Asperger. To some this is just a silly word that sounds like "hamburger."
To me it has a much different meaning. Asperger's syndrome is something that I am faced with on a daily basis.
I still remember a day about four years ago when my mom left her Internet windows on the computer open. There were a lot of searches about Asperger's and what it was. I thought it was strange that she was researching such a seemingly random topic for no apparent reason.
Then I overheard a phone call. My mom was talking to a therapist about my then 5-year-old little brother Jeramiah's recent diagnosis of Asperger's. Since then, my life has changed. Family dinner conversations have changed from the weather to what types of medication Jeramiah is being put on.
Asperger's is a high-functioning autism spectrum disorder that affects many people but still lacks awareness. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders, one in every 250 people in the United States are affected with Asperger's.
However, it wasn't until a mere 20 years ago that Asperger's was widely recognized as a disorder.
In 1944, an Austrian pediatrician named Hans Asperger observed four children who had difficulty interacting socially; they appeared to be normal but they lacked communication skills and empathy toward others. The children also focused on one topic they were interested in and it was this topic that dominated the conversation. Dr. Asperger called the condition "autistic psychopathy" and described it as a personality disorder primarily marked by social isolation.
The results of his case study became better known in 1981. English doctor Lorna Wing did a similar case study and referred to the symptoms as "Asperger's" syndrome. It was her writing that became widely known.
In 1992, Asperger's was included in the World Health Organization's diagnostic manual, and in 1994, it was added to the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders," the American Psychiatric Association's diagnostic reference book.
Common characteristics of Asperger's syndrome include difficulty communicating. People have trouble making small talk and lack interest in what others are saying. They take things that are said literally and struggle with understanding metaphors and sarcasm.
Those with Asperger's syndrome also struggle socially. They do not understand common social rules such as how to act in a group environment. They may have a hard time comprehending verbal communication and facial expressions.
Asperger's syndrome is commonly associated with lacking empathy and not being able to understand how someone else is feeling. Those with Asperger's find it hard to deal with change. They like to have routines because change causes stress and anxiety. Children with Asperger's syndrome frequently have motor skill delays and may appear clumsy or awkward. However, intelligence in those with Asperger's is above average.
One of the most common characteristics of the syndrome is one that has directly affected my now 9-year-old brother Jeramiah. Those with Asperger's may develop a fixation on a certain interest. For example, Jeramiah has an obsession with Legos and with Angry Birds.
It is hard to have a conversation with Jeramiah that isn't about Legos or Angry Birds. When he is shopping for gifts for others, he wants to purchase Angry Birds and Legos because he doesn't comprehend that not everyone is interested in them like he is.
Hope for future
This aspect can be beneficial for those with Asperger's who are studying in higher education because they can focus on this particular interest. This point is something that I have learned to deal with and come to love in my brother, but it is something that others do not understand. Jeramiah's friends don't like to play with him because they don't want to spend the entire time talking about Angry Birds. They don't understand the difficulty he has conversing about other topics.
Many of these characteristics may sound similar to that of autism and that is because Asperger's is considered to be a high-functioning autism. The difference is in the severity of the symptoms. Autism is a spectrum disorder; its symptoms and characteristics can present themselves in a wide variety of combinations, from mild to severe. In the United States, one in 80 persons is said to have an autism spectrum disorder, with Asperger's being one of the mildest forms.
Asperger's is something that people face every day. It is something that many struggle to understand.
I love my brother and he wouldn't be the amazing little boy that he is today without his high-functioning form of autism. Asperger's is gaining more recognition all the time; April has even been declared Autism Awareness Month. My hope is that this disorder continues to become better understood through heightened awareness.
Caitlynn Kindall is a senior at Ogden High School. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.