Causes and symptoms

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Causes

There is some indication that AS runs in families, particularly in families with histories of depression and bipolar disorder. Asperger noted that his initial group of patients had fathers with AS symptoms. Knowledge of the genetic profile of the disorder, however, is quite limited as of 2002.

In addition, about 50% of AS patients have a history of oxygen deprivation during the birth process, which has led to the hypothesis that the disorder is caused by damage to brain tissue before or during childbirth. Another cause that has been suggested is an organic defect in the functioning of the brain.

As of 2002, there is no known connection between Asperger's disorder and childhood trauma, abuse or neglect.

Symptoms

In young children, the symptoms of AS typically include problems picking up social cues and understanding the basics of interacting with other children. The child may want friendships but find him- or herself unable to make friends.

Most children with Asperger's are diagnosed during the elementary school years because the symptoms of the disorder become more apparent at this point. They include:

• Poor pragmatic language skills. This phrase means that the child does not use the right tone or volume of voice for a specific context, and does not understand that using humorous or slang expressions also depends on social context.

• Problems with hand-eye coordination and other visual skills.

• Problems making eye contact with others.

Learning difficulties, which may range from mild to severe.

• Tendency to become absorbed in a particular topic and not know when others are bored with conversation about it. At this stage in their education, children with AS are likely to be labeled as "nerds."

• Repetitive behaviors. These include such behaviors as counting a group of coins or marbles over and over; reciting the same song or poem several times; buttoning and unbuttoning a jacket repeatedly; etc.

Adolescence is one of the most painful periods of life for young people with Asperger's, because social interactions are more complex in this age group and require more subtle social skills. Some boys with AS become frustrated trying to relate to their peers and may become aggressive. Both boys and girls with the disorder are often quite naive for their age and easily manipulated by "street-wise" classmates. They are also more vulnerable than most youngsters to peer pressure.

Little research has been done regarding adults with AS. Some have serious difficulties with social and occupational functioning, but others are able to finish their schooling, join the workforce, and marry and have families.

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