Thursday, 3 July 2008

Asperger syndrome

Asperger syndrome is a classed as a type of autism which is a lifelong disability that affects how a person makes sense of the world, processes information and relates to other people. Autism is often described as a 'spectrum disorder' because the condition affects people in many different ways and to varying degrees. There are over half a million people in the UK with an autism spectrum disorder - that's around 1 in 100. People with Asperger syndrome come from all nationalities, cultures, social backgrounds and religions. However, the condition appears to be more common in males than females; the reason for this is unknown.

Asperger syndrome is mostly a 'hidden disability'. This means that you can't tell that someone has the condition from their outward appearance. People with the condition have difficulties in three main areas. They are:

social communication
social interaction
Social imagination

While there are similarities with autism, people with Asperger syndrome have fewer problems with speaking and are often of average, or above average, intelligence. They do not usually have the accompanying learning disabilities associated with autism, but they may have specific learning difficulties. These may include dyslexia and dyspraxia or other conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and epilepsy.

The characteristics of Asperger syndrome vary from person to person but are usually split into three main groups.

Social communication - People with Asperger syndrome sometimes find it difficult to express themselves emotionally and socially. For example, they may:
have difficulty understanding gestures, facial expressions or tone of voice
have difficulty knowing when to start or end a conversation and choosing topics to talk about
use complex words and phrases but may not fully understand what they mean
Be very literal in what they say and can have difficulty understanding jokes, metaphors and sarcasm.

Social interaction - Many people with Asperger syndrome want to be sociable but have difficulty with initiating and sustaining social relationships, which can make them very anxious. For example they may:
find it difficult to understand the action of other people they may find them unpredictable and confusing
Find it difficult to make or maintain friendships
Often they may behave in what can be interpreted by other as an unacceptable manner.
Find it hard to understand the unwritten 'social rules' that most of us pick up without thinking, e.g. they may invade a persons personal space not realising that that may make them uncomfortable.
They may seem withdrawn, shy or possibly ignorant or rude

Social imagination
People with Asperger syndrome can be imaginative in the conventional use of the word. For example, many are accomplished writers, artists and musicians. But can have difficulty with social imagination. For example:
imagining alternative outcomes to situations and finding it hard to predict what will happen next
Understanding or interpreting other peoples thoughts, feelings or actions. The subtle messages that are put across by facial expression and body language are often completely missed
Having a limited range of imaginative activities, which can be pursued rigidly and repetitively e.g. lining up toys or collecting and organising things related to his or her interest. Some children with Asperger syndrome may find it difficult to play 'let's pretend' games or prefer subjects rooted in logic and systems, such as mathematics.

Other characteristics

People with aspergers often show other characteristics such as:

Love of routines - many try and make the world less confusing, and may have rules and rituals (ways of doing things) which they insist upon and if they can not perform them they may get anxious or upset.

Special interests - many have an intense, sometimes obsessive, interest in a hobby or collecting.

Sensory difficulties - may have sensory difficulties. These can occur in one or all of the senses (sight, sound, smell, touch, or taste). The degree of difficulty varies from one individual to another. Most commonly, an individual's senses are either intensified or underdeveloped.

The exact cause of Asperger syndrome is still being investigated. However, research suggests that a combination of factors - genetic and environmental - may account for changes in brain development. It is very important to remember that we know what it is not caused by, Asperger syndrome is not caused by a person's upbringing, their social circumstances and is not the fault of the individual with the condition.

There is currently no cure as such and no specific treatment for Asperger syndrome. Children with Asperger syndrome become adults with Asperger syndrome. There are many approaches, therapies and interventions, which can improve an individual's quality of life. These may include communication-based interventions, behavioural therapy and dietary changes.