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Asperger's Syndrome

What is Asperger's Syndrome?

Asperger's Syndrome is named after Hans Asperger, the Austrian doctor who first recognised and described the symptoms back in 1944.  Asperger's Syndrome (or Disorder) is a neurological condition on the autistic spectrum.  However, unlike most neurological conditions there are no medical treatments for Asperger's Disorder.  The only treatments with documented effectiveness for addressing various needs of people with Asperger's are psychological and most of those are principally behavioral and cognitive-behavioral.

In people with Asperger's Syndrome, deficits in social interaction and unusual responses to the environment, similar to those in autism, are observed. Unlike in autism, however, cognitive and communicative development are within the normal or near-normal range in the first years of life, and verbal skills are usually an area of relative strength. Idiosyncratic interests are common and may take the form of an unusual and/or highly circumscribed interest (e.g., in train schedules, snakes, the weather, deep-fry cookers, or telegraph pole insulators). There is some suggestion of an increased incidence of this condition in family members.

AS is not something that one can catch or that can be spread like a virus.  People with AS are just born that way.  Despite Asperger's being listed in the APA's Diagnostic manual it is not a mental illness, it cannot be caused by trauma or neglect and it cannot be cured with therapy or a change in lifestyle or attitude. Current research suggests it is not even the result of brain damage and is in fact, at least in part, genetic.

It is more common in males than females, but anyone of any race or gender can have Asperger's Syndrome, and it is a life-long condition, however how it manifests does appear to change for many people as they grow, develop, and age. It is not a "childhood" illness even though it is called a developmental disorder.   

A syndrome is a collection of symptoms or characteristics that occur together. People with Asperger's Syndrome will have some or all of these characteristics in common and will share many similar experiences. All are of average or above intelligence (the minimum IQ required for a diagnosis is 70) and will be verbal, and while most greatly benefit from extra support and understanding as children, as adults the vast majority become either semi or fully independent.

People with Asperger's Syndrome are people with different personalities and experiences, just like anyone else. They experience the world differently and therefore their own interactions, style, expectations, and "personality" can be different as a result.  It can be very disabling being different, and many experience lifestyle difficulties, anger, anxiety, depression, and health problems. These are not strictly part of the syndrome but more a consequence of living with it, and are not experienced by everybody.

Aspie is a popular informal term for describing people with Asperger's  Syndrome, though there are many others.  Many people with AS prefer to say they are an Aspie rather than say they have Asperger's Syndrome.

Many people want to know how they can tell if they or someone else is a person with Asperger's.  There is no specific test for Aspergers.  There is no medical test, no genetic test, no definitive psychological test for Aspergers.  Aspergers is defined and diagnosed behaviorally.  There are quizzes and questionnaires where people with Asperger syndrome will on average score higher or lower than the rest of the population, but in themselves they are not adequate for a diagnosis by themselves.  That means that someone who is trained in Autism Spectrum Disorders generally and who has specific experience with Aspergers must get to know a person and through their observations and interviews come to make the diagnosis based on those experiences.

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