Asperger syndrome is part of a range of developmental disorders known as autistic spectrum disorder, or ASD. These disorders begin in childhood and stay with the person into their adult life.
Around 1 in 100 people in the UK are thought to have ASD.
This group of conditions involve delays in the development of many basic skills, most notably the ability to socialise with others, to communicate and to use imagination. The National Autistic Society says these are sometimes referred to as 'the triad of impairments'.
Although Asperger syndrome is similar in some ways to autism, there are some important differences. Children with Asperger syndrome typically function better than those with autism. In addition, children with Asperger syndrome generally have normal intelligence and near-normal language development, although they may develop problems communicating as they get older.
Asperger syndrome was named after an Austrian doctor, Hans Asperger, who first described the disorder in 1944. It was not recognised as a unique disorder until much later.
Early diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder is important. That's because detection leads to treatment, and with early treatment, a child with autistic spectrum disorder can gain improved language and social skills.
What are the symptoms of Asperger syndrome?
The symptoms of Asperger syndrome vary and can range from mild to severe. Common symptoms include:
- Problems with social skills: Children with Asperger syndrome generally have difficulty interacting with others and often are awkward in social situations. They generally do not make friends easily.
- Restricted or repetitive behaviours: Children with this condition may develop odd, repetitive movements, such as hand wringing or finger twisting.
- Unusual preoccupations or rituals: A child with Asperger syndrome may develop rituals that he or she refuses to alter, such as getting dressed in a specific order.
- Communication difficulties: People with Asperger syndrome may not make eye contact when speaking with someone. They may have trouble using facial expressions and gestures, and understanding body language. They also tend to have problems understanding language in context.
- Limited range of interests: A child with Asperger syndrome may develop an intense, almost obsessive, interest in a few areas, such as sports statistics, weather or maps.
- Coordination problems: The movements of children with Asperger syndrome may seem clumsy or awkward.
- Skilled or talented: Many children with Asperger syndrome are exceptionally talented or skilled in a particular area, such as music or maths.
What causes Asperger syndrome?
The exact cause of Asperger syndrome is not known. However, the fact that it tends to run in families suggests that there are genetic factors which may be inherited (passed on from parent to child).
How common is Asperger syndrome?
Asperger syndrome has only recently been recognised as a unique disorder. For that reason, the exact number of people with the disorder is unknown, although it is more common than autism. The National Autistic Society says the condition affects people from all nationalities, cultures and social backgrounds. It is more common in boys/men than girls/women.