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Children With Asperger's Syndrome - Children With a Disorder or Just With Different Cognitive Style?

by Mita Majumdar on  July 19, 2014 at 1:49 PM Health Watch   - G J E 4
What do Jane Austen, Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, Charles Darwin, Michelangelo, and Mozart have in common, apart from their brilliance of course? Asperger's Syndrome. It is an autism spectrum disorder characterized by marked impairment in social interaction and non-verbal communication, and restrictive and repetitive pattern of behavior and interests. But have no doubt, children with Asperger syndrome (AS) have no problems with linguistic and cognitive development.
 Children With Asperger's Syndrome - Children With a Disorder or Just With Different Cognitive Style?
Children With Asperger's Syndrome - Children With a Disorder or Just With Different Cognitive Style?
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Actually, this is one of the main differences between autism and Aspergers. Unlike children with autism, these children have good language and cognitive skills. Actually most children with Asperger's syndrome have an average to above average intelligence. Dr. Asperger, who discovered AS, described them as little professors, since they could flourish within their specialty and may go on to become geniuses in their respective fields. Maybe one of the reasons for this is their indifference to intense peer pressure.

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Secondly, there is no speech delay in these children. Rather, they have a large vocabulary and can talk a lot. It's just their speech patterns may be different. For example, they may be speaking in a rhythmic nature or they might not be able to modulate their voice according to their environment, as in talking too loudly in a library. The only difficulty is they may not be able to communicate properly, especially when they are stressed or upset.

Again, unlike children with autism, children with Aspergers usually want to fit in and interact with others. They just don't know how to do it. That makes them socially awkward as they may not follow conventional social rules or empathize where necessary.

Thus, it may not be right to call Asperger's Syndrome a disorder or a disability. The more appropriate description of AS could be - different cognitive style.

Having said that, let's look into the two main differences.

Asperger syndrome symptoms

1. Difficulty with social interaction:

Asperger Syndrome is characterized by a marked impairment in spontaneous mentalizing, meaning, the ability to promptly and spontaneously attribute mental states such as beliefs and desires to self and others. Research shows, children begin to distinguish between belief-based and reality-based thoughts between the ages of 4 and 6 years. Decision-making skills develop along with mentalizing abilities. From age 8-10 years onwards, children can master higher-order mentalizing activities, and conversation becomes a central focus of emotional and cognitive development. 

Children with Asperger syndrome can learn to handle conversational interaction as task. But they cannot spontaneously adapt to dynamic changes. This results in social relation problems in children and adolescents with Aspergers.

This is the reason why they -

Show eccentric behavior under social situations
Do not interact well with others
May have limited eye contact
May not understand the use of gestures

2. Restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and fixated interests:

Children with Asperger syndrome show at least one of the following symptoms related to repetitive patterns -

Obsession or all-absorbing interest in a single topic that is abnormal in intensity or focus or subject; for example - conversing on weather or bus routes, so much so, the conversation may seem like a random collection of facts or statistics, with no point or conclusion.  

Obsession with specific routines or rituals that are meaning-free. For example, dressing in a specific order or walk in a circle before sitting down.

Preoccupation with parts of objects.

Repetitive motor mannerisms such as hand flapping, rocking, body movements such as spinning and jumping. These mannerisms seem to have a calming or regulatory effect on the nervous system of the child.

Depression:

Depression is common in children with Asperger syndrome, but diagnosing it is difficult in them since the characteristics of these disorders, such as social withdrawal and appetite and sleep disturbance, are also core symptoms of depression. Impaired verbal and non-verbal communication can mask the symptoms of depression, say researchers from Applied Psychology, Heriot-Watt University, UK. Further, symptoms such as being obsessive and inflicting self-injury may be increased during an episode of depression in these children. 

Treatment

Studies show that the problems with socialization and communication in Asperger children continue into adulthood. Although there is no cure for Asperger Syndrome, maybe because it is an aberration in the genes, treatment helps meet the specific needs of individual children. Needless to say, treatment cannot be general and all interventions are personalized.

The treatment plan may include -

Social skills training, where the children are guided in the skills to interact more successfully with other children. It is a form of group therapy.

Cognitive behavioral therapy in children to manage their emotions better and to overcome repetitive and restrictive behavior and interests.

Physical therapy to improve motor skills.

Speech therapy to help them have a normal conversation.

Medication to treat associated symptoms such as depression and anxiety.

Even the parents of children with Aspergers are given training and support regarding behavioral techniques to use at home.

'A person with autism lives in his own world, while a person with Asperger's lives in our world, in a way of his own choosing.' - Nicholas Sparks in his book 'Dear John' 

This pretty much sums it up.

References:

1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16522713
2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3906011/
3. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/asperger/detail_asperger.htm


Source: Medindia
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