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4. What is Asperger syndrome?

Asperger syndrome (or Asperger disorder) is a neurological disorder that may be part of the autistic spectrum of disorders. Children with Asperger syndrome have characteristic behaviors that can cause disabilities that range from mild to severe. Asperger syndrome is sometimes referred to as high-functioning autism (HFA) and was named for a Viennese physician, Hans Asperger. Dr. Asperger published a paper in 1944, which described a pattern of behaviors in several young boys who had normal intelligence and language development, but who also exhibited autistic-like behaviors and marked deficiencies in social and communication skills. In spite of the publication of his paper in the 1940s, it wasn’t until 1994 that Asperger syndrome was added to the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) and only in the past few years has AS been recognized by professionals and parents.

Social communication deficits are a central characteristic of Asperger syndrome, although these deficits can vary in extent. Though those with the disorder show no indication of primary language impairment, their actual conversation skills are poor. Children with Asperger syndrome have problems with pragmatic responses, as well as difficulty understanding and expressing the emotional content of communication.

Vocabularies of children with Asperger syndrome may be extraordinarily rich and nuanced; on the other hand, these children can also be extremely literal and have difficulty using language in a social context.

The DSM-IV gives the diagnostic criteria for Asperger syndrome as:

Qualitative impairment in social interaction, as manifested by at least two of the following:


  • Marked impairments in the use of multiple nonverbal behaviors such as eye-to-eye gaze, facial expression, body postures, and gestures to regulate social interaction
  • Failure to develop peer relationships appropriate to developmental level
  • A lack of spontaneous seeking to share enjoyment, interests, or achievements with other people (e.g., by a lack of showing, bringing, or pointing out objects of interest to other people) lack of social or emotional reciprocity


Restricted repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests, and activities, as manifested by at least one of the following:


  • Encompassing preoccupation with one or more stereotyped and restricted patterns of interest that is abnormal either in intensity or focus
  • Apparently inflexible adherence to specific, nonfunctional routines or rituals
  • Stereotyped and repetitive motor mannerisms (e.g., hand or finger flapping or twisting or complex whole-body movements)
  • Persistent preoccupation with parts of objects


The disturbance causes clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.


 There is no clinically significant general delay in language (e.g., single words used by age 2 years, communicative phrases used by age 3 years).

Cognitive Development:

There is no clinically significant delay in cognitive development or in the development of age-appropriate self-help skills, adaptive behavior (other than social interaction), and curiosity about the environment in childhood; that is, they have normal or high intelligence levels.

Does not meet other diagnostic criteria:

Criteria are not met for another specific pervasive developmental disorder or schizophrenia.


High-functioning autism (HFA) - Individuals with autism who are not cognitively impaired. Sometimes used as a synonym of Asperger syndrome.

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV) - The official system for classification of psychological and psychiatric disorders prepared and published by the American Psychiatric Association.

Social communication Refers - to language that is used in social situations. During the school years, this refers to a child’s ability to use language to interact with others in a host of situations, from entering peer groups to resolving conflicts.

Nonverbal: There are two types of interpersonal communication: verbal and nonverbal.

Nonverbal communication includes information that is transmitted without words, through body language, gestures, facial expressions, or the use of symbols.

Emotional reciprocity - An impaired or deviant response to other people’s emotions; lack of modulation of behavior according to social context; and/or a weak integration of social, emotional, and communicative behaviors.

Cognitive development - The development of the functions of the brain including perception, memory, imagination, and use of language.

Schizophrenia - A psychotic disorder characterized by loss of contact with the environment, by noticeable deterioration in the level of functioning in everyday life, and by disintegration of personality expressed as disorder of feeling, thought (as in hallucinations and delusions), and conduct.



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