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The Informed Parent

Asperger’s Disorder

by Peter W. Welty, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Published on Oct. 30, 2000
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Asperger’s Disorder is a type of a "pervasive developmental disorder." Autism is another of the five subtypes. Pervasive developmental disorders are disorders where there are significant problems in the following areas:

  • social interactions with other people.
  • problems with verbal and nonverbal communications with others
  • limited, repetitive, and stereotyped behaviors, interests, and activities.

It is a developmental disorder, which means that problems are often noticeable at early stages of infant development, and become more apparent as the child grows. There are wide variations in how children with pervasive developmental disorder present.

The name Asperger’s was first noted by Hans Asperger in 1944, who described a syndrome of persons with normal intelligence who had a noticeable problem in social interactions with others, and had limited interests and behaviors, without delays in learning or language development.

The cause of Asperger’s is unknown, but family studies suggest a possible connection to autism. The cause of Asperger’s disorder is a topic of research under great study these days.

In Asperger’s disorder, the child’s early infant development is often normal, and his learning and intelligence are often normal. The child is usually able to develop "self-help skills", such as dressing, feeding and taking care of himself. There is no significant delay in language development, as there is in autism.

As a young child with Asperger’s grows, he or she may follow interests and activities with an unusual intensity and focus. For example, the child may be involved and intensely interested in certain geographical facts, or will show an absorbing interest in unusual items or topics. The interest in these topics is often so absorbing that it interferes with the child’s other activities.

Other concerns noted in those with Asperger’s include difficulty in social interactions with other people. The child does not seem to understand how to begin and maintain appropriate conversations with those around him. He or she may have poor eye contact and limited body or facial expressions. He may have a difficult time sharing things or experiences with others. He may have trouble maintaining friendships with his peers. The child may also have difficulty with changes in routine. He may show stereotypic hand movements or racking behaviors. There are wide variations in the way that Asperger's presents.

Evaluation for the diagnosis of Asperger’s includes the doctor taking a detailed history of the child’s early development and current functioning. Other psychiatric problems must also be considered when diagnosing a child with a pervasive developmental disorder. Laboratory assessment to rule out any possible medical disorders may also be considered. Various checklists and scales have been developed to assist in the diagnosis of a pervasive developmental disorder. Additional psychological testing, to assess IQ, for instance, may also be done.

The child should receive an educational assessment to determine if the classroom meets his educational needs. Opportunities for socialization should also be encouraged. The child may benefit from social skills training to help him learn to build social skills. Family intervention in the form of support and educational groups are also very helpful.

There are many support groups for parents of children with Asperger’s disorder. One of them is:

Aspen of America, Inc.
P.O.Box 2577
Jacksonville, FL 32203-2577
(904) 745-6741

The child’s pediatrician is crucial in helping the family of a child with Asperger’s disorder. He or she helps develop and follow through with the plan of care for the child. There is current research on the causes, diagnosis, and treatment options for Asperger’s and other pervasive developmental disorders. The knowledge in this area of medicine is constantly being updated and refined, and new information is always on the horizon.




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