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Topic: Pervasive Developmental Disorder: Asperger Syndrome
Researched and written bySara Bell
                                                I attest that the following report is a product of my own original work.

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Asperger Syndrome is a subcategory of Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD).  Currently, for every ten thousand children, Asperger Syndrome is found in twenty to twenty-five of them.  With new research being conducted, the familiarity with this disorder is increasing.  Thus, educators are learning more and more about ways to help children with Asperger Syndrome be successful.

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Overview/definition of Asperger Syndrome

<>            In early 1944, Viennese pediatrician Hans Asperger categorized Asperger Syndrome as an autistic spectrum disorder or a Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) (Fine, 2004).  It was not until 1994, that PDD included five subcategories: Autistic Disorder, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, Rett Disorder, Asperger Disorder, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (Tsai, 2000).  These subcategories were proposed in the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), hence making this disorder fairly new. 
            Asperger Syndrome is categorized by impairments in communicative speech, obsessive temperamental behavior, and social behavior (Fine, 2004).  According to Turnbull, Turnbull, Shank, and Smith (2004), an Asperger Syndrome individual has fewer delays in intellectual performance and speech development but has significant setbacks in the areas of emotional and social functioning.  DSM-IV defines Asperger Syndrome by the following criteria (Henderson, 2001):

 A. Qualitative impairment in social interaction, as manifested by at least two of the following:

1.      marked impairments in the use of multiple nonverbal behaviors such as eye-to-eye gaze, facial expression, body postures, and gestures to regulate social interaction

2.      failure to develop peer relationships appropriate to developmental level

3.      a lack of spontaneously seeking to share enjoyment, interests, or achievements with other people (e.g. by a lack of showing, bringing, or pointing out objects of interest to other people)

4.      lack of social or emotional reciprocity

            B. Restricted, repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests, and activities, as                   manifested by at least one of the following:

1.      encompassing preoccupation with one or more stereotyped and restricted patterns of interest that is abnormal either in intensity or focus

2.      apparently inflexible adherence to specific, nonfunctional routines or rituals

3.      stereotyped and repetitive motor mannerisms (e.g., hand or finger flapping or twisting, or complex whole-body movements)

4.      persistent preoccupation with parts of objects

C. The disturbance causes clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning

D. There is no clinically significant general delay in language (e.g., single words used by age 2 years, communicative phrases used by age 3 years)

E. There is no clinically significant delay in cognitive development or in the development of age-appropriate self-help skills, adaptive behavior (other than social interaction), and curiosity about the environment in childhood

F. Criteria are not met for another specific Pervasive Developmental Disorder or Schizophrenia

Diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome tends to occur later in life as opposed to an Autism diagnosis (Henderson, 2001).  This trend could be due to the innovativeness of the disorder.  Persons diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome tend to have a combination of diagnoses and/or misdiagnoses (Henderson, 2001).  This could be due to the fact that the disorder is fairly new, and not enough research has been conducted.  According to Twachtman-Cullen (1997), as cited in Henderson (2001), the most common co-occurrence and/or misdiagnosed disorders include: Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, Oppositional/Defiant Disorder (ODD), Conduct Disorder (CD), Schizoid or Schizotypal sensory integration disorder, Tourette Syndrome, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and Personality Disorder.                                                                          
There is still some controversy about the causes of Asperger Syndrome, however, many believe the disorder is due to genetics, while others causes are unknown.  According to Fine (2004), genetic correlations show that one parent, most often the father of the child with Asperger Syndrome, displays qualities of the disorder, or at least, tentativeness, constricted interests, and temperamental traits.


Out of every 10,000 children, Asperger Syndrome is found in between 20 to 25 children, while Autism is only found in 4 out of 10,000 children, thus making Asperger Syndrome more common than autism (Fine, 2004).  Asperger Syndrome is diagnosed more frequently in males than females by a 4:1 margin (Fine, 2004).  Prevalence of this syndrome seems to be increasing due to the enhancement of research being conducted.  Although Asperger Syndrome is becoming more recognized by society, many individuals in their school years are still not being diagnosed (Barnhill, 2001).  With the issue of cultural based statistics, there seems to be no research yet conducted. 

Characteristics of Asperger Syndrome

<>          Asperger Syndrome consists of many characteristics that differentiate it from other disorders.  A person with Asperger Syndrome tends to show a deficiency in developmentally opposite social skills (Adreon & Stella, 2001).  It is hard for an Asperger Syndrome child to have friends and carry on conversations because they do not understand how to translate non-verbal cues.  Children with Asperger Syndrome have difficulty interpreting facial expressions, eye contact, and gestures (Adreon & Stella, 2001).  Their conversations have a tendency to revolve around themselves and their voices are liable to sound emotionless and flat (Edelson, 1995). 
          There are many symptoms that a child with Asperger Syndrome has in the area of cognition.  Persons with Asperger Syndrome tend to be very intelligent and have a higher verbal IQ performance (Fine, 2004).  Many children with Asperger Syndrome have problems changing focus and cannot handle change (Adreon & Stella, 2001).  Often, children with Asperger Syndrome are obsessive with topics such as music, patterns, and weather (Edelson, 1995).  Attentional problems also exist since they have trouble dealing with two tasks at a time or switching between the two tasks (Henderson, 2001).  Children with Asperger Syndrome may also display lack of common sense and trouble with concrete thinking (Edelson, 1995).  Dyslexia, writing and math problems may also be concerns (Edelson, 1995).

Behavioral problems are also seen in those children with Asperger Syndrome.  Somewhere between 50 and 90% of children with Asperger Syndrome experience problems with motor coordination (Barnhill, 2001).  They seem to be socially aware but exhibit improper reciprocal interactions (Edelson, 1995).  Additionally, children with Asperger Syndrome have trouble coping with frustration, leading to emotional outbreaks (Cohen, 2002).

Classroom issues

            Students with Asperger Syndrome have difficulties adjusting to different environments (Adreon & Stella, 2001).  Many problems that students with Asperger Syndrome have in the classroom are the outcome of unanticipated alterations.  Changes that affect schedule, seating, activities, and teachers, may result in distress for the child.  Having to travel to different classrooms throughout the day, a factor in middle and high school, may affect the child greatly, mostly causing anxiety (Adreon & Stella, 2001).  Children with Asperger Syndrome are often teased, bullied, and excluded (Adreon & Stella, 2001).  Classmates see a child with Asperger Syndrome as being different.  Classmates of a child with Asperger Syndrome often perceive the child as rude, immature, and irritating (Safran, Safran & Ellis, 2003).  A child with Asperger Syndrome often feels left out, maltreated, and misread (Adreon & Stella, 2001).  As an outcome of all of these problems, a child with Asperger Syndrome may respond with verbal outbursts, self-inflicted physical injury, and tantrums (Fine, 2004).

Treatment issues as they relate to the classroom

<>            The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1997 has many provisions which help children with Asperger Syndrome get the best education possible (Fine, 2004).  This act requires that every child with a disability has a right to an Individualized Education Program (IEP).  This IEP is developed in collaboration with faculty, the child’s parents, as well as the child once they reach the age of fourteen.  In order to assure equal success, the plan consists of strategies and special accommodations which may help the child (Fine, 2004).
           Another law that has been implemented is the No Child Left Behind Act. This law requires that every child, no matter their disability, must have equal rights of education and have the opportunity to be educated in the general education classroom.  By law, schools must provide training for teachers and other faculty to ensure that they are teaching in the interest of all students (Fine, 2004).  Due to these laws, it is very important for teachers to understand children with Asperger Syndrome in order to assure they receive equal educational opportunities in the least restrictive environment. 
           <>There are many things that teachers need to consider and understand before having a child with Asperger Syndrome in their classroom.  A teacher must carefully construct a seating arrangement where the student will not be near potential “bullies” (Safran, 2002).  Seating a child with Asperger Syndrome near a non-judgmental, understanding, and kind classmate is a good idea (Safran, 2002).  This student could also serve as the child’s “peer buddy” who could be a communal translator for the child (Safran, 2002).  Another strategy that could be used to promote constructive social interactions between the child with Asperger Syndrome and other classmates is “circle of friends” (Safran, Safran & Ellis, 2003).  “Circle of friends” entails a few peers assigned to interact with the child with Asperger Syndrome, which would provide social support for the student, and a type of role model for other classmates to see (Safran, et al., 2003).  When group work is needed, the teacher should not allow students to pick their groups; this causes anxiety for the child with Asperger Syndrome (Fine, 2004).  Instead, the teacher should carefully select group members to be paired with the child and advocate specific tasks for each member in order to ensure that the child feels of equal importance (Safran, et al., 2003).
          Changes in schedule, assignments, and other activities must be made well in advanced in order to give a child with Asperger Syndrome advanced notice to help the child adjust ahead of time (Gagnon & Robbins, 2001).  The teacher should try to use as many visuals as possible.  This helps the student with Asperger Syndrome keep tract of the schedule and be organized.  Providing the child with pre-highlighted notes will help the student distinguish key information.  The teacher should help the student be organized and decrease the chances of anxiety by sustaining an assignment book (Safran, et al., 2003).  Priming is a technique that can be used to help familiarize a student with Asperger Syndrome, by means of future academic material (Fine, 2004).  This technique when utilized can assist in the reduction of pressure and apprehension for the child.  Academic modifications in assignments, especially in reading and writing, are beneficial.  Due to the inability of a child with Asperger Syndrome to read “in between the lines”, clear detailed rules and curriculum should be presented visually (Safran, et al., 2003). <>
          Teachers should encourage all students to ask questions.  This is especially so for a child with Asperger Syndrome.  Specific and concrete instructions provided individually to the child with Asperger Syndrome are most helpful.  After a question has been asked, allowing the child to take some time to think about the question will provide a greater chance of him or her to respond correctly (Safran, et al., 2003).
          Understanding a child with Asperger Syndrome can help an educator recognize anxiety.  Helping the child learn coping skills, such as self-talk, is helpful in preventing occurrences of anxiety.  Allowing a student with Asperger Syndrome to have a place to go if he gets upset or frustrated will help him know there is a place to escape for alone time (Safran, et al., 2003; Gagnon & Robbins, 2001).   <>
           Due to the fact that children with Asperger Syndrome are not successful with social interaction, may strategies can be used.  A “cartooning” approach is used to help a child plan social interactions which they might encounter (Safran, et al., 2003).  The use of drawing simple comic strips helps the child visualize a scenario and understand the social situation as well as appropriate interactions for the circumstances (Fine, 2004).  Another strategy that can be used is called Situation, Options, Consequences, Choices, Strategies, Simulation (Safran, et al., 2003).  In this approach, the teacher helps the child understand the situation, brainstorm options, consider consequences for each option, choose the most desirable option, develop a plan of action, and practice the plan of action (Fine, 2004).  
          Children with Asperger Syndrome tend to isolate themselves as much as possible (Fine, 2004).  In order to help prevent isolation, teachers need to be aware of behavior intervention approaches to help a child with Asperger Syndrome.  Motivational and positive reinforcers should be implemented to reinforce positive behavior.  Applied Behavior Analysis (A.B.A), is one approach that can be used; however, it requires a lot of commitment (Ruberman, 2002).  This program is used to teach a child with Asperger Syndrome cognitive tasks by utilizing a thorough reward system (Ruberman, 2002).  Another strategy that is very popular is the ABC’s of behavior management.  This strategy is used when a negative behavior occurs.  The “A” stands for antecedent, meaning what transpired prior to the negative behavior, “B” represents the appropriate behavior expected, while “C” stands for the consequence after the negative behavior (Fine, 2004). 


The understanding of Asperger Syndrome seems to be increasing.  As new research is conducted, there is greater understanding of the disorder.  It is very important for professionals to keep up with research to better understand the diagnosis and treatment.  With the help of new research, professionals can better diagnose disorders.  It is important for people to be diagnosed at the earliest age possible in order to help treat them as soon as possible.  Educators need to be constantly trained about new research and treatments in order to help children with Asperger Syndrome be successful in school.                   

Related Websites
O.A.S.I.S (Online Asperger Syndrome Information & Support

MAAP Service for the Autism and Asperger Syndrome:  A nonprofit organization which provides information and advice to families

ASPEN (Asperger Syndrome Education Network)



Adreon, D., & Stella, J.  (2001).  Transition to middle and high school: Increasing the      success of students with Asperger Syndrome.  Intervention in School & Clinic, 36 (5), 1-8.  Retrieved September 5, 2004, from Academic Search Premier database. 

Barnhill, G. P.  (2001).  What is Asperger Syndrome?.  Intervention in School & Clinic, 36 (5), 1-9.  Retrieved September 5, 2004, from Academic Search Premier database.

Cohen, L.  (2002).  Asperger’s Syndrome: An introduction for educators.  Retrieved November 9, 2004, from Excelligence Learning Corporation Web site:

Edelson, S.  (1995).  Asperger’s Syndrome.  Retrieved November 9, 2004, from Center for the Study of Autism Web site:

Fine, L.  (2004).  Understanding students with Asperger’s Syndrome.  Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundation, (520), 1-11.  Retrieved September 5, 2004, from FirstSearch database.

Gagnon, E., & Robbins, L.  (2001).  20 ways to ensure success for the child with Asperger Syndrome.  Intervention in School & Clinic, 36 (5), 306-307.  Retrieved September 5, 2004, from FirstSearch database. 

Henderson, L. M.  (2001).  Asperger’s Syndrome in gifted individuals.  Gifted Child Today Magazine, 24 (3), 1-11.  Retrieved September 5, 2004, from MasterFILE Premier database.

Ruberman, L.  (2002).  Psychotherapy of children with Pervasive Developmental Disorders.  American Journal of Psychotherapy, 56 (2), 1-9.  Retrieved September 5, 2004, from Academic Search Premier database.

Safran, J. S.  (2002).  Supporting students with Asperger’s Syndrome in general education.  Teaching Exceptional Children, 34 (5), 1-8.  Retrieved September 5, 2004, from FirstSearch database.

Safran, S. P., Safran, J. S., & Ellis, K.  (2003).  Intervention ABC’s for children with Asperger Syndrome.  Topics In Language Disorders, 23 (2), 154-165.  Retrieved September 5, 2004, from EBSCO HOST database.

This website is a service learning project by the students of "Psychology of the Exceptional Child" at Frostburg State University.  Manager of web page and project: Dr. Megan E. Bradley