Friday, November 2, 2007

Differentiating Between Asperger's Syndrome and Autism

I always thought the major difference between Asperger's Syndrome and Autism was that people with Asperger's Syndrome always had a good grasp of speech while people with autism had impairments in speech ranging from mild to severe (with some having no speech at all.) I also thought that people with Asperger's were all quite bright while a few people with autism (but not Asperger's) had mental retardation.

Well, it looks like I may have been wrong. Today I had the opportunity to attend a free, yes free, conference in Park Library's Auditorium at Central Michigan University. The sole speaker was Dr. Luke Tsai, a specialist from Ann Arbor who also has a son with autism. He spoke for three hours to a full house (approximately 180 people.)

Dr. Tsai asserted that some people with Asperger's Syndrome have had a history of speech problems and that some people diagnosed with the disorder do have mental retardation. Here are some of the key characteristics of Asperger's Syndrome he listed: odd or intrusive social interactions, not having proper insight of one's own problem (it's always someone else's fault), aggressiveness, interest in sexual relationships (he said autistic generally do not have this interest), and insistence of sharing special knowledge of a favorite topic.

I'm not sure I entirely agree with Dr. Tsai's views on diagnosing autism and Asperger's syndrome. He didn't address sensory problems at all while explaining how autism and Asperger's Syndrome are diagnosed and he seemed to rely on I.Q. tests too much while sharing his ideas about Autism Spectrum Disorder (a term he said he doesn't like). I thought that sensory issues were one of the ways ASD was identified, so I was a bit baffled when Dr. Tsai did not address the topic.

Further, my own opinion is that I.Q. tests were not written for people with Autism Spectrum Disorder and therefore may not accurately assess the intelligence of those who have autism or Asperger's Syndrome. My own son has struggled with the test and has tested lower than his teachers, my husband and I thought he should because he has difficulty with fine motor skills. In today's presentation Dr. Tsai did not question the accuracy of I.Q. tests or the ability of the tests to accurately reflect the intelligence of someone with ASD. He merely quoted the stats of how many people with ASD have been diagnosed with lower I.Qs.

To his credit, Dr. Tsai does appear to have done his research. He recited the history of diagnosing autism (which seems consistent to what I have previously read) and acknowledged the difficulty the medical profession has had in recognizing Asperger's Syndrome. He presented a credible timeline and quoted Hans Asperger (the pediatrician who first described the syndrome in the 1940s) extensively.

In a paper titled Diagnostic Confusion in Asperger Disorder (which Dr. Tsai presented in a different time and place), he wrote about how some Asperger's patients had speech and cognitive problems. Dr. Tsai is an excellent writer and outstanding presenter and I do encourage those interested to read his paper.

However, I will admit that Dr. Tsai did little to clear up my confusion about the difference between the two disorders. Maybe, I'm confused because I don't agree with some of his views. I'm just not sure what to think. I do know that if my family visited Dr. Tsai instead of Dr. Solomon in Ann Arbor (at the University of Michigan), my son might have received the diagnoses of Asperger's Syndrome instead of the High Functioning Autism/PDD NOS diagnosis the latter doctor gave him.

Further, I have received contradictory opinions into what category my guy fits. My son's former teacher also attended the conference and as a result has concluded that he probably has Asperger's Syndrome. However, another friend of mine (who previously attended presentations by Dr. Tsai) has a son with Asperger's Syndrome once told me that my nine-year-old is too congenial to have that diagnoses. That friend thus concluded that my son has high functioning autism.

There is another category Dr. Tsai touched upon which my son my fit into. That is Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDD/NOS). This is a tough category for someone to fall in, he said, because it is difficult to tailor an intervention program for a person who does not fit neatly into the other two categories.

However, my son is doing fine with the strategies we are using at home and the strategies his teachers, aides, and therapists use at school, so I am not concerned. Too keep from being confused, I guess, I'll just stick to my son's original (and official) diagnosis unless someone convinces me otherwise. When asked, I'll continue to say he has autism/PDD NOS.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I was wondering, do you know anyone in ann arbor with autistic kids? I am thinking of moving there and looking at schools......

Please let me know,

Sue

birchbarkcanoe @ gmail.com (omit the spaces)