Reprinted by Autism Society Ontario with permission from Autism Society of British Columbia.
In 1944 Hans Asperger, an Austrian psychiatrist, described an "abnormality of personality" that he called autistic psycopathy. This term has since been replaced by Asperger's Syndrome. Asperger's work was not translated into English until the early '70s, so it was not widely known in the English speaking countries. Even after his work was translated, it was not until the late '80s that Asperger's Syndrome was diagnosed in much of North America.
Asperger's Syndrome is more common in boys than in girls. It is not usually recognized before the age or three or even later. Asperger himself defined the syndrome using the categories below.
Speech: Children with Asperger's Syndrome generally talk at the age expected of typical children. Grammar is acquired at a typical age or a bit later; however there may be a tendency to use "you" or "he/she" instead of "I". In general the form of language is typical but the content is not. Children may talk at length about a favourite subject or repeat a word or phrase over and over again.
Non-verbal communication: People with Asperger's Syndrome may have few facial expressions apart from anger or misery. Their voice may be monotone and droning or exaggerated. Comprehension of the facial expressions or others is also poor. As well, gestures may be clumsy and exaggerated.
Social Interaction: The rules governing social interaction often pose a mystery to someone with Asperger's Syndrome. The impairment of two-way interaction is perhaps the most obvious characteristic of the person with the syndrome.
Repetitive Activities and Resistance to Change: Children with Asperger's Syndrome may spin and watch spinning objects for long periods or time. They often are intensely attached to particular possessions.
Motor Coordination: Gross motor movements are usually clumsy and uncoordinated. About 90% are poor at sports. Some may have difficulty writing and drawing. Asperger also mentioned stereotypic movements of body and limbs as characteristic.
Skills and Interests: Most people with Asperger's Syndrome have excellent rote memory and become intensely interested in one or two subjects (sometimes to the exclusion of other topics).
Experiences at School: The impairment of social interaction and communication, in particular, work against the child with Asperger's Syndrome. The children are often targets of teasing and bullying at school. Many will be acutely aware that they are different, and can become over-sensitive to criticism, especially as teens.
Asperger outlined the differences between autism and his syndrome to be:
- the child with Asperger's Syndrome is not so disturbed;
- the child is very intelligent;
- he or she is endowed with special abilities;
- the child first shows symptoms in the third year and;
- the child develops highly grammatical speech very early.
People with Asperger's Syndrome, like those with autism, respond best when they have a regular, organized routine. It is important for everyone concerned to understand that the person with this syndrome will have difficulties in comprehension of abstract language and to make modifications and adaptations so the person will grasp what they are trying to communicate. Teachers are advised to find a balance between insisting that the student conform and allowing the student some time to develop his own interests and self esteem. How to handle teasing and bullying, both on the student's part and as a classroom or school-wide issue will also need to be addressed.
The best job for someone with Asperger's Syndrome will most likely be one with a regular routine. Co-workers and employers will need to be sensitive to the person's "eccentricities".
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