The prevalence of Asperger Syndrome appears to be increasing, yet many individuals are still not being diagnosed during their school years. It is imperative to disseminate knowledge regarding the characteristics ofAsperger Syndrome to parents and educational, mental health, and medical professionals so that this condition can be recognized early, and appropriate interventions can be provided to assist individuals with Asperger Syndrome in coping successfully. This article focuses on the characteristics of this developmental disability.
Have you had students in your class who just "did not seem to get it"or did not appear to fit in with their peers, yet you suspected they were fairly intelligent? For example, after you explained the class rules at the beginning of the school year, invariably a certain student continued to challenge you on the minute details of the rule. You announced that the use of four-letter words, referring to curse words, was inappropriate in school and would not be tolerated.One student continued to push this rule to the limit and almost appeared innocent when you tried to explain to him that he had used an inappropriate word. He insisted that the word he used only had three letters. You know that this word, which also refers to the buttocks or a donkey, is considered to be a curse word, and you could not help but wonder if the student was purposely trying to driveyou crazy. Instead of realizing the word was profanity, the student focused on the fact that it was three letters long instead of four. Rather than writing off this student as bad-mannered or impolite, you consider that it is possible the student has a developmental disability known as Asperger Syndrome.
Overview of Asperger Syndrome
Asperger Syndrome (AS) is a developmental disability that isdefined by impairments in social relationships and verbal and nonverbal communication and by restrictive, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, and activities. Although Hans Asperger of Austria recognized this syndrome in 1944 (Asperger, 1944/1991), it was not brought to the attention of the English-speaking world until the 1980s when Wing (1981) published a paper discussing the syndrome in35 individuals ranging in age from 5 to 35 years. Further, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) did not recognize AS as a specific pervasive developmental disorder until 1994. Given this recent official recognition of AS, it is not surprising to find a lack of research on individuals with this disorder. It is known, for example, that AS "profoundly limits a child's participation in theprocess of growing up" (Szatmari, 1991, p. 91) and that these individuals seem to always be "out of context" (Szatmari, 1991, p. 83). Although AS is considered to be on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum (Frith, 1991; Wing, 1998) and a milder form of autism (Tantam, 1991), reported prevalence rates have increased and are estimated to be as high as 48 per 10,000 children (Kadesjo, Gillberg,& Nagberg, 1999).
Individuals with AS lack appropriate social skills, have a limited ability to take part in reciprocal communication, and do not seem to understand the unwritten rules of communication and conduct. They "perceive the world differently from everyone else" (Attwood, 1998, p. 9). Robinson and Trower (1988) argued that social behavior is the most central and importantcharacteristic of human beings. Given this assertion, individuals with AS are at a clear disadvantage in coping with their social world. Asperger Syndrome may cause the greatest disability in adolescence and young adulthood when social relationships are the key to almost every achievement (Tantam, 1991). Not surprisingly, it is at this time that clinically diagnosable depression and anxiety occur, which...