Syndrome: How Is It Different From Autism?
The May Institute
Syndrome is a neurobiological disorder named for Hans Asperger,
a Viennese physician who described the condition in 1944,"
says Jane Carlson, Ph.D., clinical director of the May Center for
Child Development in Braintree, Massachusetts, a school for children
with autism and other special needs. "Many professionals consider
Asperger's to be a mild form of autism. In fact, it was not formally
recognized as a separate disorder from autism in this country until
1994, when it was included in the DSM IV (Diagnostic and Statistical
Manual of Mental Disorders)."
Autism and Asperger's Syndrome are both categorized as pervasive
developmental disorders (PDD). Other PDDs include Rett's Syndrome,
Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, and PDD-Not Otherwise Specified
(PDD-NOS). Asperger's, autism, and other PDDs occur in approximately
one in 500 individuals.
with Asperger's, like those with autism, have difficulty with social
interactions, have sensory impairments, and develop unusual repetitive
behaviors. According to the Autism Society of America, what distinguishes
Asperger's from autism is severity of the symptoms and differences
in linguistic abilities.
most cases, children with autism are also diagnosed with mental
retardation in the moderate range (IQ 35-50), while children with
Asperger's have average to above average intelligence. Children
with autism seem to be aloof and uninterested in others; children
with Asperger's usually want to interact with others, although they
may be very awkward in social settings.
only do children with Asperger's Syndrome exhibit normal language
development, they often have impressive vocabularies," explains
Carlson. "They may have difficulty, however, with subtleties
in language such as irony and humor. Children with autism, on the
other hand, experience delays in language development."
difference between the two conditions is that Asperger's Syndrome
is usually recognized later than autism. Asperger's is commonly
diagnosed between the ages of 5 and 9, while autism is usually diagnosed
in the first three years of life. Asperger's is not as easily recognizable
as autism, and many children with the syndrome are misdiagnosed
with Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorders (ADD and ADHD),
Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
"Most researchers agree that the sooner children with Asperger's
and autism are diagnosed and begin intervention programs, the better,"
continues Carlson. "At this time, the best approach for the
treatment of children with autism and Asperger's involves special
educators, psychologists, and speech and occupational therapists.
Although medications are sometimes used to manage problematic features
of various conditions, there are currently no medications that effectively
treat the core symptoms."
A mainstay of an effective intervention program is applied behavior
analysis or ABA. In ABA, scientifically established principles of
learning and behavior are combined to address the primary areas
of concern in autism and Asperger's: communication, social development,
learning, and behavior problems.
recommends that parents look for a program that provides direct
consultation by senior clinicians, an experienced staff, and approaches,
such as ABA, that are referenced in professional literature. "In
addition," Carlson says, "families should strive to create
a professional working relationship with educators and clinicians.
Look for professionals who are knowledgeable, caring, and can work
well with school administrators."
The May Institute offers early intervention services, school and
home-based consultation, parent information, and federally funded
research and education programs. May operates schools for children
and adolescents with autism, Asperger's Syndrome, and other developmental
disabilities in Arlington, Braintree, Chatham, and West Springfield,
Mass., and in Freeport, Maine. For more information, contact the
May Institute at 800-778-7601, or at www.mayinstitute.org.