Asperger's syndrome is a developmental condition seen at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) that affects the way a person thinks, communicates and relates to other people.
Asperger's syndrome is an autism spectrum disorder. The term is applied to people with autistic disorders who have good language skills and normal-range intelligence. Autistic spectrum disorders affect approximately one in 100 families in the UK.
Doctors don't yet know exactly what causes Asperger's syndrome. There is no doubt that the risk of developing the condition is strongly influenced by genetic inheritance. Autistic disorders often run in families, but in some cases the genetic problem is a chance occurrence.
Many young people with Asperger's syndrome may find it easiest to talk to others about subjects they themselves are interested in. Talking to people you don't know well and making social ‘chat’ is very much harder. Most people with Asperger's syndrome would like to be able to make new friends, but a few prefer to do things on their own.
Young people with Asperger's syndrome may also have times when they may get into difficulties in social situations, because they find it hard to figure out what to say, or they do things or say things that others find irritating. They might get told off at school, although they never intended or believed that they were doing something wrong.
Specific and string interests
People with Asperger's syndrome might be very interested in special things such as technology or films, or certain sorts of music, or Manga. These interests and habits may take up a lot of time, even become so all absorbing that they stop the young person from trying new or different things.
Others feel more comfortable when things are done in a certain way. They may always go to school the same way or go to the same shop for particular items. Or they may have to keep a detailed diary of their activities, and become quite insistent that events happen at a specific time.
Areas of strength
Young people with Asperger's syndrome can also have a lot of strengths. They may be very precise and logical. They often pay attention to detail and remember details that most people would forget. Some have expert knowledge on their special interest. Many young people also have very good memory for particular things, such as routes, song lyrics or quotes from movies. It is not uncommon to have a good sense of humour and this can be a good way of entertaining friends.
Some young people with Asperger's syndrome can find it very hard to ask for help and they prefer to find their own way around their difficulties. It is also common for people with Asperger’s syndrome to feel quickly overwhelmed by their emotions and feel unable to cope with their feelings in certain situations.
This may mean they can experience more frustration, anxiety and sadness than other teenagers. Anxiety, being easily worried and lacking in confidence is not a part of Asperger's syndrome but it is very common for people on the autistic spectrum to experience these feelings. During adolescence a loss of self-esteem is sometimes the reason why other people recognise that you might have Asperger's syndrome and that you might benefit from help and support.
There is no medical test for Asperger's syndrome. The condition can be diagnosed by doctors talking to your parents about your development and talking to you about the sorts of things that you find easiest, as well as those things you find most difficult.
The central problems in Asperger’s syndrome include not really understanding other people’s social behaviour, feeling ‘different’ as if you don’t really ‘get’ why other people behave as they do, and behaving in ways that make others think you are weird without meaning to do so.
Asperger's syndrome can't be 'treated' but there are things you and the people around you can do to help you make the most of your skills and reach your full potential. Books and websites can give lots of useful information about Asperger’s syndrome and strategies that other people have found helpful. The National Autistic Society (NAS) is a good place to start.
There are local support groups for people with autism spectrum disorder and their families in most areas, either run by the NAS or other organisations.
Often just knowing that other people have experienced similar difficulties is a big relief by reading and speaking to others.
People with Asperger’s syndrome often find it helpful to think carefully about their environment and their daily routine to make their lives easier. For example:
- Many people find having a visual daily timetable helps them to anticipate what will happen through the day.
- Some people like to carry some string or blu-tac in their pockets that they can fiddle with because it helps them to concentrate or relax.
- People may find it useful to have a communication card that they can give to a teacher or parent when they need a few minutes of time out if feeling overwhelmed by their feelings.
- A psychologist may be able to work with you to develop strategies on how to overcome some difficulties, for example how to manage anger, worries or upsetting thoughts.
- Parents, teachers and doctors can work together to ensure that you have the support that you need. For example, helping you with problems such as bullying or difficulties with making friends.
- Teachers can work with you to support you within the classroom with areas of work you might be finding difficult.