What is Asperger's Syndrome?
There's a 12-year-old girl named Jane standing near a group of girls who appear to be around the same age. She looks like she wants to join in their conversation, but she seems a little anxious. Jane has an extensive knowledge of history that she enjoys sharing sometimes at random and inappropriate times such as when she decides to join the girls' conversation.
She says "In January 1861 the south seceded from the union marking the beginning of the civil war." The girls give her quizzical looks that should serve as social cues to let her know that what she said didn't quite fit into their conversation about Justin Bieber, but she may have difficulty picking up on those cues because she has Asperger's syndrome. So she may continue talking about the civil war...
Asperger's syndrome (AS) is an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and has been compared to high-functioning autism. As you can tell from the story about Jane, there are similar traits. They typically have difficulty expressing themselves correctly through the use of facial expressions, body language and eye contact. They also struggle to understand social cues, and they have difficulty understanding the uses of language such as sarcasm because they have a very literal interpretation of language. Their interests are usually limited to a few subjects of strong interest such as history, cars or a particular movie. Empathy for others is something that also proves to be challenging for individuals with Asperger's syndrome.
A major difference between individuals with Asperger's and those with autism is intellectual development. Usually children with Asperger's do not have intellectual disabilities, whereas children with autism are developmentally delayed. Though their language may be repetitive at times, their grammar is good. They are often highly intelligent and they have a talent for remembering details such as people's birthdays and ages. Another difference to note is that Asperger's is usually detected and diagnosed at about 6-11 years of age. This is much later than autism, which is diagnosed around the ages of 2 or 3.
Asperger's syndrome was named after Austrian pediatrician, Hans Asperger who described the syndrome in 1944. He observed some of his patients and found that they had difficulty forming friendships, lack empathy and tend to be clumsy because they have difficulty with balance. Like other autism spectrum disorders, there is no cure for Asperger's, but there is treatment available. Applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy in combination with social skills training can help individuals with Asperger's learn essential life skills that lead to more fulfilling relationships and a better life. So Jane can learn to talk about the civil war in history class or with fellow history buffs instead of Justin Bieber fans.