Aspergers Syndrome In Adults: Facts And Challenges

Aspergers Syndrome in adults has not yet been the focus of as much research as the same syndrome in children. Part of this stems from the fact that the condition has just not been recognized for that long a period of time.

Hans Asperger was a Viennese pediatrician who first published his observations (in German) of four children he had been treating in his practice in 1944. His term for the condition was "autistic psychopathy". Asperger's work, however, was not widely known until 1981 when a pediatrician in England, Lorna Wing, published her case studies of children exhibiting symptoms similar to those described by Asperger. She gave the name "Aspergers Syndrome" to the condition.

Aspergers syndrome was recognized as a distinct disease in 1992, and in 1994 it was included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Asperger's is a neurological condition characterized by language impairment and communication skills, as well as by repetitive or restrictive patterns of thought and behavior.

Historically, Aspergers has been primarily diagnosed in children, but increasingly Aspergers is being recognized and diagnosed in adults, especially those who seek medical help for mental health conditions. To date, no studies have been fielded to measure the prevalence of Aspergers Syndrome in adults, but there is much anecdotal evidence about how adolescents with Asperger's transition to adulthood.

Adolescents and young adults may exhibit continuing problems with self- care, and this may extend into adulthood. Most young adults with Aspergers Syndrome remain living at home with parents or relatives, although some apparently do get married and are able to hold a job.

People in general, and adults in particular with Asperger's syndrome usually exhibit normal language development, but they often also exhibit problems interacting socially, as well as with maintaining eye contact. They can be myopically focused on just one or two issues, and possess no patience for conversational talk. Additionally they may find it hard to handle typical activities, like organizing and managing their time, dealing with conflict, or dealing with the sensory overload typically found in shopping malls and stores.

Adults with Aspergers may appear painfully shy, but they can also be extremely outgoing sometimes to the point of being overbearing. People with Asperger's often misinterpret social situations and the appropriate level of social interaction called for.

The typical diagnostic process for Aspergers in adults begins with an IQ test. Most adults with Aspergers exhibit normal or above normal IQ test scores. A second test of adaptive skills measures the ability of the patient to manage complex social situations.

If a parent of the adult patient is available a separate Autism Diagnostic Interview test is administered. This test looks at current levels of functioning as well as the patient's early history of functioning. Finally, an Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule is administered. This test allows doctors to carefully assess the social and communication skills and behaviors of the adult Asperger's patient.

There is evidence that as many as one fifth of all children with Aspergers outgrow the condition and that by the time they reach adulthood, they fail to test positive for the diagnostic criteria. As of 2007, no studies addressing the long-term outcome of individuals with Aspergers syndrome were yet available and there are no systematic long-term follow-up studies of children with Aspergers scheduled.

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