While Dr. Asperger called the condition "autistic psychopathy" and described it as a personality disorder primarily marked by social isolation, today Asperger's Syndrome is identified as a brain, communication, or neurological disorder like autism, not a personality disorder like, for example, antisocial personality disorder ("Asperger's Syndrome fact sheet," 2008, NINDS).
Like autism, Asperger's Syndrome is characterized by repetitive routines, rituals, and movements, poor social skills, and odd ways of communicating that do not take into consideration the other person's feelings and needs. The distinguishing feature of Asperger's, in contrast to classical autism, is that the individuals all have normal IQ but show "limited interests or an unusual preoccupation with a particular subject to the exclusion of other activities" ("Asperger's Syndrome fact sheet," 2008, NINDS). Unlike autistic individuals who show little interest in others, Asperger children may seek out companionship, but may drive other people away because of their refusal to talk about anything other than their one interest, and their refusal to alter the topic in the face of the boredom of others. "Some children with as have become experts on vacuum cleaners, makes and models of cars, even objects as odd as deep fat fryers" ("Asperger's Syndrome fact sheet," 2008, NINDS). Sometimes, "their expertise, high level of vocabulary, and formal speech patterns make them seem like little professors...but the conversation may seem like a random collection of facts or statistics, with no point or conclusion" ("Asperger's Syndrome fact sheet," 2008, NINDS). They are also often clumsy and have difficulty with physical movements that come naturally to other children, which further complicates their social interactions.
Asperger Syndrome has been difficult to gather data about because some doctors believe that as is not a separate and distinct disorder. "Instead, they call it high-functioning autism (HFA), and view it as being on the mild end of the ASD spectrum with symptoms that differ -- only in degree -- from classic autism while others see it as a unique disorder" ("Asperger's Syndrome fact sheet," 2008, NINDS). For individuals with the disorder who have learned to compensate quite well for their social deficits, diagnosis may not come well into adulthood, making data even more difficult to gather on the disorder.
The signs which point to Asperger's Syndrome being part of a unique disorder lie in the fact that although children may exhibit unusual speaking behavior, like speaking in a monotone, they do not experience difficulties with language like children with classic autism, and may have quite high verbal IQs in some instances. Also, children with autism lack such a single-minded focus on one thing, although they may show a marked fondness for objects such as a toy, mechanical objects, etcetera, which echoes the obsessions of Asperger's. But individuals with autism do not exhibit obsessions "with the exception of the all-absorbing preoccupation with an unusual and circumscribed topic, about which vast amounts of factual knowledge are acquired and all too readily demonstrated at the first opportunity in social interaction," and in terms of classic autistic children's motor skills, their pattern of motor development "is often a relative strength" rather than a deficit (Klin & Volkmar 1995).
The mystery of autism continues, even though scientists have learned far more about the disorder in the past decades of research. Yet the multifaceted variations of the disorder, with its different times of onset, and the complex role of genetics and environment still eludes a coherent, singular explanation. At present, parents can simply turn to behavioral modification therapy to ameliorate some of the difficulties created by the disorder, and to set realistic expectations for the future of their children.
Autism." (11 Apr 2008). National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
NINDS). Retrieved 10 Apr 2008 at http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/autism/detail_autism.htm
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Retrieved 10 Apr 2008 at http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/autism/complete-publication.shtml
Asperger Syndrome Fact Sheet." (2008). National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). Retrieved 10 Apr 2008 at http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/asperger/detail_asperger.htm#115333080
Klin, Ami & Fred R. Volkmar. (Jun 1995). "Asperger's Syndrome: Guidelines for assessment and diagnosis." Yale Child Study Center, New Haven, Connecticut. Published by the Learning Disabilities Association of America. Retrieved 10 Apr 2008 at http://www.med.yale.edu/chldstdy/autism/asdiagnosis.html#psych