Asperger syndrome is often considered a high functioning form of autism. People with this syndrome have difficulty interacting socially, repeat behaviors, and often are clumsy.
Defining Asperger syndrome and its key features has been an evolving challenge for professionals since it was added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) in 1994.
With the proposed changes to the new DSM-V and a new name for the category, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which includes autistic disorder (autism), Asperger syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) a host of even more challenges awaits in distinguishing Asperger syndrome from other conditions.
The following information was created to help families and professionals better understand Asperger syndrome before it is removed as a diagnostic category.
Background and Foundation of Understanding
Asperger syndrome is a developmental disability that starts at birth and has a continuum of severity in all areas of development. Asperger syndrome is considered a neurological brain based condition.
It is genetic and not “caused” by anything a parent or caregiver did or didn’t do. Asperger syndrome is a way of thinking and learning. Asperger syndrome has been around as long as humans have been around.
Some famous historical people with Asperger syndrome are believed to be Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Mozart, Bill Gates, etc.
When professionals question whether or not a skill is present they are looking for more than an understanding or knowledge of a skill or concept. They are looking for both an understanding and application in daily life.
For example a person can understand the social rules during Thanksgiving dinner with family but not follow those same rules during the dinner. So when you ask the question, “What are two topics we are not going to talk about this year at Thanksgiving dinner?” The answer in return might be “politics and video games.”
However at dinner when someone brings up a video game or political topic the person does not ignore or avoid the topic but joins in and ignores the previous discussion about conversational rules at Thanksgiving dinner.
When conducting a differential diagnosis we are looking at a totality of symptoms over time, in various situations, with a variety of people. Many children appear socially able when they are with adults, at home, or doing something they enjoy.
Take the same person and observe them with same aged peers, over a three or four day period engaging in a variety of activities that involve the peer’s interests and determine whether there are any social challenges, communication difficulties, or problem behaviors.
Males and females with Asperger syndrome will not typically present the same way diagnostically. Females have a tendency to be more social in general. The difference between males and females with Asperger syndrome is usually in their obsessions or restricted area of interests. Males have a tendency to become obsessed with toys and objects where females become obsessed with people and relationships.
Quite often females with Asperger syndrome will talk about other people a lot. They will do anything, say anything, be anything to be accepted into a group or relationship. When professionals hear this report from the parent they immediately rule out Asperger syndrome. Parents will quite often hear, “your daughter can’t have Asperger syndrome, she is too social”.
Asperger syndrome is not about wanting or not wanting to be social, it is about not knowing how to be social.
Brian F. Roselione, M.S., LMHC, P.A.
Brian Roselione is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor with a practice in Broward and Palm Beach Counties. He the founder and director of the Center for Counseling, Coaching, & Change. He specializes in working with families and individuals with varying challenges. For example, Bi-Polar, ADHD, Autism, Asperger syndrome etc. For more information on Asperger syndrome, please visit BrianRoselione.com