What is Asperger syndrome? Asperger syndrome—or Asperger’s—is a type of autism. Previously, health experts viewed it as a separate subtype of autism. As of 2013, Asperger syndrome is now part of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). ASD is a group of developmental disorders. ASD also includes classic autistic disorder and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1 in 68 American children has ASD. ASD occurs in both genders, but boys are more likely to have it than girls. ASD also appears in all ethnicities, socioeconomic levels, and geographic areas. Asperger syndrome is a high-functioning autism. This refers to the spectrum of symptoms and their severity. People on the high end of the spectrum tend to function with fewer challenges compared to those on the low end. People with ASD have social, communication, language and behavioral problems. With Asperger syndrome, social, communication and behavioral problems are usually more pronounced. Language and cognitive skills are less of a problem compared to other forms of ASD. In fact, these areas may be highly developed in someone with Asperger syndrome. Health experts do not fully understand what causes ASD, including Asperger syndrome. There is also no cure for ASD at this time. However, a variety of therapies and other treatments are available to help people with ASD and their families. Seek prompt medical care if your child has symptoms of ASD, such as delays in normal development or lack of social skills. Sometimes, people with ASD, including Asperger syndrome, can exhibit aggressive behavior. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if someone with ASD becomes violent, threatening, or dangerously aggressive, or is hurting himself or herself. What are the symptoms of Asperger syndrome? Symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) begin early in life. However, Asperger syndrome often remains undetected until later in childhood. Most children with Asperger syndrome are between 5 and 9 years old at the time of diagnosis. This may be because symptoms develop later than most other forms of ASD. Another explanation is that parents and doctors don’t recognize the symptoms until later. One reason for this is the symptoms of Asperger syndrome mimic other behavioral problems. It is common to first suspect attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). In addition, children with Asperger syndrome tend to have typical or even advanced language skills. Specific behaviors and symptoms vary in nature and severity from person to person. Communication and language symptoms of Asperger syndrome Many people with Asperger syndrome have a hard time communicating with others. They may display the following symptoms: Answers questions with unrelated answers Does not understand or use nonverbal communication skills, such as facial expressions and gestures Has average or above average verbal skills Has one-sided conversations or struggles with reciprocal conversation Interprets what other people say very literally, and does not easily understand jokes or irony Lacks eye contact during communication Speaks repetitively or with robotic, monotone or scripted speech patterns Tends to talk about themselves and not others Social symptoms of Asperger syndrome People with Asperger syndrome have social habits that cause them problems in everyday life. This includes: Dislike of physical contact Inability to maintain eye contact Lack of common sense appropriate for age Lack of empathy, which is the ability to understand other people’s feelings Solitary play with minimal social interactions. This makes it difficult for children with Asperger syndrome to make friends. Behavioral symptoms of Asperger syndrome People with Asperger syndrome may display the following behaviors: Abnormal sensitivity or insensitivity to the way things look, feel, sound, taste or smell Attachment to routines and inability to cope if things happen outside the routine Attachment to certain objects Awkward movements or delay in motor development Difficulty controlling emotions or displaying emotions at inappropriate times Extreme impulsivity and hyperactivity Obsessive interest in certain topics such as music Odd mannerisms Repetitive or inappropriate activities or behaviors Self-abusive behaviors, such as head banging and biting Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition In some cases, a child or adult with ASD, including Asperger syndrome, can become violent and pose a danger to herself or others. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if someone with ASD has any of these symptoms: Suicidal thoughts or a desire to hurt oneself or others Violent or threatening behavior What causes Asperger syndrome? Health experts do not fully understand what causes autism spectrum disorder (ASD), including Asperger syndrome. There are likely many complex factors that contribute to its development. Many researchers and mental health providers believe that brain abnormalities may play a role. Other possibilities include the use of medications during pregnancy, other medical conditions present at birth, viral infections during pregnancy or infancy, and chromosomal abnormalities. Emotional deprivation and poor parenting practices do not cause ASD. The odd—and even seemingly rude—behaviors and expressions are due to a biological process. There also has been a lot of discussion and research about whether childhood vaccines are linked to ASD. Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Institute of Medicine (IOM) shows that vaccines do not cause ASD. These organizations also emphasize that the benefits of vaccines outweigh any risks from them. What are the risk factors for Asperger syndrome? Researchers have identified certain risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing autism spectrum disorder (ASD), including Asperger’s and more severe forms of autism. They include: Genetic conditions, such as Down syndrome and fragile X syndrome Having a sibling with ASD Having older parents—a mom 35 or older or a dad 40 or older at the time of birth Male gender Asperger syndrome may also be linked to other mental health conditions, including depression and bipolar disorder. How is Asperger syndrome treated? There is no cure for autism spectrum disorder (ASD), including Asperger syndrome. However, several therapies can help a child’s development and behavior. Because each person has unique behaviors and symptoms, a personalized treatment plan is necessary. The goals of treatment are specific for each person. They may include managing tantrums, learning social skills, and helping improve focus and attention span. A child’s family, doctors, therapists and educators should work together to develop a plan with best chance of success. In general, treatment is more successful the earlier it begins after diagnosis. Ask your doctor what specific changes to expect with treatment. Behavioral, educational and physical therapies Therapy can help people with ASD, including Asperger syndrome, refine their social and communication skills, adapt to changes in their environment, and learn everyday life skills. Therapies include: Applied behavioral analysis Cognitive behavioral therapy (“talk therapy”) Occupational therapy Physical therapy Sensory integration therapy Speech therapy Medications Medications can reduce the severity of certain symptoms, such as anxiety, hyperactivity, aggression, and mood swings. Medications include: Anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications to help minimize anxiety and mood swings Antipsychotic medications for serious or disturbing behaviors Stimulants, such as the type used for people with attention deficit disorders Other therapies Other therapies may include dietary changes, massage therapy, and alternative medicines. What are the potential complications of Asperger syndrome? With time, many symptoms of ASD, including Asperger syndrome, can improve. However, if a person does not receive adequate treatment or support, complications can include: Anxiety Chronic stress Depression Disability including the inability to function well at school or work Increasingly disruptive behaviors and habits Lasting effects of self-injury If you need help with an autism diagnosis or treatment, search Healthgrades.com for an autism specialist in your area.