Dr. Volkmar describes Asperger's syndrome.
Asperger Syndrome, it’s named after a man named Hans Asperger who was a medical student in Vienna working during World War II, and he had to write a paper to finish medical school, and his paper was on boys who had trouble forming social groups, and he used the same word ”autism” in describing the trouble of these boys that Kanner had used before in describing early infantile autism. Because of the war, Asperger didn’t know about Kanner’s paper which was here in the States.
Asperger talked about a group of boys who had trouble forming social groups. They also had unusual interests. They often know a lot about something--train and bus schedules--and he made the very important point that these unusual interests actually interfered with the child’s learning of other things, and they often interfere with the family life as well. The family would discover they were revolving around the child’s special interest.
He made the point that these were kids who had very good verbal skills. They talked before they walked, they were little professors, they actually were somewhat pedantic, and they would kind of talk your head off about some topic, very little social judgment. The term that usually got used in the 1980s and 90s for Asperger Syndrome, something called autistic psychopathy is where people kept that autism in. The psychopathy sort of suggested Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs.
In fact, a better translation of his term would be autistic personality disorder, but he still used that same word “autism.” From my point of view as a researcher, the interesting thing about it is it looks like it’s a different pathway into social disability, where in contrast to autism, some of the language aspects are much less impaired. It may actually be the strength for the child. From a point of view of research, it is also interesting in the same score thinking about how do children develop these different routes into social trouble.
Clinically speaking, in terms of intervention, for a child who talks and has an unusual profile, as children with Asperger’s often do of having much better developed verbal skills, we are trying to use that in terms of intervention, and that will be much more so that the child with autism will who usually doesn’t have a great area of strength in terms of their communication language skills.
About Dr. Volkmar, M.D.:
Fred Volkmar, M.D. is the director of the Yale University Child Study Center and Irving B. Harris Professor of Child Psychiatry, Pediatrics and Psychology at Yale University, where he heads the university's autism research and autism clinic. He is also Chief of Child Psychiatry at Yale-New Haven Hospital. His research focuses on understanding the fundamental nature of autism and developing better guidelines to diagnose autism and related conditions.