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Asperger's Syndrome: A Guide for Parents and Professionals

By Tony Attwood

Review by Brenda Bickel and Donna Soule, NAMI Literature Committee

Asperger's Syndrome: A Guide for Parents and Professionals
by Tony Attwood
(Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 1998. 223 pages. Paperback: $19)

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.

Lorna Wing was the first to use the term Asperger's syndrome in a paper published in 1981. The term was not accepted internationally until the early 1980s, although Hans Asperger originally described the disorder in 1944.

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 foreword 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.