Asperger syndrome (sometimes referred to simply as Asperger's or AS) is clinical condition characterised by poor social skills, repetitive behavioural patterns and difficulties in interpreting non-verbal communication. However, it is important to mention here that the intelligence of those with this condition is generally not affected. This is why doctors have classified Asperger syndrome as a more mild autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The first symptoms will normally begin to show before two years of age and in the majority of cases, these will persist through the remainder of one's life. It is thought that approximately 31 million people in the world currently suffer from Asperger syndrome and 700,000 in Great Britain alone (1).
Much like many other mental disorders, the exact cause of Asperger Syndrome is not yet fully understood. It is thought that genetics may play a role while some believe that the environment plays a factor. However, advanced brain imaging techniques have shown no physical signs of the presence of this illness. There are some indications that chemical imbalances while a child is in the womb could have an impact upon the development of Asperger Syndrome although once again, this has yet to be undeniably proven from a clinical point of view.
There is currently no medicine which has been shown to relieve the symptoms of this syndrome and data is limited in regards to the efficacy of pharmacological treatment options entirely. Instead, care will revolve around improving various facets of the life of the patient. Some areas generally taken into account are:
Although there are no proven medical treatments, those diagnosed with Asperger syndrome will sometimes be placed on certain medications due to the underlying presence of other mental conditions such as anxiety, depression or mood disorders.
The life expectancy of those diagnosed with Asperger syndrome is generally shorter than healthy adults. However, this has little to do with the physical impact of the disease upon the brain and the body. A reduced lifespan generally results from the psychosocial stigma that will often accompany such a disease. In fact, it has been shown that those afflicted with this (and other forms of) autism face an average lifespan that is 16 years shorter when compared with the general population (2). Depression, emotional isolation and restricted social interactions are thought to be some of the emotional issues that these individuals will deal with.
Another factor which may serve to shorten life expectancy has to do with the co-morbidity of other mental illnesses that can increase feelings of severe isolation (such as Tourette syndrome). Drug and alcohol dependency along with suicidal thoughts will inevitably play a role as well. There are also some theories which state that social isolation can have a chemical impact on the brain, thus allowing such symptoms to increase.
These observations are why it is critical that the individual is taught various social and developmental skills at an early age. Such coping mechanisms will enable him or her to learn to adapt to the world around them and in some instances, the symptoms themselves have become less pronounced into adulthood. It is also important to educate the family, as their interaction with the child will play a defining role in his or her mental health.