Could Your Child Have Asperger's Syndrome?

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If you've watched television in the past few years, you've probably heard of Asperger's Syndrome. Parenthood, one of NBC's Tuesday night dramas, deals with how a family reacts when a child is diagnosed with the disorder. Other shows like House and Big Bang Theory have mentioned it, albeit in a more 'offhand' way. But what exactly is it? What are the signs? Could your child have it and, if so, how can it be treated?

Asperger's Syndrome is a neurological disorder on the 'high-functioning' end of the autism spectrum. It has been identified in 1 out of every 100 children, much more often in boys than in girls. It can be kind of hard to spot because, unlike other forms of autism, children with Asperger's Syndrome don't usually have major delays in language or cognitive development.

I never realized it before, but I actually know several people who have been diagnosed with the disorder. While most people diagnosed with it today are children, more and more adults have been given that label in recent years because the signs were previously thought to be due to other disorders such as depression, Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Some of those signs are:
  • Delayed development of motor skills. For instance, a person with Asperger's may have difficulty learning to write or use silverware. They may also have markedly clumsy or uncoordinated movements, more so than others.
  • An inability to notice or pick up on social cues such as tones of voice, accent or body language. As a result, they might take jokes literally or stand too close to others. Since they do not hear things like pitch or tone, their speech sounds flat or mechanical.
  • Frustration with or inability to accept any deviation from the normal routine.
  • A lack of seemingly-innate social skills, such as carrying on a conversation. They are usually very intelligent (my friend affectionately refers to her son as 'Genius Brat') but unable to relate to other people or show empathy.
  • An intense obsession with/knowledge of one or two particular subjects. For instance, one person I know would constantly study and talk about the past presidents of the United States. Others may focus on things like basketball statistics or chemical reactions. While it sounds like random trivia to others, it's not uncommon for a person with Asperger's to be able to think or talk about little else than their chosen subject. One-sided conversations are pretty common, especially since they do not pick up on social cues from others.
  • Being especially sensitive to things like light, sound or smell to the point that it disrupts normal life. For instance, one friend is so sensitive to light that she has to wear a sun visor or sunglasses indoors.
There isn't any kind of medication or cure for Asperger's specifically. While things like anxiety might be treated medically, most therapy for Asperger's is occupational or educational in nature. Things such as social training, education or behavioral therapy will have to be tailored to meet the child's individual situations. They may benefit from structured, supervised activities with other children or training to learn proper social skills. Inappropriate behavior such as unwanted touching or interrupting others might have to be dealt with specifically. While many children with Asperger's do well in mainstream schools as long as they get individualized attention, some need help only a special school or tutor can provide.


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