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Asperger’s Syndrome Management: Diagnosis and Treatment Options

By Clarissa Vanner

  • Asperger’s syndrome is no longer an official diagnosis, instead, it belongs to a group of neurodevelopment conditions known as autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
  • To diagnose the disorder, your doctor will likely refer you to a mental health expert who specializes in ASD diagnoses.
  • Treatment can vary for each individual but often involves some form of therapy, and in some cases, medication to treat secondary symptoms.

Any medical diagnosis can be overwhelming, and Asperger’s syndrome is no exception. Navigating what the diagnosis means for your child’s future and how they can manage is a lot to take in. You’re not alone!

The good news is there are therapies and other treatment strategies available to help your child manage and thrive. Follow along to learn more about Asperger’s syndrome, including how it’s diagnosed, and the treatment options available.

What Is Asperger’s Syndrome?

First, it’s important to mention that Asperger’s syndrome is no longer an official diagnosis. Instead, it belongs to a group of neurodevelopment conditions known as autism spectrum disorder (ASD),” explains Healthline. Asperger’s now falls in the mild end of the autism spectrum, and is also called level 1 ASD, says the source. So, what is it exactly?

Asperger’s, or ASD, is a developmental disorder. The common signs of Asperger’s include difficulty with social skills, engaging in repetitive behavior, focusing on rules and routines, and standing on firm opinions and beliefs. Some refer to Asperger’s as “high functioning autism” and that’s because individuals with the disorder often don’t have delays in language skills or cognitive development.

Who Diagnoses Asperger’s Syndrome?

If you suspect your child has ASD, book an appointment with your family doctor. While they may conduct an initial exam, they’ll likely refer you to a mental health expert who specializes in ASD diagnoses. Some of these experts may include:

  • Psychologists can diagnose and treat problems with behavior and emotion.
  • Psychiatrists specialize in mental health conditions and they can prescribe medicine to help treat them.
  • Developmental pediatricians specialize in speech and language problems, as well as other developmental issues.
  • Pediatric neurologists specialize in conditions of the brain.
  • Therapists can help with clinical or behavioral problems.

Your child may be referred to one or more of these specialists. The Cleveland Clinic says the process can take time but it can also help you learn more about the disorder as well as find more support networks along the way.

How Is Asperger’s Syndrome Diagnosed?

As we mentioned, Asperger’s syndrome is no longer diagnosed as a condition. Instead, experts will diagnose ASD. Unfortunately, there isn’t one single test that can confirm a diagnosis. However, a specialist can evaluate your child’s social interactions, language skills, facial expression, attitudes toward change, motor coordination, and motor skills to help confirm a diagnosis.

ASD can also be hard to diagnose because it can sometimes be confused with other conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), or oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). Your medical team will do their best to evaluate your child to provide the right diagnosis.

The Goal of Treatment

Once a diagnosis of ASD has been confirmed, the next steps are to find the right treatment. Treatment can vary from person to person, however, the ultimate goal of treatment remains the same: to help the individual’s ability to function.

The Cleveland Clinic says a good treatment plan will build on the individual strengths and encourage them to grow in areas where they have difficulty. Treatment can help arm the individual with social and behavioral tools to help them thrive throughout their life. However, the source also notes that the “best treatment in the world won’t work if a child or adult doesn’t agree that it’s best for them.”

Types of Treatment Options

There are a variety of treatment options available for ASD and can vary for each individual. That said, some of the common treatment options include:

  • Psychological therapy
  • Social skills and speech therapy
  • Sensory therapy
  • Medication
  • Dietary adjustments
  • Alternative treatment options

Everyday Health notes, “Early intervention seems to be the key to success when it comes to treating Asperger’s.” This means the earlier your child can receive a diagnosis and start treatment, the better. It’s important to work closely with your healthcare team and your child to determine what is best for your child. Next, let’s take a closer look at what some of these options entail.

Treatment: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), also known as “talk therapy” can be an effective treatment strategy for ASD. Individuals with the disorder often have difficulty controlling their senses and CBT can help them learn to regulate their emotions and impulses.

Everyday Health says it can also help the individual cope with anxiety or depression. So, how does it work? CBT works by teaching and encouraging the individual “to change their thoughts and perceptions by recognizing and altering specific behaviors,” explains the source.

Treatment: Social Skills and Speech Therapy

As mentioned earlier, Asperger’s is often considered “high functioning” and part of that is due to the fact that the individual often has well-developed language skills. That said, ASD can still cause some communication obstacles. This condition can make it difficult for the individual to differentiate between literal and figurative speech. They may also have difficulty understanding sarcasm and struggle with starting a conversation or entering a conversation that is already happening. This is often caused by difficulty recognizing social cues.

The good news is social skills and speech therapy may help. This type of therapy can help an individual improve their conversational tone and it may also help them understand social cues.

Treatment: Sensory Integration/Occupational Therapy

Children with Aspergers’ may have difficulty controlling their senses, explains Everyday Health. They may also have difficulty with using fine motor skills. If this is the case, sensory integration therapy may be able to help!

The source says an occupational therapist will help your child learn how to perform certain exercises that improve their hand-eye coordination and balance. Therapy can also help them respond better to sounds and touch. The goal is to help your child control their senses which in turn, may help them better regulate their movements and emotions.

Treatment: Medication

In some cases, medication may be necessary. While there is no medication to cure ASD, there are medications that may help control secondary symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, hyperactivity, or attention problems.

It’s vital that you don’t self-medicate. Always follow the guidance of the doctor or specialist. Your healthcare team will be able to determine which types of medication are best for treating your child’s secondary symptoms and they can provide a prescription.

Other Treatment Options

There are alternative therapies that may help a child manage their disorder. Everyday Health notes that there isn’t any scientific evidence that alternative therapies help, it’s all anecdotal evidence. Before you try an alternative treatment, it’s always important to get approval from your doctor first to ensure it won’t make the condition worse.

Some alternative treatment options for ASD may include:

  • Massage therapy
  • Yoga
  • Horse therapy
  • Art or music therapy
  • Chelation therapy
  • Intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) infusions
  • Hyperbaric oxygen

Can Dietary Changes Help?

There’s some anecdotal evidence that suggests special diets may help improve behavior and symptoms of ASD, however, there isn’t much scientific research to confirm the claims. That said, two popular approaches are gluten-free diets and casein-free diets.

Everyday Health says other supplements that some parents have found helpful are omega-3s, probiotics, vitamin B12, and melatonin. Before you change your child’s diet, it’s vital that you talk to your doctor to find out if it’s safe for your child. It’s also a good idea to work with a dietician to ensure your child is getting all the nutrients they need.

The Benefits of Family Therapy and Support Groups

A developmental disorder is not only challenging for the child affected, but it can take a toll on the family too. Family therapy or parenting training can help provide parents and caregivers with the appropriate skills to assist their child with ASD. Everyday Health says this type of therapy can help parents “incorporate treatment strategies, such as social skills training and behavioral training, at home.”

Furthermore, support groups can also be beneficial for the individual who has ASD. Support groups can help your child work on social skills in a safe environment. The source also notes that Autism Speaks is a great organization that can help you find resources in your area.

Junior Managing Editor

Clarissa is the Junior Managing Editor of ActiveBeat. She aspires to live a healthy lifestyle by staying active and eating foods that nourish her body, but she isn't afraid to indulge in a little chocolate here and there! Clarissa loves cooking, being outdoors, and spending time with her dog. In her free time, you'll find her relaxing in her hammock or curled up on the couch reading a book.

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