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Traits, Diagnosis, and Social Aspects of Asperger Syndrome

Asperger Syndrome, which is often abbreviated AS, is a sociological disorder classified as a very unique and misunderstood syndrome in the autism spectrum, which defines all disorders and syndromes related to autism. In the past, people with this syndrome were thought of as having a schizoid personality, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive compulsive disorder, or autistic psychopathy, and it was found out later that none of those were the case. Being misdiagnosed is quite common due to the rareness of the syndrome. The Viennese psychologist and pediatrician Hans Asperger, whose area of expertise was emotional and learning problems in children, first diagnosed the syndrome in 1944 and it was later named after him. However, it had not been diagnosed in North America until the 1980ís because Aspergerís work was not translated to English until the 1970ís. Asperger Syndrome is often called Pervasive Development Disorder, or PDD.

Autistic spectrum disorders such as Asperger Syndrome occurs in one out of 650 to 1,000 persons. More specifically, Asperger Syndrome occurs in one in ten thousand people. Asperger Syndrome is up to ten times more common in males than in females. Although it has often been considered to be a disorder, it would be better to describe it as a personality style because of the fact that the people who have it tend to be social loners. It is best to compare Asperger Syndrome with autism in order to gain an understanding about it because they both are sociological disorders and autism is better known. Unlike autism, people with Asperger syndrome rarely have any cases of mental retardation and are better able to adapt to society. One similarity it has to autism is the genetic factor, although people with it are less severely affected. People with Asperger Syndrome often would have a parent or other relative with a related disorder, such as PDD, ADD, or autism. It is difficult for people to tell the difference between a young child who is autistic and a young child who has Asperger syndrome but the differences are more apparent as the child gets older. Diagnoses are established ten or more years later for people with Asperger Syndrome than people with autism. There are more differences than similarities between those two prognoses.

The characteristics of this syndrome include poor choice of words when speaking, motor clumsiness (driving is a major difficulty), non-verbal communication (gestures, facial expression, casual contact, etc.), and social interaction which is the most noticeable difficulty. In other words, people who have Asperger Syndrome often have impairments in face to face communication and two-way interaction with other people. The impairments in social interaction work strongly against people with this syndrome. As children in school, especially in physical education classes, they are unfortunately targets of bullying because many of the other students mistake people with Asperger Syndrome as being mentally retarded, which is definitely false. The students that end up as bullies pick on the person with Asperger Syndrome just because he or she is different. Also, people with Asperger Syndrome often have trouble making friends at school because of sociological necessities, which are often mandatory in order to function adequately with peers and in society. For example, getting a date is nearly impossible for a teenager with Asperger syndrome. Teachers also misunderstand the syndrome, but not as badly as do the students. During the preteen years of life, Asperger Syndrome people become more aware that they are different from others. Adults with the syndrome are more capable of living on their own than autistic adults.

An interesting and positive trait that people with Asperger Syndrome have is that they develop unique interests and become highly intelligent especially in their main area of interest. Interests may include topics in astronomy, classification of plants and animals, memorization of train schedules and other obscure but intriguing topics. These interests would often change every few years or so. Often the person may even gain knowledge in a subject they are not particularly interested in, such as geography. There is usually a primary interest, which is what is focused on above all, plus several secondary interests that are studied by the person but not as focused on as the primary interest. Topics admired by the person are usually learned from books, computers, encyclopedias, and other media sources rather than from personal communication with the teachers and peers, etc. For example, the person may know where Indonesia is, not because anyone told him or her about it, but because he or she saw it on a map of Asia. There are, however, problems when the person with this syndrome talks to other people about their topic when the other people are not the slightest bit interested. When having a conversation with a person of Asperger Syndrome, it takes a rather short time for the conversation to lead to the personís topic of interest. This is another way they have difficulties in society. However, Asperger Syndrome can help the people that have it to accomplish many important things that apply to their interest, which is a positive benefit of the syndrome. Primary interests, and sometimes secondary interests, are always taken seriously by the person with Asperger Syndrome.

People with Asperger Syndrome tend to do rather well at jobs that pertain to their area or areas of interests, jobs that work in organized routines, and jobs that do not have much social interaction. Solitary work, such as computer related work, would be a good choice for a job. Along with not being with too many people, jobs should not have any kind of distraction such as intense light or noise. Sensitivity to light and sound are other traits of Asperger Syndrome. Such job qualities are very necessary for people with it.

Being a unique syndrome, and unlike most other syndromes, people with Asperger Syndrome do not require medications or treatments of any kind. However, people have unnecessarily sought medications for people with Asperger Syndrome. Intelligence testing is a better approach in favor of treatment. Intelligence Quotient tests tend to vary greatly among people with autistic spectrum disorders. A test that can be taken by adults with Asperger Syndrome is the WAIS-R test, which is the Weschler Adult Intelligence Scale Revised. There are both low-functioning and high-functioning people with the syndrome, so it is important to find out where on the scale the person falls. More importantly, most people with the syndrome do not want to change the way they are because of their uniqueness.

I have this syndrome and I believe that it is a special and unique syndrome. I learned to read and write when I was three, and my parents and other people who knew me knew I was highly intelligent. I also had extensive knowledge of topics such as geography and astronomy, and even knew certain things that some college students are not expected to know. I joined the gifted program in 4th grade, and was in it until high school where there was no gifted program. I began to realize I was different when I was around ten. My characteristics include odd behavior, social seclusion, absence of vicarious emotion, social inactivity, motor clumsiness, narrowly focused obsessions, monotonic speech, daily routines, and poor eye contact. My math score on the SAT test was much higher than my verbal score, with a difference of about 300 points. I was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome just before I turned 18, on February of 1997. When I read about the syndrome just before the diagnosis, I was very certain that this was what I had. This may seem like a rather tragic discovery to some people, but on the contrary, I was very glad to finally known how and why I was different from most everyone else in society.

There are both negative and positive side3s to having the sociological disorder known as Asperger Syndrome. The negative points are explained above, not to mention aggressive reactions toward people who oppose or hate my interests, which is another one of my negative characteristics. The positive points would be that I have a rather high IQ and I could very possibly use my primary area of interest, which is the study of squirrels, in todayís society in the near future. I can tell people what species of squirrel inhabits any given country or region in the world with little or no hesitation. Secondary interests that I have are science fiction and languages, in which I also have great knowledge. My previous interests that I had back in elementary and middle school were mostly space-related topics (for example: astronomy, science-fiction, extraterrestrial life, etc.). I was also interested in rodents (in general) and exotic fruits. When I was in 5th and 6th grades, I would spend almost all my money on kiwis, mangoes, papayas, and passion fruits to eat, mainly to curiously see what they taste like, and I would continue buying more of the ones that tasted the best to me. I have always liked to combine my interests, such as writing stories about rodents visiting imaginary planets that orbit actual stars such as Alpha Centauri.

Aside from having several fascinations in the past, I am able to do rather well academically in subjects that do not necessarily pertain to my interests. This is probably due to the fact that I have little or no distractions from social anxiety. My need to know is quite intense, which helps me in my academic functions. I have been able to function in a college environment and can contribute to an opportunity to excel in the future.

The best way for me to live independently is by having organized routines. I am able to adapt better to society by organizing routines and schedules. This way I can communicate with other people to try to understand them more, and vice versa. I often have difficulty understanding why people do the things they do, and they often have difficulty understanding why I do what I do. Some people with Asperger syndrome, including me often feel like an "anthropologist on Mars." It is important that my job be in an area that does not have too much social contact or too much light or noise, as I am sensitive to certain light sounds, which are other Asperger Syndrome traits. A job in Zoology studying and conducting research on squirrels and other small mammals would be a perfect job for me. Organized routines will also help me, along with other people with Asperger Syndrome to have an excellent career in the area of our interest.

References

Siegel, Bryna. The World of the Autistic Child. Pages 12, 21, 104, 110-119. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Bregman, Joel D., M.D. Asperger Syndrome Emory Autism Research Center


Asperger Syndrome Links:

HunnyBee's Autism Support Page
ASPEN: Asperger Syndrome Education Network
Asperger Syndrome Coalition of the U.S.
Online Asperger Syndrome Information & Support
"Oops, Wrong Planet" Syndrome
Asperger Syndrome page of Dr. Sally Bloch-Rosen, PhD
Asperger Page from "Family Village"
University Students with Autism and Asperger Syndrome
Adults with Asperger Syndrome: Recognizing the Signs
Families of Adults Afflicted with Asperger's Syndrome
Outline on Asperger Syndrome
Online Resource and Community for those with Asperger Syndrome