The main symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome (AS) revolve around social situations. Children and adults with AS often have problems:
- Not understanding non-verbal communication, such as body language
- Difficulty with starting conversations or taking turns talking
- Appearing to lack empathy
- Inability to pick up on differences in tone or pitch when talking with others
- Avoiding eye contact
- Using unusual facial expressions and speaking in monotone
- Difficulty understanding humor
- Talking incessantly about one specific topic
- Lack of interest in developing friendships
While there can be other symptoms, such as hypersensitivity or easily becoming overstimulated, having an intense interest in a narrow topic and delays in motor skills, it is the social awkwardness that is most noticeable in individuals with AS. Because AS is a spectrum disorder, symptoms may be mild or severe.
There is no “cure” for AS. Treatment usually consists of behavioral interventions and social skills training. Some specific interventions include:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
This therapy works to help give individuals a new way of looking at situations and to help change thought processes. It can help to behaviors such as interrupting others during conversations, time spent on obsessions, controlling anger or reducing meltdowns and coping with depression and anxiety symptoms. The goal of this therapy is often to help recognize a situation and choose the appropriate reaction or behavior.
Social Skills Training
When beginning social skills training, a therapist will often observe your child in social situations to determine where help is needed. Therapists then work to improve conversation skills, recognizing non-verbal language, understanding idioms and other commonly used language, speaking in a natural rhythm, making eye contact, using appropriate tone of voice and understanding humor. Because Aspies often lack the “natural” ability in social situations, these aspects of communication are taught by rote.
Physical and Occupational Therapy
Some children with AS have delays in motor development, may have underdeveloped muscle tone or may be clumsy. Physical therapy works to improve these areas. In addition, hypersensitivities to touch or temperature are common in Aspies. Therapy can help your child to develop coping strategies as well as use exposure therapy to desensitize him or her to stimuli.
The Question of Medication
There is no medication which will treat the core symptoms of AS. These symptoms are treated using the previously mentioned therapies. However, there are some common coexisting conditions that are sometimes treated with medication.
Depression – Teens and adults have a higher risk of developing depression. Antidepressant medication may be suggested for your child depending on the severity of depression
Anxiety – Anxiety disorders may also be a problem for those with AS. Antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication may be helpful.