perceives the world very differently. Therefore, many behaviors that seem odd or unusual are due to those neurological differences and not the result of intentional rudeness or bad behavior, and most certainly not the result of "improper parenting".

By definition, those with AS have a normal IQ and many individuals (although not all), exhibit exceptional skill or talent in a specific area. Because of their high degree of functionality and their naiveté, those with AS are often viewed as eccentric or odd and can easily become victims of teasing and bullying. While language development seems, on the surface, normal, individuals with AS often have deficits in pragmatics and prosody. Vocabularies may be extraordinarily rich and some children sound like "little professors." However, persons with AS can be extremely literal and have difficulty using language in a social context.

In social interaction, many people with Asperger's syndrome demonstrate gaze avoidance and may actually turn away at the same moment as greeting another. Many desire interaction with others, but have trouble knowing how to make it work. They are, however, able to learn social skills with instruction and practice. There is a general impression that Asperger's syndrome carries with it superior intelligence and a tendency to become very interested in and preoccupied with a particular subject. Often this preoccupation leads to a specific career at which the adult is very successful. At younger ages, one might see the child being a bit more rigid and apprehensive about changes or about adhering to routines. This can lead to a consideration of OCD, but it is not the same phenomenon.

Many of the weaknesses can be remediated with specific types of therapy aimed at teaching social and pragmatic skills. Anxiety leading to significant rigidity can be also treated medically. Adults with Asperger's can have relationships, families, and can lead happy and productive lives.

These excerpts have been taken from articles by Barbara L. Kirby and Lois Freisleben-Cook. http://www.udel.edu/bkirby/asperger/aswhatisit.html

NCYI offers resources to help you instruct and interact positively with children with Aspergers Syndrome. In particular, these two resources have proven to be effective: Ant Boy DVD, and Children and Youth with Asperger Syndrome.

 

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