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Learning DisabilitiesDyslexiaAD/HDEmotional DisturbanceAsperger's Syndrome

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What is Asperger syndrome?

Asperger syndrome (AS) is a developmental disorder that is characterized by limited interests or an unusual preoccupation with a particular subject to the exclusion of other activities:

• repetitive routines or rituals
• peculiarities in speech and language, such as speaking in an overly formal manner or in a monotone, or taking figures of speech literally
• socially and emotionally inappropriate behavior and the inability to interact successfully with peers
• problems with non-verbal communication, including the restricted use of gestures, limited or inappropriate facial expressions, or a peculiar, stiff gaze
• clumsy and uncoordinated motor movements

AS is an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), one of a distinct group of neurological conditions characterized by a greater or lesser degree of impairment in language and communication skills, as well as repetitive or restrictive patterns of thought and behavior. Other ASDs include: classic autism, Rett syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (usually referred to as PDD-NOS).

Parents usually sense there is something unusual about a child with AS by the time of his or her third birthday, and some children may exhibit symptoms as early as infancy. Unlike children with autism, children with AS retain their early language skills. Motor development delays – crawling or walking late, clumsiness – are sometimes the first indicator of the disorder.

The incidence of AS is not well established, but experts in population studies conservatively estimate that two out of every 10,000 children have the disorder. Boys are three to four times more likely than girls to have AS.

Studies of children with AS suggest that their problems with socialization and communication continue into adulthood. Some of these children develop additional psychiatric symptoms and disorders in adolescence and adulthood.

Although diagnosed mainly in children, AS is being increasingly diagnosed in adults who seek medical help for mental health conditions such as depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). No studies have yet been conducted to determine the incidence of AS in adult populations.

Why is it called Asperger syndrome?

In 1944, an Austrian pediatrician named Hans Asperger observed four children in his practice who had difficulty integrating socially. Although their intelligence appeared normal, the children lacked nonverbal communication skills, failed to demonstrate empathy with their peers, and were physically clumsy. Their way of speaking was either disjointed or overly formal, and their all-absorbing interest in a single topic dominated their conversations. Dr. Asperger called the condition “autistic psychopathy” and described it as a personality disorder primarily marked by social isolation.

Asperger’s observations, published in German, were not widely known until 1981, when an English doctor named Lorna Wing published a series of case studies of children showing similar symptoms, which she called “Asperger’s” syndrome. Wing’s writings were widely published and popularized. AS became a distinct disease and diagnosis in 1992, when it was included in the tenth published edition of the World Health Organization’s diagnostic manual, International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10), and in 1995 it was added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic reference book.
 

 

  Source:  "Asperger Syndrome Fact Sheet," NINDS. Publication date January 2005, www.ninds.nih.gov.

 

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Last Updated 9/2/2007

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