Children learn and grow more during the first five years of their lives than any other time. As the baby becomes a toddler and then a preschooler, he/she will go through many stages of development. Although children develop at their own pace, certain developmental milestones help parents know what to expect as their child grows. Parents often breathe a sigh of relief when their child takes his first step, speaks her first word, and can spontaneously read his mother’s facial expression.
For children with autism, they might take the first step like all other children, but the first word and emotional communication might be a long way off. In some cases, it may never come. On the other hand, the journey is different for a child with Asperger Syndrome. The first word may be early, followed by an explosion of language. Soon parents start wondering whether he might be gifted. But these thoughts quickly become sidelined by concern as the child enters school and seems to struggle with friendships, play, and seems rigid and obsessive, despite a fantastic vocabulary. Parents may become concerned because their child just never seems to be able to hit the mark socially, emotionally, and academically. And there is something unusual about the intensity of the child’s interests which seem to take over their life.
Once your child receives a diagnosis, you will have many questions and be looking for the answers. One question that you may have is how is AS different and similar to other autism spectrum disorders? Asperger Syndrome exists as part of the autism spectrum but differs in early development of language from classic autism and other pervasive developmental disorders. After the diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder, it is important to explain and understand both similarities and differences between disorders on the spectrum (Autism Speaks Inc, 2010).
Many a time, terms like Asperger Syndrome and High Functioning Autism (HFA) are used interchangeably. While they currently exist under two separate diagnoses, there is an ongoing debate about whether that is necessary at all. The diagnosis of either Asperger Syndrome or High Functioning Autism may seem very frustrating to the parent and the child as these terms may seem not clearly defined. It is essential to remember that both AS and HFA do present themselves largely the same way, and as a result may be treated in a similar way.
Similarities in children with Asperger Syndrome and High Functioning Autism
• Difficulty in identifying and expressing their feelings
• Finding it challenging to connect with others
• Avoiding eye contact and having trouble reading other people’s faces and gestures
• Unusual speech patterns/speaking without much emotion
• Need to follow schedules rigidly
• Intensely or even obsessively interested in one specific subject, so much so that they become veritable experts in that field
• Sensitivity to various stimuli
• IQ falling in average/superior range of the spectrum
Differences between children with Asperger Syndrome/High Functioning Autism and Classic Autism
• Children with Asperger’s/HFA have IQs that fall within the normal range or superior range.
• Children with Asperger Syndrome are socially awkward in a manner that is not easily understood
• Children with Classic Autism show language delay in early developmental period whereas children with Asperger Syndrome start speaking within the expected age range
• According to Simon Baron-Cohen (Co-director of the Autism Research Centre in Cambridge) depression may be more of a problem with children with Asperger Syndrome, as people with classic autism may be more focused with their own private world, and unaware of what they are missing out on.