The best way to understand this syndrome is to define it in relation to certain other, more well known and intuitively obvious disorders which it has some things in common with but which are not really the same. So, briefly…

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) is characterized by difficulty paying attention, with distractibility, impulsivity, difficulty staying on task, and often social difficulties which are due to the above, NOT because of a social cognition weakness.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a severe kind of anxiety disorder characterized by obsessions (intrusive thoughts that one can’t put out of mind) and compulsions (non-adaptive or mal-adaptive behaviors that one feels compelled to repeat, out of voluntary or rational control). The compulsions of OCD sometimes resemble the stereotyped behaviors of Autism, but are more rationally understandable.

A Language Disorder is a neurologically based weakness in the ability to understand and use language (talk, listen, read, write).

Autism and/or Pervasive Developmental Disorder are defined by weaknesses in three areas: SOCIAL COGNITION (the ability to send/receive/interpret nonverbal social cues); receptive and expressive LANGUAGE; and repetitive, stereotyped, compulsive BEHAVIORS. Kids with PDD/Autism can have any level of intelligence, from mentally retarded all the way up to genius range, though they tend towards the lower end usually.

Asperger’s is related to or overlaps with all the above. Kids with this disorder have weaknesses in SOCIAL COGNITION much like Autism, with an egocentricity and difficulty reading social cues; they have BEHAVIOR problems which are of an obsessive-compulsive flavor but not as severe as full-blown OCD and less stereotyped and repetitive than Autism; they have unusual and restricted areas of interest, often of an intense nature, and they often also have ADD-like problems with ATTENTION as well. Language, in contrast, is usually an area of strength for them (although their language can have a “stilted” quality), and though they too can range in intelligence across the board, they tend towards the higher end – with many in the superior or even genius range. They are at risk for mental illness if stressed too much growing up, but the more successful ones as adults tend to abound on university science faculties – you’ll know them because they are usually considered eccentric but brilliant thinkers who have revolutionized their fields but they can’t navigate a cocktail party to save their lives.

Asperger’s syndrome is most easily understood as PDD without the language delays but instead with a certain component of Attention Deficit Disorder. Most children with Asperger’s have a much better prognosis than Autistic children do – they are often quite bright and can do very well academically and career-wise, but are often thought of by their peers as “odd” and they do not do well socially unless in situations where the relationships are highly defined and structured.

Children with PDD do not tend to respond well to medications such as Ritalin. Most often medication is not needed, but if it is, an antidepressant in the SSRI or TCA category is, in my experience, most likely to help. For more information, visit the home page of the Asperger’s Asssociation of New England.