Asperger’s syndrome 101

Clinical psychologist and author Tony Attwood answers important questions about Asperger’s syndrome.

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Q: What is Asperger’s syndrome and is there a difference between high functioning autism and Asperger’s syndrome?

A: The main difference between high functioning autism and Asperger’s syndrome is early development. Children who have language delay and the clear characteristics of autism in early childhood can progress to a level of linguistic cognitive and social skills that is more accurately described in the characteristics of Asperger’s syndrome. The programs developed for children with Asperger’s syndrome would be appropriate for children with high functioning autism once they are of school age.

Q: Is Asperger’s syndrome inherited?

A: The characteristics of Asperger’s syndrome can occur within families and, from my clinical experience, around half the families that I see with a child who has Asperger’s syndrome, I can identify a ghosting or similar characteristics in various family members. However, this also means that for half the families that I see this is not an inherited syndrome.

Q: Does Asperger’s often occur with other disorders?

A: When a child has Asperger’s syndrome they may also be diagnosed with a range of other disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), Tourette’s disorder, and issues with regard to emotion management like depression in adolescence or difficulties with anger management. Thus, the diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome may not be the end of the diagnostic process. As the child develops, other disorders may become apparent and the child may benefit from strategies for each of the associated disorders.

Q: Why do some Asperger children act out and others internalize their feelings?

A: It is hard to determine why some children with Asperger’s syndrome internalize or externalize their feelings and I think this depends on the personality of the individual. When the feelings are internalized the reaction can be one of depression or escape into imagination or, when externalized, can be associated with feeling angry and an inflated self-esteem.

We often assess cognitive, linguistic, sensory, social and emotional abilities, but it is also important in an assessment to consider the personality of the child who has Asperger’s syndrome and how they are coping and reacting to the difficulties that they face.

Q: Is there a marked difference between girls and boys with Aspergers?

A: There is a considerable difference between the way that boys and girls who have Asperger’s syndrome express and cope with their characteristics. I would recommend the book Aspergirls by Rudy Simone. This recent publication explores the characteristics of Asperger’s syndrome in girls in considerable detail. You can also find more information at www.jkp.com.

Tony Attwood is a clinical psychologist and an international authority on Asperger’s syndrome. His book, Asperger’s Syndrome: A Guide for Parents and Professionals, provides detailed information on diagnosis, problems of social relations, sensory issues, motor control and other typical issues which face people with Asperger’s.

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