Asperger’s Syndrome, or Asperger’s Disorder, is a genetic disorder and a mild form of autism. The primary effect of this disorder is that it affects the individual’s ability to perceive and process information all around them and react. Consequently, the people affected by Asperger’s Syndrome have difficulty with social interactions and nonverbal communications. However, not every individual shows the same physical manifestations of this disorder, hence why it is also known as “Spectrum Disorder”, because there are many different kinds of symptoms. In Ireland it is estimated that over 4,000 children under the age of 18 are diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome and it is 7 times more common in boys than girls.
What Are the Causes of Asperger’s Syndrome?
Although no individual mutated gene has been identified as the particular cause of Asperger’s Syndrome, doctors and scientists alike believe that it is primarily a genetic disorder because most affected individuals were observed to be from families where other members, mostly parents, had some form of behavioural problem(s).
Another extremely likely cause of Asperger’s Syndrome in children is the exposure to teratogen of the mother when she is carrying the baby. Scientists believe this exposure, if occurring within the first two months of conception, may lead to the development of the disease in the growing embryo.
What Are the Symptoms?
Asperger’s Syndrome is characterised by difficulties in three broad areas: communication, social skills and imagination.
- Communication: Individuals with Asperger’s may have trouble understanding language that has a double meaning or that is not straight forward and often take things said in their literal sense. For example they have difficulty with figurative language like ‘it is raining cats and dogs’ or ‘we had a whale of a time’.
- Social Skills: Individuals with Asperger’s may appear to be ‘loners’ or come across as being shy and quiet. They may have difficulty holding eye contact, engaging with others of the same age and they may not know what to say to others to start or maintain a conversation. They can also be naïve when compared to others of the same age.
- Imagination: Usually people with Asperger’s have very logical minds and a concrete thinking style. This means they may have trouble understanding things unless they are black and white. It also means individuals with Asperger’s have can have a preference for routine and depend a lot on timetables – change or disruption to this can be upsetting.
Other symptoms include:
- Uncoordinated Speech: The speech of the individuals affected by this disorder are different from that of others. Most individuals with Asperger’s are incapable of modulating the volume of their voices. They also tend to speak in a monotonous pitch. Others may tend to be incoherent or lack rhythm in their speech.
- Narrow Interest Range: Usually people, who have Asperger’s Syndrome, tend to take things at face value, that is literally, and they tend to perceive and treat their surroundings in a very scientific manner. They have a narrow interest range, that is, they tend to focus on a particular subject at a time and collect all and every details about it, without perhaps understanding it at all.
- Repetitive Behavioural Pattern: Individuals tend to have a certain gesture or act that they keep performing again and again, like a hand gesture, flapping or some feet movement. However, these repetitive patterns occur at irregular intervals, without symmetry and are faster.
Is There A Cure?
Asperger’s Syndrome, as such, has no particular cure. However, early diagnosis and secondary help can make important changes to the affected individual, perhaps, preventing isolation and depression in the affected person. Some of the steps are:
- Having the person interact with other Asperger’s patients
- Getting professional speech therapy
- Joining Child Development groups
How Can Speech Therapy Help?
Asperger’s is at the higher end of the Autistic Spectrum meaning that the symptoms are not in the severe range. Often children with Asperger’s can be extremely verbal however they may be using language inappropriately or lack normal social and conversational skills. Speech Therapy can teach people with Asperger’s Syndrome to use language properly and in the right context as well as helping to develop their social and conversational skills. It can also help individuals develop a greater understanding of figurative language including idioms and common sayings e.g. ’pull up your socks’ or ‘we had a ball’.
Overall, speech therapy can improve communication making it possible for people with Asperger’s to form relationships and function in day-to-day life.