Asperger syndrome is a mild type of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). These disorders are characterized by problems with communication and social interaction and by unusual, repetitive behaviors. Some professionals use a broader term, called pervasive development disorders (PDDs), to describe autism spectrum disorders. In addition to Asperger syndrome, there are four other disorders that qualify as PDDs: autism, childhood disintegrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), and Rett syndrome.
Children with Asperger syndrome usually have normal intelligence and do not have the language problems typical of autism. Patients with Asperger syndrome have many of the same social interaction and communication problems as autistic patients. However, patients with Asperger syndrome tend to have normal intelligence and verbal skills. Although these patients typically have strong verbal and grammar skills, they usually have other language problems, such as being too literal and/or having difficulty understanding non-verbal communications, such as body language. Other symptoms may include motor skill problems (e.g., clumsy movements), obsessive or repetitive routines and schedules, and sensitivity to sensory information (e.g., sound, light, or taste).
Asperger syndrome is named after Hans Asperger, a Viennese pediatrician who, in 1940, first described a set of behavior patterns apparent in some of his patients, most of whom were males. Asperger described these boys as having normal intelligence and language development but having severely impaired social and communication skills and poor coordination.
Some doctors believe that Asperger syndrome is not a separate and distinct disorder from autism. Instead, they call it high-functioning autism (HFA) and view it as being on the mild end of the ASD spectrum with symptoms that differ only slightly from classic autism.
The cause of Asperger syndrome is currently unknown, although it may be inherited. Genetic mutations known to cause Asperger syndrome have not been discovered.
The age of diagnosis of Asperger syndrome is later than what is typical in autism, which may be because people with Asperger syndrome have normal language skills. Most children with Asperger syndrome are diagnosed between the ages of 8 and 11. Motor development delays, such as clumsiness and crawling or walking late, are often the first indications of the disorder. Although diagnosed mainly in children, Asperger syndrome is being increasingly diagnosed in adults who seek medical help for conditions such as depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
The number of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders has increased over the years. It is unclear whether more children are developing the disorders or if doctors have become better at recognizing the symptoms. Approximately one out of every 5,000 children develops Asperger syndrome. For unknown reasons, boys are three to four times more likely than girls to develop the disorder. All ethnic groups are equally affected.
Although there is currently no known cure for Asperger syndrome, treatments and therapies have been shown to help patients live healthy, relatively normal lives. With early diagnosis, timely intervention is possible. Some patients are able to live independently once they become adults, while others may need lifelong support.
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