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Resources for Parents and Professionals on Asperger's Syndrome

Lorna Wing was the first to use the term Asperger’s syndrome, or AS, in a paper published in the U.K. in 1981, although the syndrome was originally described by Hans Asperger in 1944. The term was not accepted internationally until the early 1980. Indeed the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and the International Classification of Diseases only included the criteria for AS in 1994 and 1993 respectively.

The current prevailing view is that AS is a subgroup within the autistic spectrum and has its own diagnostic criteria. There is also evidence to suggest the syndrome is far more common than classic autism and may be diagnosed in children who have never previously been considered autistic. The age at which the usual AS pattern of behavior and abilities is most conspicuous is during the primary school years at the mean age of eight years..

Asperger's Syndrome: A Guide for Parents and Professionals by Tony Attwood

(Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 1998. 223 pages, paperback. $19)

Review by Brenda Bickel and Donna Soule, NAMI Literature Committee

The slimness of this 185-page book certainly does not reflect the amount of the author's knowledge and experience as much as it reflects the current lack of knowledge, in general, about the rarely occurring Asperger’s syndrome (AS). Tony Attwood is a psychologist who has specialized in this area for more than 25 years and has met more than 1,000 persons with the AS diagnosis, from preschoolers to a retired professor who was awarded the Nobel Prize. The current prevailing view is that AS is a variant of autism and a pervasive developmental disorder (PDD). The condition affects the development of a wide range of abilities. It is now considered a subgroup within the autistic spectrum and has its own diagnostic criteria. Evidence also suggests that it is far more common than classic autism and may be diagnosed in children who have never previously been considered autistic. Asperger’s typical pattern of behavior and diminished abilities is most conspicuous during the primary school years, at about the mean age of eight years. Wing, who provided the forward and is referred to frequently in the book, describes the primary clinical features of AS as:
  • lack of empathy
  • naive, inappropriate, one-sided interactions
  • little or no ability to form friendships
  • pedantic, repetitive speech
  • poor non-verbal communication
  • intense absorption in certain subjects
  • clumsy and ill-coordinated movements and odd postures
Simply put, the core features of this syndrome are lack of social skills, a limited ability to have a reciprocal conversation, and an intense interest in a particular subject Asperger’s Syndrome provides much helpful information about the characteristics of this disorder and strategies for learning skills acquired so easily by others, but with much difficulty by the person with AS. It is an excellent guide that does not rely on scientific terminology for explanations. Chapters on social behavior, language, interests, routines, physical clumsiness, cognition, and sensory sensitivity are written in very basic language, yet they are quite detailed and informative. Each chapter includes a brief and handy summary of strategies both parents and teachers will find helpful when dealing with children with this disorder. Note that an entire chapter contains responses to two dozen questions and issues most frequently raised by parents, such as what causes the syndrome, how to prevent or manage anxiety and depression, needed resources, and the long-term outlook. Keeping in mind that scientists only began consistently diagnosing and investigating this syndrome during the mid-1980s, it’s not surprising that current knowledge is limited. Yet Attwood provides considerable information to help correct misconceptions, and he offers concrete suggestions for specific problems. Many parents have already discovered and been led by this excellent guide, rate it a clinical "bible," and consider the author a leading authority on Asperger’s. Appendices contain resource material about emotions and friendships, a training chart, diagnostic criteria, extensive references (155), and subject and author indexes. One reviewer noted the need for additional information on medication and on coexisting conditions.

 Asperger Syndrome, edited by Ami Klin, Fred R. Volkmar, and Sara S. Sparrow(Guilford Press, 2000. 464 pages. $45.00 in hardcover)

Reviewed by Brenda Souto, NAMI staff

The newest volume on Asperger's Syndrome (AS) brings together distinguished scholars and practitioners to offer an up-to-date statement about what is currently known about AS, offered against the quickly shifting backdrop of clinical research and practice. The book explores the effects of Asperger's syndrome on an individual's social, communicative, and behavioral development. It also identifies the challenges that children, adolescents, and adults with AS face at home, in school, in the workplace, and in other everyday settings. Detailed attention is given to practical issues related to assessment, treatment, and guidelines for clinical evaluation (useful instruments are included). Of special interest is a blueprint for developing individualized treatment programs that highlight new developments in social and communication skills training. Although written as a graduate-level textbook, Asperger Syndrome is relatively easy to understand, especially for parents who already have a basic understanding of the disorder. In fact, for parents looking for the most in-depth information on AS—those who describe themselves as "having read everything ever published on the topic"—this may well be the next book to add to that stack. For others, Asperger Syndrome may be something to purchase and share with their child’s clinician or educator who will find it useful in understanding the unique qualities of the child with AS. It concludes with several parents' essays that describe the trials and tribulations—as well as the joys and the victories—of life with a child with Asperger's syndrome. The editors, members of the Yale Child Study Center, are nationally recognized experts in the area of diagnosis and treatment of autistic spectrum disorders. Their contribution to our understanding of a disorder so many clinicians still fail to identify is much appreciated by advocates and parents alike.