I think my child has Aspergers. I know this disorder has a strong genetic factor, and my husband has been diagnosed with it. Now my son is starting to have some of the same Aspergers-like traits. Is there a test or set of criteria that will help me know if I need to have my son tested for Aspergers?
Aspergers (high functioning autism) is a neurobiological collection of behavioral differences (called a syndrome). It is classified in the DSM alongside Autistic Disorder. There is no known cause (although genetic and environmental factors are involved). It continues throughout the lifespan, but it is not a “mental illness” per say.
Here are the diagnostic criteria for Aspergers...
A. Qualitative impairment in social interaction, as manifested by at least two of the following:
- marked impairment 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
B. 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 or objects
C. The disturbance causes clinically significant impairment in social, occupation, or other important areas of functioning
D. There is no clinically significant general delay in language (e.g. single words used by age 2 years, communicative phrases used by age 2 years)
E. There is no clinically significant delay in cognitive development or in the development of age-appropriate self-help skills, adaptive behavior (other than in social interaction), and curiosity about the environment in childhood
F. Criteria are not met for another specific Pervasive Developmental Disorder or Schizophrenia
These definitions were developed to determine the degree to which a youngster is “disabled” and therefore eligible to receive services; however, they may not be of much help to parents who suspect that they have an Aspergers child.
Aspergers represents a mild to significant difference in how “Aspies” process sensory input, communicate, and generally perceive social experiences from those with “neurologically typical” nervous systems. Like “neurotypicals,” Aspies have their own strengths and limitations. Unfortunately, the fact that they are “different” often makes them appear more limited and their strengths harder to perceive.
Most Aspies have one very strong learning style and may pick up very little information from other senses or teaching styles. Some may be very strong visual thinkers, very strong auditory thinkers, very strong mathematical thinkers, or very strong in their language skills.
One study found that some 70% of Aspies also met the criteria for nonverbal learning disorder. The vast majority of them have what “neurotypicals” consider weak social skills, primarily because they don’t pick up the unspoken social cues the way that “normal” people do. This difference can contribute to failures in relationships and employment, and may also lead to a high co-morbidity of depressive disorder.
Most people with Aspergers have some degree of sensory-processing dysfunction (i.e., various senses like sight, hearing, smell, touch, taste, proprioception, and vestibular may be over-or-under sensitive to stimuli in comparison to those without Aspergers). Synaesthesia (i.e., mixing of sensory information like smelling sounds) may also be present.
What some view as “limitations” can also be viewed as strengths.
Below is a fairly comprehensive list of Aspergers traits. If most of these seem to fit your son, then it might be helpful to get a comprehensive psychiatric evaluation from a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist who specializes in Aspergers:
1. a determination to seek the truth
2. ability to pursue personal theory or perspective despite conflicting evidence
3. ability to regard others at “face value”
4. acute sensitivity to specific sensory experiences and stimuli (e.g., hearing touch, vision and/or smell)
5. advanced use of pictorial metaphor
6. advanced vocabulary and interest in words
7. avid perseverance in gathering and cataloging information on a topic of interest
8. clarity of values/decision making unaltered by political or financial factors
9. conversation free of hidden meaning or agenda
10. encyclopedic or “CD-ROM” knowledge of one or more topics
11. exceptional memory and/or recall of details often forgotten or disregarded by others (e.g., names, dates schedules, routines)
12. fascination with word-based humor (e.g., puns)
13. free of sexist, “age-ist”, or cultural-ist biases
14. frequent victim of social weaknesses of others
15. increased probability over general population of attending university after high school
16. interested primarily in significant contributions to conversation
17. knowledge of routines and a focused desire to maintain order and accuracy
18. listening without continual judgment or assumption
19. often takes care of others outside the range of typical development
20. original/unique perspective in problem solving
21. peer relationships characterized by genuine loyalty and dependability
22. persistence of thought
23. prefers to avoid “small talk” or socially trivial statements and superficial conversation
24. seeking an audience or friends capable of enthusiasm for unique interests and topics, consideration of details, spending time discussing a topic that may not be of primary interest
25. seeking sincere, positive, genuine friends with an unassuming sense of humor
26. “social unsung hero” with trusting optimism
27. speaking one’s mind irrespective of social context or adherence to personal beliefs
28. steadfast in the belief of the possibility of genuine friendship
29. strength in individual sports or games, particularly those involving endurance or visual accuracy (e.g., rowing, swimming, bowling, chess)
30. strong preference for detail versus the “big picture”
The Aspergers Comprehensive Handbook