Asperger’s Syndrome in Children

Updated on April 4, 2019
Lorna Lamon profile image

Lorna is a qualified psychologist and writer with an interest in drawing awareness to and informing others of mental health issues.

Asperger’s syndrome is part of a broader category known as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and is a lifelong developmental disorder which determines how someone makes sense of the world in their own unique way. Affecting 1 in 200 people, with males having a higher diagnosis rate, it is often referred to as a form of “high-functioning” autism.

Children who are diagnosed with Asperger’s usually have a higher intellectual capacity with no cognitive or speech difficulties, however, they typically have issues with social interactions. Considered to be the mildest form of ASD, most children who have been diagnosed are able to improve their social and motor skills through therapy and, as a result, enjoy a better quality of life, enabling them to hold down steady jobs. Ongoing support and encouragement from family and friends is critical in maintaining good social skills.

Causes

Research shows that the exact cause of Asperger’s remains unknown, however, it may result from a combination of genetic and environmental factors causing changes in brain development. Multiple genes may also play a part in causing Asperger’s, which would explain the number and severity of symptoms which vary widely among individuals.

Genetic

There are certain genetic conditions linked to the development of Asperger’s such as Fragile X syndrome, which is the most commonly known single-gene disorder, accounting for approximately 3% of all autism spectrum disorders. Asperger’s also tends to run in families, with younger siblings of a person with Asperger’s at a greater risk of developing the syndrome. Gene changes can happen for unknown reasons, and research shows that spontaneous gene mutations may influence a child’s risk of developing Asperger’s.

Physical

With the use of brain imaging, studies have shown that in specific areas of the brains of those children who have Asperger’s, structural and functional differences are apparent. It is thought that these differences occur during foetal development and may be caused by abnormal migration of the embryonic cells. Consequently, this affects the neural circuits of the brain, which controls thought and behaviour.

Environmental

Viral infections, air pollutants and pre-natal complications impact and may play a role in the development of Asperger’s syndrome. Risk factors include:

  • Being male
  • Being born premature
  • Being born to older parents
  • Family history of autism spectrum disorders or other mental health conditions

Symptoms

Noticeable from an early age, children with this condition often have trouble picking up on subtle forms of communication such as humour, sarcasm and body language. Common signs include:

  • Lack of eye contact, awkward body postures and few facial expressions are typical non-verbal communications which are often displayed
  • May have difficulty understanding the nuances of language and, as a result, may be extremely literal, despite having a good vocabulary
  • May seem insensitive to others’ feelings and has trouble reading people
  • Usually speaks in a voice that is monotone, jerky or unusually fast
  • Very often has difficulty making friends of the same age; consequently, children with Asperger’s may feel more comfortable being around much younger children or adults
  • May appear to be totally self-absorbed or egocentric
  • Does not engage in small-talk and has difficulty understanding the give-and-take of conversation
  • Usually prefers repetitive routines or rituals, and any small changes may cause upset
  • Tends to have an intense obsession with one or two specific subjects
  • When overstimulated, may day-dream or zone out
  • May have anger outbursts and meltdowns

It should be noted that even though all children diagnosed with Asperger’s are unique, their obsessive interests and unusual social skills do tend to set them apart from their peers. If any of the above symptoms are noticed in your child, it is important to see your General Practitioner or Paediatrician, who will refer you to a mental health expert who specialises in Asperger’s Syndrome such as a Psychologist, Developmental Paediatrician or Psychiatrist.

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a real battle.

— Tim Page

Diagnosis

A diagnosis is usually based on a series of questions and observations which include:

  • When did your child first start to speak, and how does he/she communicate?
  • How does he interact with friends, family members and others’?
  • What symptoms does he/she have and when were they first noticed?
  • Are there any particular subjects of activities which he/she is focused on?

Based on the answers, the child will then be observed in different situations to see how he/she responds and communicates.

When to Tell Your Child

There isn’t an exact age or time to inform your child about their diagnosis. It is important to consider the abilities, social awareness and personality of the child before making this decision, as informing them too early may cause confusion. Being positive and embracing each member of the family’s uniqueness with all their strengths, dislikes and weaknesses is a good place to start. This will pave the way for future discussions regarding differences. Information should be minimal initially, with more information being added over time.

Assure your child that they can ask questions at any time, and I would suggest involving a health professional in the beginning stages, which can help the parent understand the child’s reaction and also support the family. The process will be ongoing and can be seen to be a learning curve for all family members. It is important to maintain a positive focus, which will ultimately encourage self-esteem, awareness and understanding.

Treatment

Treatment is usually tailored to suit the individual child as there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach; in fact, it might be necessary to try different types of treatment in order to find one that works. Types of treatment can generally be broken down into the following categories:

  • Dietary
  • Medication
  • Complementary and Alternative Medicine
  • Behaviour and Communication Approaches
  • Occupational/Physical Therapy
  • The support and training of parents

Dietary

A nutritious, balanced diet can make such a difference to a child with Asperger’s, not only in their ability to learn but how they process information and manage their emotions. However, due to their repetitive behaviours and obsessive interests, their eating habits and food choices are often affected. The biggest barriers to a balanced diet are usually the child’s sensitivity to colours, smells, textures, and tastes. In order to overcome these sensory issues, try taking your child to the supermarket to choose a new food. Make the process interesting by preparing the food together, and as they become familiar with new foods in a positive way, this will encourage your child to become a more flexible eater.

It is also important to have a routine when it comes to meals as this will reduce stress, and if your child is light sensitive, try candlelight or have a dimmer on your light switch. Working with a dietician is a good way to ensure that your child’s nutritional needs are being met, and is a great support network and guide on how your child can eat well and stay healthy.

Medication

Medication will treat anxiety, depression or the inability to focus, which is often related to Asperger’s syndrome; however, at present there is no medication to treat Asperger’s syndrome itself.

Complementary and Alternative Medicine

Traditional medicine and natural remedies have been used for thousands of years to safely support the nervous system and healthy functioning of the brain. Homeopathic and herbal remedies may be extremely beneficial in helping to restore a calm and positive demeanour in a child with Asperger’s. Equally important is the need to maintain healthy sleep patterns, which are crucial to a child’s development. Making an appointment with a Homeopathic Practitioner, who can assess your child’s particular needs, may be beneficial.

Behavioural and Communication Approaches

The most effective behavioural approach in the treatment of Asperger’s in children is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). This talking therapy will aim to improve stress management relating to explosive emotions or anxiety. It is also beneficial in enabling the child to cut back on obsessive interests and repetitive routines.

Occupational/Physical Therapy

Every child is unique, however, there are common causes for functional difficulties that children with Asperger’s have, where Occupational Therapy can play an important part in helping the child to cope.

  • Problem Solving: Being able to successfully complete a task and work out the necessary steps to take can be extremely difficult for a child with Asperger’s. Occupational therapy can assist the child to remain calm, think things through and plan, enabling them to succeed in social and learning situations.
  • Problems with Motor Co-ordination: How a child uses their muscles will significantly impact their endurance and attention span. Occupational therapy will teach the child to build the strength they need through a series of specialised exercises, enabling their muscles to work properly, aiding concentration and their ability to manage their daily life.
  • Academic Ability: Difficulties with reading, writing or lack of attention in class may be a result of how the child processes visual information or the use of their fine motor skills. An Occupational Therapist will be able to determine where the problem is and may refer the child to a Psychologist for a cognitive assessment in order to gain further information relating to the child’s academic ability.
  • Interaction/Socialisation with Peers and Family Members: Most children with Asperger’s have difficulty interacting and playing appropriately with others. The role of the Occupational Therapist would be to facilitate play skills by working on the child’s ability to effectively socialise.

The Support and Training of Parents

Giving parents and caregivers the training to develop the necessary skills in order to improve the social skills and overall wellbeing of the child is crucial. An understanding of the disorder is essential in order to plan for each day and the future. A good source of information is your doctor’s surgery, where you can be referred to various groups and courses which both educate and support. There are also Council-run workshops, specifically aimed at coping strategies designed to help with the complexities of this disorder. There are also a number of books and helplines which are worth exploring.

Every member of the family is affected in different ways when a child is diagnosed with Asperger’s. As the parents/caregivers have to devote their time and primary focus on helping their child, everything else usually has to take a back seat. This may put stress on relationships within the family and may also affect work, finances and other responsibilities. Informing other family members about Asperger’s and what it entails will create an understanding of the many challenges which have to be overcome on a daily basis. This in turn will help family members to cope, become involved and offer support.

Strengths and Benefits of Asperger’s

From my own personal experience of people with Asperger’s, I have found that they are an adaptable collection of wonderful individuals who, sometimes against all the odds, have found ways to cope and survive in a world that expects different codes of behaviour. Their solutions to life’s challenges are distinctive, and they have many positive strengths and traits which should be applauded including:

  • Genuine and sincere, with a great sense of loyalty and honesty
  • Exceptional recall of details
  • Persistent and can always be relied upon to follow through
  • Non-judgemental – tend to be free from bias and discrimination based on race, gender or other differences
  • Their acute sensitivity to specific sensory experiences gives them a different perspective on the world
  • Compassionate and caring, usually with a strong sense of social justice
  • They are not inclined to be con-artists, social manipulators or bullies

Individuals living with Asperger’s are a fitting testament to what can be accomplished without the blueprint of what is considered ‘normal’, and surely this is the definition of success.

Final Thoughts

One of the most misunderstood developmental disorders on the Autism Spectrum, Asperger’s Syndrome is very often stereotyped and misconceived. I truly believe that with knowledge comes wisdom and understanding, enabling these children to become functioning adults leading independent lives within an atmosphere of support and empathy.

This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Lorna Lamon

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      • profile image

        Lorna Lamon 

        4 months ago

        Thank you for your kind comments Ann. I have met so many people with such a negative view on mental health in general and so highlighting the many wonderful attributes these people have is really important to me.

      • annart profile image

        Ann Carr 

        4 months ago from SW England

        You have presented and explained Asperger's so well. I am not an expert by any means but have come across a few students with Asperger's when I taught dyslexics at a specialist school in Somerset. There were a few who overlapped other difficulties, such as dyscalculia, autism and so on. They all had some social difficulties of course, as they saw themselves as different, and so we were able to understand and accommodate them well in a sympathetic environment. They started with problems but most emerged with confidence and belief in themselves.

        It's so important to emphasise the strengths as you have done here. This is informative, helpful and fascinating.

        Ann

      • Lorna Lamon profile imageAUTHOR

        Lorna Lamon 

        6 months ago

        Hi Mandy, I'm glad you found the article informative - spectrum disorders are not always easy to diagnose, however, they are making progress. Thank you for commenting.

      • x0mandylynn0x profile image

        Mandy 

        6 months ago from Canada

        Very informative! Growing up the doctor's always thought my brother had Aspergers as a kid. Turned out they werne't even sure what he has. This helped me understand more!

      • Lorna Lamon profile imageAUTHOR

        Lorna Lamon 

        7 months ago

        Hi Lora, Thank you for commenting and sharing - I really wanted to highlight this particular topic and draw attention to the many strengths and abilities people with Asperger's have. It is uplifting to hear about your relative and I am sure he has an amazing future ahead of him for all the reasons you have mentioned. Having the right support network will make all the difference as well as an understanding of this condition.

      • Lora Hollings profile image

        Lora Hollings 

        7 months ago

        Just wonderful article on Asperger's Syndrome, Lorna! I have a relative who has this disorder and he is now doing very well! It took awhile for him to find his niche but with his incredible memory for details and his passionate interest in this area, he is now going to college to get a degree in a highly specialized area that he really loves. Because of his amazing power to focus on just this one topic, where he can totally concentrate and not have to divide his attention and be with others who are passionate about this interest as well, I think that he will succeed and do well. His parents, since the time he was little, have always been very supportive and encouraged his special talents, got him into programs that helped his motor skills and cognitive development and sought out a therapist who could help them better understand their child and help their child learn better coping skills and social skills too. I heard that Glenn Gould a fabulous pianist whose specialty was the interpretation of Bach and one of the finest musicians in the world was also diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome. As you say in your article, children who get the support and understanding that they need, can go on to have full and rewarding lives.

      • Shing Araya profile image

        Shing Araya 

        7 months ago from Cebu, Philippines

        You are welcome

      • Lorna Lamon profile imageAUTHOR

        Lorna Lamon 

        7 months ago

        Glad you found the article helpful Sunshine thank you for commenting.

      • Shing Araya profile image

        Shing Araya 

        7 months ago from Cebu, Philippines

        Very helpful article, thank you.

      • Lorna Lamon profile imageAUTHOR

        Lorna Lamon 

        8 months ago

        Thank you for your comments Dina - it is so difficult living with a mental health condition regardless of what it is, and so important for others to appreciate their daily struggles.

      • thedinasoaur profile image

        Dina AH 

        8 months ago from United States

        Lorna, you approached this topic with sensitivity and kindness. Unfortunately, Asperger's doesn't get fair representation in the media (or in stories, in general). I like that you point out the remarkable things that make people with Asperger's assets to society--rather than all the hurtful (and frankly, totally not accurate) things we hear.

      • Lorna Lamon profile imageAUTHOR

        Lorna Lamon 

        8 months ago

        Hi Denise, You have been down a very long tunnel and I am so glad there is now a light at the end of it.

      • PAINTDRIPS profile image

        Denise McGill 

        8 months ago from Fresno CA

        Thank you Lorna. I feel like I was the only one searching. I knew something was not quite right and she wasn't just "incorrigible" as some thought. I never found out what was up during her childhood and so she grew up thinking she was a throwback of some sort. Poor dear. She really tried to fit in and never really did. It was a nightmare for her. She would make clumsy blunders and didn't quite know how to cope so she would laugh. I remember one church group outing where she spilled cocoa on some lady's sweatshirt and laughed because she didn't know what social cues were appropriate. This woman accused her of doing it on purpose because she laughed. Just no understanding and not even trying to understand!

        Blessings,

        Denise

      • Lorna Lamon profile imageAUTHOR

        Lorna Lamon 

        8 months ago

        Hi Denise, I'm glad you found the article informative and like you I wish more had been know about this condition in the past. Having worked with many families who have children with Asperger's I find that the more knowledgeable they become the better able they are to cope. You have certainly not had the benefit of what is known now and I cannot imagine how difficult your lives would have been. It is only through ongoing research that we are able to recognize and treat the symptoms so that these children can live meaningful lives. I am glad that your daughter eventually got the right diagnosis - I'm sorry it wasn't available sooner. Sincerely Lorna

      • PAINTDRIPS profile image

        Denise McGill 

        8 months ago from Fresno CA

        This is very informative. It's a real shame we didn't have this kind of information decades ago. My youngest (step-daughter) was our "problem child". If only I knew then what I know now. She is 40 now and has her own children and diagnosis. She goes against the norm by not being male but she has all the rest; talks fast and incessantly, never could pick up on social cues and facial expressions, highly intelligent with a magnificent memory, terrible trouble making friends which caused lots of tears. The only thing I could think of back then was ADHD and I treated her with diet as much as we could afford. It was a nightmare where even her siblings were mad at her all the time. Teaching her social norms and cues was the hardest task. And of course, no one could understand her. We found out many years later that her mother suffered from the same problems.

        Thanks for sharing.

        Blessings,

        Denise

      • Lorna Lamon profile imageAUTHOR

        Lorna Lamon 

        8 months ago

        Glad you enjoyed the article Pamela - I feel it's so important to show the positive aspects of this condition. Thank you for your comments.

      • Pamela99 profile image

        Pamela Oglesby 

        8 months ago from Sunny Florida

        This is such a thorough article explaining Asperger's Syndrome and I learned so much. I am so glad you listed the strengths and benefits. I can see where the role of the parents is so important, which is probably difficult for working parents and even with a stay at home parent. I am glad to know that many can be employed successfully.

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