Understanding Asperger Syndrome (AS)

What is Asperger Syndrome (AS)?

Has your child recently received a diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome (AS)? For many families, this can seem daunting if you don't know where to begin or what to expect moving forward.

Asperger Syndrome (AS) is a developmental condition affecting how a person communicates and interacts with others. It is part of the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) family, which also includes conditions like Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS).

For parents and caregivers, understanding Asperger Syndrome can be a challenge. This guide will help you learn more about this diagnosis and additional tips for families navigating the condition.

History of Asperger Syndrome

Asperger Syndrome was relatively undiscussed for many decades until British psychiatrist, Lorna Wing, published a series of case studies in 1981. She coined the term Asperger Syndrome. However, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-4) did not officially list it as a medical condition until 1994.

In 2013, Asperger Syndrome became part of the general diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Before this time, they were considered two separate conditions. However, the medical community now sees them as linked and treats them with similar therapies, interventions, and protocols. This is why you likely won’t see a diagnosis these days of Asperger Syndrome, but might be told verbally by your doctor that your child shows symptoms of these traits.

Asperger Syndrome vs. Autism

Generally, the most marked contrast is that those with Asperger Syndrome have higher verbal language skills and increased intellectual capabilities. However, they can still present some symptoms of Autism, like sensitivity to light and sound, difficulty with conversation, speech volume, etc.

For decades, some children were diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome outright. Other patients became labeled as having a so-called high-functioning case of Autism. This often affected the course of treatment as the two were considered entirely different developmental disorders.

The truth is that Autism is genuinely a spectrum disorder, meaning that the range and severity of symptoms can range from person to person. With Asperger Syndrome as part of the Autism Spectrum, families can now get better guidance on potential therapies and treatment plans based on individualized needs.

Strengths of AS

The key to understanding your child's developmental disorder diagnosis is to see their differences as positive. In fact, some families refer to these as superpowers—a term that brings to mind traits that a favorite comic book or movie character might possess.

For those with AS, their most common strengths include:

  • Extreme Attention to Detail
  • Superior Level of Hyperfocus
  • Remarkable Memory Ability
  • High Aptitude for Seeing Patterns
  • Increased Intellectual Capability

Any parent who has had their child memorize their credit card number after one viewing or listened as their preschooler spouted off a lengthy list of very specific facts about dinosaurs can probably attest to this entire list!

Challenges of AS

It is also vital to understand the specific challenges that come along with Asperger Syndrome. While those superpowers are certainly great, there are moments when being sensitive to your child's needs is important.

Examples of some difficulties include:

  • Hypersensitivity to Strong Sensory Inputs (Loud Sounds, Strong Tastes, Scratchy Clothing, Bright Lights, Etc.)
  • Trouble Understanding Basic Give and Take in Normal Conversation
  • Challenged Gross Motor Capability and Increased Clumsiness

Of course, this is just a small list. Each individual has their own needs when it comes to AS. And co-occurring conditions like ADHD, anxiety, and depression can make some factors more noticeable than others.

Parent’s Guide to Asperger Syndrome (AS)

Now that we've discussed what Asperger Syndrome is, let's cover how parents can navigate their child's diagnosis.

First, it is crucial to understand that this doesn't mean your child won't grow up to do fantastic things. Many individuals classified as having Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or generalized Asperger Syndrome go on to do very extraordinary things. And some adults who have the condition have never sought out treatment, instead opting to compensate for their difficulties by highlighting their strengths.

Next, there are far more options for treatment now than even five years ago. Services and therapies to address conditions like sensory input, speech, social skills, and more have become widely available in communities around the country.

Finally, remember that uniqueness is what makes our world a beautiful place! Although your child might struggle in some areas, there are probably twenty or a hundred more where they thrive. Be sure to complement these interests, strengths, and abilities every chance you get.

Common Therapies for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

After the initial diagnosis, your healthcare provider should offer guidance on which therapies to enroll your child in to help with certain aspects of their condition.

Examples of common therapies for those within the Autism Spectrum include:

  • Occupational Therapy: Improves coordination, gross motor skills for active movement, fine motor skills for writing, etc.
  • Speech Therapy: Can assist with voice control and tone.
  • Nutritional Therapy: Helpful for children who have a limited diet range due to sensory difficulties.
  • Social Skills Training: Assists with aspects of development in terms of how to relate to peers, follow general social protocols, and more.

From a parenting perspective, this can sound a little daunting. However, it is a good idea to remember that this is just a term for a fun and engaging class that helps your child learn tips and tricks to cope with their challenges or learn new habits to improve their skills.

Why Should You Get a Diagnosis?

Suppose your child has not received an initial diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome or any Autism Spectrum Disorder, and you feel certain aspects of this guide make sense. In that case, it is a good idea to start the discussion with your pediatrician.

For many families, an official diagnosis also opens up insurance and school system support, which can be crucial for things like education plans, cost payments, and more.

It can also serve as a bit of a relief. Sometimes as a parent or caregiver, those little quirks you notice about your child really do have a connection to a greater aspect of their development. Once you can put a name to it, you can start on a healthy path forward in life with fewer obstacles for their growth.

Pediatric Care in Ridgecrest, California

At Ridgecrest Regional Hospital, our team of highly trained and experienced family physicians is here to help your family with all aspects of childhood healthcare, including early detection of behavioral health disorders. To learn more or to schedule an appointment, visit our website or give us a call at (760) 446-3551 (Mon-Fri 8 AM-4:30 PM).