Asperger’s Syndrome is recognised as one of a range of conditions associated with the autism spectrum (Wing, 1996). The diagnostic criteria associated with Asperger’s syndrome identify the presence of qualitative impairments in social interaction and restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviour. In addition, sensitivity to change, rigid adherence to routines and unusual attachment to objects are among a range of difficulties that may signal the need for a diagnosis (World Health Organisation (WHO), 1992). The social communication impairments associated with a diagnosis of autism are not so overtly highlighted in the diagnostic criteria for Asperger’s Syndrome however these are frequently inherent in the qualitative differences noted in the social interaction of individuals who go on to be diagnosed.
The identification of Asperger’s syndrome is supported by a range of recognised diagnostic criteria including, International Classification of Diseases 10th edition (ICD 10) (World Health Organisation, 1993) and Diagnostic and Statistical Manual –IV-Text revision (DSM-IV-T) (American Psychiatric Association, 2000).
In order to receive a diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome, individuals must present with a qualitative impairment in social interaction examples of which include difficulties with use of non-verbal behaviours and a failure to develop relationships with peers. There will also be evidence of restricted and repetitive behaviours or interests. This may include an all consuming pre-occupation with a specific topic or collection of objects. Such interests can be considered to be restrictive obsessions in that they may be or may become a barrier to engagement in other activities or interactions with other people. The degree of disturbance of development will impact on a range of areas such as occupational or social functioning. According to criteria, individuals with Asperger’s syndrome should present with no clinically significant delay in language and have no delay in cognitive development (American Psychiatric Association 1994).
Qualitative differences in social interaction are arguably the core defining features of the autism spectrum (Kanner, 1943, Rogers, 2000). Such differences can result in social isolation and exclusion and can potentially pervade all aspects of ordinary living such as relationships, employment and access to leisure and consumer experiences.There is broad acceptance and agreement that the impact on individuals across the spectrum can give rise to a range of vulnerabilities that result in the risk of people with a diagnosis being marginalised within society and achieving poorer outcomes in comparison to typically developing peers (Barnhill 2007; Howlin, Goode, Hutton and Rutter 2004 ). In individuals with a diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome, such vulnerabilities are often juxtaposed with high intellect and sometimes superior ability in particular areas resulting in an often complex and mixed profile that can lead to misunderstanding of intentions and actions of other people.
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