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,
• 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.