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Autism and Asperger's Syndrome


This article sets out to outline many of the characteristics of Asperger's syndrome in such a way that the information can easily be shared with others.

Autistic Spectrum Disorder (autism) is a life-long developmental disability that affects social and communication skills. Each person with autism displays different symptoms and behavior; some people with autism remain non-verbal and will need life-long care. Other people with the condition live independent lives, hold down careers, go to university, get married and have children.

Asperger's Syndrome is a form of autism that was defined by an Austrian pediatrician over 50 years ago. People with Asperger's syndrome are usually at this more 'able' end of the spectrum. Like autism, Asperger's syndrome, seems to be caused by a biological difference in the brain's development. In many cases there appears to be a genetic cause; there are many cases of autism and Asperger's syndrome running in the same family.

One study has estimated that 3 to 7 in 1,000 people have AS. People with Asperger's syndrome share many of the same characteristics as people with autism but they usually do not have any accompanying learning disabilities. Explaining Asperger's syndrome isn't easy, no matter who you are talking to! It's not something that can be described in a single, snappy sentence! There are problems because you cannot tell by looking at someone if they have Asperger's syndrome. Also because the causes of Asperger's are yet to be clearly identified it can sometimes be difficult convincing people that the condition actually exists. You could try by explaining that, people with Asperger's basically have problems in 3 major areas. This is usually part of the criteria for diagnosing Asperger's syndrome. These areas are:

Social communication:

This means knowing what to say to other people and understanding the meaning of what they are saying to you. Just imagine how many times a day the basics of social communication come into your child's life; at the shops, at home, at school, in the street. People with Asperger's Syndrome can have problems when talking to other people as they can take things people say literally. An example would be if you say to someone with Asperger's "I laughed my head off" they may become alarmed believing that your head really did come off of your body. It can be very hard for people with Asperger's to understand when someone is joking and that is why they may become angry or upset by something you have said that wasn't meant to be hurtful.

Social Understanding:

This means knowing what to do when you are with other people. People with Asperger's have difficulty understanding social relationships, they do not understand all the rules involved in social relationships. As we grow up we learn how to behave appropriately in certain situations, for example we learn not to say things to people like "you look fat" (unless we are deliberately trying to be hurtful). A person with AS usually doesn't meant to be rude, even though it can sometimes appear so, it's because their understanding of how to behave is confused.

Imagination:

This is the ability to think about things that aren't real. Children with Asperger's syndrome tend not to be interested in games that involve pretending to be someone else (like cops and robbers). Some children with Asperger's can be very interested in things that aren't interesting to other children or exclude social interaction. They may like collecting items that seem dull or unusual to us.

There are also websites that provide a great deal of information about the condition. A good one is Sibnet, set up by the Seattle Children's Hospital Project. Sibnet is specifically for siblings of disabled children and is for both young siblings and adult brothers and sisters. The site contains information and resources for siblings of disabled children and allows them to subscribe to the site - a place where they can share information and discuss issues they may be facing.

Providing people with a simple and straightforward account of the condition will help them to understand the condition better, and provide you and your family with a much needed support network!

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