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Asperger Syndrome (AS):
Those with Asperger's
Need More Understanding

By Dr. Peter W. Kujtan, B.Sc., M.D., Ph.D.

Article published on page 32 in the September 22, 2010 issue of
The Mississauga News under the feature: Health & Beauty, Medicine Matters.
Portrait of Dr. Peter W. Kujtan, supplied 2005
Dr. Peter W. Kujtan

In terms of human behavior, it is very difficult to sort out "normal" from the "unusual". Extreme behavior is easy to spot and pigeon hole into a diagnosis. But "normal" is one of those things defined by society with a potential to change with time.

For example, at one time in history when mankind resided largely in small pockets of population, it would make perfect sense for warriors to have certain attributes. These may consist of being hyper-active, continuously scanning their environment; moving from detail to detail with precise speedy evaluation; seeming to do several things at once; aggressiveness, inability to sit still and a need to address every intrusion into their world.

These traits made them excellent and successful warriors. Today, some people may consider such individuals to exhibit signs of Attention Deficit Disorder. Asperger's Syndrome (AS) is related but is another entity that is difficult to recognize. It has certain characteristics that make it difficult for afflicted individuals to blend into today’s society. It refers to a group of symptoms which impair social interaction. The extreme of this process is called Autism, and is easier to spot.

It is estimated that over 70,000 Ontarians alone could fall within the definition of Asperger's Syndrome, first described by Hans Asperger, an Austrian pediatrician, in 1944.

If there is a cause, it is not yet known. It may simply be a programmed set of genetic traits. People with AS have difficulty socializing because they cannot easily utilize the unspoken rules of communication such as gestures.

For example, most of us look at the person we are speaking to, perhaps hold out our hand. We emit clues that we are listening by turning towards someone, being quiet while they speak, smiling when funny, frowning when sad, and so on. If these gestures and such appropriate behavior were not properly learned, the result may be inappropriate comments, unusual behavior and eccentricity.

All children want to be accepted and liked by their peers. Even though intelligence is normal or high in AS people, speech may be peculiar with stress on the wrong syllables, repetition and inflection (change in voice) when not called for.

They may appear clumsy for many reasons. The result is misunderstanding by others whose response may be guarded or negative.

Children with AS learn to avoid social situations because of this, become isolated and tend to dwell on isolated interests and collections. As in anyone, this can cause anger to build up, anxiety and even depression.

A traditional classroom education often does not work well, and alternatives are few and expensive. Subsequent career choices are impaired. Alcoholism and drug use occur more often.

It is important to recognize AS individuals. There is no laboratory test other than keen observation which takes time, co-operation and patience.

Treatment consists of recognition and focused intervention. It is quite intensive, and often wears out care-givers, but can be very effective in making the transition to being a productive member of society.

Perhaps of greatest value is for all of us to understand what Asperger's Syndrome is and how to interact with those afflicted. Our understanding of the condition is perhaps the most effective treatment.

Related resources:

Hans Asperger (February 18, 1906 - October 21, 1980) was the Austrian pediatrician after whom Asperger syndrome is named, from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Asperger Syndrome from MedlinePlus.
Asperger Syndrome. Asperger syndrome (AS) is a neurobiological disorder that is part of a group of conditions called autism spectrum disorders, from KidsHealth.
Asperger's Syndrome - Symptoms from WebMD. Symptoms during childhood, Symptoms during adolescent and teen years, Symptoms in adulthood, Other coexisting conditions: Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Anxiety disorder, Depression, especially in adolescents, Nonverbal learning disorder, Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), Social anxiety disorder.
Asperger Syndrome Information Page. Condensed from Fact Sheet: What is Asperger Syndrome? Is there any treatment? What is the prognosis?
What Is Asperger Syndrome? From Asperger Society of Ontario. Common Traits of Individuals with Asperger Syndrome.FAQs about Asperger Syndrome (AS) Diagnosis
Asperger Test (AQ Test) from Pie Palace. "Anyone involved with geeks will know that we share many character traits with those suffering Asperger syndrome: obsessive attention to detail, social awkwardness, and some difficulty relating to other people. A few years ago, I (Erigami Scholey-Fuller) ran across a test used to diagnose Asperger syndrome, and was surprised to note that it seems like a thumbnail description of your average geek." Cambridge psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen and others designed this test, published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 2001.

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