Causes & Effects of Asperger Syndrome

Asperger’s syndrome, also referred to as Asperger’s disorder, is a type of pervasive developmental disorder which is associated with delays in the development of basic skills, such as the ability to socialize with others and communicate, while also developing restrictive, repetitive patterns of behaviors. Additionally, this neurobiological disorder is included on the autism spectrum, which encompasses a number of developmental disabilities. Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) occur along a continuum of severity and the symptoms of these disorders can appear in a number of different combinations in each child or teen who is afflicted by them. While two children with the same diagnosis may share certain behavioral patterns, they may display a different range of abilities and skills. Additionally, some people who have ASDs are severely disabled and require substantial support for activities of daily living. Asperger’s syndrome, however, is considered to be the mildest form of ASD, and those who have it are considered to be “high functioning.” Furthermore, most individuals who have been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome are able to improve their social and motor skills through therapy, greatly improving their quality of life. They are able to go on to hold steady, mainstream jobs, but may still require a bit of social support and encouragement from loved ones.

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Statistics

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that approximately 1 in every 88 children has been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. It is estimated that about 1% of the population of children between the ages of 3 and 17 in the United States has an ASD. However, the precise number of people with Asperger’s syndrome in particular is currently unknown.

Causes and Risk Factors for Asperger’s Syndrome

There is no one single cause for the development of autism spectrum disorders, including Asperger’s syndrome. However, when considering the complexity of the disorder and the fact that symptom severity varies, there are likely many different causes. Some current theories include:

Genetic: Research has determined that several genes appear to be involved in autism spectrum disorder. In some children, the presence of Asperger’s syndrome can be associated with genetic disorders, such as Rett syndrome or Fragile X syndrome. Additionally, genetic changes may make a child more susceptible to autism spectrum disorder or create the possibility for environmental risks. Furthermore, other genes may affect brain development or the way in which brain cells communicate, or will determine the severity of symptoms.

Physical: Brain imaging studies have shown that there are structural and functional differences in specific areas of the brain of those who have Asperger’s versus those who do not. These differences may be caused by abnormal migration of the embryonic cells during fetal development, which then affects the way in which the brain is wired and further goes on to affect the neural circuits that control thought and behavior.

Environmental: Researchers are also exploring the impact that environmental factors, such as viral infections, prenatal complications, and air pollutants, may play in the development of autism spectrum disorders, like Asperger’s syndrome.

Risk Factors:

  • Being male
  • Presence of a co-occurring mental health disorder, such as depression or anxiety
  • Family history of autism spectrum disorders or other mental health conditions
  • Being born 10+ weeks premature
  • Having another medical condition, such as Fragile X syndrome, tuberous sclerosis, epilepsy, and Tourette syndrome
  • Being born to older parents

Signs and Symptoms of Asperger’s Syndrome

A child who has Asperger’s syndrome will generally begin to present with noticeable symptoms around the age of three but, in many instances, those with Asperger’s are not diagnosed until much later due to limited social demands and support from parents and caregivers early in life. As was previously mentioned, the symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome will vary from person to person. Some of the most common symptoms that may be apparent in a person with Asperger’s syndrome include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Lack of interpersonal relationship skills and instincts
  • Inability to express one’s own feelings
  • Often verbalizes internal thoughts that most would keep private
  • Flat tone / speaking style that lacks pitch
  • Appears to lack empathy
  • Has a difficult time interacting with peers
  • Talks excessively, especially about one specific topic
  • Frequently has one-sided conversations
  • Is unable to understand societal norms
  • May not make eye contact or may stare at others
  • Does not understand the concept of personal space

Physical symptoms:

  • Heightened sensitivity and overstimulation to loud noises, bright lights, unusual textures, or strong tastes
  • Poor coordination
  • Clumsiness
  • Poor fine motor skills
  • Poor handwriting skills
  • Unusual body postures and gestures
  • Difficulties using gross motor skills

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Difficulties with changes or upsets in routine
  • Difficulties picking up on the subtle changes in tone, pitch, and voice that accompany regular conversation
  • May be unable to understand sarcasm or jokes
  • Lack of social skills
  • Poor organizational skills
  • May have one or a few very select interests that one is extremely knowledgeable about 

Psychosocial Symptoms:

  • Loneliness and social isolation
  • Lowered self-esteem
  • Tendency toward shyness
  • Anxiety
  • Moodiness
  • Depression
If you feel that you are in crisis, or are having thoughts about hurting yourself or others, please call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.

Effects of Asperger’s Syndrome

Generally speaking, the earlier Asperger’s syndrome is treated, the more positive the outcomes. Some of the effects of unaddressed or untreated Asperger’s syndrome may include:

  • Social isolation
  • Difficulty making and keeping friends
  • Challenges in finding and maintaining steady employment
  • Troubled romantic relationships
  • Lowered self-confidence
  • Difficulties with social interactions
  • Depression
  • Anxiety 

Co-Occurring Disorders

Many children with Asperger’s syndrome also have co-existing conditions and may present with symptoms of these additional conditions as well. The most common co-occurring disorders include:

  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Tic disorder
  • Tourette’s syndrome
  • Nonverbal learning disorders
  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Social anxiety disorder
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