What Is Asperger Syndrome: How It Affects Behaviour And Social Interaction
16-year-old environmental activist Greta Thunberg was recently in the news, after her scathing attack in the United Nations General Assembly in September 2019 shaming world leaders for failing to take action against climate change. But what probably shocked us the most was her personality. For a 16-year-old, Greta was unusually bold and blunt, and seemed unafraid of personal attacks, backlash and criticism.
“I have Asperger’s and that means I’m sometimes a bit different from the norm,” she tweeted. “And — given the right circumstances — being different is a superpower.”
When haters go after your looks and differences, it means they have nowhere left to go. And then you know you’re winning!— Greta Thunberg (@GretaThunberg) August 31, 2019
I have Aspergers and that means I’m sometimes a bit different from the norm. And – given the right circumstances- being different is a superpower.#aspiepower pic.twitter.com/A71qVBhWUU
So what is Asperger Syndrome and how does it affect behaviour and social interaction? Let’s find out.
What is Asperger Syndrome?
Asperger syndrome (AS) is a developmental disorder. It is part of a broader category called autism spectrum disorder (ASD), though it falls on the mild end of the spectrum. The condition is generally termed as a “high-functioning” type of ASD by experts, because the symptoms are less severe than other kinds of autism spectrum disorders.
So, those who have Asperger Syndrome usually don’t have delayed language skills and cognitive development that is associated with people with ASD. Often, those with Asperger’s have good language skills, but their speech patterns may be unusual, and they may not pick up subtleties such as humour or sarcasm.
Asperger Syndrome cannot be cured. Early diagnosis and intervention though, can help a child achieve his/her potential and lead an independent, productive life.
Symptoms of Asperger Syndrome
People with Asperger Syndrome exhibit these primary symptoms:
- Having difficulty with social interaction, and not making eye contact
- Engaging in repetitive behaviour
- Finding it difficult to understand other people’s emotions
- Obsessive interest and expertise in a particular topic
- Impressive vocabulary and eloquence
- Standing firm on what they think
- Focusing on rules and routines, and resisting change in daily routine. They may want to always travel the same way to and from school, or eat exactly the same food for breakfast.
- Clumsy and uncoordinated motor movements, and difficulty with skills such as pedalling a bike, catching a ball, climbing etc
- They may not be very expressive, and show few emotions. For example, they may not smile when happy or laugh at a joke.
- They may be over or under sensitive to certain sounds, touch, tastes, smells, light, colours, temperatures or pain. For example, they may find certain background sounds (which other people ignore) unbearably loud or distracting, causing much anxiety and distress. Or they may be fascinated by lights or spinning objects.
The most distinguishing symptom of Asperger Syndrome is a child’s obsessive interest in a single object or topic. Children with Asperger Syndrome want to know everything about their topic of interest. Their conversations usually revolve around this topic too.
The child might also repeat himself/herself a lot, especially on a topic that he/she is interested in. He or she may not smile a lot or show a lot of emotions, and may speak in a flat, robotic kind of way. Because of this inability to make “normal” conversation, children with Asperger Syndrome might find themselves isolated from their peers.
Treatment for Asperger Syndrome
There is no cure for Asperger Syndrome. With the right intervention and treatment however, the child can lead an independent, successful life. Treatment is usually based on the symptoms and may involve medication and therapy.
Medication can be helpful for controlling behaviour and symptoms associated with AS such as depression, irritability, hyperactivity and anxiety.
Your doctor may prescribe some of these:
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
- Antipsychotic drugs
- Stimulant medicines
Many children with Asperger Syndrome also receive:
- Social skills training – Where therapists teach the child to interact with others and express themselves in more appropriate ways.
- Speech and language therapy – To improve communication skills and understand cues like hand gestures and making eye contact.
- Occupational therapy – To help and encourage the child to become independent by improving, as well as maintaining the skills needed for daily living and working.
- Physical therapy – To improve on the child’s motor skills.
- Cognitive behavioural therapy – To help the child change his or her way of thinking, so he/she can better control emotions and repetitive behaviours.
- Applied behaviour analysis – This is a technique that encourages positive social and communication skills in your child, and discourage undesirable behaviour. The therapist will use praise or other positive reinforcement techniques to get results.
- Parent education and training – Parents are often provided with therapy as well to help cope with the challenges involved in raising a child with Asperger Syndrome, and to learn techniques to practise with your child at home.