Age Appropriate Speech And Language Milestones For 3 Year Old What is Asperger’s Syndrome?

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What is Asperger’s Syndrome?

Asperger’s syndrome (also referred to as Asperger syndrome, Asperger’s disorder, Aspergers, or AS) is a condition on the autistic spectrum. Like other autistic spectrum disorders, Asperger’s includes “restrictive, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests, and activities.”1 However, this syndrome differs from ‘classic’ autism in that there is no significant delay in non-social aspects of intellectual development. AS can have both positive and negative effects on an individual’s life. AS is a developmental disorder that is characterized by: 2 § limited interests or an unusual preoccupation with a particular subject to the exclusion of other activities § repetitive routines or rituals § peculiarities in speech and language, such as speaking in an overly formal manner or in a monotone, or taking figures of speech literally § socially and emotionally inappropriate behavior and the inability to interact successfully with peers § problems with non-verbal communication, including the restricted use of gestures, limited or inappropriate facial expressions, or a peculiar, stiff gaze § clumsy and uncoordinated motor movements

Speech and Language Differences One of the major differences between AS and autism is that, by definition, there is no speech delay in Asperger’s. In fact, children with AS frequently have good language skills; they simply use language in different ways. People with AS typically have a highly pedantic way of speaking, using a far more formal language than appropriate for a context. A five-year-old child with this condition may regularly speak in language that could easily have come from a university textbook, especially concerning his or her special area of interest. Literal interpretation is another common, but not universal, trait of this condition. People with AS may not recognize verbal and nonverbal cues or understand social norms, such as taking turns talking or grasping the concept of personal space.3 Individuals with AS may also use words idiosyncratically, including new words or variations of words they have invented and unusual juxtapositions. This can develop into a rare gift for humor (especially puns, word play, doggerel and satire). A potential source of humor is the eventual realization that their literal interpretations can be used to amuse others.

Cognitive Differences Another distinction between Asperger’s Disorder and autism concerns cognitive ability. While some individuals with Autism experience mental retardation, by definition a person with Asperger’s Disorder cannot possess a “clinically significant” cognitive delay. This does not mean that all individuals with autism have mental retardation. Some do and some do not, but a person with AS may possess average to above average intelligence. Children with AS may show advanced abilities for their age in language, reading, mathematics, spatial skills, or music, sometimes into the ‘gifted’ range, but these talents may be counterbalanced by appreciable delays in the development of other cognitive functions. Some other typical behaviors are echolalia, the repetition or echoing of verbal utterances made by another person, and palilalia, the repetition of one’s own words.

Other Differences While motor difficulties are not a specific criteria for Asperger’s, children with AS frequently have slight delays in the development of fine motor skills. In some cases, people with AS may have an odd way of walking, and may display compulsive finger, hand, arm or leg movements, including tics and stims. Some people with AS experience varying degrees of sensory overload and are extremely sensitive to touch, smells, sounds, tastes, and sights. They may prefer soft clothing, familiar scents, or certain foods. Some may even be extremely sensitive to loud noises, strong smells, or dislike being touched.

Sensory overload may intensify problems faced by such children at school or even adults at work, where levels of noise in the classroom or workplace can become unbearable for them. Some are unable to block out, as in habituation, certain repetitive or background stimuli, such as the constant ticking of a clock, or a television in another room of the house. Whereas most children stop noticing a sound after a short time and can hear it only if they are listening for it, a child with AS can become distracted, agitated, or even (in cases where the child has problems with regulating emotions such as anger) violent if the sound persists.

1. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th ed., pp. 70-71) Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association, 1994

2. Asperger Syndrome Fact Sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (May 11, 2006). Retrieved 20 August 2007.

3. Asperger’s Syndrome – Topic Overview, WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise, Retrieved 20 August 2007.

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