FROM THE NYU CHILD STUDY CENTER: ASK THE EXPERT
What is Asperger Syndrome?
Asperger Syndrome shares the distinction of being only one of two conditions in the field of psychiatry that is named after the author who first reported on it, the second is Tourette Disorder. Hans Asperger first published an article in a professional journal in the 1940’s about a group of children who had marked difficulties in socially integrating with their peer group. However, it wasn’t until the 1980’s that any serious research was done looking at this condition and the disorder did not become part of the official diagnostic classification until 1994.
Asperger is part of a group of disorders called the Pervasive Developmental Disorders. Some are beginning to use the term Autism Spectrum Disorders. While considered to be at the highest end of the spectrum, individuals with Asperger can have marked difficulties in functioning.
Asperger affects about 25 out of every 10,000 individuals and is much more common in boys. However, we are beginning to understand that this syndrome may look different in girls and may be less easily identified.
There are two key symptoms of this syndrome. The first is a marked deficit in socialization—these children often seem aloof and in their own world, but most wish to have friends and to fit in socially. They have difficulty reading social cues, difficulty with personal space and they often misread social situations. As a result, when they do attempt to interact socially their responses can be inappropriate and they are viewed as odd.
Second, these children develop special and restricted interests. The specific area of interest may change over time according to their developmental level. They may become preoccupied and narrowly focused on things like train schedules, particular toys, games or videos. In school they may become obsessed with specific areas of academics such as science, history, math or geography to the exclusion of other things. Their anxiety and obsessiveness result in marked difficulty in dealing with changes in routine.
Unlike Autism, children with Asperger do not have delays in acquiring speech and tend to have normal language skills and a rich vocabulary. However their social use and tonal quality of language can be odd and this, combined with their unusual interests, has resulted in their sometimes being called ‘little professors.’
Individuals with Asperger have difficulty understanding their social world; family members, school personnel and peers often have equal difficulty understanding the limitations of these children and the different ways their problems manifest. Parents and teachers can help by introducing change gradually and utilizing their special interests in a positive way to enhance learning and make connections with other children with similar interests. Teachers need to understand that neurological differences, not purposeful uncooperativeness, underlie these students’ unusual or disorganized behavior. Cognitive therapies on an individual and group basis can help them begin to understand the social world, to broaden their interests and to become more flexible and less rigid.
This monthly column provides educators, parents and families with important information about child and adolescent mental health issues. Please submit questions for ASK THE EXPERT to Glenn S. Hirsch, M.D., Medical Director at the NYU Child Study Center at email@example.com. To subscribe to the ASK THE EXPERT Newsletter or for more information about the NYU Child Study Center, visit www.AboutOurKids.org or call 212-263-6622. #