“I see people with Asperger’s syndrome as a bright thread in the rich tapestry of life.” – Tony Attwood
During the 1940’s, Hans Asperger, was the first to describe Asperger’s syndrome while observing a group of young boys. Asperger noted behaviours similar to those one would typically see in a child diagnosed with Autism, however, these children had no difficulties within the language domain. Asperger called these individuals “little professors” in reference to their ability to talk about their favourite subjects in great detail. In 1994, Asperger’s Disorder was added to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV). This disorder was classified as a separate disorder from Autism. However, in the year 2013, the diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome or Asperger’s was changed and is now included in the umbrella term of Autism Spectrum Disorder as in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5 (DSM-5).
Distinguishing characteristics of Asperger’s from Autism includes strong verbal language skills as well as high intellectual ability. Children who have been diagnosed with Asperger’s can display any of the following characteristics. Nevertheless, it is important to note that every individual is unique and may exhibit these characteristics in a different manner.
Asperger’s commonly experience difficulties with socialisation and interaction, restricted interests, a desire for sameness and distinctive strengths. The aforementioned strengths can include an extraordinary capacity for focus and persistence, an aptitude for identifying patterns and demonstrate great attention to detail.
Some challenges experienced by individuals diagnosed with Asperger’s include hypersensitivity, difficulty with conversations, have trouble with nonverbal communication skills, as well as anxiety and depression.
Individuals diagnosed with Asperger’s generally have the desire to fit in and interact with others in their environment but often struggle as they are not sure how to. Verbal and nonverbal communication can be a barrier as they often do not understand conventional social rules and body language. A person diagnosed with Asperger’s may seem socially awkward or show a lack of empathy and have limited eye contact.
Although someone with Asperger’s possess good language abilities, they use it in a different manner. Their speech patterns might be unusual, lacking inflection or be monotonous or even too loud or high-pitched. Individuals diagnosed with Asperger’s often don’t understand the subtleties of language, for example irony or sarcasm, or they may have difficulties with the give-and-take nature of a conversation.
There are various treatment or therapies available for individuals diagnosed with Asperger’s. However, most of these therapies are not supported by clinical evidence to prove their efficacy. Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) is an intervention for children with autism spectrum disorders and is beneficial for children experiencing a wide range of symptoms including those that come with the Asperger’s diagnosis. Because every individual has their own strengths and weaknesses, an individualized ABA-based intervention program works best.