What is Asperger's syndrome?
Asperger's syndrome (sometimes called high-functioning autism) is part of a wide diagnosis called autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Since 2013, Asperger’s syndrome is replaced by the broader diagnosis of ASD within the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) revised criteria.
People with ASD have difficulty with socializing and social skills. They tend to have narrow range of interests, rigid routines and will often show repetitive behavior (such as flapping their hands).
Asperger’s syndrome, as defined before 2013, was different than other ASDs because people with Asperger’s have average or higher-than-average language and intelligence levels.
Diagnosis and Tests
Who diagnoses Asperger’s syndrome?
An ASD diagnosis should be made by professionals specifically trained for it. Often pediatricians are best equipped to accurately examine a child’s pattern of development and their relative strengths and weaknesses. These professionals include:
- Pediatricians (doctors specializing in treating children).
- Child psychologists or psychiatrists (both can specialize in ASD).
- Neurologists (doctors specializing in the brain and nerves).
- Therapists (clinical or behavioral).
You may need to see one or more of these specialists while trying to get a diagnosis. The process may take some time, but it can help you learn more and find additional support networks.
Management and Treatment
What types of treatments are available for Asperger’s syndrome?
Treatment for ASD should be designed to meet you or your child’s needs. The best treatment in the world won’t work if a child or adult doesn’t agree that it’s best for them. A good treatment plan builds on their strengths and encourages growth in areas where they have difficulty. Progress should be continually monitored and treatment adjusted as necessary to continue to help them succeed in school, work and life.
Can medications treat Asperger’s symptoms?
There are no drugs specifically prescribed for ASD. Some people with Asperger's or related conditions are able to function well in life without taking any medications. Whether or not your healthcare provider prescribes medication depends on you or your child’s symptoms. Focusing on treating only the problematic symptoms also helps to lower the number of medications you or your child is taking.
Certain types of medications can help manage severe Asperger’s symptoms or related conditions. These medications include:
- Antidepressants (SSRIs or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors).
- Drugs for attention-deficit disorder.
These and other medications have potentially serious side effects so speak with your provider about whether they’re right for you or your child.
How can children with Asperger’s syndrome be more comfortable in school?
Children and teens with Asperger’s syndrome and related conditions often struggle at school. It can be difficult to learn while having trouble focusing or staying calm. To help them learn more easily, some children with these conditions can benefit from (or need) special education or accommodations at school.
For example, parents and teachers can work together to create an individual education program (IEP). Based on your child’s symptoms, their school will decide if an IEP is needed. IEPs allow for a more suitable classroom environment including:
- Regular daily routines (to help students focus and keep calm).
- ‘Milestone’ academic goals (passing physical education, or getting a certain score on major tests).
- Study guides or customized lesson plans (using headphones with audio lessons, for example).
- Social skills (joining groups and not interrupting others).
- Self-control techniques (not having tantrums or hitting).
Depending on their difficulties at school, children may also be eligible for special education services including counseling and special dietary needs. Learn about IEPs and other at-school support by asking your child’s teacher, guidance counselor or principal.
Is there a cure for Asperger’s syndrome?
Currently there is no cure for ASD. Nor are there any home remedies or herbal supplements proven to cure Asperger’s syndrome or related conditions.
But several non-surgical treatments exist to help manage many of the condition’s symptoms including depression, social anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
Therapy (including speech therapy for young children and cognitive behavioral therapy for adults) is another good alternative for exploring ways to improve quality of life for you, your child or your students.
Many people with Asperger’s syndrome say that therapy helped them to deal with their symptoms or other problems. Therapy providers for children and adults with Asperger’s syndrome include:
- Physical therapists: Physical therapy can help improve coordination and balance. It can also help them to focus better when faced with distracting noises or sights.
- Speech therapists: Speech therapy can improve your ability to speak clearly and at appropriate volumes.
- Occupational therapists: Occupational therapy can help you learn job skills needed to become and stay independent.
- Family or relationship therapists: This type of therapy can help children and adults have healthier relationships with friends and loved ones.
Your healthcare provider can give you suggestions or referrals to these kinds of therapists.
How can someone with Asperger’s syndrome live the best life possible?
Many people diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome and related conditions achieve success in their lives. Others may need some help in finding or keeping work, living arrangements and social relationships. If you have Asperger’s syndrome, you might do best with structured, predictable environments and routines.
Many children, teens and adults with Asperger's syndrome benefit from social skills groups and behavior intervention, like that offered by Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA). This form of behavioral therapy helps to teach positive behaviors in everyday life.
Is Asperger’s syndrome a disability?
Everyone has a unique personality and different strengths. People with Asperger’s syndrome are no different. But if you or your loved one are finding it difficult to get or keep work due to Asperger’s syndrome symptoms, there is help. You may be able to qualify for disability under the Disability Evaluation Under Social Security Section 12.10, Mental Disorders. For more information, check with your provider and social security contact person.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
If you think that you or your loved one might have Asperger’s syndrome, or if you’re a teacher or caregiver concerned about someone you know, your first step is to contact your healthcare provider. In addition to discussing this with a professional, there is a lot of information about ASD and Asperger’s syndrome that is available, along with information on support groups. It helps always to be open-minded and realize that everyone has strengths and opportunities to improve.
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