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What is Asperger’s Syndrome?
Asperger’s syndrome is a developmental disorder once treated as a separate condition but now considered one type of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). It’s typically characterized by difficulties in social interaction and communication skills and restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5)’s recent version altered how mental disorders were categorized in 2013. The change was made because researchers and clinicians found that the diagnostic criteria for Asperger’s disorder and ASD overlapped significantly and that the distinction between the two was not always clear.1
The decision to fold Asperger’s syndrome into the ASD diagnosis was also motivated by a desire to create a more consistent and reliable way of diagnosing autism spectrum disorders. Under the DSM-5, individuals who would previously have been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome may now be diagnosed with ASD, depending on the severity and type of symptoms they experience.2
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network indicates that 1 in 36 children has been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.3 In addition, depression, which affects up to 41% of those with Asperger’s disorder and high-functioning autism, is the most frequent comorbid diagnosis.4
Hans Asperger, an Austrian doctor, is credited with initially describing Asperger’s syndrome in a series of lectures and writings in the 1940s. Asperger originally called the condition “autistic psychopathy” and noted that it primarily affected boys.
Asperger’s observations of the condition were primarily overshadowed by the work of another researcher, Leo Kanner, who also described a similar condition at around the same time. Kanner’s work became more widely recognized and eventually led to the creation of the diagnostic category of autism. However, it wasn’t until the 1980s that Asperger’s work was rediscovered, and his description of the condition gained more attention.
Symptoms of Asperger’s Syndrome
Every person with Asperger’s symptoms may experience them differently, and the severity of symptoms can also vary significantly. In addition, some of these symptoms may overlap with other conditions, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or anxiety disorders. However, some common Asperger’s symptoms may include the following:5
- Difficulty with social interaction, such as with making friends or maintaining conversations
- Unusual nonverbal communication, such as a lack of eye contact or facial expressions
- Repetitive behaviors or rituals, such as repeating specific phrases or following strict routines
- Difficulty with transitions or changes in routine
- Lack of interest in or difficulty with initiating and maintaining social relationships
- Unusual speech patterns, such as speaking in a monotone voice or using complex vocabulary without necessarily understanding the nuances of the words
- Difficulty with imaginative play or pretending
- Difficulty understanding social cues and norms
- Sensory sensitivities, such as being bothered by loud noises or certain textures of clothing
- Difficulty transitioning from one activity to another or becoming fixated on certain activities or routines
- Intellectual or academic interests that are highly specialized and intense, to the exclusion of other activities or interests
Insurance may be able to help cover the cost of therapy. Find out if your insurance provider can help with the costs by filling in our confidential insurance verification form below.
Causes & Risk Factors for Asperger’s
The exact causes of Asperger’s syndrome are not yet fully understood. But research indicates that genetic and environmental factors could be at play. Here are some of the potential causes and risks that have been associated with an increased risk of developing Asperger’s syndrome:6,7
- Genetics: Studies suggest that genetic factors may contribute to the development of Asperger’s syndrome. For example, certain genetic mutations or variations have been associated with an increased risk of developing autism spectrum disorders, including Asperger’s syndrome.
- Brain development: Research suggests abnormalities or differences in brain development may be associated with Asperger’s syndrome. For example, some studies have found differences in the structure or function of some brain regions in individuals with Asperger’s syndrome.
- Prenatal factors: Exposure to certain environmental factors during pregnancy, such as infections, toxins, or stress, may increase the risk of developing Asperger’s syndrome. Some studies suggest that factors such as advanced parental age or complications during pregnancy or birth may also increase the risk.
- Environmental factors: While the exact environmental factors contributing to Asperger’s syndrome are not yet fully understood, studies suggest that factors such as exposure to certain chemicals or pollutants may play a role.
Not everyone with Asperger’s syndrome will have an identifiable cause or risk factor, and the exact cause of the condition is likely to be complex and multifactorial. Additionally, while these factors may increase the risk of developing Asperger’s syndrome, they are not necessarily the sole cause. Other factors may be involved.
Diagnosis & Treatment for Asperger’s Syndrome
Professionals with the necessary training should make an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis. Pediatricians frequently possess the best tools for thoroughly assessing a child’s pattern of growth and their respective strengths and limitations. Other healthcare professionals that can diagnose and treat Asperger’s syndrome consist of:
- Child psychologists or psychiatrists specialized in treating ASD
- Behavioral or clinical therapists trained in treating ASD
You might need to visit one or more of these professionals to acquire a diagnosis. Although the procedure could take some time, it might help you learn more and identify more resources and support networks.8
The diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome typically involves a comprehensive diagnostic process that can be complex and involve multiple assessments and evaluations over time. Here are some of the most commonly used methods:
- Developmental and medical history: An autism psychologist will typically start by gathering information about the patient’s developmental and medical history, including any symptoms or behaviors causing concern.
- Observation and behavioral assessment: A clinician may observe the patient’s behavior and interactions in different settings, such as at home or school, to assess for Asperger’s symptoms.
- Diagnostic interviews: Diagnostic interviews, such as the Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (ADI-R) or the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS), may be used. These are designed to assess for symptoms of autism spectrum disorder.
- Screening and rating scales: Clinicians may also use screening and rating scales, such as the Social Communication Questionnaire (SCQ) or the Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS), designed to measure specific aspects of social communication and behavior associated with an autism spectrum disorder.
- Cognitive and neuropsychological testing: A clinician may also administer cognitive and neuropsychological autism testing to assess for other factors contributing to Asperger’s symptoms or a patient’s behavior.
The specific types of therapy recommended for Asperger’s syndrome may vary depending on a patient’s particular needs, strengths, symptoms, and challenges. However, various Asperger’s syndrome treatments can help manage symptoms and improve quality of life. Here are some of the most commonly used therapies for Asperger’s syndrome:
- Behavioral therapy: Behavioral therapy, including Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), focuses on teaching specific skills and behaviors, such as social, communication, and daily living skills. Behavioral therapy can be very effective in treating Asperger’s syndrome and can be tailored to specific needs and abilities.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT focuses on identifying and changing negative thought patterns and behaviors. It can be helpful with patients who are experiencing anxiety, depression, or other mental health concerns in conjunction with Asperger’s syndrome.
- Social skills training: Social skills training focuses on teaching those with Asperger’s syndrome the skills they need to communicate effectively, build relationships, and navigate social situations. This may include teaching skills such as eye contact, interpreting facial expressions, and reading body language.
- Occupational therapy: Occupational therapy can help those struggling with daily living skills, such as self-care, organization, and time management. Occupational therapists can work with patients to develop strategies for managing these skills and improving their independence.
- Speech therapy: Speech therapy can be helpful for those experiencing difficulties with communication. This therapy may include language comprehension, articulation, and social communication.
There are no medications specifically used in the treatment for Asperger’s syndrome. However, the nature of Asperger’s symptoms and the severity of the symptoms you or your child are experiencing will determine whether or not a doctor will recommend medication.
Medications may consist of the following:
- Antidepressants (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors SSRIs)
- Medication for attention deficit disorder
Again, the specific types of therapy recommended for Asperger’s syndrome may vary depending on the patient’s particular needs, strengths, symptoms, and challenges. Therefore, a comprehensive treatment plan for Asperger’s syndrome may include a combination of different therapies and approaches. Additionally, it’s essential to work with a qualified healthcare provider to develop an individualized treatment plan.
Outlook & Treatment Success Rates
Asperger’s syndrome has no known cure. However, early diagnosis and intervention can significantly improve outcomes and quality of life. Many with this illness can lead a normal or nearly normal life since Asperger’s disorder is one of the milder types of autism spectrum disorders, with few language development issues and an average or high IQ.
Others could require assistance securing or maintaining employment, housing, and social connections. Asperger’s syndrome may also coexist with various psychiatric conditions. If these are not successfully treated, this can alter the generally positive outlook for the disorder. Some coexisting conditions include depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder, tic disorders such as Tourette syndrome, and ADHD.9
Below are some success statistics related to Asperger’s syndrome treatments:
- According to a 2012 study of 48 toddlers with autism, six months of applied behavioral analysis (ABA) therapy at two years old increased their cognitive abilities and capacity to communicate with others, decreasing the severity of Asperger’s symptoms.10
- Reduced anger episodes were shown in 24 children with Asperger’s syndrome in a randomized controlled trial of a six-week cognitive behavioral intervention compared to 21 children with Asperger’s syndrome who did not receive the intervention.11
- Interactive media have also been used to teach adults with Asperger’s syndrome how to efficiently learn to detect complicated emotions in others, in addition to using cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for managing one’s emotions.12
- The average age of diagnosis for Asperger’s syndrome is around 11, which is problematic because the prognosis depends on social competence and cognitive and language skills and can be improved with early, appropriate, structured education programs and interventions.13,14,15
Does Insurance Cover Treatment for Asperger’s Syndrome?
The coverage for treatment for Asperger’s syndrome and other autism spectrum disorders can vary widely depending on your insurance plan, where you live in Tennessee, and other factors. In the United States, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires insurance companies to cover certain essential health benefits, including mental health services.16
However, the extent and details of coverage can vary significantly. Many insurance plans cover some forms of ASD treatment, such as behavioral therapies like applied behavior analysis (ABA), speech therapy, and occupational therapy. However, coverage may be limited regarding the number of sessions, the type of provider, or the specific services covered.
Athena Care is in-network with most major insurance companies. We also have an autism treatment center in Tennessee near you. Filling out our free and confidential online insurance verification form is the best way to determine the details of your Asperger’s syndrome treatments coverage. In addition, you can find a list of practitioners organized by city, their background, and their specialties here.
After completing the no-obligation form, a care coordinator will review your policy and contact you to review your options. Rest assured, all submitted or discussed information will remain confidential.
- “Asperger’s Syndrome.” WebMD, 10 Feb. 2003, www.webmd.com/brain/autism/mental-health-aspergers-syndrome.
- Hosseini, Seyed Alireza. and Mohammed Molla. “Asperger Syndrome.” StatPearls, StatPearls Publishing, 12 February 2023. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32491480/
- Maenner, Matthew J., et al. “Prevalence and Characteristics of Autism Spectrum Disorder Among Children Aged 8 Years — Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, 11 Sites, United States, 2020.” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, vol. 72, no. 2, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Mar. 2023, pp. 1–14. https://doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.ss7202a1.
- Howlin, Patricia. “Outcome in Adult Life for More Able Individuals With Autism or Asperger Syndrome.” Autism, vol. 4, no. 1, SAGE Publishing, Mar. 2000, pp. 63–83. https://doi.org/10.1177/1362361300004001005.
- WebMD Editorial Contributors. “Asperger’s: Symptoms and Signs.” WebMD, 23 Nov. 2020, www.webmd.com/brain/autism/aspergers-symptoms-signs.
- “Asperger’s (High-Functioning Autism): 7 Causes and Risk Factors.” eMedicineHealth, 14 Oct. 2021, www.emedicinehealth.com/what_causes_aspergers_syndrome/article_em.htm.
- Mandal, Ananya, MD. “Asperger Syndrome Causes.” News-Medical.net, 29 May 2019, www.news-medical.net/health/Asperger-Syndrome-Causes.aspx.
- “Asperger’s Syndrome: Management and Treatment.” Cleveland Clinic, my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/6436-asperger-syndrome.
- Mandal, Ananya, MD. “Asperger Syndrome Prognosis.” News-Medical.net, 29 May 2019, www.news-medical.net/health/Asperger-Syndrome-Prognosis.aspx.
- Lei, Jiedi, and Pamela Ventola. “Pivotal response treatment for autism spectrum disorder: current perspectives.” Neuropsychiatric disease and treatment vol. 13 1613-1626. 20 Jun. 2017, doi:10.2147/NDT.S120710
- Sofronoff, Kate, et al. “A Randomized Controlled Trial of a Cognitive Behavioural Intervention for Anger Management in Children Diagnosed With Asperger Syndrome.” Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, vol. 37, no. 7, Springer Science+Business Media, Jan. 2007, pp. 1203–14. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-006-0262-3.
- Golan, Ofer, and Simon Baron-Cohen. “Systemizing Empathy: Teaching Adults With Asperger Syndrome or High-functioning Autism to Recognize Complex Emotions Using Interactive Multimedia.” Development and Psychopathology, vol. 18, no. 02, Cambridge UP, June 2006, https://doi.org/10.1017/s0954579406060305.
- Howlin, Patricia, and Anna Asgharian. “The Diagnosis of Autism and Asperger Syndrome: Findings From a Survey of 770 Families.” Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology, vol. 41, no. 12, Wiley-Blackwell, Dec. 1999, pp. 834–39. https://doi.org/10.1017/s0012162299001656.
- Kunce, Linda J. Educational Approaches to High-Functioning Autism and Asperger Syndrome. 1998, www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Educational-Approaches-to-High-Functioning-Autism-Kunce-Mesibov/afca2229b48c4a090a9fc9ee0c80d059b8673513.
- Schopler, E. High-Functioning Individuals With Autism. 1992, www.semanticscholar.org/paper/High-Functioning-Individuals-with-Autism-Schopler-Mesibov/d87bd3687705d2b5c171d05b3951b7ba22a121a5.
- American Medical Association and American Medical Association. “Understanding the Affordable Care Act.” American Medical Association, 3 Dec. 2019, www.ama-assn.org/delivering-care/patient-support-advocacy/understanding-affordable-care-act.
If you or someone you love would benefit from talking to a mental health provider in Tennessee, contact Athena Care.
One of our Care Coordinators will help you get the care you need.