Asperger's syndrome, sometimes called Asperger's, Asperger's disorder or Asperger's disease, belongs to the group of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) or pervasive developmental disorders (PDD). These psychological conditions are characterized by difficulties in social interactions and communication, stereotypical and repetitive behaviors and a delay in cognitive development. Asperger's syndrome is sometimes referred to as "high functioning autism", but the overlap between the two is still unclear. However, the difference between Asperger's and autism is that with Asperger's, there is preservation of language and cognitive development.
Asperger's was first described in 1944 by the Austrian pediatrician Hans Asperger, who described children seen in his practice who lacked non-verbal communication skills, showed almost no empathy toward their peers and who appeared to be clumsy. It became an official diagnosis in 1994 when it was added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV).
Children with Asperger's syndrome have difficulty integrating socially due to a lack of non-verbal communication skills. They may appear clumsy and often fail to show empathy toward their peers. Children with Asperger's do have normal intelligence and normal language deveopment. They tend to be interested in very restrictive/focused subjects or topics and Asperger called his patients "little professors", since the children have a tendency to collect a wealth of very detailed information about a particular topic.
Other signs of Asperger syndrome are repetitive motor behaviors such as hand flapping and whole body movements. Children with Asperger's often also have poor motor planning (apraxia), which results in an odd gait or posture, or problems with hand writing. Proprioception (or body awareness) can also be affected in Asperger's, causing children to seek out compensatory behaviors such as jumping or bouncing (on beds).
Children with Asperger's often have disturbed sleep patterns, such as difficulty falling asleep, nocturnal awakenings and feeling sleepy during the day. Other subgroups of autism spectrum disorders also have sleep difficulties, such as Potocki-Lupski-Syndrome. Such sleep problems can become very problematic for many families. It can also lead to other problems in these children, such as loss of appetite and depression.
Treatment options for children with Asperger's are speech therapy, occupational therapy and behavioral therapy. Speech therapy can help if the child's speech problems are due to a motor planning issue such as verbal apraxia. Occupational therapy can be very useful to address difficulties related to sensory integration issues.
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