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Asperger's Syndrome In Babies: Symptoms, Diagnosis And Treatment

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Asperger’s syndrome is a neurobiological disorder that causes deficiencies in social skills, such as difficulty in communication and changing the routines (1). The syndrome was initially considered an individual disorder. However, several psychiatric health bodies, including the American Psychiatric Association (APA), consider Asperger’s syndrome (AS) a part of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) (1).

A diagnosis confirming Asperger’s syndrome can help establish relevant treatment, therapies, and eventual academic and social skill-building interventions (2). Early treatment has a good prognosis and helps childrenwith Asperger’s syndrome lead a near-normal life. In this MomJunction post, we tell you about symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment methods of Asperger’s syndrome in babies.

What Are The Signs Of Asperger’s Syndrome In Babies?

A child with Asperger’s syndrome is likely to display the following signs (3).

  • No interaction with others
  • No eye contact
  • They might appear indifferent to others
  • Prefer to be alone
  • Dislike attention
  • Extreme reactions to objects, activity, and events
  • Repetitive behaviors such as rocking
  • Fixating on objects with eyes

The symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome become more profound in the second year of life. Do note that not all babies who display these signs have Asperger’s syndrome. Also, at the same time, babies with Asperger’s syndrome may not display all of the above symptoms. Therefore, it is best to consult a doctor if you suspect your baby might have Asperger’s syndrome.

How Is Asperger’s Syndrome Different From Autism?

The main distinguishing feature is that the symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome are mild when compared to autism. A child with AS is also likely to have better language and cognitive skills.

The primary signs are similar but with less intensity among those with AS. The possible areas of development commonly affected by Asperger’s syndrome and autism are (3):

  • Social skills
  • The senses – hearing, taste, touch, sight, smell
  • Play and imagination
  • Behavior

Problems with the features mentioned above might indicate Asperger’s syndrome or other autism spectrum disorders depending on the consistency and pattern exhibited by the child.

What Causes Asperger’s Syndrome?

The exact cause of Asperger’s syndrome is unknown. The following factors increase the risk of developing the syndrome (4).

  • Combination of faulty genes is often considered a primary reason. It indicates that Asperger’s syndrome can run in families.
  • Abnormalities in chromosomes during the formation of the fetus.
  • Usage of certain medicines by the mother during pregnancy can increase the risk of genetic anomalies in the fetus, which might lead to Asperger’s syndrome.
  • Babies born to older parents might be at a higher risk.

Remember, AS does not result from poor parenting or bad upbringing of the baby. It is a disorder that occurs due to innate abnormalities in the baby’s brain.

How Common Is Asperger’s Syndrome In Babies?

The exact prevalence of AS is not known since the condition is counted under the common range of ASD (5). According to 2014 data from US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in 59 children in the US were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders (6). The figure had increased since the year 2000 when one in 150 babies had ASD. These statistics include Asperger’s syndrome as part of ASD.

At What Age Is Asperger’s Syndrome Diagnosed?

The doctors can diagnose Asperger’s syndrome in babies as young as 18 months (4). Since AS is on the milder end of ASD, an affirmative diagnosis might be made around the age of seven years (7).

Diagnosis Of Asperger’s Syndrome

The primary diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome is based on the behavioral peculiarities of the child . The pediatrician will assess the child, and if necessary, the he or she might be referred to a developmental pediatrician or a psychologist. Since AS is considered under ASD, the criteria of diagnosis are the same for both.

The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (Fifth Edition) provides standardized criteria to help diagnose ASD. The following are the main diagnostic criteria for ASD in babies (8).

  1. Behavioral deficiency in social communication and interaction, such as insufficiency of:
  • Social and emotional reciprocity exhibited by the baby’s inability to react emotionally to an interaction by the parent or caretaker, etc.
  • Nonverbal communication, such as facial expressions, eye contact, etc.
  • Establishing, sustaining, and understanding relationships; not showing any interest in playing with other babies of similar age groups or with parents or caretakers.
  1. Restricted and monotonous patterns of behavior, interests, or activities as demonstrated by at least the two of the following:
  • Repeated motor movements like arranging the toys in a line or flipping the objects around them, etc.
  • Insistence on having no changes to anything around them, severe constancy to routines, or getting severely upset at any change.
  • Overreaction or under reaction to the sensory aspects, such as no or little response to pain or extreme temperatures, or smelling things over and over, touching the things again and again, etc.
  1. The symptoms must be present in the early growing and developing phase of the baby’s life.
  1. Symptoms should cause significant issues in the important areas of current functioning, such as social interactions.
  1. These disturbances are not always related to intellectual disability. Although intellectual disability and ASD may occur together, to confirm ASD in babies, their social communication skills should be below the expected usual levels.

Some babies take a little longer than others to achieve usual milestones. It does not mean that they are suffering from AS or ASD. Contact your baby’s doctor to help you evaluate your baby’s condition.

Can Asperger’s Syndrome Be Treated?

There is no single proven treatment for Asperger’s syndrome. The core symptoms of AS are poor communication skills, obsessive routines, and physical clumsiness. The focus of the treatment is to work on these three deficient areas in a baby’s upbringing.

An effective treatment plan includes the following measures (9).

  • Building the baby’s interest
  • Making a predictable schedule
  • Teaching day-to-day tasks by forming a series of simple steps
  • Engaging the child’s attention in well-structured activities
  • Provide regular reinforcement of behavior

It is proven that early diagnosis and treatment of Asperger’s leads to better outcomes. Medications are provided if the baby has any coexisting medical conditions. The treatment plan mainly focuses on social skill development and cognitive-behavioral development so that the baby with AS can lead a normal and independent life as he/she grows older.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can Asperger’s syndrome go undiagnosed?

Yes. Asperger’s syndrome is a mild form of autism and often does not cause any cognitive problems. Therefore, it could go undiagnosed. However, with the latest advancements in medical practice, it is easier to diagnose Asperger’s syndrome.

2. Does Asperger’s syndrome run in families?

A strong genetic basis is seen in Asperger’s syndrome, and it could mean that it runs in families (10).

Asperger’s syndrome is a neurobiological disease with no known cause. The diagnosis of AS in babies might bring several questions in the parents’ minds. However, with advancements in supportive care and therapy, it is possible to help the child lead a healthy and efficient life.

Do you have any experiences to share about Asperger’s syndrome? Let us know in the comment section below.

References:

1. Farnaz Faridi and Reza Khosrowabadi, Behavioral, Cognitive and Neural Markers of Asperger Syndrome; U.S. National Library of Medicine
2. When (and How) Should You Tell Kids They Have Asperger’s?; CHILD MIND INSTITUTE
3. EARLY SIGNS OF ASPERGER’S OR AUTISM; autism-help organization
4. Asperger’s Syndrome; The American Academy of Family Physicians
5. Asperger Profiles: Prevalence; The Asperger / Autism Network (AANE)
6. Data & Statistics on Autism Spectrum Disorder; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
7. David S. Mandell, Maytali M. Novak, and Cynthia D. Zubritsky, Factors Associated With Age of Diagnosis Among Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders; U.S. National Library of Medicine
8. Diagnostic Criteria; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
9. Asperger Syndrome Information Page; National Institute Of Neurological Disorders And Stroke
10. Asperger syndrome; U.S. Department of Health & Human Services