Asperger’s Syndrome

Asperger’s Syndrome – an overview
Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) is a neurological condition which is considered to be an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). People with AS have considerable difficulty with social interaction, and have restricted as well as repetative patterns of behaviour and interests. As a pervasive developmental disorder (PDD), characteristics are present from birth.


In other PDDs the problems can be quite marked, such as the case of autism, where a child is not able to function normally and needs considerable support. Language is often severely affected. However, some people with AS get to early adulthood or later, before issues arise that lead them to seek help. In school for example, their intellectual prowess is admired and so other problems are less of a focus. This can especially be the case for girls, where they try very hard to fit in, sometimes even copying the mannerisms and behaviours of other girls.  Typically, they are easily led by others and if they fall into a caring social group, problems do not become pronounced until later in high school. On the other hand, many children with AS are the subject of bullying because of their problems in understanding normal social interaction and their difficulty in realising they are breaking norms and looking awkward.


AS in Adults
AS can be difficult to diagnose, especially in girls. Not all clinicians know the sometimes subtle indications of AS that might underlie anxiety or social withdrawal or anger outbursts. It has only really been put in the spotlight in the last few decades. For this reason, especially for people who are over 30, it may have gone undiagnosed for the person’s whole life. Yes they were always a bit ‘odd’ or ‘eccentric’, but they kind of kept to themselves and didn’t really make too many waves. For this reason, many adults who have the condition have lived without knowing why they feel on the fringes all the time, and why they cannot seem to ‘get’ social situations. Without knowing why they are the way they are, people will understandably blame themselves thereby putting even more pressure on themselves. This can result in depression, and typically this is why they may seek help from a therapist. In other cases,¬† they or one of their family members may read or hear something about AS and the penny drops. Sometimes this comes from having a child who has the condition or who has autism. They are then exposed to literature on the subject and begin to wonder if this isn’t them (or their spose).


Getting help – Diagnosis and Treatment
So where does that leave a parent, spouse or someone who thinks they may have AS? Understanding that a child or adult has AS is an important first step. For a child to know that the reason they seem to be out of step with their peers is due to a condition they were born with, can have a significant impact on how they feel about themselves over the course of their life. It is also important for the child to realise that they are different, not defective. Perhaps more importantly, people with AS walk to the beat of their own drum and are not particularly worried about being different. The people around them however, may be much more concerned and this results in conflict for the child who feels then that they are not accepted. AS people are able to make great contributions to society even if they have difficulty with the social aspect of it (for example, Einstein is believed to have had AS). They can also make very good partners, as any person married to someone with AS will attest. For those with behaviour difficulties, therapy can also help. They are in fact no different from the average person in terms of being able to gain from therapy in the cases where problems do occur. Also, importantly, some children may suffer from a secondary condition that affects them concurrently with AS. Such conditions include bipolar disorder, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and non-verbal learning problems. These need to be assessed in addition to the main AS concern. Such conditions often do occur with AS, or sub-clinical versions of them, due to the ‘wiring’ of the brain.

For an interesting conversation about AS with Professor Tony Attwood, world renowned authority on AS, listen to this ABC radio interview with Richard Fidler: