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Asperger's syndrome is a developmental disorder that makes it very hard to interact with other people. Your child may find it hard to make friends because he or she is socially awkward.
People with Asperger's syndrome have some traits of autism. For example, they may have poor social skills, prefer routine, and not like change. But unlike those who have autism, children with Asperger's syndrome usually start to talk before 2 years of age, when speech normally starts to develop.
Asperger's syndrome is a lifelong condition, but symptoms tend to improve over time. Adults with this condition can learn to understand their own strengths and weaknesses. And they can improve their social skills.
Both Asperger's syndrome and autism belong to the group of disorders called autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), once known as pervasive developmental disorders. You may hear the term ASD used to describe Asperger's syndrome.
The exact cause of Asperger's syndrome is not known. And there is no known way to prevent it. It tends to run in families. So researchers are doing studies to look for a genetic cause. Asperger's syndrome is more common in males than in females.
Asperger's syndrome is usually noticed at age 3 or later. Symptoms vary, so no two children are the same. Children with Asperger's:
If you are concerned about your child's behavior or communication style, talk to your child's doctor. He or she will ask you about your child's development and ask if other people have noticed your child's social problems.
The doctor may refer you to a specialist to confirm or rule out Asperger's syndrome. The specialist may test your child's learning style, speech and language, IQ, social and motor skills, and more.
The diagnosis of ASD typically occurs during childhood, but an adult can be diagnosed with ASD.
Treatment is based on your child's unique symptoms. It may change often so that it's most useful for your child.
Doctors, teachers, and mental health counselors can help your child improve his or her behavior and build social and learning skills. School programs, job training, and counseling can help too. Many children with Asperger's syndrome also have other conditions, such as ADHD or obsessive-compulsive disorder. So they may need other treatments, such as medicine.
At home, you can help build your child's confidence and skills. Use rules and daily routines, visual aids, and role-playing. Focus on your child's strengths. Encourage your child to explore interests at home and at school. And stay informed about what is happening in your child's classroom.
Federal law requires public schools to have programs for people ages 3 through 21 with special needs. Contact your school district to find out what services your child can be a part of.
It takes patience and support to help your child reach his or her full potential. And it may take time to find a doctor who has experience treating people with this condition.
Try to learn as much as you can about this condition, and talk to others about it. The more that teachers, your child's peers, and other people learn, the better they can help and support your child.
Many parents find comfort and build acceptance with help from support groups, counseling, and a network of friends, family, and community.
Although there are many possible symptoms of Asperger's syndrome, the main symptom is significant trouble with social situations. Your child may have mild to severe symptoms or have a few or many of these symptoms. Because of the wide variety of symptoms, no two children with Asperger's are alike.
Parents often first notice the symptoms of Asperger's syndrome when their child starts preschool and begins to interact with other children. Children with Asperger's syndrome may:
A child with one or two of these symptoms does not necessarily have Asperger's syndrome. To be diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, a child must have a combination of these symptoms and significant trouble with social situations.
Although the condition is in some ways similar to autism, a child with Asperger's syndrome typically has normal language and intellectual development. Also, those with Asperger's syndrome typically make more of an effort than those with autism to make friends and engage in activities with others.
Most symptoms persist through the teen years. And although teens with Asperger's can begin to learn those social skills they lack, communication often remains difficult. They will probably continue to have difficulty "reading" others' behavior.
Your teen with Asperger's syndrome (like other teens) will want friends but may feel shy or intimidated when approaching other teens. He or she may feel "different" from others. Although most teens place emphasis on being and looking "cool," teens with Asperger's may find it frustrating and emotionally draining to try to fit in. They may be immature for their age and be naive and too trusting, which can lead to teasing and bullying.
All of these difficulties can cause teens with Asperger's to become withdrawn and socially isolated and to have depression or anxiety.footnote 1
But some teens with Asperger's syndrome are able to make and keep a few close friends through the school years. Some of the classic Asperger's traits may also work to the benefit of your teen. Teens with Asperger's are typically uninterested in following social norms, fads, or conventional thinking, allowing creative thinking and the pursuit of original interests and goals. Their preference for rules and honesty may lead them to excel in the classroom and as citizens.
Asperger's syndrome is a lifelong condition, although it tends to stabilize over time, and improvements are often seen. Adults usually have a better understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses. They are able to learn social skills, including how to read others' social cues. Many people with Asperger's syndrome marry and have children.
Some traits that are typical of Asperger's syndrome, such as attention to detail and focused interests, can increase chances of university and career success. Many people with Asperger's seem to be fascinated with technology, and a common career choice is engineering. But scientific careers are by no means the only areas where people with Asperger's excel. Indeed, many respected historical figures have had symptoms of Asperger's, including Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, and Thomas Jefferson.
Many children with Asperger's syndrome also have coexisting conditions and may have symptoms of these conditions also. They include:
Asperger's syndrome is a developmental condition in which people have difficulties understanding how to interact socially. A diagnosis is best made with input from parents, doctors, teachers, and other caregivers who know or who have observed the child. Asperger's syndrome is diagnosed when specific criteria are met. These include:
Your doctor will take a medical history by asking questions about your child's development, including information about motor development, language, areas of special interest, and social interactions. He or she will also ask about the mother's pregnancy and the family's history of medical conditions.
Testing can help your doctor find out whether your child's problem is related to Asperger's syndrome. Your primary care provider may refer your child to a specialist for testing, including:
When making a diagnosis, your doctor will see if your child meets the criteria published in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), a publication of the American Psychiatric Association.
Treatment for Asperger's syndrome strives to improve your child's abilities to interact with other people and thus to function effectively in society and be self-sufficient. Each child with Asperger's syndrome has differences in the number and severity of symptoms, so treatment should be designed to meet individual needs and available family resources. Specific treatments are based on symptoms.
Start by contacting your local school district to find out which services are available for your child. Become informed about your child's educational rights. Federal law requires public schools to provide appropriate educational services for people ages 3 to 21 who have disabilities (including Asperger's). Also, there may be state and local laws or policies to aid children with Asperger's.
You will meet with school personnel to identify goals and establish an individualized education program (IEP). IEPs are designed to fit the child's specific needs based on the evaluation of his or her level of disability.
Look at what is being offered at different schools to find out which services your child needs and where you can best find them. Qualities to look for include:
Stay informed about what is happening in your child's classroom. Frequent communication can be managed with a communication diary that goes back and forth between teacher and parent.
Treatment is geared toward improving communication, social skills, and behavior management. A treatment program may be adjusted often to be the most useful for your child.
Take advantage of your child's strengths by encouraging him or her to explore interests at home and at school. Activity-oriented groups and focused counseling can also be helpful.
Many children with Asperger's syndrome also have other coexisting conditions, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), social anxiety disorder, and depression. These conditions can place extra demands on parents who are already dealing with a child with extra needs. These conditions may require treatment with medicines and other therapies.
For more information, see:
Researchers have not yet found a way to prevent Asperger's syndrome. Some advocacy groups claim the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine causes Asperger's and autism. But numerous studies have not found a link between these conditions and the vaccine.footnote 2 Doctors recommend that you have your children immunized, because not doing so puts them and others in your community at risk for serious diseases and even death.
You can best serve your child by learning about Asperger's syndrome and providing a supportive and loving home environment. Remember that your child, just like every other child, has his or her own strengths and weaknesses and needs as much support, patience, and understanding as you can give.
Educating yourself about the condition and about what to expect is an important part of helping your child develop independence and succeed outside of his or her home. Learn about Asperger's syndrome by talking to your doctor or contacting Asperger's organizations. A good source is OASIS @ MAAP: The Online Asperger Syndrome Information and Support Center at www.aspergersyndrome.org. Learning about Asperger's will reduce your and your family members' stress and help your child succeed.
The following are some suggestions on how to help your child who has Asperger's syndrome. Some of the ideas will be helpful, and some may not work for you. Flexibility, creativity, and a willingness to continue to learn will all help you as you raise your child.
Volkmar FR, et al. (2008). Asperger's syndrome of Pervasive developmental disorders. In RE Hales et al., eds., The American Psychiatric Publishing Textbook of Psychiatry, 5th ed., pp. 882–884. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Publishing.
Taylor LE, et al. (2014). Vaccines are not associated with autism: An evidence-based meta-analysis of case-control and cohort studies. Vaccines, 32(29): 3623–3629.
Other Works Consulted
Reiff MI (2011). Autism spectrum disorders. In CD Rudolph et al., eds., Rudolph's Pediatrics, 22nd ed., pp. 352–355. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Sadock BJ, et al. ( 2007). Pervasive developmental disorders. In Kaplan and Sadock's Synopsis of Psychiatry, Behavioral Sciences/Clinical Psychiatry, 10th ed., pp. 1191–1205. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
Volkmar FR, et al. (2009). Asperger's syndrome section of Pervasive development disorders. In BJ Sadock, VA Sadock, eds., Kaplan and Sadock's Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry, 9th ed., vol. 2, pp. 3554–3559. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
Woodbury-Smith MR, Volkmar FR (2009). Asperger syndrome. European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 18(1): 2–11.
Current as ofSeptember 11, 2018
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: John Pope, MD, MPH - PediatricsKathleen Romito, MD - Family MedicineLouis Pellegrino, MD - Developmental Pediatrics
Current as of:
September 11, 2018
Medical Review:John Pope, MD, MPH - Pediatrics & Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Louis Pellegrino, MD - Developmental Pediatrics
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