Asperger’s syndrome is a rare disease or more accurately, a rare developmental condition that is estimated to affect up to 1 in every 250 people worldwide and involves more males than it does females. The condition is part of the autistic spectrum disorders, which include attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism, and is regarded as a mild form of the latter.
Asperger’s syndrome is associated with the inability of an affected individual to communicate effectively and socialize with others. These patients avoid eye contact and prefer to carry on by themselves. If they do strike up a conversation, it’s usually a prolonged one where the patient will carry on with their story without paying attention whether others are listening or not, and this can make for an awkward situation. Their speech is characterized as rigid and monotonous in nature, and they may exhibit odd behaviors and postures while they speak. These individuals may also remain focused on one specific topic when they converse, or they may be preoccupied with one or two objects when they’re by themselves. Patients with Asperger’s syndrome may also come across as unsympathetic and not care about other’s feelings. This isn’t done on purpose, but because the condition causes a lack of intuition regarding people’s feelings. These patients also don’t struggle with language skill delays, as occurs with other forms of autism, and they function well academically with normal intelligence. They may, however, deal with delays in the development of their motor skills.
The cause of Asperger’s syndrome in not known but doctors and researchers are of the opinion that the condition may be associated with certain genetic factors. One important point to stress though is that the administration of childhood vaccinations has been ruled out as a possible cause of this condition as well as other forms of autism.
Diagnosing an individual with Asperger’s syndrome can be challenging because the condition includes a variety of signs and symptoms that can mimic other forms of autism and even obsessive-compulsive disorder(OCD). It is suggested therefore that a multidisciplinary approach incorporating the expertise of relevant healthcare professionals is performed, especially to properly assess the various developmental areas of an affected child.
According to the DSM, the following criteria need to be met for a person to be diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome:
- Showing no interest in interactive play
- Lack of eye to eye contact
- Demonstrating unusual body posture or social expressions
- Having no significant language delays
- Being preoccupied with a single object
- Experiencing difficulty in making friends
- Not having a flexible attitude towards change
There is no cure for Asperger’s syndrome a rare disease, but the condition can be managed effectively enough with cognitive behavioral therapy, social skills training, and certain medications to improve specific symptoms.
Living with Asperger’s syndrome
Patients diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome want to enjoy human contact and to socialize with others, but the condition makes it hard for them to understand nonverbal cues such as body language and facial expressions. Occupational and speech therapists and even other family members of the patient help the affected individual learn how to interpret a variety of nonverbal cues. This conscious effort to focus on such movements can make them feel exhausted though, so they may find it difficult at first when trying to hold a conversation. Here are some stories of hope, struggle, and courage from the National Autism Society in the UK.
Simon Perks, author of “Body language and communication: A guide for people with autistic spectrum disorders”, was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome when he was an adult. He recalls the world always seeming like a confusing place, and not understanding why people behaved the way they did at school. At university he did well and after he graduated started at a job that he really enjoyed. It was after his wife watched a documentary on Asperger’s syndrome that the penny dropped realizing that her husband was being described. Simon says that from then on he made a conscious effort to try and interpret non-verbal cues from others. He also realized his strengths in the disorder, such as being able to grasp complex ideas that others struggled to understand and then explain it to them. Simon also speaks three languages and is currently busy learning two more.
Karen, a mother of a 10-year-old boy diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, grew up herself having high functioning autism but going undiagnosed until her adulthood. She mentions the preoccupation she had with buses and that she would ride around in them all day instead of going to school. Karen ended up in the foster-care system and had her first child when she was 16, but endured through the challenges of studying and writing examinations while raising her son. Karen and her partner have been together for 24 years now and have five children together. With the experiences that she had growing up, Karen was able to notice similar symptoms in her son who was able to be diagnosed early.
Famous individuals with confirmed Asperger’s syndrome
The accomplished actor Daryl Hannah has been very vocal about her diagnosis and struggles with Asperger’s syndrome. She mentions that, even now, she is still learning how to deal with the condition better because there are times when she feels that she still struggles. Hannah recalls that when she was still a child her doctors had recommended that she be institutionalized, but her mother refused to do so.
One of the best Saturday Night Live performers and director, Dan Aykroyd, is also open about his diagnosis with Asperger’s syndrome. Aykroyd mentions that his disorder actually contributed to the inspiration for the movie Ghostbusters because of his obsession with law enforcement and ghosts.
Asperger’s syndrome is not a life-sentence, but it is a condition that is misunderstood and can be interpreted by lay people as the affected individual being disinterested in others, having their heads in the clouds or even coming across as selfish. Decreased social interaction and seeming unsympathetic is part of how the condition causes these factors to occur, and the patients themselves don’t have the intuition to realize that this is what’s happening. They function on a normal intelligence though, so if someone else were to discuss these issues, they would make an effort to try and make themselves aware of the social circumstances around them. Treatments are also available to help reduce symptoms such as irritability, anxiety, and even depression in those who experience these issues.
About The Author:
Sameer Ather MD, Ph.D. is a Cardiologist based out of Birmingham, Alabama and is also the co-founder and CEO of website www.xpertdox.com, which is designed to help patients suffering from rare or serious diseases like autoimmune hemolytic anemia.