What is Asperger’s Syndrome
Asperger’s Syndrome is a pervasive developmental disorder located on the milder end of the autistic continuum.
Dr Hans Asperger is the Austrian psychiatrist who described in 1944 the behavioral disorders he found in many children. These children had a normal intelligence and language development but had significant problems in social interaction and communication. He called this disorder «autistic psychopathy». Unfortunately, at that time, Austria was part of Nazi Germany, and his work remained unnoticed by all.
In 1981, Lorna Wing, a British child psychiatrist, unearthed the Austrian’s works and introduced the notion of Asperger’s Syndrome. She gradually convinced her colleagues throughout the world, and in 1994 Asperger’s Syndrome was officially recognised in the DSM IV.
Asperger’s Syndrome is a neurological developmental disorder. More commonly found in boys than girls (1 girl for 4 to 8 boys according to different studies), it is at least in part hereditary. It cannot be cured, but educational and behavioural approaches can improve the prognosis.
Asperger’s Syndrome affects social interaction, communication and cognitive perception. The deficits are often the result of information and sensory stimuli decoding problems. These misperceptions keep the person from responding appropriately to these stimuli. Indeed, the person cannot break the code of the messages he receives and then send clear messages himself. The inability to perceive contexts as a whole brings him to concentrate on details and get into a routine that can become very rigid to compensate for the fact that he cannot predict what is going to happen next, making him weary of surprises and the unknown.
Asperger’s Syndrome is sometimes associated to other disorders such as attention deficit disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety disorder.
The severity of the disorder can vary from one person to the next, but everyone shows most of the following symptoms in varying degrees:
- Onset of the disorder around the age of 3
- Normal to superior intelligence
- Social interaction and communication problems caused by the inability to read non-verbal language (body language, facial expressions, voice tone)
- Apparently rich language, a lot of vocabulary but no real communication, echolalia (to repeat the same word or the same sentence).
- A literal understanding of language and expressions (inability to understand puns or irony).
- A peculiar tone of voice, a sometimes snobbish type of speech (sometimes with a foreign accent), a monotone voice with a peculiar prosody.
- Absence, inappropriate or disproportionate use of body language and facial expressions (especially with strong emotions such as fear or anger).
- Excessive attachment for certain objects, fixation on a specific subject (special interests such as dinosaurs, road maps, trains, weather, computers), obsessions and repetition, rituals.
- Senses that are either hypersensitive (loud noises, bright light, food taste and texture, extreme cold or warmth), hyposensitive (no reaction to pain, extreme cold or warmth) or distorted (alteration of the visual field)
- Naive socially. This makes them perfect victims since they are always honest and cannot feel their peers’ intentions.
- Lack of coordination, sometimes a peculiar gait or walk or bad eye-hand coordination.
- Exceptional memory, especially for facts and details.
- Inclination for isolation and solitary activities (often when their senses are overloaded).
- Self-stimulation behaviour (rocking, flapping, sounds), often in times of stress.
In Canada , official diagnosis can only be performed by a psychiatrist in order to be recognized by service-providing governments. However, since waiting lists are very long (several months to a few years), many parents and adults seek the help of psychologists working in the private sector to get a complete assessment and a set of recommendations to start treatment as soon as possible.
Parents are entitled to financial assistance from the provincial government (Régie des rentes) as well as from the federal government (Child Disability Benefit or tax break). You must also get a file open at your local CLSC to get the «Soutien à la famille» supplement if you need it. That file is also the only way you can make a service demand at your local CRDI (Centre de réadaptation en déficience intellectuelle : readapation centre for the intellectually disabled) in most areas. As of April 2003, these centres have been identified as the official service providers for all the autism and PDD clientele with or without an intellectual disability and regardless of age.
It is also important to notify the school, since a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome, PDD or autism entitles the student to help from the school system. The student will then get a «code» (the PDD code is 50) to get him the help of a shadow, a smaller classroom, professional services or any other help deemed necessary.
Some Asperger’s students perform rather well in a regular classroom, but others need the help of a part to full-time shadow or even the setting of a classroom adapted to his needs (TEACCH-model classroom). No child has the same needs and the approach needs to be individualised.
Here are some Web links to get more information on Asperger’s syndrome.
In French :
In English :