Asperger’s Syndrome

What to Know About Asperger’s Syndrome

Asperger’s syndrome falls within the autism spectrum and can affect speech and language and result in heightened environmental sensitivity. However, it can also result in having extensive knowledge and recall about particular subjects.

Because those with Asperger’s tend to focus or even obsess over a couple of topics (leading to the superior knowledge of them), they may find it more difficult to connect socially. Here are 12 other interesting things to know about Asperger’s…

1. It Falls Within Autism Spectrum Disorder

Doctors no longer diagnose Asperger’s on its own; it is considered a “high-functioning” form of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to WebMD. While there are some similarities between Asperger’s and other forms of autism, Asperger’s tends to be less severe.

The medical community stopped referring to Asperger’s as a separate condition in 2013, when the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) changed it classification. There is a new diagnosis in the manual called social pragmatic communication disorder, which overlaps with Asperger’s symptoms.

2. Patients Sometimes Have Heightened IQ

While those with the syndrome may struggle socially, they are not at any disadvantage intellectually and may even excel beyond their peers in some cases. The Interactive Autism Network explains while many patients with autism are intellectually challenged, those with Asperger’s have not lost any cognitive function.

In some cases, those with Asperger’s have intelligence into the “genius range.” “Your IQ can be through the stratosphere, and you can still have an impaired ability to read the social world, so much so that you struggle to navigate the social complexities in school, workplace, or community,” adds the source.

3. Symptoms Start Early

WebMD explains that one of the first signs of Asperger’s is that your young child won’t make eye contact with you or miss social cues. They may also not know how to properly respond to you when they’re of speaking age. When someone tells a joke and everyone laughs, someone with Asperger’s may miss the punchline.

Aside from spoken words, those with Asperger’s may miss body language cues, such as someone crossing their arms in anger. This could also mean they aren’t aware if you’re showing obvious disinterest in what they’re saying.

4. There Can Be Physical Signs

BrainBalanceCenters.com said that while the syndrome is marked by certain social traits, there can be some physical telltale signs as well. Aside from lack of eye contact, someone with Asperger’s can also have a limited range of facial expressions, making them almost seem “robotic.”

Children with the syndrome may display “clumsy, uncoordinated movements, an odd posture or a rigid gait.” They may also exhibit repetitive movements “such as hand or finger flapping,” according to the source.

5. It’s Often Not Diagnosed Until Adulthood

While the symptoms can show up early, many people with Asperger’s can fly under the radar until later in life, according to Autism Speaks. It notes that the problem can go unnoticed until a child has problems in school or an adult has trouble in the workplace.

In many cases, adults who seek help for anxiety and depression end up uncovering their Asperger’s in the process. There’s a common thread of social interaction difficulties involved in the diagnosis.

6. The Condition Can Be Treated

While there’s no cure for this mental disorder that can also result in violent outbursts, PsychCentral.com explains there are number of effective treatments to improve the outlook for those with Asperger’s. Specifically, there are “psychosocial interventions” to address problems such as lagging communication skills, adds the source.

There are also medications that may be helpful to treat Asperger’s, including psychostimulant drugs to prevent inattention and hyperactivity. Mood stabilizers, beta blockers, and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants can also be helpful for aggression or compulsions.

7. It Differs From Social Anxiety

Those with Asperger’s may display symptoms of social anxiety, but they’re not the same thing, according to VeryWellMind.com. While Asperger’s “involves impairment in certain basic aspects of communication and relationships,” it is very different than social anxiety, adds the source.

Social anxiety disorder (SAD) has anxiety as the “driving force” behind it, and it can limit your performance based on your anxiety in certain situations. Meanwhile, to be diagnosed with Asperger’s, you don’t need to have anxiety. The limited social skills from Asperger’s is from trouble interpreting social cues. That’s not to say that some patients with Asperger’s don’t experience anxiety as well.

8. It’s Not a New Syndrome

You may have only heard about Asperger’s in recent years, but the truth is the syndrome was first described by Dr. Hans Asperger (an Austrian pediatrician) in 1944, notes MedicineNet.com. The doctor first recognized it in male patients as “a lack of empathy, little ability to form friendships, one-sided conversation, intense absorption in a special interest, and clumsy movements.”

Dr. Asperger coined the nickname “little professors” for these patients, because of their very keen interest in very particular subjects. However, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) didn’t recognize Asperger’s as a specific entity until 1994, before it was included under ASD criteria.

9. There Are Famous Patients

As we noted earlier, Asperger’s does not limit intelligence. So, it’s no surprise that some big names living and passed are connected to the syndrome. One famous patient is Dr. Temple Grandin, an engineer and professor that was the focus of a Hollywood film.

MedicineNet.com also explains that although we’ll never know for sure (because direct observation is required for a diagnosis), it’s believed other iconic names in history may have been tied to Asperger’s, for example Mozart, Albert Einstein, Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and others.

10. It’s More Common in Boys

It’s actually a lot more common in boys (5-times more common), according to MedicineNet.com. It adds that the particular syndrome is estimated to affect 2.5-children per 1,000, “based upon the total number of children with autistic disorders.”

Meanwhile, the source says the total number of autism cases has dramatically increased in the U.S. in recent years, but the reason for this is not totally clear. It may actually be partly due to improvements in the diagnostic process to identify more patients.

11. It’s Often Confused With Other Disorders

The Autism Awareness Center explains that Asperger’s is commonly misdiagnosed as another psychiatric disorder, such as attention deficit disorders, learning disabilities, or bipolar disorder.

These missed diagnoses mean the patient won’t get the right treatment approach and learn the right skills to function socially in school and other settings. “There is a huge confusion over what Asperger’s is and what it isn’t because it has only been diagnosed by the present criteria for the past 12 years,” explains the source. Other sources stress that Asperger’s is a neurological and developmental disorder, not a mental illness.

12. The Causes Are Not Well Understood

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says to date there hasn’t been a clear risk factor for ASD, which Asperger’s falls under. There is likely a “combination of multiple genetic and environmental risk factors,” notes the source.

It says that environmental contaminants may play an important role, as “the neurological signalling systems that are impaired in children with ASDs can be affected by certain environmental chemicals.” It points at certain pesticides that can interfere with particular neurotransmitters. There have also been ASD studies looking at the risk of taking certain medications during pregnancy.

Dr. Gerald Morris

Dr. Gerald Morris

Gerald Morris, MD is a family medicine/internal medicine physician with over 20 years expertise in the medical arena. Dr. Morris has spent time as a clinician, clinical research coordinator/manager, medical writer, and instructor. He is a proponent of patient education as a tool in the diagnosis and treatment of acute and chronic medical conditions.

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