Research Paper: Characteristics of Asperger Syndrome and Coping Strategies

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Asperger Syndrome

Asperger's Disorder -- also referred to as Asperger syndrome (AS) -- is essentially a "…chronic neurodevelopmental disorder" that limits the afflicted person's ability to have normal social interaction and communication, according to an article in the journal, European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (Woodbury-Smith, et al., 2009, p. 2). While AS is not associated with the problems resulting from intellectual disability, Woodbury-Smith emphasizes that AS is viewed as a "severe social disability" and in some cases there are "associated mental health and other medical problems" that can (and do) persist throughout life (p. 2).

The authors of this article point to some of the difficulties that result from AS, including the fact that diagnosis of AS is frequently delayed and that causes additional problems because there are now "…a range of interventions available" (Woodbury-Smith, 2009, p. 2). But because those interventions are best applied in early childhood, when a person is not found to have AS until later in life the healthcare professionals have a late start and solutions are not always effective.

Reciprocal Communication Issues

Writing in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, Margaret Semrud-Clikeman and colleagues conclude -- as other researchers and scholars have -- that individuals with AS have difficulty with "reciprocal communication" and the AS person has "difficulty with sharing enjoyment of activities or objects" (Semrud-Clikeman, 2010, p. 509). In addition, the AS person often demonstrates an "…inflexible adherence to routines or rituals" and moreover that person has problems understanding social "intent" (what did that person mean by his statement or his body language?) and this leads to misunderstandings and "subsequent withdrawal particularly in novel and unexpected social interactions" (Semrud-Clikeman, 2010, p. 509).

Getting the proper diagnosis is very important because AS has certain similarities with "nonverbal learning disabilities" (NLD) and with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Semrud-Clikeman writes (p. 510). Indeed AS and NLD have been categorized as related disorders, albeit AS is generally considered more severe and children with AS "…generally need to stick to strict routines, have stereotyped interests, and often succeed academically" while children with NLD often experience difficulty "with visual-spatial skills" and struggle to differentiate between right and left and "frequently get lost" (Semrud-Clikeman, 2010, p. 510).

AS children are not known for getting lost and unlike children with NLD AS children "stick to strict routines, have stereotyped interests, and often succeed academically" (Semrud-Clikeman, 2010, p. 510). The authors conclude this research paper -- in which they utilized several empirical testing strategies to differentiate between NLD, ADHD and AS -- by asserting that both AS and NLD children have trouble "…understanding emotional and nonverbal cues in social interactions" (Semrud-Clikeman, 2010, p. 518). Qualitative clinical research into the behaviors of AS and NLD and ADHD children revealed that these individuals "…experience significant feelings of loneliness and social isolation that are painful to them" (Semrud-Clikeman, 2010, p. 518).

Why is a study of AS important? Why is this topic worth investigating?

First of all, because autism is the most widely recognized pervasive development disorder (PDD), other health issues that are somewhat similar to autism -- including AS -- have been "…less intensively studied, and their validity, apart from autism, is more controversial" (Yale Child Studies Center). Indeed, more, much more research and attention should go into all aspects and manifestations of Asperger's syndrome.

Secondly, because the complexity of AS conditions -- juxtaposed with the importance of knowing the developmental history of AS sufferers -- and the "common difficulties in securing adequate services for children and individuals with AS," parents, teachers and friends must be encouraged to "observe and participate in the evaluation" of those with AS (Yale Child Studies Center). And yet, notwithstanding the need spelled out in the previous sentence, how can intervention for individuals with AS be successful if there are still of host of mysteries yet to be solved vis-a-vis AS?

Thirdly, even though AS is not fully understood, ironically AS is becoming a "well-known diagnostic label…a fashionable concept used in an often unwarranted fashion by practitioners," the Yale Center report explains. Indeed, at the risk of generalizing, the Yale Center asserts that some practitioners -- who don't really fully grasp AS -- intend to convey that their client is "…currently experiencing difficulties in social interaction and in peer relationships" and so they latch on to the AS label, which seems appropriate but may be totally wrong-headed.

Finally, it is important to continue research into AS because there is a common thread found in much of the research, and that is that many people who are likely to have AS go undetected. More research is certainly needed, and more information should be made available to the general public. As Lars Perner, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California writes:

"I have always known that I was 'different' in some sense. The facts that I am a bit on the clumsy side, do not like confronting people, have difficulty recognizing faces, and have problems with non-verbal communication were not news to me.

Nevertheless, my diagnosis with Asperger's, a condition I had never heard of when it was revealed to me at age 32. When trying to pronounce new sounds, I must be shown explicitly how to produce them… [and] one of the areas where I continue to experience difficulty is in spontaneity and social coordination…I have learned not to force myself to go to cocktail parties and receptions despite the value of networking. Ironically, it's not so much the social experience I can't handle, but rather the problem is that the words of my conversant simply drown in the sea of background talk…I have to lean uncomfortably close and concentrate intensely on the other person's words to get anything…"

(Perner, 2002, www.aspergerssyndrome.org).

Understanding what AS really is -- and what it isn't

Gena P. Barnhill, along with many other scholars and clinicians, asserts that not enough research has been conducted on adults with AS. The author notes that unlike adults with autism, adults with AS generally have "…intellectual ability and syntactical speech that is considered to fall within normal limits" (Barnhill, 2007, p. 116). But, Barnhill continues, AS individuals have great difficulty with "pragmatic language" and as a result it is difficult for the AS individual to "provide the right information at the right time" -- and social niceties are not to be expected from individuals with AS. Also, nonverbal cues are not easy for the person with AS (p. 116). All that having been said, Barnhill makes it clear that while persons with AS "share the same set of core symptoms," those symptoms are not predictable, they manifest themselves in various ways depending on the particular individual, and hence, diagnosis is "challenging" (p. 116).

On page 117 Barnhill discusses the problems adults with AS have in finding a niche for their chosen vocation, in securing employment that matches up with their abilities, in staying on the job, and in "negotiating social relationships." When a job ends suddenly for an adult with AS, it can lead to depression and low self-esteem, Barnhill reports, adding that the job interview itself becomes problematic because while the adult individual may have the technical skills that the job requires, engaging in "reciprocal conversation" or being able to quickly respond to questions is beyond their abilities -- hence, they miss out on the job opportunity (p. 119). Without the ability to be gainfully employed, stress and isolation can creep up on the AS adult in ways that non-AS people will never understand.

Woodbury-Smith reports (p. 3) that the early descriptions of AS were not always on target. Researchers believed at one time that AS was actually: a) some milder form of autism; b) a "manifestation of autism in people with normal intellectual ability"; c) a form of autism that allowed a higher verbal functioning in the patient; or d) a form of autism that was "socially motivated." One of the differences between autism and AS, Woodbury-Smith explains (p. 3), is that people who have AS are "typically motivated to interact with others," however they discover in time that they are "socially isolated because of their odd communication style." That communication style is "overly formal" and may be manifested as a kind of monologue, which may bore the person trying to listen but to the AS speaker it is a topic of special interest, Woodbury-Smith continues on page 3.

In autism, the author points out (p. 3), speech is generally delayed and speech is not a great source of good communication in most cases. In AS, however, speech is often a bit too much, often over the top, so to speak. "Often" AS speech is "verbose and tangential," and moreover, an AS speaker may be given to odd peculiarities in that he or she may not have a normal rhythm or volume when speaking, drawing undue attention to the weirdness (Woodbury-Smith, 2009, p. 3). What the AS person is most interested in talking about is something he or… [END OF PREVIEW]

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