Asperger Syndrome in children can be difficult to diagnose due to the several overlapping symptoms with other similar conditions.
What is Asperger Syndrome?
Prior to the revised Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5 (DSM-5) in 2013, Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) was considered a standalone condition baring similar conditions to Autism.
However, it’s now placed under the umbrella term of Autism Spectrum Disorder and is considered by many medical professionals as high-functioning autism.
AS is most notably characterised by difficulties with social interactions and communication as well as repetitive or restrictive patterns of behaviour which can be considered obsessive.
Asperger’s in children may be particularly difficult to diagnose, even though many children start showing signs within their year.
The earliest identifiable symptom may be poor motor coordination skills which may lead to clumsiness and general physical awkwardness.
It’s important to note that people with Asperger’s Syndrome have normal or above-average intelligence. Their challenges are more in the areas of social skills and interaction as well as understanding the subtle areas of communication such as sarcasm, humour or body language. This is largely due to their extremely literal interpretation of the world around them.
Other symptoms become more noticeable later on in life:
- Monotonous or formal speech – speech can sound flat and may lack rhythm. It can also be unusually fast or slow and volume of speech is often disproportionate to the environment.
- Social isolation – due to their refined interest in only a handful of topics, people with AS will often only speak about those topics, regardless of the topic of conversation they are engaging in. This may be misinterpreted as being uninterested or self-involved. Because of their underdeveloped social skills, people with AS will struggle to see how this can upset people and as a result, making friends and keeping them is extremely challenging, eventually resulting in social isolation.
- Restrictive or repetitive interests and behaviours – extensive interest on only a few, very specific topics result in excluding the interests of others as “worth discussing”. However, this extreme interest in a topic often results in the person becoming an expert on the subject. This could be anything from the Latin names of flowers or sports statistics. Behaviours can include collecting a category of items such as rocks or bottle caps, as well as listing or numbering of everyday objects or activities.
- Thrive on routine – in order to reduce confusion, people with AS develop rituals and rules that need to be maintained. A sudden change in these routines can cause anxiety.
- Lack of emotion – people with AS sometimes display a lack of emotion. They may not laugh at a joke or smile when they feel happy. Furthermore, inability to gauge emotions or body language displayed by their peers, they may come across as lacking in empathy.
- Lack of spatial awareness – once again, underdeveloped social skills may cause people with AS to be unaware of personal space. They tend to stand really close to people while interacting with them.
- Delayed development of motor skills – poor coordination can result in difficulties with carrying out more intricate tasks like tying shoelaces or carrying a cup of tea without spilling. People with AS may also have an unusual manner of walking; it may appear that they are walking on their toes or they may not swing their arms as they walk.
- Difficulties with imagination – due to their very literal perception, engaging in their imagination may be difficult. This is noticeable during role-playing or other forms of imaginative play, where people with AS may find it impossible, pointless or uninteresting.
Treatment for Asperger Syndrome
People with AS are able to live a completely normal life. However, the key to ensuring this is accurate diagnosis as early as possible.
AS should be treated holistically, with special focus on developing areas of difficulties and nurturing areas of strength.
With the right treatment, people with AS will learn the skills they need to adapt to social situations while improving their ability to interact with others in a meaningful, give-and-take manner. This will further minimise AS related complications such as anxiety, social isolation and depression.
The following are considered effective treatments for AS:
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
CBT teaches the person to acknowledge and process emotions in a healthy way in order to respond in a more controlled manner. This therapy also assists in decreasing obsessive interests or behaviours that are not beneficial.
Developing Social Skills
This can help people with Asperger Syndrome to better monitor their surroundings so that they be more accommodating. This includes learning how to gauge and respond to social cues and gestures. Developing a sense of empathy can also be part of this type of training.
Nurturing Academic or Educational Skills
Because people with AS have normal and sometimes above-average intelligence, they can benefit greatly from educational support. In this type of therapy, focus should be on areas such as managing homework, organising notes and paying attention to any learning difficulties that may be present.
Although people with AS have little to no language difficulties, their challenges lie with communication. Therefore, speech therapy can help teach them how to initiate and maintain a conversation. Speech and language therapy can also teach people with AS how to use their tone of voice when asking a question, making a statement, issuing an instruction or disagreeing with someone. Lastly, this type of therapy can help them better interpret cues of a verbal and non-verbal nature.
Behaviour medication helps a person with AS to foster positive behaviour and thought patterns while minimising negative or unbeneficial behaviour.
Physical or Occupational Therapy
This kind of therapy can help improve motor coordination skills and sensory integration for those who have sensory processing disorder.
There is no medication that can directly treat Asperger Syndrome; however, medication may be given to treat symptoms such as anxiety or depression.
There is no specific test that can be done to diagnose AS. However, a variety of other tests can be done to eliminate the possibility of other conditions.
To accurately diagnose Asperger’s in children, a team of specialists including paediatricians and child psychologists may be required.
The wide range of symptoms which bare extreme similarities to other conditions can make diagnosis challenging, and therefore, care must be taken when accepting the diagnosis from an untrained individual.
Kay-Dee Educare Centre in Mowbray
Children with Asperger Syndrome can live a normal life among their peers, where they can be understood and included.
Our Educare Centre accommodates children with all kinds of special needs, including AS. For more information about our programmes and curriculums, please contact us.