Understanding Asperger’s Syndrome…

since the last few weeks Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) has been in the news owing to the Hrithik Roshan-Kangana Ranaut controversy where mails allegedly written by Kangana state that she suffers from AS and she has 98 per cent of the symptoms. While we are not in a position to corroborate that, it is best left to the experts. We spoke to psychiatrist Dr Anjali Chhabria, clinical psychologists Siddika Panjwani and Kanan Khatau Chikhal to understand the syndrome.

What is Asperger’s Syndrome (AS)?
AS is a neurobiological pervasive developmental disorder, a condition that is part of a group of conditions called autism spectrum disorders. It is called a spectrum disorder because the symptoms appear in different combinations and vary in severity. Even if two kids have the same diagnosis, they can exhibit a wide range of skills and abilities despite sharing certain behaviour patterns. It can vary from mild to severe.

signs that indicate a person is suffering from AS

Despite normal language development, you will find these individuals struggling with communication. Monotonous speech, ‘robotic’ intonations, lack of eye contact, etc. are a common feature. Additionally, you might find them rather egocentric — they tend to talk about a topic they enjoy with grave detail, not realising that others may not be interested . It is difficult for them to pick up social cues and interpret gestures. They are often uncomfortable expressing emotions.They tend to want things a certain way, and that way only — sticking to a routine, taking a particular route to school, always wanting to eat a certain dish from a certain restaurant. Also, you might find them repeating actions, words and phrases. Some of the symptoms can be managed with training. While some are more prominent than others, there are others that wax and wane with time.

They cannot imagine things
A person suffering from AS does not have the ability to imagine. They are concrete thinkers, and cannot think abstract.

 They cannot interpret social cues
People who suffer from AS are unable to understand emotions and have the inability to interpret social cues. They cannot read between the lines and are inept at understanding body language. Also, nuances of language are beyond their understanding. They take everything literally.
Their cognitive abilities are good
People with AS have a heightened sense of vocabulary and grammar, and their intelligence quotient ranges from normal to above average. Over the years, they can manage the disorder with social skills training.They lack conversational skills
If you meet someone who has AS, at a professional or formal setting you would not be able to recognise that the person is suffering from this syndrome. But at an informal setting, when the person has to make general conversation, they come across as a little odd. They find it difficult to talk to people.
They show rigid behaviour
People with AS like to stick to their beliefs, their single-minded obsessions and do not want to break a certain pattern that they are following. They are rigid and can get stuck on a point for a long period of time. When pushed to change, they can become aggressive and agitated. They also have episodes of depression, panic attacks etc.At what age does it start?
A person is born with this disorder and will display its symptoms early on. Since it cannot be cured, it lasts for a lifetime. With social skills training, the symptoms can reduce over a period of time. Since it is a neurodevelopmental disorder, the symptoms don’t stay dormant and surface at a later age. One cannot suddenly develop AS as an adult.
Asperger’s is often misdiagnosed
Owing to their normal intelligence and language development, people tend to overlook the diagnosis. The disorder is misdiagnosed as ADHD, social anxiety or schizoid personality disorder.

 What causes this disorder?

This disorder seems to be genetic and causes are not known. Researchers and mental health experts are still investigating the causes. Four out of five individuals diagnosed with the disorder are males.

is there a cure?
Asperger’s Syndrome is a not a disease, it is just that the brains of a few individuals are wired differently. Since it is not a disease, there is no cure as such. Many people with AS lead happy lives. Experts say that early diagnosis and intervention in children involving educational and social training while a child’s brain is still developing is crucial.
Treating Asperger’s
As parents, it might be worthwhile getting professional help if you notice delayed milestones in your child’s development. If you do receive a diagnosis for your child, pick your therapy carefully. Disorders on the autism spectrum vary vastly. The symptoms manifest in different manners across individuals, necessitating unique approaches in each case. Since the patterns of behaviour vary widely in children suffering from AS, there is no one particular treatment. However, kids may benefit if there is proper parent education and training, specialised educational interventions, social skills training, language therapy, sensory integration training and psychotherapy or behavioural/ cognitive therapy for older kids and medications. 

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