Asperger syndrome, or Asperger disorder, is actually a form of autism. It is a lifelong disability that affects how an individual processes information from the world and relates to other people. Autism is also described as a “spectrum disorder” because of the variety of ways in which it affects other people. Asperger syndrome is a piece of that puzzle.
Individuals with Asperger syndrome often have normal or above normal intelligence and language development but also autistic like behaviors and marked deficiencies in social and communication skills. The disorder was originally named by a Viennese physician, Hans Asperger, who published a paper in 1944 describing a pattern of behaviors. Despite the publication it wasn’t until 1994 that the syndrome was added to the DSM-IV and only recognized in the past few years by professionals and parents.
By definition, individuals who experience Asperger syndrome have a normal IQ and potentially exceptional skill or talent in the specific area. These individuals are often viewed as eccentric and are easily the victims of teasing and bullying. On the surface, their language development appears normal but they often have deficits in pragmatics. This means they have difficulty understanding the intended meaning in speech.
Individuals with Asperger syndrome were once considered to have a hidden disability. This meant that an outsider may not understand their condition because they were able to function within society. However, they have difficulties in social communication, social interaction and social imagination. While they don’t have the learning disabilities associated with autism the condition can be associated with dyslexia and dyspraxia or ADHD.
Individuals who suffer from Asperger syndrome find it difficult to express themselves emotionally and socially and have difficulty understanding facial expressions or differentiating tone of voice. It is difficult for them to know when to start or end a conversation and how to use complex words and phrases. Individuals often want to be social but have difficulty initiating social relationships and may struggle to make and maintain friendships. Individuals with Asperger syndrome don’t get the social rules which most pick up at an early age without thinking. They see others as unpredictable and confusing and because of this, can become withdrawn and appear uninterested in other people.
While individuals may be incredibly imaginative and creative, accomplished writers, artists and musicians-they can also have difficulty with social imagination. This means they find it difficult to predict outcomes to situations or interpret other people’s thoughts or feelings that are expressed by facial expression and body language.
Other related characteristics include feeling certain comfort in routines as well as developing an intense and somewhat obsessive interest in a specific hobby or collection. Some individuals also develop sensory difficulties which can occur with one or all of the senses. The degree of difficulty varies between individuals, but most common way is a sense that is either intensified or underdeveloped. For instance, bright lights or loud noises may cause anxiety or pain for an individual who suffers from Asperger syndrome.
Using some advanced brain imaging techniques researchers have found structural and functional differences in specific areas of the brain. These differences are likely caused by the abnormal migration of embryonic cells during development, while the child is still in the womb. A variety of studies have shown differences in brain activity when children to have Asperger syndrome are asked to respond to specific tasks. Although researchers believe there is a genetic component because of the tendency to run in families additional evidence is needed to link genetic mutations and Asperger syndrome.