Definition of Asperger syndrome

Reviewed on 6/3/2021

Asperger syndrome: An autistic disorder most notable for the often great discrepancy between the intellectual and social abilities of those who have it.

Asperger syndrome is a pervasive developmental disorder that is characterized by an inability to understand how to interact socially. Typical features of the syndrome also may include clumsy and uncoordinated motor movements, social impairment with extreme egocentricity, limited interests and unusual preoccupations, repetitive routines or rituals, speech and language peculiarities, and non-verbal communication problems.

People with Asperger syndrome ("Aspies" as many call themselves) generally have few facial expressions apart from anger or misery. Most have excellent rote memory and musical ability, and become intensely interested in one or two subjects (sometimes to the exclusion of other topics). They may talk at length about a favorite subject or repeat a word or phrase many times. People with Asperger syndrome tend to be "in their own world" and preoccupied with their own agenda.

The onset of Asperger syndrome commonly occurs after the age of 3. Some individuals who exhibit features of autism (a developmental brain disorder characterized by impaired social interaction and communication skills) but who have well-developed language skills may be diagnosed with Asperger syndrome.

There is no specific course of treatment or cure for Asperger syndrome. Treatment, which is symptomatic and rehabilitational, may include both psychosocial and psychopharmacological interventions such as psychotherapy, parent education and training, behavioral modification, social skills training, educational interventions, and/or medications including psychostimulants, mood stabilizers, beta blockers, and tricyclic-type antidepressants.

Children with Asperger syndrome have a better outlook than those with other forms of pervasive developmental disorders and are much more likely to grow up to be independently functioning adults. Nonetheless, in most cases, these individuals will continue to demonstrate, to some extent, subtle disturbances in social interactions. There is also an increased risk for development of psychosis (a mental disorder) and/or mood problems such as depression and anxiety in the later years.

The syndrome is named for Hans Asperger who in 1944 published a paper that described a pattern of behavior in several young boys who had normal intelligence and language development but who had autistic-like behavior. Hans Asperger (1906-1980) was a pioneering pediatrician in Austria. He headed the play-pedagogic station at the university children's clinic in Vienna in 1932 and became director of the children's clinic in 1946. His special interest was in "psychically abnormal" children.

Common misspellings include Aspergers, Aspberger, Aspberger's, Aspbergers, Asberger, Asbergers, or Asberger's.

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