It's not clear what causes Asperger's syndrome, although changes in certain genes may be involved. The disorder also seems to be linked to changes in the structure of the brain.
One factor that isn't associated with the development of Asperger's syndrome or other autism spectrum disorders is childhood immunizations.
Tests and diagnosis
Because Asperger's syndrome varies widely in severity and signs, making a diagnosis can be difficult. If your child shows some signs of Asperger's syndrome, your doctor may suggest a comprehensive assessment by a team of professionals.
This evaluation will likely include observing your child and talking to you about your child's development. You may be asked about your child's social interaction, communication skills and friendships. Your child may also have a number of tests to determine his or her level of intellect and academic abilities. Tests may examine your child's abilities in the areas of speech, language and visual-motor problem solving. Tests can also identify other emotional, behavioral and psychological issues.
To be diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, your child's signs and symptoms must match the criteria spelled out in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), a manual published by the American Psychiatric Association and used by mental health providers to diagnose mental conditions.
Some of the DSM criteria for Asperger's syndrome are:
• No significant language delays
• A lack of eye to eye contact
• Unusual body posture or social expressions
• Difficulty making friends
• A preoccupation with one subject
• No interest in interactive play
• An inflexible attitude toward change
Unfortunately, some children with Asperger's syndrome may initially be misdiagnosed with another problem, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or obsessive-compulsive disorder, possibly because the symptoms of some conditions are similar to those of Asperger's. Additionally, these other conditions may coexist with Asperger's, which can delay the diagnosis.
Treatments and drugs
The core signs of Asperger's syndrome can't be cured. However, many children with Asperger's syndrome grow into happy and well-adjusted adults.
Most children benefit from early specialized interventions that focus on behavior management and social skills training. Your doctor can help identify resources in your area that may work for your child.
Asperger's syndrome treatment options may include:
Communication and social skills training
Children with Asperger's syndrome may be able to learn the unwritten rules of socialization and communication when taught in an explicit and rote fashion, much like the way students learn foreign languages. Children with Asperger's syndrome may also learn how to speak in a more natural rhythm, as well as how to interpret communication techniques, such as gestures, eye contact, tone of voice, humor and sarcasm.
Cognitive behavioral therapy
This general term encompasses many techniques aimed at curbing problem behaviors, such as interrupting, obsessions, meltdowns or angry outbursts, as well as developing skills such as recognizing feelings and coping with anxiety. Cognitive behavioral therapy usually focuses on training a child to recognize a troublesome situation — such as a new place or an event with lots of social demands — and then select a specific learned strategy to cope with the situation.
There are no medications that specifically treat Asperger's syndrome. But some medications may improve specific symptoms — such as anxiety, depression or hyperactivity — that can occur in many children with Asperger's syndrome.
- Aripiprazole (Abilify). This drug may be effective for treating irritability related to Asperger's syndrome. Side effects may include weight gain and an increase in blood sugar levels.
- Guanfacine (Intuniv). This medication may be helpful for the problems of hyperactivity and inattention in children with Asperger's syndrome. Side effects may include drowsiness, irritability, headache, constipation and bedwetting.
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Drugs such as fluvoxamine (Luvox) may be used to treat depression or to help control repetitive behaviors. Possible side effects include restlessness and agitation.
- Risperidone (Risperdal). This medication may be prescribed for agitation and irritability. It may cause trouble sleeping, a runny nose and an increased appetite. This drug has also been associated with an increase in cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
- Olanzapine (Zyprexa). Olanzapine is sometimes prescribed to reduce repetitive behaviors. Possible side effects include increased appetite, drowsiness, weight gain, and increased blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
- Naltrexone (Revia). This medication, which is sometimes used to help alcoholics stop drinking, may help reduce some of the repetitive behaviors associated with Asperger's syndrome. However, the use of low-dose naltrexone — in doses as low as two to four mg a day — has been gaining favor recently. But, there's no good evidence that such low doses have any effect on Asperger's syndrome.
Information taken from the mayo clinic website