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asperger's syndrome information and features

         

Definition Overlap Procedure Tests Reasons Reactions Spectrum Disclosure
Introduction
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (Adhd)
Dyslexia (Developmental Reading Disorder)
Clinical Depression
Response To Trauma
Social Phobia / Anxiety
Epilepsy
Schizophrenia
Dyspraxia / Sensory Integration Dysfunction
Tourettes
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Turner Syndrome
Central Auditory Processing Disorder
Introduction

When I first began making this web site, several months after I was first diagnosed, it was as much a learning exercise for myself as a mission to inform other people. At first I tried to contain myself to the subject of Asperger's syndrome and not spread out into other related topics because I didn't feel well enough informed about them. There was so much overlap though between Asperger's syndrome and other things that I found it impossible. I am not an expert on the following conditions, but I eventually made the decision to include what I knew and what I could find out about them here for the following reasons:

  1. Misdiagnosis, both in favour of Asperger's syndrome and against, are common, due to other possibilities not being examined and ruled out.
  2. A lot of these conditions can occur alongside or as a result of Asperger's syndrome, but are neglected once a diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome has been made.
  3. Understanding what Asperger's syndrome is not, is key to any effort to understand what it is.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (Adhd)

Like Asperger's syndrome, ADHD is a neurological condition, meaning it is caused by differences in the structure, chemistry and functioning of the brain. It is also probably genetic.

Research into the specifics of ADHD is still being done, but it is believed to a difference in the way chemical messages are transmitted around the brain.

It has been suggested that anywhere between 5% and 22% of the population have ADHD, but only about 1% would probably be described as severe cases. The argument over whether it is under or over diagnosed may continue for a long time yet though.

It is generally broken down into three broad criteria...

A - Inattentiveness

Lots of people day dream or find it difficult to concentrate from time to time, but for some people it is impossible to focus on what they are doing for any length of time and they cannot block out distractions or ignore thoughts of other things. Their minds may wonder off and they become unaware of their surroundings and don't hear what is said to them. They may say things that are on their minds that are not relevant to the situation, and may be overwhelmed by highly distracting environments such as shopping centres or classrooms with pictures and posters all other the walls. They may also often lose things or forget what they were doing.

B - Impulsiveness

Another feature of ADHD is a difficulty with planning ahead and seeing the consequences of ones actions.

Children with ADHD can be single minded, impatient and demanding. There can be problems with turn taking in games and interrupting in conversations. Sometimes things may be blurted out without thought about who they might offend. This can lead to problems making and keeping friends.

C - Hyperactivity

Most children like to run around and find it difficult to sit quietly for long periods of time, but they learn how and when to do it as they get older. If you are hyperactive though it can be almost impossible to suppress the need for movement and activity all the time. You can't just save it up for a more appropriate moment. This can lead to fidgeting, squirming, talking constantly, or even being quite noisy and disruptive in environments like school, shops, or places or worship.

ADHD is said to occur in three ways... either as all three of these features, A, B, and C, or Just as feature A, inattentiveness, or just as features B and C together, impulsiveness and hyperactivity.

Like Asperger's syndrome it can occur alongside other things. According to one set of statistics I have seen, 25% of those with ADHD also have dyslexia, and 40% of those with dyslexia also have ADHD. Asperger's and ADHD can also occur together at the same time, but they could also be easily confused with each other because of the features they have in common. It is even suggested by some that they are both conditions on the autistic spectrum. However, I am not yet convinced that they are not so often confused that diagnostic criteria from the one finds it's way into the diagnostic criteria of the other because of it.

Dyslexia (Developmental Reading Disorder)

Like Asperger's syndrome, dyslexia is a neurological condition, meaning it is caused by differences in the structure, chemistry and functioning of the brain. It is also probably genetic.

More specifically it is difficulty with phonological processing... making a connection between a written word and its spoken form.

Some of the things associated with dyslexia include...

  • Slow, hesitant, reading.
  • Following text on a page using finger while reading.
  • Poor spelling.
  • The mixing of multi syllable words such as saying amnimal instead of animal.
  • Word reversal.
  • Missing out words.
  • Making up words that have no meaning or saying words that aren't present in a text.
  • Using the wrong letters, missing out letters, or adding letters that aren't there.
  • Ignoring or missing out punctuation.
  • Problems telling left from right.
  • Poor spatial organisation.

It is worth remembering that unlike spoken language, reading and writing are not natural or instinctive behaviours. Literacy is an advanced discipline requiring many years of learning and continuous practice, it is just in modern times we have come to take the teaching of it and it's use for granted. The 5-10% of people who are described as dyslexic are not sick or damaged. There is no reason to assume that human brains are supposed to be able to read and write with ease, just because they often can.

There was a time in the world when reading and writing were considered as dangerous to learning as today calculators are to mental arithmetic, but modern society has come to depend on these skills, leaving those that struggle with them at a disadvantage. People who are classed as dyslexic need extra help with their reading so they are not left behind or denied the same opportunities as other people. Being dyslexic does not make you less intelligent, intellectual or academic than other people, and if you want to pursue those sort of interests there is no reason why you can't as long as your difficulties are recognised and you have the necessary support. Being dyslexic can also mean that your brain has strengths in other areas were a lot of other people do not, like...

  • Being good at maths.
  • Being artistic or musical.
  • Having good 3D perception.
  • Being very creative and imaginative.
  • Having high athletic ability.
  • Having high mechanical ability.
  • Can be ambidextrous.
  • Can be good listeners.

Other conditions similar to dyslexia are dysgraphia (a specific problem with writing NOT with other fine motor skills or hand eye coordination), dyscalculia (a specific problem with performing arithmetic calculations in the mind NOT with the understanding of maths or arithmetic), and dysorthographia (a specific problem with spelling but NOT with reading and writing or general intelligence).

Clinical Depression

Asperger's syndrome can sometimes appear to be like depression, and vice versa.

Asperger's syndrome can be mistaken for or written off as depression by some people for several reasons. Firstly, people with Asperger's syndrome are just as likely to suffer from depression as anyone else amongst the population, and it is pretty common. Secondly, having Asperger's syndrome can be pretty depressing sometimes, and things like stress, social isolation, and bullying could also cause depression. Thirdly, for reasons I doubt I will ever understand, 'normal' people have a habit of assuming that everyone experiences life the same way as them, so if they don't see you doing the same things that they do they assume you must be depressed.

Likewise, someone who doesn't have Asperger's syndrome but who has depression would stop doing the things they normally do to have fun and would find no pleasure in them. Depression doesn't exactly tend to make you popular either so it could lead to problems in relationships with other people. Depression though is an illness... it can be treated and you can recover from it. You can usually identify when you became depressed and when you ceased to be depressed, and during the times when you were not depressed you won't have had any of the problems that characterise Asperger's syndrome.

Response To Trauma

In the early days of the classification of autism it was thought to be caused by trauma or neglect. Thankfully this was disproved long ago, but one of the reasons why this mistake was made is that some of the characteristics of autism are similar to trauma.

The main difference of course is that autism is lifelong... you are born with it, you live with it, and you die with it. It is caused by having a different type of brain. Trauma on the other hand is the result of something that happens during life, it can happen to anybody, and it can be recovered from with time and possibly counselling or therapy. Like depression, It is a psychological problem, not a neurological problem.

People who have experienced trauma can lack confidence and self esteem and may become withdrawn or show other signs of distress. They may feel isolated from others and find it difficult to make friends.

Trauma can be caused accidentally or deliberately, and can be caused by a one off incident or ongoing experiences. It is often the case that people do not always associate their problems or behaviours with the trauma they have experienced. They may not even recall the trauma, especially if it happened in early childhood.

Social Phobia / Anxiety

Many people develop phobias, and they can start very early in life. Phobias about school, crowds, open spaces, speaking in public or being around people, could all appear to be quite unexplained behaviour that cause social difficulties.

Social Anxiety in particular can simply be described as an excessive fear of social situations or people... interacting, being watched or judged, feeling embarrassed etc.

People with Asperger's can develop phobias and anxiety too, but under normal conditions, especially when very young, you would expect to see a lack of fear of people and social situations, even when it should be present. Someone with AS could be quite oblivious to a negative social situation that you would expect to upset most people. They may feel free and comfortable talking to anyone about anything, and not care what they think or even if they are interested. This is almost the opposite of social anxiety. Ironically though, as some people with Asperger's syndrome get older they learn that people and social situations are things to be feared because of bad experiences they have had, and they do begin to experience social anxiety.

Epilepsy

Epilepsy is a symptom of some underlying brain disturbance. There are many different types of brain seizure, but they all involve either localised or generalised chemical imbalance in the brain affecting the electrical signals sent by the neurons (brain cells). The reason for this imbalance occurring is quite often not known, but it can be due to brain damage at birth or as the result of a head injury, meningitis or a brain tumour. It can also be caused by excessive intake of drugs or alcohol, and it may even be hereditary.

Most people are familiar with the type of brain seizures that result in fits and convulsions, but one particular form of epilepsy, known as absence seizures or petit-mal, is quite subtle and is sometimes even mistaken for attention disorder. It appears as short blank spells that last just a few seconds occurring many times in a day, and can be confused with day dreaming, poor attention or lack of concentration.

1 in 133 people in the UK has epilepsy... onset is usually during childhood or old age. It is quite common, usually gets better, and can be treated.

Epilepsy and autism are known to sometimes occur together.

Schizophrenia

Asperger's syndrome is sometimes misdiagnosed as schizophrenia. This is because the diagnostic criteria for them are very similar in some ways, and psychiatric professionals, whose training and education has been mostly in psychiatric illness, will see schizophrenia instead of autism because that is what they recognise as the cause of the symptoms they see.

Autism is present all through a persons life and is evident right from early childhood. The average age of Schizophrenia onset however is 18 in men and 25 in women. It usually begins with an acute psychotic episode and can happen to people who have been otherwise normal, healthy, and happy up until that time.

People with autism may see the world in a different way to neurotypical people, and may have different values about what constitutes normal and acceptable behaviour and even thought, but we are still in touch with reality. A key part of schizophrenia however is the experience of frightening hallucinations, delusions and paranoia. People with Asperger's syndrome may seem or become mildly paranoid, but unlike with schizophrenia the reasons for the paranoia are real and not imagined.

Schizophrenia is also described as involving social withdrawal, flattened emotions, and loss of social and personal care skills. Obviously, this is very similar to some autistic characteristics, but it is for very different reasons.

One thing is for certain, the treatment for schizophrenia is totally inappropriate for autism, and misdiagnosis can be a very dangerous and damaging thing.

Dyspraxia / Sensory Integration Dysfunction

Dyspraxia and Sensory Integration Dysfunction can occur along with autistic spectrum disorder or alone.

Read more about them in Perception.

While sensory problems are common for people on the autistic spectrum they are not fully part of the diagnostic criteria. While their presence can support a diagnosis they should not be the bulk of your observations.

Tourettes

Tourettes syndrome is a neurological disorder characterised by compulsive, rapid and sudden movements or vocalisations, that are repeatedly performed and occur many times a day, either every day or in frequent bouts. These behaviours are referred to as tics. They do not necessarily have to be swearing or cursing, though this is the most well known about.

These could be confused with some of the repeated mannerisms or stims of people with autism, but Tourettes could also occur alongside autism.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive compulsive disorder is not the same as having addictions or habits, it is when the brain gets stuck on a particular thought or urge and can't let go.

These thoughts are obsessions... thoughts, ideas, images or impulses that occur over and over, often accompanied by feelings of fear, disgust or doubt. They are disturbing and intrusive. Compulsions are actions performed to obtain relief from these obsessions. They are carried out over and over in a specific way perhaps following certain rules. For example, someone obsessed with dirt and contamination may compulsively wash their hands over and over again following the same ritual each time.

O.C.D. is not to be confused with O.C.P.D. - Obsessive compulsive personality disorder. This is when someone has a personality that is preoccupied with rigid and inflexible rules, schedules and lists.

Complex Tourettes tics can resemble O.C.D. and they may even occur together if onset is during childhood.

Depression and O.C.D may also occur together but more so in adults than in children.

People with autism or Asperger's syndrome may have rigid and compulsive behaviours and rituals that resemble O.C.D., but they need not be triggered by the same powerful obsessions. People with O.C.D. do not have the social and communication difficulties that autistic people do.

Turner Syndrome

Turner Syndrome is when a woman is born with just one X chromosome instead of two. They are always female because they don't have the Y chromosome that males have. They are 200 times more likely to develop autism than females are normally... around 5% do and around 30% have autistic traits. Symptoms include:

  • Short stature

  • Webbed neck

  • Lack of secondary sex characteristics

  • Hollow appearance to the chest

  • Lack of menstruation

  • Low hairline

  • Droopy eyelids.

Central Auditory Processing Disorder

Auditory processing is what happens when your brain recognizes and interprets sounds. People with auditory processing difficulty have normal hearing and intelligence, but are observed to have the following difficulties:

  • Trouble discriminating foreground from background noise.
  • Delayed processing of speech.
  • Echolalia.
  • Interrupting or speaking over people.
  • Asking for repetition.
  • Difficulty paying attention.
  • Trouble remembering information presented orally.
  • Problems carrying out multistep directions.
  • Lack of responsiveness.

Further reading available from Amazon.com  or Amazon.co.uk

Definition Overlap Procedure Tests Reasons Reactions Spectrum Disclosure
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