What is Asperger's syndrome?

Asperger's syndrome is one of a group of childhood developmental problems known as pervasive developmental disorders (PDD). These disorders include Asperger's syndrome, pervasive developmental disorder—not otherwise specified, and autism.

Pervasive developmental disorders share a set of common features, which include:

  • Impaired or abnormal development of social interactions
  • A marked restriction of activities and interests

What causes these disorders?

In the 1940s, these developmental problems were thought to be caused by parents who were distant and unemotional with their children. By the 1980s, it was known that pervasive developmental disorders are caused by a problem with the functioning of the brain. To date, however, the exact cause of pervasive developmental disorders remains unknown despite extensive research. Currently available testing such as blood tests or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans have failed to reveal any consistent abnormalities in the brain.

Sometimes pervasive developmental disorders run within families. This occurrence suggests that these disorders may have a genetic component. However, pervasive developmental disorders also occur in families that have no history of developmental disorders.

What are the main features of Asperger's syndrome?

Social interaction

Limited reciprocal social interaction is a main feature of Asperger's syndrome. These individuals often struggle with the use of nonverbal behavior, the development of peer relationships, sharing their interests and enjoyment, and emotional and social reciprocity.

Repetitive and stereotyped behavior

Individuals with Asperger's syndrome often demonstrate encompassing preoccupations, restricted pattern of interests, inflexible adherence to routines, repetitive motor mannerisms (such as hand flapping, rocking), and a preoccupation with parts of objects.


Many people with Asperger's syndrome have above average cognitive abilities and are extremely talented in certain areas. The areas of exceptional skills often involve functions of the right hemisphere of the brain, such as skills with numbers, math, computers, and music.

How is Asperger's syndrome diagnosed?

There are no laboratory tests that can be used to diagnose Asperger's syndrome. An accurate diagnosis can be made after a developmental history is gathered and an observation of an individual's social interactions and behavior is made. The diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome should be made by individuals that are trained in this type of assessment and who can accurately assess an individual's pattern of development and relative strengths and weaknesses.

What types of treatment are available?

Individuals with Asperger's syndrome are generally quite bright and verbal, but have social difficulties that can sometimes impair their performance at home or at work. Structured, predictable environments are often beneficial for bringing out best performance. Many individuals with Asperger's syndrome achieve good levels of academic and personal success; others need assistance in obtaining and maintaining employment, living arrangements, and social relationships.

Many individuals with Asperger's syndrome benefit from social skills group and individual intervention in the form of ABA or behavioral therapy. Many individuals require special accommodations within their educational placement and are found eligible for special education services. Treatment should be tailored to meet the individual's needs; build on their strengths and foster development in the areas they have difficulty. Progress should be continually monitored and treatment adjusted as necessary to continue to facilitate development and success.

Resource Books

  • Quill KA (ed). Teaching Children With Autism: Strategies to Enhance Communication and Socialization. New York. Delmar Publishers Inc., 1995.
  • Attwood T. Asperger Syndrome: A Guide for Parents and Professionals. Philadelphia. Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 1998.
  • A Parent's Guide to Asperger Syndrome and High-Functioning Autism by Sally Ozonoff, Geraldine Dawson, and James McPartland.
  • The Complete Guide to Asperger Syndrome by T. Attwood.
  • The OASIS Guide to Asperger Syndrome: Advice, Support, Insights, and Inspiration by PR Bashe and B. Kirby.
  • Asperger Syndrome Employment Workbook: An Employment Workbook for Adults with Asperger Syndrome by Roger N. Meyer.


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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 2/1/2011…#6436