Guide to Asperger’s Treatment: The Best Options in 2021
Though Asperger’s syndrome is no longer an official diagnosis, people still use the term.
If your loved one was once diagnosed with Asperger’s or has symptoms that sound like Asperger’s, you likely want information on treatment that has been effective for these types of autism symptoms.
Dealing with a diagnosis is never easy, and it’s reasonable to feel worried or overwhelmed. Your doctor remains your best source of information as you plot a treatment plan and prepare for the future.
We’ve outlined common Asperger’s therapies that are available in 2021, and this information could be helpful as you plan. Use this article to understand the treatments your doctor might suggest, and be an informed participant in discussions about what you should and shouldn’t do.
We’ll start with an overview of Asperger’s syndrome, and then we’ll delve into treatment types, including:
- Applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy.
- Medication management.
- Speech therapy.
- Occupational therapy.
What Is Asperger’s Syndrome?
Asperger’s is a developmental disorder that impacts the way people communicate, interact, move, and experience the world. It’s likely the disorder begins very early in life, while babies are still developing during pregnancy, but symptoms aren’t usually noticed until childhood.
Researchers aren’t sure how common Asperger’s syndrome is. Some experts think that 1 in every 250 people has the disorder, but hard data is difficult to find.
Researchers do suspect that more people qualify for a diagnosis now than ever before, as guidelines shift and loosen. They suggest rising diagnoses aren’t due to an autism epidemic as much as a wider recognition that the problem exists.
Before 2013, Asperger’s syndrome was a separate diagnostic category. Now, it’s been rolled into autism spectrum disorder. Doctors and therapists may never say that a patient has Asperger’s syndrome, but the term remains commonplace in autism communities.
While Asperger’s syndrome is no longer a diagnostic term, people with this disorder differ from some of their autistic counterparts in important ways. They may:
- Exhibit different language symptoms. People with autism may struggle with language skills, and some don’t talk at all. People with Asperger’s often have well-developed verbal skills, although their conversational tics may impede clear communication or make them seem quirky.
- Have above-average intelligence levels. Some people with autism get low scores on IQ tests. People with Asperger’s syndrome don’t have this problem.
- Get diagnosed later. Children with autism tend to get diagnosed by age 5, while those with Asperger’s often don’t get the diagnosis until ages 8 to 10.
- Find it easy to mask symptoms. Good verbal skills and above-average intelligence are used to help someone with Asperger’s study and mimic peers. They pay a high price for this activity, as they may always feel as though they’re acting or miming rather than living. This masking can leave them feeling exhausted at the end of the day.
Each person with Asperger’s is a unique individual, and the issues described above can manifest differently. Some people have all of them, and others do not. Knowing how the condition typically behaves can be helpful as families look for peers to support them.
ABA Therapy for Asperger’s Syndrome
Of all forms of therapy for autism, ABA is the best researched and the most successful. That remains true whether people have Asperger’s syndrome or another form of autism. This type of therapy has long fascinated researchers, and when they dig in, they discover that it works.
ABA practitioners follow a step-by-step treatment process. They work hard to:
- Define goals. Some people with Asperger’s need to focus on conversational skills, such as shifting to a new topic rather than the one they enjoy. Others must concentrate on making eye contact. Others might need help in dealing with strong emotions without crying or throwing a tantrum.
- Find the trigger. Practitioners look for the moment at which the goal becomes likely or unlikely. Do conversational problems arise when meeting new people? Are strong emotions typically preceded by loud noises?
- Introduce a substitute. Rather than displaying an unhelpful behavior, therapists encourage their clients to focus on the goal act. They may break it down into small steps, such as taking a breath, smiling, counting to five, and then speaking.
- Practice the sequence. During each session, ABA therapists guide their clients through the trigger and goal act until the response is so natural that no more repetition is required.
People with Asperger’s tend to move through therapy at a quicker pace when compared to other people with autism, but they may have many items to work on with a counselor. People with Asperger’s need to learn how to behave socially in a manner that doesn’t come naturally to them. It takes time and practice to develop these skills.
ABA is an intensive form of therapy. The number of hours of ABA therapy needed weekly will vary from person to person, depending on the goals.
If you have an official autism diagnosis, you are more likely to have more complete insurance coverage for treatment. Talk to your provider about how they can offset the cost of your care.
Medications for Asperger’s
No drugs can treat the core symptoms of Asperger’s, experts say. Taking a daily pill won’t help you communicate clearly or interact like a neurotypical. But some medications could be helpful in your everyday life.
People with Asperger’s syndrome often have other mental health issues that do respond to medications, such as:
- Bipolar disorder.
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Address those illnesses, and you could feel capable of focusing on your autism disorder. You may also feel less day-to-day distress, which could make social interactions easier.
- ADHD medications. Stimulants, such as Ritalin or Adderall, or other medications such as Intuniv may help you focus and calm an overactive mind.
- Antidepressants. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may help adjust chemical imbalances in the brain and allow severe depression to lift. These same medications may also help to ease obsessive thoughts.
- Antipsychotics. Risperdal may help to reduce irritability related to autism. You may also feel less anxious and impulsive while taking these medications.
Your doctor may also try medications to ease difficult symptoms, such as insomnia. No matter what medications you take, you’ll need to stay in close contact with your doctor to ensure the therapy is working and you’re not enduring difficult side effects.
Many medications come with side effects, and you’ll need to weigh the benefits against the risk of these alterations. If you experience a benefit, you may be willing to accept the issues the medications can cause.
People with Asperger’s syndrome don’t develop language delays that are typical in autism. You may have started speaking right on time when compared to your peers. You may have an exceptional vocabulary filled with complex words, but speech therapy may still benefit you.
Speech therapists can help with the mechanics of speech, so you might work on enunciation. You may also work on common autism speech patterns, such as:
- Echolalia. You may feel compelled to repeat works when someone asks you for something or makes a social request.
- Rapid-fire speech. You may talk very quickly, without pausing, when discussing something you love. Others may find this type of speech disconcerting.
- Unusual pitch or tone. You may speak in a very high or very low voice that distracts from your meaning.
Speech therapy is held in a one-on-one format. You talk with the therapist about an issue, and you practice together.
Your therapist may also use social skills groups, so you can practice your speech with others who have autism. These groups are very helpful, as they allow you to work with different people in real-time conversations.
Speech therapy is often covered by insurance, but you’ll need a doctor to write a prescription that highlights why you need help. Some students may get speech therapy sessions at school, and if so, parents won’t pay for that assistance.
Occupational therapists focus on activities of daily living, such as cooking, grooming, eating, working, and playing. Each one of these acts contributes to your quality of life, and they can help you live independently too.
Occupational therapists assess skills and determine what their clients need help with. Then, they develop therapeutic plans to help their clients reach their goals. Sometimes, they work on several issues at once. For example, if you struggle to apply for a job, your counselor might help you:
- Improve hand strength, so you can type an application quickly.
- Reduce nervousness, so you can nail an interview.
- Slow down and follow instructions, so you can pass pre-employment checks.
- Reduce distractions, so you can focus on finding the right job.
Occupational therapy is a proven intervention for people with autism. Sometimes, it helps people deal with social issues. Sometimes, it helps to ease mechanical problems. Some people get both kinds of benefits.
This work is critical. Researchers say only about 12% of people with autism have a full-time job. Many people with Asperger’s live at home with no meaningful activities to fill up the day. If occupational therapy can address those issues, it’s worthwhile.
Insurance often pays for occupational therapy, but again, you’ll need a doctor to refer you to care. Without that piece of paperwork, you may be asked to pay for treatment yourself.
Do’s & Don’ts of Asperger’s Treatment
You deserve a treatment plan that supports your strengths and addresses your weaknesses. With time and persistence, you can find a mix of therapies that work for your family.
As you search:
- Don’t delay treatment. Asperger’s symptoms can be mild, and you might be tempted to overlook or ignore them. Know that they will not disappear without help. Get the treatment you need as soon as you can.
- Don’t look for a cure. Treatments can help you build a happy and successful life, but you may always need help from others. The goal of treatment isn’t to eradicate the disorder. Instead, it’s designed to give you tools to apply for the rest of your life. The work may be ongoing.
- Do involve your family. Parents, siblings, romantic partners, and others may benefit from therapy too. You may develop communication skills that help you work with the person you love. You may learn more about autism too.
Asperger’s treatments are varied, and they have been proven effective. Don’t be afraid to search for the right one for you and then start treatment to get the help you need.
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