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Asperger syndrome (AS) is a lifelong developmental disorder where there are marked difficulties in social interaction and nonverbal communication. The disorder is also characterised by restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviour and interests. AS is considered to be a milder autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
This disorder is named after Hans Asperger. As a child, Hans have exhibited features of the condition such as remoteness and language skill. In 1944, he reported about four children from his practice who were observed to have difficulty integrating themselves socially. These children also struggled with non-verbal communication skills, and lacked the ability to demonstrate empathy with other children. He initially called this ‘autistic psychopathy’. Fifty years on, a number of standardisations of AS as a diagnosis were proposed, many of which were derived from Hans’s earlier works.
Julia Dachez shared her experiences of being diagnosed with Asperger syndrome: ‘Autism has never caused me any pain or suffering, but enduring the stigma and social exclusion and facing the societal pressure to conform to non-autistic behaviours definitely did.’
In spite of these battles, Julia managed to earn a doctoral degree in social psychology. She also runs a blog and has written a novel. As an advocate for autism, she holds conferences all around France and has recently been named personality of the year by a French newspaper.
As can be gleaned from Julia’s story, people with AS are of average (or even above average) intelligence. In fact, they do not have those learning disabilities that other people afflicted with autism may have. Still, they may struggle with other specific learning difficulties: people with ASD may have fewer problems with speech but may still have difficulties with processing or understanding the language.
Until now, it’s exact cause is still being explored. But the fact that it runs in families, reinforces the idea that it has a genetic component. Since this cannot be cured, early diagnosis can help a child create social connections and lead a productive life.
Currently, there are no specific tests for diagnosing AS. However, you may notice a range of behaviour, such as:
- Attitudes toward change
- Facial expressions when talking
- Interaction with others
- Language development
- Motor skills
- Social interaction
Some of the therapies used in managing ASD include: positive behaviour support procedure, applied behaviour analysis (ABA), cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech therapy.
AS treatment generally involve managing distressing symptoms and teaching a range of age-appropriate skills (social, communication, and vocational) that are not naturally learned during the early stages of development.
Interventions are not the only thing that children with ASD need. As noted by Scott Myers and Chris Plauché Johnson: ‘Paediatricians have an important role not only in early recognition and evaluation of autism spectrum disorders but also in chronic management of these disorders. The primary goals of treatment are to maximise the child’s ultimate functional independence and quality of life by minimising the core autism spectrum disorder features, facilitating development and learning, promoting socialisation, reducing maladaptive behaviours, and educating and supporting families.’
Most of these interventions target important aspects of development such as communication skills, social interactions skills, and academic skills. It can be tricky to tell which intervention will work best for your child, because each person afflicted ASD behaves differently. Some types of intervention can involve hours of work, and this may not always be feasible for families due to practical, emotional and financial commitments they entail.
Dennis Relojo-Howell is the founder of Psychreg. He writes for the American Psychological Association and has a weekly column for Free Malaysia Today.