ABOUT ASPERGER SYNDROME
Most descriptions of Asperger Syndrome start out something like: Asperger Syndrome (AS) is a neurobiological disorder on the higher-functioning end of the autism spectrum. While that’s true, it’s not terribly revealing. Asperger Syndrome presents people with wide-ranging combinations of abilities and challenges. One of the most frustrating things about AS is that others may have a hard time understanding how those who have it can be so talented in some ways –- and so clueless about other things that seem obvious. It helps to think of the brains of people with Asperger Syndrome as being wired a bit differently.
People with AS tend to have normal to superior intelligence, but also tend to have problems with social interaction and difficulty interpreting social cues. Asperger Syndrome often presents itself as a developmental disability, causing children to lag behind their peers. A child with AS might continue to be interested in certain toys or games for some time after children of the same age have outgrown them. Children with Asperger Syndrome are often teased, excluded or bullied by other children because of their different behaviors. Many schools have reduced these negative reactions by providing social skills training to children who have AS and by holding awareness presentations about Asperger Syndrome for classmates. Parents and school staff should consider that social skills training is often the most crucial part of a child’s Individual Education Plan (IEP).
AS can affect people in very different ways and to different degrees. Every child with Asperger Syndrome is unique, but children with AS often have one or several of the following challenges:
• Difficulty reading and using appropriate body language, eye contact, and gestures.
• Becoming obsessive about special interests such as weather, geography or automobiles.
• A tendency to say things that are inappropriate for the situation or audience.
• Difficulty understanding other people’s feelings and judging how close to stand to others.
• A tendency to lecture in a conversation and difficulty sensing when to stop talking and listen to others.
• Repetitive behaviors.
• Sensitivity to bright lights or loud noises or certain kinds of clothing.
• An inflexible dependence on structure and routines.
• Taking language literally and not understanding figures of speech or slang expressions.
• A tendency to see issues as black and white, right or wrong -- and difficulty dealing with gray areas.
• A tendency to become overloaded emotionally and need some time and space to calm down.
Again, if a person with AS is intelligent and has a good vocabulary, it’s easy for others to see his different behaviors as intentional rudeness or just not trying hard enough. This can happen even when the person with Asperger Syndrome is doing his best to fit in, is yearning and aching to be accepted, but is just not getting it right.
There’s no cure for Asperger Syndrome, but many people who have the condition can learn to moderate their challenging Asperger tendencies so they don’t interfere with daily life, or so the interference can be managed. If the brains of people with Asperger Syndrome are wired a bit differently, it’s important to consider that the human brain can often be rewired to some extent through training and practice.
Also, people with Asperger Syndrome also often exhibit special talents or abilities that can make them interesting friends and valuable employees. A person with Asperger Syndrome might have one or more of the following strengths:
• Exceptional memory skills. People with AS often absorb detailed knowledge on one or more subjects.
• Superior speaking or acting skills (public speaking as opposed to holding a conversation).
• Superior writing and composition skills.
• Exceptional math skills.
• The ability to hyper-focus on an activity with extraordinary concentration.
• Strong attention to detail and a desire to see things are done correctly.
• A natural ability in a career such as carpentry or auto repair or accounting.
• The ability to see things from different perspectives and come up with innovative ideas and solutions.
• Loyalty to friends and employers.
While there’s no way to know for sure, there’s been speculation that historical figures such as Albert Einstein, Thomas Jefferson and Sir Isaac Newton had Asperger Syndrome.
Einstein had few friends as a child and would compulsively repeat sentences, a condition called echolalia. Einstein was also sensitive to touch and hated to comb his hair. Jefferson disliked face-to-face conversation, preferring to write letters. He would greet visitors to the White House wearing a frayed robe and bedroom slippers, often with his pet mocking bird on his shoulder. Jefferson was also extremely sensitive to loud noises. If the students for Newton’s college lectures didn’t show up for class, he’d obsessively give the lecture to an empty classroom. Whether these geniuses had Asperger Syndrome or not, their eccentric behaviors are well documented.
Things are improving for people with Asperger Syndrome. For example, more employers are becoming educated about Asperger Syndrome and see that offering some reasonable accommodations and educating co-workers enables them to hire talented, highly productive employees.
Until May of 1013, Asperger Syndrome was officially classified as “Asperger’s Disorder” in The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. The APA reclassified this diagnosis to be part of a broader category of “Autism Spectrum Disorders" in the newest edition of the manual (DSM-5) released in May, 2013. This change removed "Aperger Disorder" from the manual. While the APA's manual is widely used to determine support and services, the World Health Organization's (WHO) International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, or "IDC" is also used in the United States. The latest version, ICD-10, includes a diagnosis of "Asperger Syndrome" and the WHO has not announced any plans to discontinue it. While it is likely the term “Asperger Syndrome” will continue to be used for some time, it will be important to keep informed about how the APA's revised diagnosis affects finding appropriate resources and support where an official diagnosis is required.