Asperger disorder is a developmental condition in which a child does not learn to communicate and interact with others in a typical way. The condition, also called Asperger syndrome, is one of the pervasive developmental disorders, which is the group of conditions that includes autism (AW-tiz-um).
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Pervasive developmental disorder
When Brian turned two years old, his parents were thrilled with his large vocabulary, which surpassed that of any other two-year-old they knew. Because Brian seemed so bright, they tried to ignore the fact that he spoke in a monotone, rarely made eye contact with them, and never wanted to play with the other children in his playgroup. When Brian became fixated on the weather channel on television, however, they had to admit that something might be wrong. When Brian's parents mentioned these behaviors to their pediatrician, she suspected that Brian had a form of autism called Asperger disorder.
What Is Asperger Disorder?
Asperger disorder is in the same group of developmental disorders as autism. Both autism and Asperger disorder are brain conditions that affect a person's ability to relate to others and to communicate normally with language. The main difference between children with Asperger disorder and children with autism is that intelligence and development of language is not delayed in children with Asperger disorder. In fact, children with Asperger disorder are often so clever with words that the Austrian doctor who first described the condition, Hans Asperger, called them "little professors." However, children with Asperger disorder often talk in a monotone, do not look people in the eye when they are talking, and may seem obsessed with odd or narrow interests. For example, they may memorize and recite train timetables or weather statistics but may have little idea of their usefulness.
Despite their intelligence and verbal abilities, children with Asperger disorder are socially atypical and unaware of what other people are thinking and feeling. They rarely if ever try to share their interests or enjoyment with people around them. Thus, they have difficulty making friends, and they may be teased or become socially isolated. People with Asperger disorder may also be hyperactive, irritable, anxious, or depressed.
What Causes Asperger Disorder?
Asperger disorder, like autism in general, results from some abnormality in the brain. However, no one knows exactly what the abnormality is or what causes it. Parents of a child with any form of pervasive development disorder, including Asperger disorder, are more likely to have another child with the same disorder, suggesting that genes * are involved. Some experts believe that the hereditary link is stronger in Asperger disorder than it is in classical autism.
* genes are chemicals in the body that help determine a person's characteristics, such as hair or eye color. They are inherited from a person's parents and are contained in the chromosomes found In the cells of the body.
The prevalence of Asperger disorder is not known. In some children, it is hard to distinguish Asperger disorder from milder forms of classical autism. However, it is believed that there are more males than females with Asperger disorder, and in one survey the male-to-female ratio was 4 to 1.
How Is Asperger Disorder Treated?
Parents, teachers, and mental health professionals may all become involved in helping children with Asperger disorder. Behavioral training to assist in the learning of social skills is important. Children with Asperger disorder may attend special education classes and practice behaviors such as looking people in the eye while talking and trying to see things from another's point of view. They may also learn to read emotions such as anger or fear from the expressions on other people's faces, something that most children can do instinctively. Sometimes children with Asperger disorder are helped by special medications to treat associated problems like hyperactivity, anxiety * and depression * .
There is no cure for Asperger disorder. However, children with this condition, because they have greater verbal skills, often do better as they grow to adulthood than do children with autism. Although they may always be socially awkward, many children with Asperger disorder are able to go on to become well educated and to live and work independently.
* anxiety can be experienced as a troubled feeling, a sense of dread, fear of the future, or distress over a possible threat to a person's physical or mental well-being.
* depression (de-PRESH-un) is a mental state characterized by feelings of sadness, despair, and discouragement.
Attwood, Tony. Aspergers Syndrome: A Guide for Parents and Professionals. Philadelphia: Taylor and Francis, Inc., 1997.
Gagnon, Elisa, and Brenda Smith Miles. This Is Asperger Syndrome. Shawnee Mission, KS: Autism Asperger Publishing Company, 1999. Written for children 9 to 12, this book helps readers understand the behaviors and experiences of a child with Asperger disorder.
Willey, Liane H. Pretending to Be Normal: Living with Asperger's Syndrome. Philadelphia: Taylor and Francis, Inc., 1999. The author describes her own experiences as a person with Asperger disorder and as the mother of a daughter who also has the disorder.
Schnurr, Rosina G. Asperger's Huh?: A Child's Perspective. Gloucester, ON: Anisor Publishing, 1999. A book for children who have Asperger disorder.