Asperger syndrome (AS) is a developmental disorder. It is an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), one of a distinct group of neurological conditions characterized by a greater or lesser degree of impairment in language and communication skills, as well as repetitive or restrictive patterns of thought and behavior. Other ASDs include: classic autism, Rett syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (usually referred to as PDD-NOS). Unlike children with autism, children with AS retain their early language skills.
The most distinguishing symptom of AS is a child’s obsessive interest in a single object or topic to the exclusion of any other. Others symptoms may include:
1. Failure to Develop Friendships
Children who have Asperger’s syndrome may have difficulty cultivating friendships. They may not connect with their peers due to a lack of social skills. They may find it hard to talk to other children or to participate in group activities.
This can be difficult for a child with Asperger’s as they may want very deeply to connect with their peers. Oppositely, some children with Asperger’s have no desire to make friendships and will prefer to be by themselves.
2. Selective Mutism
Young children with Asperger’s may demonstrate selective mutism as a symptom. This occurs when they will only speak freely with people they are comfortable with, and may not speak at all to strangers. Extreme cases last for years. Immediate family members are typically unaffected, as the child often feels comfortable speaking to them.
Selective mutism more often occurs at school and in public and some children may refuse to speak to anyone starting from a very young age. This condition can go away on its own, or your child may benefit from therapy.
3. Inability to Empathize
Individuals with Asperger’s syndrome may find difficulty empathizing with others. As they age, the affected person will learn the accepted social response for interacting with others. While they may react appropriately and say the “right” things, they may not understand why the other person is truly upset.
This can be an issue in childhood as the individual with Asperger’s may play too roughly with their peers or say harsh things, unknowingly hurting the other person. When confronted for this behavior, the child may respond that what they said was true and that they do not understand the issue.
4. Unable to Make Eye Contact or Forcing Eye Contact
People who suffer from Asperger’s syndrome may find it difficult to make and hold eye contact with people they are speaking to. Some believe this condition is brought about from a lack of confidence. Others recount how making eye contact can make them very uncomfortable, almost painful.
There is also the theory that people with Asperger’s syndrome do not realize how important eye contact is for social communication. This may lead to the opposite problem of forcing eye contact. This can make people even more uncomfortable, while the individual with Asperger’s believes they are being more approachable.
5. Social Awkwardness
The idea that people with Asperger’s syndrome are not passionate is completely wrong. One common term professionals use to describe people who suffer from this illness is “active but odd”. They may become very socially active, forming close friendships.
Others may try to surround themselves with people, making lots of close acquaintances, but no deep friendships. This can be related to how well the individual empathizes with others. People with Asperger’s syndrome may not show many outward signs of this illness.
6. Narrowed Interests
Individuals with Asperger’s syndrome may do poorly in school, but that is not to say they don’t have specific interests. Instead, their interests are likely very narrowed and focused. It could be playing video games, making models, or drawing.
These activities focus their minds and provide a sense of comfort for them. If they are forced to leave their projects, they may become distressed. Likewise, if their projects are failing. Fostering these narrowed interests is important for emotional and mental support.
7. Sticking to Routine
Sticking to a routine can be very important for people with Asperger’s syndrome. They may become greatly distressed and anxious when their schedule changes. New situations can be frightening.
A routine can help manage the anxiety of people with Asperger’s syndrome. Thankfully, much of our world runs on tight schedules. If you suspect your child may have Asperger’s syndrome, putting them on a tight schedule may be an effective way to help manage some of their symptoms.
8. Literal Interpretations
One of the symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome is literally interpreting what people say. The affected individual may not understand sarcasm, instead taking what the person has said as truth. The idea that people with Asperger’s syndrome do not understand humor is wrong.
These individuals may be the funniest people you have ever met. When they realize the fault of their literal interpretations, they are able to understand the true meaning behind what is being said, perhaps with some explanation.
9. Excellent Pattern Recognition
Another symptom of Asperger’s syndrome is the amazing ability to recognize patterns. Often these individuals’ brains are trying to make sense of their surroundings, so a break in pattern may show itself quite clearly.
This ability may be evident in childhood, as early schooling develops the neural pathways of pattern recognition. While children with Asperger’s syndrome may find the school setting difficult and struggle with their grades, pattern problems like math and in art may be very enriching. Fostering this natural talent is a great idea.
10. Poor Motor Skills
Some people with Asperger’s syndrome may find it difficult to control their gross and fine motor skills. The motor issues may manifest through poor handwriting thought to be caused by poor hand-eye coordination.
There is no single best treatment package for all children with AS, but most professionals agree that the earlier the intervention, the better. An effective treatment program builds on the child’s interests, offers a predictable schedule, teaches tasks as a series of simple steps, actively engages the child’s attention in highly structured activities, and provides regular reinforcement of behavior. It may include social skills training, cognitive behavioral therapy, medication for co-existing conditions, and other measures.
With effective treatment, children with AS can learn to cope with their disabilities, but they may still find social situations and personal relationships challenging. Many adults with AS are able to work successfully in mainstream jobs, although they may continue to need encouragement and moral support to maintain an independent life.
If you or someone you know experiences any of the symptoms indicated, it’s best to seek medical attention. While these symptoms do not necessarily mean the individual has Asperger’s, it’s always best to seek the advice of a medical professional.
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