Asperger’s Syndrome is a developmental disorder. People with this disorder have a limited ability to interact socially, communication problems, and restricted patterns of interests and behavior. Asperger’s Syndrome was first described by Hans Asperger, an Austrian pediatrician and child psychiatrist, who had several cases that resembled Leo Kanner’s description of autism (1943). Asperger’s description differed from Kanner’s, however, in that speech developed more normally, motor deficits were more common, and all the initial cases were boys. Asperger also noticed that he observed similar problems in family members, particularly fathers, leading him to conclude that there may be a genetic link.
In 1944, Asperger published his observations in a research paper titled “‘Autistic Psychopathology in Childhood”. In his paper, he described children with autistic psychopathology as lacking empathy, having little ability to form friendships, engaging in one-sided conversations, having an intense absorption in special interests, and having clumsy movements. In a subsequent study where Asperger observed these children as they progressed into adulthood, he noted that these children tended to become overachieving adults and invaluable contributors to society. Ironically, the symptoms Asperger described in his patients also seemed to be ones that he himself had a child.
Asperger’s Syndrome Today
No standardized tests exist to diagnose Asperger’s Syndrome. Most psychiatrists look for a core group of behaviors to help them diagnose Asperger’s Syndrome, including lack of eye contact, aloofness, failure to turn when name is called, failure to point at an object, lack of interactive play, and lack of interest in others. Parents may notice these symptoms in the first few months of their child’s life, and problems should be obvious by three years of age. Physical, emotional, and mental tests are done to rule out other causes and look more closely for signs of Asperger’s Syndrome. The team that conducts these tests usually includes a psychologist, neurologist, psychiatrist, and speech therapist.
Currently there is no single treatment for Asperger’s Syndrome. Most clinicians and experts agree, however, that the earlier the intervention, the more positive the prognosis. Psychotherapy programs include cognitive behavior therapy, parent education, occupational therapy, social skills training, and speech therapy. While medication is not required as a treatment regimen, pharmocotherapies include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), antipsychotics, and stimulants to treat problems such as anxiety, depression, and aggression.
A common problem for adults with Asperger’s Syndrome is not being diagnosed. They may have frustrations with work, relationships, and life in general, and not understand why. Adults with Asperger’s tend to perform well at jobs that are related to their areas of interest, jobs that have routines, and jobs that do not require extensive social interaction. People with Asperger’s tend to be visual thinkers, and many of them have highly successful careers as computer programmers, drafters, photographers, mechanics, and laboratory technicians. The best way for an adult with Asperger’s to live independently is by having organized routines and schedules.
Here are some resources with information on Asperger’s Syndrome.
- How was Asperger’s first discovered? Here is a historical overview of the syndrome.
- This link provides a succinct overview of Asperger’s Syndrome by Dr. Tony Attwood.
- The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) provides facts for families who have children with Asperger’s Syndrome.
- Autism-help.org was developed by an Australian social worker as a free source of information on autism. This website also has a page that addresses Asperger’s Syndrome in adults.
- The Mayo Clinic has a well organized webpage which covers the basics of Asperger’s Syndrome.
- An article published in the Health section of the New York Times covers symptoms, exams, treatment, and prognosis of individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome.
- Ever wondered if anyone you know has Asperger’s Syndrome? Here is a list of famous people, both past and present, who are thought to have the disorder.
- Autism Speaks – This organization is devoted to raising funds to support biomedical research for the cause, prevention, treatment and cure for autism. Their goal is to bring the autism community together as a unified voice to urge both the government and the private sector to take action for treating autism. This website has several useful links, including a resource guide for family services, local news, events, and resources for each state, grants, and conferences.
- OASIS & MAAP – The Online Asperger Syndrome Information and Support (OASIS) center has merged with MAAP Services for Autism and Asperger Syndrome. This website is a resource for families, individuals, and medical professionals who deal with the challenges of Asperger’s Syndrome, Autism, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder/Not Otherwise Specified (PDD/NOS). Here you can find articles, educational resources, links to support groups, professional help resources, camps and schools, conference info, recommended reading, blogs, and message boards.
- AspFI – Asperger Foundation International. This website has a college resource guide, a guide for SSI and SSDI benefits, and a nationwide study of available adult services.
- The Asperger Syndrome and High Functioning Autism Society (AHA) provides up-to-date information on conferences, has a recommended reading list, and articles published by educators and clinicians.
- The Asperger Syndrome Education Network (ASPEN) provides families and individuals affected by autism spectrum disorders with education, support, and advocacy. This site includes Asperger’s Syndrome in the news, articles about autism spectrum disorders, and recommended reads.
- Wrong Planet – This is a web community for individuals, parents, and professionals of those with autism or autism spectrum disorders. There is a discussion forum, an article section, a blogging feature, and a chatroom.
- GRASP – The Global and Regional Asperger Syndrome Partnership is an advocacy and educational organization for people on the autism spectrum. It includes support groups, articles, and advocacy by state.
- Parenting Aspergers Community – This is a website set up specifically for parents of children with Asperger’s. There is a $14.95/mo membership fee, and that price includes access to Asperger’s resources, parenting information, and a discussion forum.
- Stanford Child and Adolescent Psychiatry – The Stanford Autism Center at Packard Children’s Hospital provides support for families, clinicians, researchers, and community outreach programs. It also provides training for future psychiatrists and other mental health professionals in the area of autism spectrum disorders.
- Cambridge University Autism Research Centre – The centre strives to understand the biomedical causes of autism spectrum disorders and develop new methods for diagnosis and intervention. There are six active research programs at Cambridge, including Perception and Cognition, Screening and Diagnosis, Intervention, Hormones, Genetics and Proteomics, and Neuroscience.
- Center for Excellence in Autism Research at the University of Pittsburgh – This institution is one of six centers nationwide to receive funding for autism research from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This center conducts research on the cognitive, brain, and genetic basis of autism.
- Autism Center of Excellence (ACE) at the University of Illinois – Chicago – This center is a federally funded effort to develop multidisciplinary research on autism spectrum disorders. This is one out of five sites that has a large-scale investigation underway of the genetic, neurobiological, and cognitive features of people with autism.
- Kennedy Krieger Institute – This institute’s Laboratory for Neurocognitive and Imaging Research investigates the biological basis of autism. Their mission is to improve diagnosis and treatment of children with developmental disorders by understanding the relationship between the brain and behavior.
- Yale Child Studies Center – The Yale Autism Program is an interdisciplinary group of clinicians and researchers devoted to providing comprehensive clinical services to children with autism spectrum disorders and their families. This program is recognized as a National Institutes of Health Autism Center of Excellence.
Books, Films, and Other Media
The Autism Asperger Publishing Company is an independent publisher that offers resources for Autism, Asperger’s, and other PDD-NOS disorders at affordable prices. Books found on Amazon.com can also be found at this site. Here are some recommended must-reads:
- The OASIS Guide to Asperger Syndrome by Patricia Romanowski Bashe, Barbara L. Kirby, Simon Baron-Cohen, and Tony Attwood. This is an updated version of the 2001 edition. It provides information on what is currently known about Asperger’s Syndrome from the viewpoints of physicians and families.
- The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome by Tony Attwood. This book is an excellent resource based on case studies and personal accounts from Tony Attwood’s clinical experiences. Chapters address topics such as causes, diagnosis, theory of mind, relationships, bullying, and mental health issues.
- The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. This book is a murder mystery which is narrated by an autistic 15-year old.
- Asperger’s Syndome: A Guide For Parents and Professionals by Tony Attwood and Lorna Wing. This book provides a description and analysis of the characteristics of the syndrome and practical strategies to help the individual function.
- Emergence: Labeled Autistic by Temple Grandin. Temple Grandin, diagnosed as autistic, managed to find a way to work around her disability. She holds a Ph.D. in animal husbandry and revolutionized the cattle industry by redesigning livestock equipment.
- Asperger’s Huh? A Child’s Perspective by Rosina G. Schnurr and John Strachan. This book is geared for children ages 6-12.
- All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome by Kathy Hoopmann. This book provides a gentle, playful introduction to Asperger’s Syndrome.
- Developing Talents: Careers For Individuals With Asperger Syndrome And High-Functioning Autism by Temple Grandin and Kate Duffy. This book uses real-life examples of people with Asperger’s who have successful careers.
- The Exact Mind: An Artist With Asperger Syndrome by Peter Myers, Simon Baron-Cohen, and Sally Wheelwright. This book displays the beautiful artwork of Peter Myers, an artist with Asperger’s Syndrome. The psychological interest and implication of Peter’s work are also discussed.
- Today’s Man is a video from the Independent Lens series by PBS. It follows a young man named Nicky Gottlieb, who was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome at the age of 21.
- Mozart and the Whale is a movie based on the true-life story of Jerry and Mary Newport, a married couple with Asperger’s Syndrome. The film shows how they met and how their relationship developed. This is also available as a book.