Asperger’s Syndrome is named after the Austrian pediatrician, Hans Asperger, who first described it in 1944.
When humans meet, they make judgments about each other.
Body language, facial expressions and tone of voice give out information regarding whether they are happy, sad, angry or in a hurry. How we respond depends on how we process these signals.
For a person with Asperger’s Syndrome (AS), reading these signals does not come naturally. Consequently, they find it more difficult to communicate and interact with others, and this can lead to anxiety and confusion.
According to DSM-5, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th Edition, “individuals with a well-established DSM-IV diagnosis of autistic disorder, Asperger’s disorder, or pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified should be given the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder”. This of course does not mean that Asperger’s Syndrome does not exist anymore, it only means that the doctors/clinicians now put it in a group named autism spectrum disorder.
Asperger’s Syndrome is a developmental disorder considered to be part of the group of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). It can range from mild to severe. People with Asperger’s have a normal IQ, and many exhibit exceptional skill or talent in a particular area.
Asperger’s in Children
Children diagnosed with this condition often have difficulty with social interactions and understanding unspoken social cues. As such, these children frequently get into more trouble in school, exasperate teachers, and are the subject of bullying. Social awkwardness and an all-absorbing interest in specific topics is typical, as are impaired communication and social skills.
While the causes of Asperger’s are unknown, and there is no known cure, children with Asperger’s might benefit from treatment.
Some of those with Asperger’s Syndrome are highly intelligent and highly verbal. Boys are four times as likely as girls to be diagnosed with the condition, but it remains unclear whether this is because they are four times more likely to develop it, or if the different socialization processes for girls and boys improves the social abilities of girls with the disorder so that most become indistinguishable from those who don’t have it.
When normal infants are learning to read caregivers’ moods through facial expressions, children with Asperger’s Syndrome are not.
When threats and dares are uttered on the playground, normal children might know when another child is bluffing, when to ask an adult to intervene and when to stand up for themselves. A child with Asperger’s might miss all these cues, getting into unnecessary fights or allowing themselves to be cowed by a kid who was only teasing, marking them as an easy target for bullies.
Asperger’s in Adults
Teens and adults with Asperger’s Syndrome may not be able to tell when they are talking too loudly for the situation.
They also often develop monomaniacal interests in esoteric topics and cannot understand that others are less interested. Clues that they are boring someone with the depths and details of their interests pass them by, so these people often find themselves socially isolated as their peers avoid them.
12 Facts about Asperger’s Syndrome
People with this disorder can be taught to decode social cues intellectually, rather than instinctively. This is a fairly lengthy and frustrating process, because most people cannot verbalize what they understand instinctively, but recruiting friends and family to help is useful.
A teen with Asperger’s might tell his most trusted friends, for example, to give him a particular hand signal when he is speaking too loudly, or a different signal when he is talking too much about a topic that no one else is interested in.
There is no specific test for Asperger’s Syndrome. Physical tests, such as hearing, blood tests or X-rays may be used to rule out other health conditions and to determine whether there is a physical disorder causing the symptoms. Because it is a wide-spectrum disorder, all AS people have varying combinations of symptoms, which means early diagnosis is often difficult. In many cases this can delay the diagnosis until adulthood.
In the case of diagnosing children, parents are required to give detailed information about the symptoms. Observations from teachers are also taken in to account in the evaluation. When assessing adults, many professionals also wish to talk to the person’s parents, spouses, and close family members in order to find out about their developmental history.
Diagnosis helps the individual, their families, friends, partners and colleagues to have a better understanding of their needs and behaviour. Once identified, the specific support required can be analyzed.
Currently, there is no way of reversing Asperger’s Syndrome. However, there are several therapies and strategies that can improve functioning, reduce anxiety, and improve behaviours and the perception and delivery of data and events.
With the increasing understanding of the syndrome, people with AS today have a better chance of reaching their full potential.
The cause of Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) is not fully known. Experts suspect that a combination of genes and exposure to one or more environmental factors may trigger its development. As children with Asperger’s Syndrome might not appear to be as upcoming with their emotions and thoughts, it is important that parents and family members learn to read their signs and cues, and respond to them appropriately.
People with Asperger’s Syndrome have difficulty in social situations. They may have a hard time interacting with others. Some have no desire to interact, others don’t know how. They have difficulty with verbal and non-verbal cues such as body language, eye contact, facial expressions and conversation.
Rigidity, repetitious behaviors, and obsessions are characteristics of people with Asperger’s.
Some individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome are so fascinated by a particular topic of their interest that they find it almost impossible to change the subject.
Clumsy and poorly coordinated movements as well as odd posture are commonly seen. Both gross and fine motor skills may present challenges.
People with Asperger’s have a hard time showing empathy or sympathy towards others. They may say what they think, without understanding the impact of their words on someone’s feelings.
They may have trouble imagining what other people are thinking or feeling. Children with Asperger’s often have a difficult time engaging in imaginative play.
Language is how we communicate with one another. People with Asperger’s are more likely to use language to share facts and information, but are unable to share thoughts, feelings or emotions. Speech can also be impaired. Conversations seem more like rituals.
Many people with Asperger’s have sensory issues. This can occur with one or more of the five senses (sight, taste, touch, smell or sound). They may over- or under-react to a sensation. For example, they may not be able to tolerate stiff clothing or bear a loud or unusual sound.
While there is no cure for Asperger’s Syndrome, there are strategies to help you cope more effectively.
It’s not a uniformly bleak picture for those with Asperger’s Syndrome, however. Their ability to focus on very intricate topics makes them extremely well-suited to certain fields of endeavour; computer fields are often considered a natural haven for those with this condition.
Treatment for Asperger’s Syndrome
A combination of therapies, teaching of strategies, and some other approaches can have a significant impact on the quality of life of a person with Asperger’s Syndrome.
Problems and issues related with routines, obsessive thoughts and behaviours, communication skills, inhibition, dexterity, clumsiness, anxiety, etc. may include the following:
- Acquiring more suitable social skills. The individual learns how to interact more effectively and successfully with other people. The approach focuses on the ability to understand other people’s feelings and respond accordingly. This training teaches how to read and respond appropriately to social cues; it is also possible to learn how to improve one’s empathy.
- Communication skills training. This training helps the individual develop the ability to start conversations. This can include specialised speech and language therapy to help handling normal conversations. Learning how to use intonation in the interrogative, affirmative, negative and imperative forms can help a person with AS considerably. Also, learning how to interpret language, verbal and non-verbal, in order to know how to respond or interact properly helps the person with AS become less isolated.
- Many people with Asperger’s Syndrome are intelligent, articulate, and capable of holding a job, but they may struggle with more complex social cues, like humour, sarcasm, romantic interest, or anger.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy. This therapy focuses on learning to control emotions and decrease obsessive interests and repetitive routines.
- Behaviour modification. This includes strategies for supporting positive and decreasing problem behaviour.
- Occupational or physical therapy. This can be useful for individuals with sensory integration problems or poor motor coordination.
- Medication. There are no medications to treat Asperger’s Syndrome itself, however medication may be used to treat particular symptoms and co-existing conditions (depression, anxiety, hyperactivity, obsessive-compulsive behaviour).
- Alternative medicine. Some studies suggest that special diets, such as gluten-free diets and vitamin supplements may be beneficial. Anecdotal evidence suggests that a regular intake of fish oils may help with anxiety, and some cognitive issues.
Support is Important
Training and providing support to parents, caregivers and other household members is important. Sometimes people in the household, usually the parents, may need emotional and psychological support themselves – especially if diagnosis did not occur early.
Education and academic skills. Some children with AS benefit from an educational approach that provides them not only with certain kinds of support, such as organising notes, homework, and timetables, but also certain learning needs. If the approach is well organised, long-term, and carried out by trained professionals, the child will most likely do well in a mainstream school environment.
Although the core characteristics of Asperger’s Syndrome will be there for life, the majority of children with AS can lead happy and fruitful lives, well into adulthood and old age. Early intervention and support significantly increase this likelihood.
Asperger Syndrome is a complicated disorder and should be managed by medical professionals. The treatment of Asperger’s Syndrome/ASD requires a multidisciplinary approach and has to be tailored for each individual’s age and needs. A team of professionals (eg medical doctor, psychologist, occupational therapist, social worker, counsellor, etc.) is usually involved. In paediatric cases, this will also include parents and teachers.
Asperger’s Syndrome is different from other disorders on the autism spectrum, as it is often diagnosed in older children and teenagers, as opposed to very young children.
What many people don’t realise, it how social workers can help people with Asperger’s Syndrome / Autism Spectrum Disorder.
How Social Workers are able to Help
Social workers are trained in complex problem solving, as well as counselling, monitoring wellbeing, and individual and family support.
Social workers are university-trained allied health professionals who are skilled at identifying the issues that require change – ranging from mental health, homelessness, and domestic violence, to financial issues, illness, disability or injury.
Social workers can provide a broad range of services to people with Asperger’s/Autism as well as parents and carers, including:
- Counselling – providing or arranging therapy services
- Information – presenting easy to understand information
- Advocacy – acting as a personal representative when dealing with complex government and community services
- Coordination – coordinating various specialists and health professional appointments
- Case Management – linking parents and families with agencies and programs that provide help
- Group Work – social workers can bring together people with similar life challenges and facilitate group sessions
- School Assistance – A school social worker can support a child with behavioural and social challenges
Some social workers specialise in Asperger’s/Autism and they might be employed by a government agency, disability agency or private/community self-help group or organisation to provide assistance and support to parents, children and adults with Asperger’s Syndrome/Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Author: Nenad Bakaj, MHumServ (RehabCouns), BSocWk, DipAppSci (Comm&HumServ), AMHSW, MAAC, MAASW, JP (Qld)
Nenad Bakaj is a Brisbane based Clinical Counsellor, Accredited Mental Health Social Worker, Life Coach and Bigger Bite Out Of Life Trainer with a keen interest in positive psychology, mental health and wellbeing, and is continually developing his professional skills and knowledge. Nenad enjoys working with adolescents and young adults, as well as older clients, and feels it is a privilege to be able to support them. In the counselling room, Nenad aims to build rapport with his clients to assist them to reach their health, relationship, personal and life goals, and a happy and fruitful life.
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- Attwood, T. (2015) The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome, London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers
- Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome and related developmental disorders – www.autism-help.org
DSM-5, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition
- Milivojevic, Z. (2005) Emocije – Psihoterapija i razumevanje emocija (6th edit.), Novi Sad: Prometej
- The Spectrum – www.thespectrum.org.au, Accessed: 5 June, 2021