Asperger's syndrome is one of the Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and affects over 400,000 families in the US. There are 5 autism spectrum disorders: Classical Autism, Asperger's syndrome, Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS), Rett syndrome, and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder. An ASD diagnosis is generally further refined by differentiating between "high functioning", low functioning", and "with autistic tendencies." It is usually identified in childhood, but in some cases is not diagnosed until the individual's adult years. The government-run website KidsHealth.org states, "According to the Asperger Syndrome Coalition of the United States, the onset of AS is later than what is typical in autism - or at least it is recognized later. Many kids are diagnosed after age 3, with most diagnosed between the ages of 5 and 9."
Diagnosing Aspergers is based on a variety of symptoms. Asperger's syndrome "Experts say that AS follows a continuous course and usually lasts a lifetime. However, symptoms can wax and wane over time, and early intervention services can be helpful," writes Kids Health website. Symptoms of Asperger's Syndrome Include:
- Sensitivity to specific stimuli such as overreacting to a fluorescent light, covering ears for loud sounds, or choosing to wear only one material clothing
- Weighted interests in a single category that trump "normal" activities, i.e. the pursuit of a narrow field of knowledge. The pursuit may encompass an enormous amount of detail on the subject.
- Difficulties with two-sided communication and non-verbal communication
- Social isolation due to inability to poor social skills and narrow interests, rather than the severe withdrawal from the world seen in classical autism.
- Abnormal eye contact
- Failure to turn when called by name
- Lack of emotional regulation
- Overly proper speech or strange voice inflections. Sometimes there is difficulty matching the volume of their voice to the situation, such as talking too loudly in a library, or talking too softly in a noisy restaurant.
- Engaging in unusual and repetitive routines
- Motor delays and clumsiness
- Little common sense
- Self-obsessed dialogue; inability to show empathy. It should be noted that the apparent lack of empathy is not because Aspies are uncaring, but rather due to lack of awareness. While individuals with autism and Asperger's have less ability to ascertain other's feelings, they demonstrate equal empathy when they are aware of others' states of mind. Autistic and AS people actually have a greater response to stress that they witness others experiencing than neurotypical people do.
Several studies have been conducted speculating a correlation between Aspergers syndrome and addiction. What they have determined is that between the ages of 12 and 17, "aspie" teens become more isolated and deprived of friendships than ever before. Peers bully, use and tease them. Aspies in such situations are vulnerable to substance abuse if offered addictive drugs and/or alcohol by peers. In their quest to make friends, they may unknowingly become addicted to drugs after what started as merely trying them via a fellow student's suggestion. Although some "aspie" teens never fall to addiction of drugs or alcohol, video game and computer game addiction is shown to be higher in aspergers teens than "normal" teens.
The term "theory of mind" refers to an individual's ability to ascribe mental states to oneself and to others, as well as the ability to recognize that other people have independent thoughts, emotions, and beliefs. Some researchers believe that autistic behavior stems from a reduced or absent ability to recognize the mental states of both self and others.
"The inability to guess others' mental states can result not only in faux pas but also in paranoia, by attributing negative intentions in others that aren't there. In 2001, researchers Blackshaw, Kinderman, Hare, and Hatton found that the lack of developed private self-consciousness was a predictor of paranoia. This suggests, again, that the ability to know one's self in some way may relate to our skill in attributing feelings and motivations to others. More severely autistic individuals may lack these facilities," writes Prufrock Press, a resource for gifted, advanced, and special needs learners. Aspergers paranoia may be misinterpreted by others and is another reason why education on autism and the spectrum of disorders within autism is important to implement within school system curriculums.
There is some controversy among doctors as to whether Asperger's and High Functioning Autism are separate disorders, with some doctors considering them interchangeable and others questioning the need for the Asperger's diagnosis. The mainstream opinion in the medical community of the difference between Aspergers and other autism spectrum disorders is that typically children with aspergers show no delays in language development. This is not to say that their language development is completely normal, however. While most aspies have good grammar and an advanced vocabulary at a young age they often are extremely literal, and can struggle with the concepts of metaphor, sarcasm, and exaggeration. These differences from the normal uses of language can make social interaction difficult. Children with Aspergers may be teased and made fun of as a result, leading AS children and their parents to become frustrated and saddened.
There is a common myth that Aspergers syndrome is a byproduct of poor parenting skills. It is simply not true - Aspergers syndrome is a neurobiological disorder with causes that are much more nature than nurture.. Thankfully, Aspergers support groups exist are available across the nation. In these forums families who are affected by Aspergers disease can exchange stories, experiences, helpful tips, and support for one another Support groups empower parents.