Asperger's syndrome is a developmental disorder that affects a person's ability to socialize and communicate effectively with others. Children with Asperger's syndrome typically exhibit social awkwardness and an all-absorbing interest in specific topics.
Doctors group Asperger's syndrome with other conditions that are called autistic spectrum disorders or pervasive developmental disorders. These disorders all involve problems with social skills and communication. Asperger's syndrome is generally thought to be at the milder end of this spectrum.
While there's no cure for Asperger's syndrome, if your child has the condition treatment can help him or her learn how to interact more successfully in social situations.
■Engaging in one-sided, long-winded conversations, without noticing if the listener is listening or trying to change the subject
■Displaying unusual nonverbal communication, such as lack of eye contact, few facial expressions, or awkward body postures and gestures
■Showing an intense obsession with one or two specific, narrow subjects, such as baseball statistics, train schedules, weather or snakes
■Appearing not to understand, empathize with or be sensitive to others' feelings
■Having a hard time "reading" other people or understanding humor
■Speaking in a voice that is monotonous, rigid or unusually fast
■Moving clumsily, with poor coordination
Unlike children with more-severe forms of autism spectrum disorders, those with Asperger's syndrome usually don't have delays in the development of language skills. That means your child will use single words by the age of 2 and phrases by the time he or she is 3 years old. But, children with Asperger's syndrome may have difficulties holding normal conversations. Conversations may feel awkward and lack the usual give and take of normal social interactions.
Toddlers and school-age children with Asperger's syndrome may not show an interest in friendships. Youngsters with Asperger's often have developmental delays in their motor skills, such as walking, catching a ball or playing on playground equipment.
In early childhood, kids with Asperger's may be quite active. By young adulthood, people with Asperger's syndrome may experience depression or anxiety.
When to see a doctor
All kids have their quirks, and many toddlers show a sign or symptom of Asperger's syndrome at some point. It's natural for small children to be egocentric, and many children show a strong interest in a particular topic, such as dinosaurs or a favorite fictional character. These generally aren't reasons to be alarmed.
However, if your elementary schoolchild has frequent problems in school or seems unable to make friends, it's time to talk with your child's doctor. These difficulties have many possible causes, but developmental disorders such as Asperger's syndrome need to be considered. Children who have behaviors that interfere with learning and social development should have a comprehensive evaluation.
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