WHAT WAS CALLED ASPERGER'S SYNDROME
Asperger’s syndrome, now well known to the public… no longer goes by that name. In fact, since the publication of the DSM-V in 2013, the diagnostic reference work of the American Psychiatric Association, Asperger’s syndrome has been included in ASD i.e. Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Beginning in childhood, and more common in boys than girls, this complex neurodevelopmental condition can range from mild to severe.
Affected individuals have impaired verbal and non-verbal communication, and have difficulty decoding facial expressions, tone of voice, humor, double meanings and the meaning of gestures. Difficulty in forming bonds is also present, implying problems at various social levels.
Repetitive and stereotyped behaviors, are also observed, and their role is to help manage the anxiety they feel. Of normal or superior intelligence, in addition to social communication problems, many affected children have difficulty coping with noise, bright lights or highly stimulating environments.
Adults, on the other hand, sometimes speak in a rambling or overly formal manner, have topics of conversation often dominated by their own interests, and can be awkward at various levels.
In 1944, Austrian pediatrician Hans Asperger described 4 patients with social difficulties and identified the syndrome that would later bear his name.
But it wasn’t until 1981 that his observations became better known, thanks to Loma Wing, an English doctor, who published a series of studies on children with this disorder. Her observations were widely published and popularized, bringing the syndrome into the public arena.
In 1994, Asperger’s syndrome was added to the DSM-IV.
Rarely diagnosed before the age of 3, it’s during socialization that the real symptoms become apparent. Despite this, many people only learn of their condition in adulthood, when they seek help for anxiety or depression-related problems, often stemming from their relationship problems.
Admittedly, the characteristics attributed to this syndrome can easily be confused with ADHD or ADD. In fact, this is often the first diagnosis given to Asperger’s sufferers, as they often also display an inability to concentrate, as well as difficulties in coordinating time and space.
Perception of the individual and of him/herself improves when those around them understand how he/she functions, once a diagnosis has been made.
Because of their behavioral peculiarities, we often tend to describe such people as rigid or perfectionists, as they attach great importance to details that escape the notice of others.
They also have specific areas of interest that are sometimes out of the ordinary , and accumulate a wealth of knowledge on the subject. This leads them to want to discuss it again and again, without realizing when it’s no longer of interest to the person they’re talking to.
If the Asperger’s person often relates what is said in a conversation to himself, it’s to better situate himself in relation to the subject and better understand what is being said, although this can be seen as a lack of interest or empathy. The present difficulty is not the refusal to integrate or to develop a social network, but often his naivety, quirks, inappropriate attitudes and behaviors are repelled by the incomprehension they generate.
Social interaction is further hampered by difficulty in decoding non-verbal cues such as a simple smile, and this lack of understanding of normal communication patterns can lead to speaking too loudly, in a monotone voice or with a particular intonation.
It’s worth noting, however, that other people with this condition are voluntarily loners, and get along just fine.
As with other syndromes, there is no miracle cure or therapy, but help is available and must take account of the individual’s interests, so that various tasks can be set in simple steps that will hold his or her attention.
Regular behavioral reinforcement will teach the individual what he or she is unable to integrate naturally, namely social skills and emotional control.
Article written by Mireille Thibault
Writer and ethnologist