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Asperger syndrome

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Smiling Autistic Girl Flaps Hands

"Smiling Autistic Girl Flaps Hands" by autistic artist Luna Rose, who was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome

Asperger syndrome (or Asperger's disorder), also referred to as Asperger's or just AS, is a Pervasive Developmental Disorder on the autism spectrum.

Asperger Syndrome was an official diagnosis under the DSM IV, but has fallen obsolete under the DSM 5, which simply uses the term "Autism Spectrum Disorder."

Children and adults with Asperger’s Syndrome have an intellectual capacity within or above the typical range, but have a distinct profile of abilities that has been apparent since early childhood. The profile of abilities includes the following characteristics:


Source:Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders

A. Qualitative impairment in social interaction, as manifested by at least two of the following:

1) marked impairment in the use of multiple non-verbal behaviours such as eye-to-eye gaze, facial expression, body postures, and gestures to regulate social interaction;
2) failure to develop peer relationships appropriate to developmental level;
3) a lack of spontaneous seeking to share enjoyment, interests or achievements with other people (e.g.: by a lack of showing, bringing, or pointing out objects of interest to other people);
4) lack of social or emotional reciprocity.

B. Restricted repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behaviour, interests and activities, as manifested by at least one of the following:

1) encompassing preoccupation with one or more stereotyped and restricted patterns of interest that is abnormal either in intensity or focus;
2) apparently inflexible adherence to specific, nonfunctional routines or rituals;
3) stereotyped and repetitive motor mannerisms (e.g.: hand or finger flapping or twisting, or complex whole-body movements);
4) persistent preoccupation with parts of objects

C. The disturbance causes clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

D. There is no clinically significant general delay in language (eg: single words used by age 2 years, communicative phrases used by age 3 years).

E. There is no clinically significant delay in cognitive development or in the development of age-appropriate self-help skills, adaptive behaviour(other than social interaction), and curiosity about the environment in childhood.

F. Criteria are not met for another specific Pervasive Developmental Disorder, or Schizophrenia.


Dr. Hans Asperger, an Austrian paediatrician, originally described Asperger’s Syndrome in 1944. He observed in around 1940s certain peculiar behavior patterns in some of his patients, mostly male children. These children had around average language skills and intelligence levels.

The children exhibited impaired social skills, and had many other unusual behavioral patterns. They struggled with social interactions, had very few facial expressions, and showed many special mannerisms. For instance, they could not tolerate clothes made of certain materials, would be annoyed at light that was normal for others, or would try to cover their ears to stop listening to normal noises. They would look odd and exceptional by the way they would behave.

The children exhibited intense interests, which they loved to share with others around them. Asperger referred to them as "little professors" because of their extensive knowledge on their favorite subjects. They also had incredible attention to detail and deeply valued honesty.

The syndrome has more recently been classified as an autistic spectrum disorder in the DSM-V.

New Thinking by Tony Attwood

From my clinical experience I consider that children and adults with Aspergers Syndrome have a different, not defective, way of thinking.

The person usually has a strong desire to seek knowledge, truth and perfection with a different set of priorities than would be expected with other people. There is also a different perception of situations and sensory experiences. The overriding priority may be to solve a problem rather than satisfy the social or emotional needs of others.

The person values being creative rather than co-operative.

The person with Aspergers syndrome may perceive errors that are not apparent to others, giving considerable attention to detail, rather than noticing the “big picture”.

The person is usually renowned for being direct, speaking their mind and being honest and determined and having a strong sense of social justice.

The person may actively seek and enjoy solitude, be a loyal friend and have a distinct sense of humour.

However, the person with Aspergers Syndrome can have difficulty with the management and expression of emotions.

Children and adults with Aspergers syndrome may have levels of anxiety, sadness or anger that indicate a secondary mood disorder. They may also express love differently, and loved ones might not understand it if they are not used to their unique body language. Improving communication and emotion management skills can be helpful in these cases.


Exact causes of this disorder are not known. However, many researchers believe that there is an underlying genetic element involved in the development of Asperger syndrome. It is also believed to be linked to certain structural differences in the brain.

Other theories involve a connection to immune system dysfunction. Children with autism spectrum disorders demonstrate increased frequency of immunologic abnormalities including signs of elevated innate and humoral immunity. "Immune Dysregulation in a Cohort of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders" by Scott Faber, Carolyn Kobelak, and Carlos Caminos from The Childrens Institute, Pittsburgh.


There are dedicated facilities for children with AS. However, most children affected with AS flourish in a regular education setting with adequate support from parents, teachers, and their classmates. Some children with AS attend special schools dedicated to train and teach children with AS, autism, and other learning disabilities. However, the current mindset is that the Inclusion Model is a best practice for those with Asperger Syndrome [Supporting the Inclusion of a Student with Asperger Syndrome: A Case Study Using Conjoint Behavioural Consultation and Self-Management; Wilkinson, Lee A., Educational Psychology in Practice, v21 n4 p307-326 Dec 2005]

There are a variety of ways that parents and caregivers can help children with Asperger's

  • Children should be encouraged to learn to inculcate self-help attitude. This will help the affected children to face life confidently, and face life with more independence.
  • Parents should explore the possibilities of getting training and counseling from experts to learn about ways to support the child. The work of autistic writers can offer special insights into what their child experiences and how to help.
  • The child should be treated as the part of the family unit, and his/her requirements should also remain in focus alongside the requirements of other family members. This will make the child's position normal within the family, and may encourage him/her to participate in the family affairs to the extent possible.
  • The child should be able to express their own social goals, and to speak up if something is hurting or troubling them
  • No shortcut method or treatment should be selected for the child. It is always better to have treatments and training programs with long term outlook to guide the long term development of the affected child.
  • Apart from the expert medical advice, it is also necessary that the parents should try to get support, say from members of their community, such as neighbors and friends. There may be support programs available that are sponsored by the local government, hospitals, voluntary organizations, etc. This is also helpful as others may not be aware about the special needs of the affected child. Seeking such support will alert their friends and neighbors about the special needs of the affected child.
  • Parents should realize that they will need to advocate for their child to foster acceptance, tolerance and education to the rest of society.

Further reading

  • The OASIS Guide to Asperger Syndrome: Advice, Support, Insight, and Inspiration (ISBN 0609608118) by Patricia Romanowski Bashe and Barbara L. Kirby
  • The Complete Guide to Asperger's Syndrome (ISBN 18431049540) by Tony Attwood [1]
  • Mind Apart: Travels in a Neurodiverse World, Antonetta, Susanne, Trade Cloth, Tarcher, 2005 ISBN: 1585423823
  • Asperger's Answer Book: The Top 300 Questions Parents Ask, Ashley, Susan, Trade Paper, Sourcebooks, 2006 ISBN: 1402208073

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