A group of personality disorders called ‘autism spectrum disorder’
Patients of AS have difficulty in public dealings and social integration, as in other disorders of autism, but they generally have good vocabulary and speech skills.
The incidence of Asperger’s syndrome is about two in ten thousand births. It is four to five times more commonly found in boys than in girls. The symptoms of AS usually come to the notice of the parents by the age of three as there is delay in development of motor skills. The children are late to crawl and have difficulty in gripping a pencil, pedaling a bike or catching a ball. Early speech development is normal. They are very active in their childhood and often suffer from ‘attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). AS is often found in association with other personality disorders like Tourette syndrome, OCD, depression and anxiety related problems.
Asperger’s syndrome was first described by Dr. Hans Asperger, a pediatrician in Austria in 1944. He studied four children who had a normal intelligence quotient but stood apart from other children because of lack of social manners. They had excellent verbal skills but lacked non verbal communication skills. These children were experts in their field of interest, knowing all the facts and figures about it, but showed distinct lack of interest in other matters. They had awkward movements and a gawky gait. Dr. Hans Asperger classified this disorder which is marked by social apathy as an ‘autistic psychopathy’.
Asperger’s syndrome is now classified as a ‘pervasive development disorder’.
Causes of Asperger’s syndrome
The disease can be called hereditary as it tends to run in families. No single gene can be held responsible for the disease. Rather, it is a group of genes which are aberrant or have undergone some modification that can be incriminated for Asperger’s syndrome.
Signs and Symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome
- The patients of AS show a fixation for repetitive procedures.
- Their movements are gawky and their visual perceptive skills are low. So they have poor handwriting, and find difficulty in balancing or copying gesticulations.
- The most striking sign of Asperger’s syndrome is the distinct difficulty in social interaction. They are poor in communication. They have rigid expressions on their face and show limited use of gestures.
- They have an awkward gait and peculiar mannerisms.
- They are fascinated by any particular complex subject and gain complete command over it. They are especially attracted by music and patterns.
- The patients of Asperger’s syndrome have strong sense organs and are extra sensitive to sound, light, smell and touch.
Social interaction of patients with Asperger’s syndrome
The patients of Asperger’s syndrome are known for their lack of skills in public dealing. Unlike patients of other autisms, these patients do not shun social interaction. It is just their apathy towards their peers that leaves them socially ostracized. The patients are oblivious to the feelings of others, do not recognize body language and are too preoccupied with their subject of fascination to show any interest in what others are saying. They talk in a monotone in a very formal manner and their volume is not adjusted to the surroundings. These patients fail to notice the obvious discomfiture of their companion while they are busy rattling off details about their interest. They have a fixed stare on their face and do not express emotions. The speech is not accompanied with any hand movements. They also have strange mannerisms. All this leaves them without any friend circle. This often results in anxiety, depression or obsessive compulsive disease in their adolescence.
Asperger’s syndrome Treatment Perspective
Physicians look for the following signs to establish the diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome.
- Patient generally keeps to herself.
- Avoids eye contact.
- Shows restricted use of gestures.
- May not respond to her name.
- Avoids group activities.
- Exhibits social apathy.
Before undergoing treatment, ideally the patients must be assessed psychologically, medically, neurologically and their communication skills should be evaluated thoroughly. Their IQ scores reveal better verbal scores as compared to the performance scores.
The treatment must focus on three particular areas:
- The patient’s fixation with a specific method of doing a thing
- Awkward mannerisms and gait
- Lack of ability to deal with others
The therapy encompasses a number of activities to hold the patients’ attention and to engage them in well thought out activities that support normal manners and activities. This is done while taking care not to deviate too much from the patients’ daily routine which could make them nervous.
This type of therapy consists of various training programs. Some of these are:
- Teaching the patients with AS the required expertise to deal in public so that they do not feel left out and isolated.
- Giving special language classes to the patients so that they are not vague in expressing themselves.
- Talking to them and listening out their problems so as to calm their nerves and to phase out their obsession with fixed way of doing things.
- Helping out patients with poor motor coordination by designing exercises specially meant for such cases.
- Occasional troublesome behavior by the patient, like throwing tantrums can be controlled by specific behavioral techniques.
- Giving special instructions to the parents so that they can reinforce at home the things that are taught to the patients through these training programs.
- Treating the concurrent medical conditions like apprehensions and melancholy which are commonly found in the patients of Asperger’s syndrome.
- Certain conditions commonly associated with AS like Tourette syndrome and ADHD may require psychopharmacology.
The patients of Asperger’s syndrome are better placed than patients of other autism spectrum disorders. Although their social problems cannot be abolished altogether, they can definitely be improved upon with the help of above mentioned techniques. Their proficiency in a particular subject can be channeled to their benefit. Their ability to remain focused, to blindly follow their passion without caring about the opinion of others, and their capacity to work in isolation can help them reach the top in certain professions. It helps to boost their self confidence in the long run and let them lead a contended life.