The diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome is no longer given. Today, people who were formerly diagnosed with Asperger’s will instead be diagnosed with autism.

Experts described Asperger’s syndrome for the very first time in the 1940s. Since then, thousands of people have been diagnosed with the disorder. Thousands more have questions about what it means, how it starts, and how it can be treated.

To date, there has been much research about Asperger’s. In 2021, we know about:

  • Common symptoms that have been associated with Asperger’s.
  • Differences between what how autism and Asperger’s were previously defined.
  • Asperger’s genetic roots.
  • Diagnostic methods.
  • Treatment approaches that work and those that don’t.

We’ll walk through all of these topics in this comprehensive guide.

What Does Asperger’s Look Like?

Asperger’s syndrome is a developmental disorder that impacts the way a person thinks and behaves. The symptoms can be subtle, but they tend to be consistent from person to person.

Asperger’s is no longer an official diagnosis; it’s simply part of how autism occurs on a spectrum.

Still, many people who were previously diagnosed with Asperger’s still relate to the diagnosis. And some people have simply heard about Asperger’s and think it fits their situation. Because of this, we’ve outlined what we know about Asperger’s in 2021.

Autism Speaks says Asperger’s symptoms often involve:

  • Social interactions. The person may struggle to make or keep friends. To outsiders, people with Asperger’s can seem aloof or even strange.
  • Restricted interests. People form an intense attachment to one topic or one thing, and they think and talk about that subject to the exclusion of almost everything else.
  • Consistency. Routine and predictability are important for people with Asperger’s syndrome.
  • Talents. Attention to detail, pattern recognition skills, and remarkable focus are among some of the strengths seen in people with Asperger’s syndrome.

Symptoms can be mild. Experts explained that children with Asperger’s syndrome could have exceptional language skills, and they performed well on intelligence tests. To the untrained eye, these children may seem just slightly unusual rather than disabled.

Intelligence helped some people with Asperger’s syndrome mask their symptoms. They grew up watching, listening, and learning from their peers. They experimented with behaviors and approaches, and in time, they learned how to fit in just enough to avoid notice.

That masking takes time and effort, and it can leave people feeling too exhausted to enjoy the rest of their lives. People with Asperger’s syndrome would sometimes feel like they were living a dual life since no one really knew how they felt on the inside.

Asperger’s vs. Autism: What’s the Difference?

The term Asperger’s entered the medical lexicon in the 1940s, and it fell out of favor just a few years ago. Now, if someone has signs of Asperger’s, they’re likely to get an entirely different diagnosis altogether.

The Autism Society explains that Asperger’s syndrome was described by a pediatrician in Vienna in the 1940s, and he gave the condition his name. He worked with boys who struggled with communication and social skills, and he thought he was describing a new and important disease.

Experts agreed with him until 2013, when the American Psychiatric Association released the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Authors wanted to revise autism diagnosis criteria to:

  • Ensure accurate diagnoses.
  • Identify symptoms that need treatment or support services.
  • Correctly assess disease severity.

To meet those goals, experts got rid of several disorders that differed from autism only by severity. Asperger’s was one of them.

Now, experts consider Asperger’s part of autism spectrum disorder. People with Asperger’s have much in common with other people who have autism. Their symptoms might be mild, but they’re still part of the autism spectrum.

Can Autism Be Prevented?

Autism Speaks points out autism likely stems from two causes: genetics and environment. They work together, in tandem, to change the way a child’s brain develops very early in life.

Since autism does begin so early in life, it can’t be prevented. Couples can work with doctors to identify and eliminate triggers before pregnancy. They might push a second pregnancy out a bit, for example, or they might plan on bed rest to avoid a premature birth.

Once the baby is born, attention shifts to early diagnosis. While autism can’t be cured, therapy can help people with the disorder to understand how their minds differ from their neurotypical peers. Treatment can also help people to build skills that don’t seem to come naturally.

With dedicated therapy, disruptive symptoms of autism can be managed, sometimes allowing individuals with autism to live independent lives.

Diagnosing Asperger’s Syndrome Isn’t Easy

Researchers know that autism is more likely in people who have medical conditions like fragile X syndrome and congenital rubella syndrome. Children diagnosed with these conditions are often screened for autism.

Even children who seem to be developing neurorough several rounds of autism screening. Some of these screenings might pick up Asperger’s symptoms.

Experts say autism can be detected at 18 months. In some children, it’s spotted even earlier, though a diagnosis isn’t generally considered stable until around 2 years old. During well-child visits, doctors look for hallmark signs, including:

  • Avoidance of eye contact.
  • Few social skills.
  • Poor language skills.
  • Inflexibility.

Doctors use secondary tests to rule out underlying medical conditions that can mimic autism. Those tests include:

  • Blood panels. Doctors use this test to rule out lead poisoning.
  • Hearing assessments. A child who can’t hear might develop poor language skills.
  • Genetic tests. These panels check for underlying conditions, such as fragile X syndrome.

If your pediatrician suspects Asperger’s syndrome based on these tests, a referral to a specialist is the next diagnostic step. These professionals use their observations, as well as the results of screening tests, to determine if a child has autism.

Can Diet Changes Treat Asperger’s Syndrome?

If your child was diagnosed with Asperger’s, you want to do all you can to address the symptoms and bring relief. Spend time on the internet, and you may believe a diet change is in order. Experts don’t always agree.

Some parents of children with autism believe that their children should eat diets that eliminate:

  • Gluten, found in bread products.
  • Casein, found in milk and some dairy products.

They believe that children with autism can’t properly digest these types of food, and as the items sit undigested in the gut, they ferment and leak into the bloodstream. From there, these families believe, the elements travel to the brain and cause inflammation. Remove the elements from the diet, and the brain cells will stop swelling, and the child will feel better.

Experts don’t believe that this theory is grounded in reality.

Researchers say that it’s possible that gluten can spark an inflammatory process in some people, and some children with autism are sensitive to gluten. The exact significance of gluten is unclear, and eliminating this food group from the diet can lead to nutritional deficiencies.

Researchers examined a gluten/casein elimination diet with a study group. Here were the specifics:

  • The study group: 14 children with autism
  • Their ages: 3 to 5 years old
  • The time period: 12 weeks
  • The methods: an exclusionary diet, with controls
  • The measurements: parental questionnaires

Researchers found no evidence that the diet either improved or worsened the children’s symptoms.

People with autism can be picky about the foods they will ea. They may face tother nutritional challenges, including:

  • Not eating enough. With a limited selection of acceptable foods, some people with Asperger’s choose to eat nothing at all.
  • Constipation. Medications and low physical activity levels can lead to slow gut motility. This slows the digestive process, sometimes resulting in constipation.
  • Strong dislikes. Sensitivities to smell, sight, and texture can make some foods completely unappealing to children.

For some people with autism, carbohydrates and cheeses are two acceptable food types. Both are bland, soft, and relatively scent-free. Placing them off limits can lead to an intense battle of wills that leads to malnutrition.

An optimal diet for an autistic child will be rich in nutrients. But before parents change anything about a child’s diet, they should talk to a doctor or nutritionist first. Perhaps the shifts they’re planning aren’t worth the struggle after all.

Treatment Goals

If a diet change isn’t helpful, what really works? Experts say that therapy is very helpful for people with autism, even if the people don’t feel like they need the help of a therapist at the beginning.

Autism spectrum disorder, no matter the severity, is associated with a variety of painful and disruptive co-occurring conditions, including:

  • Seizures.
  • Gastrointestinal disorders.
  • Auditory disorders.
  • Psychiatric disorders.

Many of these conditions can keep people with Asperger’s from participating in therapy. For example, people with gastrointestinal disorders may feel such pain and discomfort that they can’t concentrate during therapy. People with seizures may be too frightened to explore their thoughts due to concerns about triggering an episode.

It’s common for people to form treatment teams after an autism diagnosis. You might work with:

  • Medical doctors.
  • Gastrointestinal specialists.
  • Psychiatric specialists.
  • Physical therapists.
  • Occupational therapists.

Each person plays a part in helping to resolve the discomfort and distress that can keep someone with autism from fully committing to a happy life. Medical screenings tend to come first, but with those handled, it’s time to work on the most important part of treatment: applied behavior analysis.

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is the primary form of treatment for autism. Practitioners:

  • Identify a target behavior for therapy. This focus could involve managing anger, handling routine changes, or addressing bullies properly. These are all common issues for people with Asperger’s.
  • Find the antecedent. Therapists look for the moments that happen right before the target behavior appears.
  • Develop new approaches. When the trigger happens, therapists find new ways to handle the issue.
  • Practice with clients. Therapists repeat the trigger and model the response again and again. Clients continue to practice until it feels like second nature.

For someone with Asperger’s, a therapy session for conversation skills might look like this:

  • Target: The person wants to speak to a new friend with confidence about a topic the other person likes.
  • Antecedent: When the person with Asperger’s feels anxious, discussing a familiar topic is soothing.
  • Approach: When anxiety rises, the person should ask, “What did you do today?”
  • Practice: The person can try this approach on the therapist, family members, and a few trusted friends.

This approach may sound simplistic, but it truly is effective. According to Autism Speaks, ABA therapy is considered helpful for people across the autism spectrum, including people who would previously have been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. The therapy is beneficial throughout a person’s entire lifespan.

A child with Asperger’s might use the technique to do well in a classroom environment. An adult might use the technique to help with uncomfortable moments that arise during dating. Whenever a challenge arises, therapy can help.

Many people with Asperger’s-like symptoms live and work independently. They apply their focus and knowledge into careers that are suitable and engaging. But they may need a little therapeutic support from time to time to reach their goals. Connecting with the right therapist makes that possible, and it’s a wise step for anyone with autism.


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