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Asperger Syndrome

Asperger syndrome (AS) is an autism spectrum syndrome which affects someone’s social behaviour and communication, and their interests. Many people with AS are of above average intelligence and do not have the same learning difficulties that autistic people have.

  1. Severity can vary greatly
  2. Common symptoms are difficulties communicating and interacting socially
  3. An incurable condition

Whilst there is no cure for AS, if it is diagnosed early in childhood there are various local support networks in place. Speech therapy, physiotherapy and occupational therapy can all help to alleviate specific symptoms. If you would like to speak to a doctor about being referred to a therapist, you can do this by using our private online video consultation service.

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Description

What is asperger syndrome?

Asperger syndrome (AS) is a form of autism, where a person’s behaviour, social interaction and interests are affected. Asperger syndrome is a type of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). It was previously known as ‘high-functioning autism’ because a person with AS is less likely to be affected by a delayed cognitive understanding and difficulties with processing language. Although people with AS struggle with social interaction, they are generally more open to the idea of it and usually have above average intelligence.

Who gets asperger syndrome?

There are several risk factors that predispose some people to developing the condition. They are mostly genetic, but environmental factors at prenatal and postnatal stages can have an influence. Between 10-20% of people with an ASD have a genetic defect, and the risk of a sibling developing an ASD is 50 times more likely if one child already has a related condition. In around 10% of cases, chromosomal abnormalities occur with an ASD, which leads to conditions such as Down’s syndrome and fragile X syndrome.

In terms of non-genetic factors, it is thought that having a severe viral infection during pregnancy, diabetes, and the age of the parents can increase the likelihood of AS developing. Furthermore, a low birth weight and the development of an autoimmune condition at an early age are other risk factors.

AS is usually identified later than autism because communication skills are comparatively better. People with AS may try to stop their symptoms from being noticed, which can lead to a misdiagnosis as someone with a mental health problem who is angry or lonely.

Typically, people with AS have a good grasp of language from an early age; however, their non-verbal communication is often poor and they may have difficulty talking about an array of different subjects. It's common for someone with AS to become obsessed with a particular topic, especially if it's rooted in logical thinking, such as science or mathematics. This usually translates as having an excellent knowledge of specific details without being able to put information into a larger context, or ‘see the bigger picture’.

There are many conditions which are concurrent with AS. It is thought that around a quarter of children on the autistic spectrum also have epilepsy. Difficulty with vision, learning and hearing are also common. However, the most common complications of AS are related to mental health. Depression and obsessive compulsive disorder can often develop in young adulthood and are also more likely to occur if the person has a general learning difficulty.

AS is a condition that can't be cured and plays a significant role in someone’s personality. If you've been diagnosed with AS, and would like to speak to a doctor about getting involved with a social programme to improve communication, you can book an appointment to use our video consultation service. Our doctors will be able to advise you on how a psychosocial intervention can help and what you can do to treat conditions that may be present alongside AS.

Page last reviewed:  12/06/2020
Diagnosis and treatment

How does someone know they have asperger syndrome?

Asperger Syndrome is usually diagnosed at a very young age - between 2 and 3 years old. It is not a condition that can be self-diagnosed. This means that diagnosis is usually done by a specialist, where four categories are examined from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV. 

How is asperger syndrome diagnosed?

A specialist will examine the presence of the following four factors:

  • Impairment in social interaction. This could be a lack of eye contact, gestures, or facial expressions, and also not being able to develop friendships with those of the same age.
  • Repetitive behaviour and inflexibility. May not respond well to changes in routine, and repetitive movements, such as hand-twitching, are common.
  • Impairment in other areas of functionality
  • No marked delay in language learning

Diagnosing AS can take a long time, as a person’s behaviour has to be monitored in different scenarios. Young children may require monitoring during school or playtime, for example.

A doctor will also want to use Fragile X DNA analysis, which is a very common medical genetic test. The Fragile X gene is responsible for the development of many autism-related conditions.

Does asperger syndrome require treatment?

AS cannot be cured, but prompt diagnosis and management from an early age can help the person to live a normal life.

It's usually managed in an educational setting in the person’s formative years. This involves the help of local support networks, paediatricians and educational psychologists.

If an adult has not been previously involved in social programmes, they are less likely to be as effective. However, it's recommended that psychosocial interventions are an option for adults who have AS, and a coexisting psychological condition that needs treating, such as anxiety.

What treatments are there for asperger syndrome?

If someone is diagnosed in adulthood, it's more difficult to manage the condition. However, a doctor will be able to provide information about local support services.

Support services may consist of social learning programmes (helping people to cope with social situations), leisure activities, and daily living skill programmes. 

In many cases of AS, there are associated medical problems, such as epilepsy or ADHD. Epilepsy can be treated with a type of anticonvulsant, and ADHD can be treated with stimulant medications such as ritalin.

Page last reviewed:  12/06/2020
Questions and Answers

What should I do if I think I might have asperger syndrome?

It is very likely that if you have AS you will have been diagnosed during childhood. However, if not, it's essential that you contact a doctor if you think you may have the condition. 

A prescriber will be able to refer you for a psychosocial intervention, and provide advice on what you can do to treat conditions that may be present with AS.

Are there side effects of asperger syndrome treatment?

It's highly unlikely that there will be any side effects of Asperger syndrome treatment, as it's not treated with any pharmacological medications.

However, it is possible that treatment of another condition which is concurrent with AS may produce side effects. For example, SSRIs (which are used to treat depression) can lead to drowsiness.

Can I consult a doctor about asperger syndrome online?

You can use the treated.com online video consultation service if you would like to speak to one of our UK doctors.

Book an appointment at a time that’s most suitable for you. Our prescribers can refer you to a social programme, and to a specialist for a psychosocial intervention.

Page last reviewed:  12/06/2020

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