Asperger’s disorder is named for a Viennese physician, Hans Asperger, who published a paper describing it in 1944. The disorder is technically a subgroup under the larger diagnostic classification of Autistic Spectrum Disorder (sometimes called Pervasive Development Disorder). Hence, in simple terms, it is a milder form of Autism. Yet, in certain ways it differs from high-functioning Autism, standing out with several specific attributes.
Here are six basic symptoms often seen in Asperger’s:
1. Severe impairment in reciprocal social interaction.
The child with Asperger’s typically does not have or make friends appropriate for his age. He doesn’t use social “cues” properly, like making eye contact, gesturing, or using facial expressions to show interest. He doesn’t seem to show significant curiosity in what other children are doing, nor does he demonstrate adequate empathy for their feelings. He seems rather consumed in his own activities.
The child may talk incessantly about video games, or a particular television program, a certain toy or character, etc., to the point that it becomes markedly unusual. Her focus on this particular topic seems to interfere with her interest in other activities, and even in making friends. Or the child may simply engage in a repetitive activity to the point that it becomes all-consuming. She may engage in peculiar repetitive behaviors such as hand-flapping or more complex body movements.
3. Unlike classic Autism, there is no significant delay in language development, yet speech and language anomalies are seen.
The Aspergers child will likely reach all the typical language milestones, like using single words by age two, communicative phrasing by age three, etc. The older AS child will even use language quite fluently, however, in a mechanical fashion. There may be unusual voice inflections and atypical speech patterns. The child may misunderstand the literal or implied meanings of words, which might, for example, make it difficult for him to understand humor or subtle social cues.
4. Unlike classic Autism, there is no clinically significant delay in cognitive development or age-appropriate self-help skills. However, socially the child does not “fit in.”
The child is reaching the typical developmental milestones; i.e. crawling, walking, toilet training, reading, writing, getting dressed, etc. Yet her socially inappropriate behaviors isolate her from friendships with peers, and may cause classroom disruptions or problems at home.
5. Motor Clumsiness.
Although not severe, the child may exhibit clumsiness and the inability to succeed in team sports. He may fall behind other children in athletic ability, and may be lacking in coordination or adequate muscular development.
6. Imposes routines and interests on others.
The child’s social interactions may be limited to how much others will engage him in his obsessive interests. He may insist that family members follow along with his repetitive behaviors or throw tantrums if he isn’t allowed to adhere to his routines.
The above criteria should be used as a guideline. If your child demonstrates some of the above symptoms, see your pediatrician. The diagnosis of Asperger’s cannot be made unless the disturbance is causing the child significant problems at school and home, and considerable impairment in social functioning. Also, childhood Schizophrenia and other disorders must be ruled out.
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