Asperger syndrome or Asperger’s syndrome (AS) is a neurodevelopmental disorder. Before 2013 it used to be diagnosed as a separate condition. But the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) now classifies it as a part of autism spectrum disorders (ASD), affecting an individual’s social and communication skills (1). Asperger’s syndrome in children is commonly diagnosed between five and nine years of age. But in some cases, it can be as early as three years (2).
Generally, a child has normal to above-average intelligence, and they perform well academically. However, they have inflexible and repetitive patterns of behavior that are obsessive. Besides, they face challenges comprehending social situations, making social interaction difficult. It is why they might develop low self-esteem and slip into isolation.
Read on to know more about Asperger’s syndrome, its timely diagnosis, prompt treatment, and effective management.
Causes Of Asperger Syndrome
There’s no known cause for Asperger’s syndrome.
Experts believe that certain genetic and environmental factors that affect brain development during intrauterine life may play a role. The chances of the condition appearing further increases due to risk factors, such as exposure to teratogens during pregnancy, problems with pregnancy or birth, and neonatal infections.
Boys are three to four times more likely to have Asperger’s syndrome than girls, suggesting that gender might also be a risk factor (3). However, the risk factors are not fully understood, and not all children with risk factors may develop Asperger’s syndrome.
Symptoms Of Asperger’s Syndrome In Children
- Speech peculiarities, such as talking in unusual sounds and tones that are either high-pitched or flat, quiet or loud, or robotic. These speech oddities don’t mean the child has poor language skills; it means that they have an unusual talking style. However, in some children, Asperger’s can be a cause of delay in language development.
- Unusual behavior exhibiting repetitive and rigid thinking patterns. For instance, their conversation obsessively revolves around themselves or only on specific topics. They neglect anything that others may want to say or share. It is why they find it challenging to keep the conversation going.
- Stringent and highly repetitive routines. It means they do things in a specific way, day after day, almost like an obsession. If any changes occur or the routine is disturbed, the child gets disturbed and behaves overly emotionally.
- Trouble comprehending other’s emotions and feelings. It causes a lack of empathy and respect for differences in perspectives, which could cause emotional outbursts. During the flares, the child may throw severe tantrums or injure themselves in rage.
- Challenge in making friends and fruitful social interaction. It primarily happens when the child struggles to understand non-verbal cues, such as facial expressions, and subtle communication forms, such as irony, sarcasm, and humor. They tend to misinterpret language and feel annoyed easily. Also, they experience a lack of confidence and avoid making eye contact.
- Clumsy, uncoordinated motor movements that occur due to delayed motor development. Children with AS may struggle with daily activities, such as writing, pedaling a bike, walking, or climbing.
Since children with AS struggle with their social skills and have limited interests, they often remain isolated and may develop disruptive behaviors, such as anxiety and depression. It is why a timely diagnosis of the condition is imperative.
Diagnosing Asperger’s Syndrome In Children
There are multiple diagnostic tests to diagnose Asperger’s syndrome. To make a diagnosis, your doctor will enquire about the child’s symptoms in detail and discuss their medical and genetic history. Based on the suggestive findings, your doctor may involve an expert, such as a psychologist or pediatric neurologist.
The expert will ask you and your child questions about their development, current condition, and problems. They will follow the DSM-5 and ICD10 based diagnostic criteria that involve (5):
- Monitoring your child’s social skills and inquiring about their communication skills and overall behavior over time. It helps evaluate the degree of impairment in social interaction.
- Conducting hearing, speech, language, and intellectual ability tests and assessments to verify cognitive and language development impairments.
They may also suggest additional tests to rule out other health issues and genetic disorders. The various diagnostic assessments could be conducted over days or weeks in a doctor’s office, your child’s residence, or your child’s school.
Treatment For Asperger’s Syndrome
There’s no cure for Asperger’s syndrome. Your doctor will chart a treatment plan to manage and alleviate symptoms. The treatment plan is most likely to involve various treatment modalities, such as special education, behavior modification, psychotherapy, and medication (2) (3) (6).
- Speech-language therapy: Several children with AS have near-normal speech and language development. The children are considered to have high-functioning autism (7). Yet, they may struggle with social interaction. In such cases, speech-language therapy improves their communication skills by teaching them the proper tone and body language. It also helps them with ways to sustain dialogue and maintain eye contact while talking.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT works on an individual’s cognitive functioning that regulates their behavior. It helps the child observe and perceive things multi-dimensionally, letting them handle their emotions and unusual behaviors.
- Social skills training: These training sessions teach your child the appropriate ways to interact with others and express one’s thoughts responsibly. The therapist can model situations and help the child analyze their behavior in particular situations. Training sessions can happen one-on-one or in small groups consisting of children with similar issues.
- Physical therapy: Some children with Asperger’s syndrome may struggle with gross motor skills and have clumsy body movement. In such scenarios, a physical therapist works on your child’s core body strength and helps them perform day-to-day activities, such as walking and climbing stairs.
- Occupational therapy: Issues with fine motor skills and sensitivity to touch, smell, visual, or auditory stimuli could happen in AS. Occupational therapy improves these issues using clay modeling and activities involving chalk, sand, and water. Indulging in these activities improves your child’s eye-hand coordination necessary for self-reliant activities, such as self-feeding and writing.
- Parental education and training: These education and training sessions prepare a parent to adjust and adapt to the fact that their child has Asperger’s syndrome. Besides, it equips parents with ways to support their children in overcoming their day-to-day problems.
- Medications: There are no specific FDA-approved drugs that can treat Asperger’s syndrome. However, some medicines can relieve symptoms, such as depression and anxiety, which often accompany the condition. Some of the drugs that your doctor may prescribe are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), antipsychotic drugs, and stimulant medicines.
Timely diagnosis and suitable treatment let most children with Asperger’s syndrome manage their symptoms and live normal lives.
Possible Complications Of Asperger’s Syndrome
Asperger’s syndrome is a complex condition that often overlaps with several other neurological disorders. In such a scenario, complications affecting different functional areas may arise if the condition goes untreated.
A few of those complications are:
- Under or over-sensitivity to sensory stimuli, such as bright lights, loud sounds, strong smell, and textures
- Delayed motor development, causing a delay in walking, or developing an unusual walking pattern
- Slow cognitive development leading to poor academic performance
- Difficulty maintaining relations with friends and family, leading to social isolation
- Low self-esteem and poor self-confidence
- Depression and anxiety
- Challenge finding and keeping up steady employment during adulthood
- Difficulty maintaining healthy personal relationships with the opposite gender in adulthood
Several children with Asperger’s syndrome also have coexisting mental disorders that may exhibit symptoms. Some of these conditions are non-verbal learning disorders, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), tic disorder, Tourette’s syndrome, bipolar disorder, and social anxiety disorder.
Is Asperger’s Syndrome Preventable?
Since Asperger’s syndrome has no known cause, it is not possible to prevent it. Staying vigilant to signs and symptoms of the condition could help achieve early detection and management, preventing any long-term issues.
If your child is diagnosed with the condition, you can follow some simple steps to support them.
- Research the condition and gather as much precise information as possible to understand the state, its possible treatment, and effective management.
- Look for support programs that can run parallel to your child’s treatment and help them overcome their challenges. Choose and focus on programs that work on your child’s long-term development.
- Check for special education programs made for parents in and around your area. These programs will help you understand your child’s situation better and help you learn ways to support them.
- Work closely with your child’s teachers to sync the approaches and help your child do well in academics. Children with AS usually are good at academics. But in some cases, they may need extra help. If your child is one of them, don’t hesitate to talk to the school administration and teachers.
- Enroll your child in a special school, if necessary. These schools follow a tailored curriculum designed specifically to help children with autism and learning disabilities learn and develop.
- Involve with your child’s doctor and other caregivers. It is vital to work in a close-knit setup synchronically to support the treatment and management of your child’s condition.
- Teach self-help skills to your child. Reassure them that you will be there during the course to handhold, but they need to bolster their courage to be self-reliant.
- Balance your child’s needs with that of the family. Keep your child involved with the family and avoid treating them differently. The goal is to make children understand their situation but not making them feel too different.
- Get support for yourself and other family members to fight exhaustion and meltdowns that may happen while managing children with complex symptoms. Remember, you can’t support your child unless your physical and emotional state is intact.
Asperger’s syndrome is a neurodevelopmental disorder that has no known cause. Early detection and timely medical intervention can effectively manage the condition. Persistent efforts to care and diligent family support can help a child with AS live a healthy, happy, and productive life.