Everything you need to know about...

ASPERGER'S

Asperger’s is part of a group neurodevelopmental disorders, known as ASD.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) involves challenges in social communication, limited interests and repetitive behaviours.

The prevalence of Asperger’s is increasing.

Over the past two decades, current estimates of children with ASD has risen to 1 in 36. There are a number of factors that may be the cause.

There are a number of available interventions.

While there is no single treatment for autism, it’s important to be aware of medications, therapies and other approaches that may provide relief from symptoms.

Defining Asperger's

Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) is known to be part of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), which is characterized by limitations in social interactions and repetitive patterns of behavior.

Children diagnosed with ASD typically show deficits in social interaction and communication; and show repetitive and restricted behaviors. For example, they may find it difficult to understand the emotional content of a conversation or read the facial expressions of their friends easily. In addition, they may enjoy performing the same activity over and over; and that activity may well be the same one each time.

The prevalence of ASD has been increasing in the past two decades.

  • In 2000, the incidence of autism was 1 in 150 children.
  • Now, it is thought to be as high as 1 in 36 children.
  • The ratio is probably the same cross all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.
  • ASD appears to be 4-5x more prevalent in boys than girls.

Symptoms

Children with ASD often face difficulties in social communication and interaction, and often exhibit early signs of challenges in other areas. There are sometimes large variations in how serious the symptoms are across the autistic spectrum. A patient with Asperger’s for example, may have no language delay, whereas patients with autism may experience severe delays in spoken language.

Children with Asperger’s may face challenges when interpreting verbal and non-verbal language, like gestures or tone of voice. They may find it difficult to use or understand:

  • Facial expressions
  • Tone of voice
  • Jokes and sarcasm
  • Vagueness
  • Abstract concepts

In terms of their interactions with other people – like friends or family – children with Asperger’s may:

  • Appear to be insensitive or not understand the emotional tone of a conversation
  • Seek time alone after being in an environment with other people
  • Behave in a way that seems socially inappropriate

Children with Asperger’s also demonstrate:

  • Repetitive behaviours in the form of very structured and consistent routines
  • Highly-focused interests, often in subjects others find unusual
  • Over or under-sensitivity to sensory stimulation

Causes

Research seems to point to abnormalities in the brain (during a baby’s development throughout pregnancy) as a potential cause for ASD. It also may have a genetic component, with Asperger’s tending to run in families.

Environmental factors (the same ones that produce a higher risk of autism), such as low birth weight and older parental age, can also increase the likelihood of Asperger’s.

Genetics

Over 1,000 genes – like mutations in the ADNP gene – have been reported to have some association with ASD. However, any genetic contribution is thought to only have a small impact.

Environment

Advanced parental age; exposure to air pollution or certain pesticides during pregnancy; maternal health; prematurity and birth difficulties that lead to oxygen deprivation can all be contributing factors.

Brain Development

Broadly speaking, some studies show evidence that the brains of children with autism are enlarged earlier in a child’s development; and also show differences in functional brain connectivity.

Risk Factors

Certain factors increase a child’s risk of ASD. These include:

  • The child’s sex, as boys are 4-5x more likely to develop ASD than girls
  • Family history
  • Having other disorders, like fragile X syndrome
  • Prematurity, as babies born before 26 weeks may be at increased risk
  • Possibly advanced parental age

Complications

Having Asperger’s may unfortunately lead to the development of other problems, including:

  • Academic issues, due to challenges faced at school
  • Employment problems, when the child grows up
  • An inability to live alone or independently
  • Social withdrawal or isolation, leading to anxiety or depression
  • Being bullied

Comorbidities

Nearly 3/4 of children with ASD also have another medical or psychiatric disorder. Comorbidities – or other disorders or difficulties that may co-exist with an ASD diagnosis – are often very challenging for doctors to recognize.

Given that children with ASD may have trouble communicating with others, much of a doctor’s information is gleaned from parents or caregivers who report their observations instead. Certain conditions can also be masked by a child’s inability to interact.

Several disorders which may exist alongside autism, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Epilepsy
  • Fragile X-syndrome
  • Somewhat controversially, ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder)

Diagnosis

If you suspect that your child may have Asperger’s, it’s best to consult your pediatrician.

If you suspect that your child may have Asperger’s, consult your paediatrician. A healthcare professional will know to use the right scales and assessment to diagnose ASD. Some examples of these assessments are:

  • The Developmental, Dimensional and Diagnostic Interview
  • Childhood Autism Rating Scale
  • The Autism Spectrum Disorder-Observation for Children
  • The Asperger Syndrome Diagnostic Interview
  • The Diagnostic Interview for Social and Communication Disorders

Treatment

Effective treatment programs coordinates various strategies to help address the three core symptoms of autism: challenges with social skills; and repetitive or limited routines.

Schools are often equipped to provide specialized instruction for children with ASD. You may also want to speak to any one of these professionals for more information: special education teachers; residential care providers; psychologists; social workers; and speech and language therapists.

There are specific teaching methods that are used to help children with ASD, including TEACCH. TEACCH uses a method called “structural TEACCHING” which is based on the unique requirements of children with ASD.

Approaches, like TEACCH, are designed to cater to the needs of children with ASD by applying specific teaching strategies. This particular method prioritizes organisation and adjusts the classroom environment to better support children with autism through: physical organization; individualized schedules; work and activity schedules; and a visual structure or display of materials in tasks and activities.

In the United States, schools have a legal obligation to help children with disabilities. These children are entitled to a 504 plan, or a menu of special accommodations to assist them.

Children diagnosed with Asperger’s may receive access to an Individualized Education Plan – or a program of specialized instruction tailored to their needs.

These include, but are not limited to:

  • Social skills training, in the form of group therapy
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy, or a “talk therapy”
  • Medications for other conditions that may make life challenging
  • Parent training and support
  • Music therapy, because of the impact it can have on the developing brain

Support Your Child

While there is no single treatment for Asperger’s available, parents can do their part in providing children with the academic and emotional support they need to succeed.

  • Be consistent with routines
  • Stick to a schedule
  • Reward good behaviour
  • Create a safety zone at home
  • Look for nonverbal cues to communicate more effectively
  • Deduce the motivation behind a tantrum
  • Make time for play
  • Pay attention to hypersensitivity
  • Join an ASD support group