What is Asperger’s Syndrome?

Asperger’s Syndrome is a neurological disorder on the Autistic spectrum and is sometimes referred to as “high functioning Autism.”  It is named after the Austrian pediatrician Hans Asperger who first observed the condition in small children in 1944.  He called his patients “little professors” because of their incredibly vast range of knowledge on very specific subjects.  He also noted that these children (more commonly boys than girls) had limited social skills, an inability to monitor themselves or their conversation in social settings, and despite their impressive verbal skills, an inability to read body language or connect to their childhood peers.

Despite this research, it wasn’t until 1994 that Asperger’s Syndrome was officially recognized as a neurological disorder in the DSM-IV.  But 15 years on, the disorder and how it is understood is still constantly evolving.  It was originally thought that Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) were caused by “refrigerator mothers” who were cold and unfeeling with their children.  Such research has (thankfully) given way to an acknowledgment that there is almost certainly a genetic component to the disorder.  Even with this new research, the general public (unfortunately) remains very ignorant about Autistic Spectrum Disorders.  Films such as Rain Man (1988) only serve to perpetuate the theory that “If you have autism, you must be insanely good with numbers or able to calculate the landing trajectory of a space shuttle in your head.”  Very few individuals with Autism are true “savants.”  Asperger’s Syndrome is not a “trendy disorder” despite much of the media focus it has received suggesting so.  Many individuals (and their families) with all manners of ASDs often have to struggle with their social phobias and emotional differences for their entire lives.  I am one of a very lucky few who was in the right place at the right time: I was able to get the therapy and the medication early, I had incredibly patient parents, and I was fortunate enough to be fairly high-functioning on the spectrum.

One of the reasons I have started this blog is not only to share my personal success living with Asperger’s, but also to encourage others (there is hope!) and raise awareness for a disorder that is still very much misunderstood and even shunned.  Asperger’s individuals are not stupid, nor are they heartless or “unfeeling” – I can assure you that I have always felt, even as a very young child – I have just felt differently.  It is my hope that in the future the disorder will not be characterized as “lacking empathy” but rather “a difficulty in sharing empathy” or even “a completely different kind of empathy altogether.”  Human is human.  There are no exceptions.

I have shared only the briefest explanation of Aspergers, and there is far better info out there from individuals and organizations that have been researching Autistic Spectrum Disorders since before I was born.  If you are interested and would like to read more, I would highly recommend some of the following links:

The Autism Society of America

Autism Speaks

O.A.S.I.S. (Online Asperger Syndrome Information and Support)

Kid’s Health – Asperger’s Syndrome

Yale School of Medicine – Autism & PDD

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