Tag Archives: what is Asperger’s Syndrome
Autism is a very diverse condition, and as such, it is often referred to as being a “spectrum” disorder which encompasses many different types of disability, all of which can affect unique individuals differently. When it comes to distinguishing the various forms of “high functioning” autism, one can encounter challenges, as the level of disability is itself less obvious, and its impacts are therefore more subtle and hard to differentiate.
In particular, high-functioning autism (HFA) and Asperger’s syndrome (AS) may present quite similarly to an untrained eye, but retain important differences that are still being researched today; below, the difference between the two conditions is explained:
The primary difference between the two conditions is generally found in the area of language development (notably, those with Asperger’s syndrome usually do not experience delayed language development while young) but the differences go beyond this one area, and have been subject to a certain amount of debate and controversy over the decades.
History of the Autism Diagnosis
The term “autism” was originally coined in 1911 by psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler, and was at first meant to denote the social withdrawal and detachment that often accompanies schizophrenia (indeed, the word “autism” translates to “selfism”). Later, in the 1940s, when both American Leo Kanner and Austrian Hans Asperger were working on defining the childhood disorders they were treating, they came across the concept of autism in their research, and decided it was an apt description for the various symptoms they had been attempting to treat in children. Over time, Kanner realized these children were not actually experiencing schizophrenia, but rather something else, which he dubbed “infantile autism”. Asperger added onto this body of knowledge by ascertaining that some of the children referred to his child psychiatry clinic were suffering from a condition that had not been hitherto properly described, but which loosely fit what Bleuler had defined as autism (and which lacked the acute psychosis of schizophrenia). Kanner’s work was highly accurate and detailed for its time, and formed the cornerstone of future research into autism, particularly after his paper (published in the UK in 1943) gained widespread recognition in the English-speaking world.
Following Kanner’s paper, the diagnosis of ‘infantile autism’ came into popular use as the 1950s and 60s progressed, and Kanner’s work largely overshadowed Asperger’s, who remained mostly unknown outside Europe.
Over time, academics, along with Asperger himself, noted that Asperger’s and Kanner’s autism bore striking similarities. Judith Gould and Lorna Wing, in particular, contributed by conducting a revolutionary study in the late 1970s that demonstrated autism existed on a continuum. It was during this course of this study that the phrase “Asperger’s syndrome” was first used to describe a higher-functioning sub-group of the autism patients surveyed. Asperger’s came to be seen as a more “positive” diagnosis, with less social stigma attached to it, creating some controversy around the prevalence with which it was thereafter used.
Some debate still exists today around the four main areas of difference that separate Asperger’s syndrome from high-functioning autism:
Most of us desire to make the best first impression possible when entering into any important social situation; being able to do so is vital to thriving in our society, as it facilitates us effectively applying for jobs and resolving difficult conflicts around us. In order to do this, we have to be able to calculate our responses to people using observations about their facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language. Through doing so, we can determine if our actions are making them happy, sad, angry, etc.
Now, imagine having an illness that affected your ability to read all of those vital social cues; how hard would it be to effectively communicate with others? Such is the struggle faced by those with Asperger’s syndrome, one of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).
What is Asperger’s syndrome?
This mental health disorder is named after Austrian pediatrician Dr. Hans Asperger, who was the first to research and describe this disorder in 1940s. As mentioned prior, Asperger’s syndrome is a less severe form of autism, a disability one is born with and which presently has no cure (nor known cause). This disability affects cognitive functioning, namely how an individual processes information about the world and other people around them. Asperger’s is often said to be on the “autism spectrum”, as autism is highly variable, affecting different individuals in many different ways, and with many different degrees of severity. Asperger’s is relatively common, affecting around 1 in 165 people in Canada. According to Asperger’s Society of Ontario, more than 70000 people in the province live with Asperger’s syndrome. This disorder can affect people from all walks of life, but is more frequently seen in males than females (it’s not yet understood why this is the case).
Asperger’s is typically considered to be an invisible disability, as it is not immediately apparent. As one gets to know someone with Asperger’s, however, one will typically see them struggle with the following:
- social communication;
- social interaction;
- social imagination.
Asperger’s syndrome does not, however, necessarily affect intelligence; many who have the disability demonstrate IQs that higher than average — unlike autism, which frequently causes learning disabilities (though it should be noted that people with Asperger’s are prone to ADHD, dyslexia, and dyspraxia, and in extreme cases, may also have epilepsy). Moreover, Asperger’s syndrome is often confused with giftedness, thus resulting in gifted children being diagnosed with Asperger’s and vice versa.
As those with Asperger’s are not severely impaired, they often go on to lead happy and successful lives, if they have access to adequate support; there are many forms of social, behavioural, and communications-based therapy that can help a person with Asperger’s.