Here’s all you need to know about Asperger’s Syndrome

Our reactions and gestures say a lot about our mental and emotional health. A calmer mind will always respond in a more serene way. On the contrary, an anxious mind subconsciously’ will retort impatiently. The reaction may vary from every human to human but analysing the reasons behind different ways of response is important.

Asperger’s Syndrome is one such mental disorder that dominates human behaviour. A milder version of Autism, Asperger’s is a developmental disorder that is characterized by difficulties in social interaction and with non-verbal communication. Hurting oneself, deliberately or unintentionally, isolating oneself or being obsessively interested in a particular field of study, are some characteristics associated with Asperger’s Syndrome. According to National Autistic Society, Asperger’s Syndrome could also lead to a state of confusion and anxiety.

In contrast to Autistic disorder, there are no significant delays in language and speech in Asperger’s; and there are no significant delays in cognitive development or in the development of age appropriate self-help skills/adaptive behaviour (other than in social interaction) and curiosity about environment in childhood.

TOI health team spoke with Dr Sushree Sahu, Counselling Psychologist, who says, “Asperger’s Syndrome is a pervasive developmental disorder characterized by difficulties in communication and socialization, and by restricted repetitive activities and interests. It is more common in boys than in girls. Their development is normal in the initial years, but they may lack warmth in relationships by the age of three years. They spend a lot of time pursuing narrow interests, and may be clumsy. Although, this condition is referred to as autistic psychopathology, there is no general delay or retardation in language and cognitive development (such as reading or math skills). They often come across as eccentric and solitary.”

Dr Sameer Malhotra, Senior Consultant Psychiatrist, Psychotherapist and De-addiction Specialist, Max Super Speciality Hospital, Saket said that he comes across 1 to 2 kids suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome every week.

What causesAsperger’s Syndrome?

The exact causes of Asperger’s Syndrome are yet not known. Many studies say that it is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors that affect the brain’s development. Some researches also suggest that environmental factors during the mother’s pregnancy, like viral or bacterial infection or active or passive smoking, impact the child in her womb to cause Asperger’s.

According to Dr Sushree Sahu, “The cause is unknown, but the social and behavioural difficulties have been linked to abnormalities in neural systems, which may be avoided. The condition is linked with heritability in families, thereby suggesting a genetic influence. It has been linked with structural abnormalities in the brain. There’s little evidence to suggest an environmental influence.”

She further explains that it has also been suggested that older age of parents as well as infections during pregnancy can contribute to the development of the condition.

Signs and symptoms of Asperger’s Syndrome

The symptoms of Asperger’s may begin at the age of three and can last for a person’s entire life. Dr Sahu says that difficulty in the use of nonverbal behaviours, such as the lack of eye contact, few facial expressions, awkward or clumsy body postures and gestures are a few symptoms of Asperger’s Syndrome. Children affected with Asperger’s indulge in repetitive motor movements, like hand or finger flapping or twisting, or complex whole-body movements.

Some common signs and symptoms of Asperger’s Syndrome are:

Obsessive interests: A child affected with Asperger’s Syndrome is usually an expert in a particular field. It may include their obsessive interest in models of different cars or bikes, trains and computers. Sometimes their obsession might seem strange to others. These interests can include obsessions for kitchen equipments and lawn mowers.

As discussed, people suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome are exceptionally knowledgeable in their area of interest. This is the reason they mostly indulge in conversations that are focussed on their interests.

Difficulty in senses : People with Asperger’s Syndrome may also suffer from sensory problems. This means that they may have issues with any one of their senses like smell, sound, taste or touch. It would be either underdeveloped or stronger than usual. They may have different perceptions about loud noises, strong fragrances or smells, food textures, and bright lights.

A distinct form of speech: Asperger’s Syndrome may also cause problems with speech. There is no voice modulation, no rhythm and their tone is usually flat. Either they will speak too fast or too slow. People suffering from Asperger’s may sound older than they actually are.

They prefer social isolation: A person with Asperger’s Syndrome desires to have friends and wants to indulge in social conversations. But as they lack communication skills and have challenges in social interactions, people with Asperger’s Syndrome prefer to be isolated. They seem uninterested in social gatherings and maintain distance from other people. Indulging in conversation with others is quite challenging for them because of their singular interest. Hence, making friends is often a problem with people suffering from Asperger’s.

Social skills and communication: Expressing themselves in front of others is often difficult for people with Asperger’s Syndrome. Understanding gestures and facial expressions is quite a challenge for them. They are not good at starting a conversation or ending a discussion. Understanding jokes or humorous conversations isbeyond their ability.

According to The Asperger’s Association of New England, “People with Asperger’s Syndrome do not pick up much of the non-verbal social cues conveyed to them. They may simply not be aware of this information, while the cues that they do notice are commonly misinterpreted. This can result in frustratingly awkward social interactions and ineffective behavioural responses.”

Their set of rules and routines: People with Asperger’s Syndrome often set their own rules and routines. They believe it creates lesser confusion and anxiety. They don’t appreciate any changes or alterations in their set of patterns. Any change in their routine can make them restless.

According to a study, “These non-functional routines can be of critical importance to the child with Asperger’s. Given a choice in clothing, the child might create what seems like a uniform that is worn day after day.”

Delay in learning motor skills: Learning motor skills like pedalling a bike, climbing, playing games, catching a ball or running are major challenges for people suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome. The way they walk is quite different and noticeable by others.

Some other conditions: People with Asperger’s Syndrome are extremely active during the early stages of childhood. But when they reach adulthood, they may develop depression.

How can we avoid Asperger’s Syndrome ?

Asperger’s Syndrome can be prevented by following some lifestyle changes by pregnant women:

  • Eat healthy
  • Avoid alcohol intake or smoking during pregnancy
  • Get properly vaccinated before you get pregnant

Treatment for Asperger’s Syndrome

According to Dr Sameer Malhotra, behavioural modification and parental counselling may help. There are standard guidelines for medical management through psychiatric medication to control emotional/behavioural problems.

Dr Sahu suggests mild stimulant medications that are provided to deal with restlessness, aggressiveness and attention deficit. Medication is often combined with family and group therapy, and occupational therapeutic interventions to enhance daily living in society. Behavioural treatment is aimed at modifying parents’ and teachers’ responses towards child’s difficulties. Treatment is aimed at providing a structured environment to the children with scope for contingency management.