Asperger's Syndrome: Separating Myth From Reality

"Not every person with Asperger's has a miserable childhood," Stone said. "But when you're smart enough to know the difference between you and other children, and when you're sensitive enough to be hurt by teasing, and acutely aware of the differences in the relationships that other kids are having that you can't, it can be very painful."

Common Misconceptions

The mysterious nature of Asperger's has led to a number of misconceptions about this syndrome -- as well as the individuals who have it.

"Overall, it has been a very misunderstood disorder, especially when it comes to distinguishing it from higher levels of autism," Stone said.

Roane agrees. "A lot of people talk about Asperger's and compare it to autism, and a lot of people characterize it as a higher form of autism," he said. "But this is not completely accurate."

In general, he said, those with Asperger's are not as impaired as a person with autism.

"Because of this, they are able to go to college, balance a checkbook, drive a car and function pretty normally. In many cases, it's just somebody who's socially awkward."

Even this awkwardness can be misconstrued as "acting out," Stone noted.

"One misconception is that they are intentionally acting weird for attention, which is not the case," she said. "A lot of attributions are made about their behaviors that are negative, because people just don't understand."

Just as there are many misconceptions about those who actually have Asperger's, recent attention of the disorder has also led to misdiagnoses of those who do not have the syndrome.

"It is very misdiagnosed, and a lot of people without Asperger's get a diagnosis of Asperger's," Stone said.

"Somebody might be really socially weird -- for example, really into 'Star Trek' or dragons," Roane noted. "This does not mean that they have Asperger's.

"The point is that you can't really just make that generalization."

Treatments and Therapy

As there is no known "cure" for Asperger's, most interventions aim at developing the social skills of those with the disorder.

"One of the biggest things we have to work on is social skills deficits," Roane said. "There are a lot of different curricula out there to teach people with Asperger's how to deal with different social mores."

He adds that certain medications are also used to help with the depression and anxiety that often come with the disorder.

When treating children with Asperger's, doctors often need to design a highly individualized "package" of care, so treatment regimens vary greatly from one person to the next. However, most professionals agree that the earlier the intervention, the better.

Direction for the Future

As Asperger's syndrome gains both attention and needed funding, researchers are expanding their search into why Asperger's occurs, and what might be done to prevent it.

However, Roane said that finding new and better treatment regimens must also be a priority.

"A big area of interest is to look into the causes. If you think of it, that's what most of the research is looking into," he said. "But finding a cause does not necessarily lead into treatment for the thousands of children who already have it.

"I think that kind of individual treatment is really a critical need, along with finding Asperger's genetic causes."

And as research provides treatment professionals with a deeper understanding of Asperger's, many are hopeful that those who suffer from the syndrome can have a better chance at leading a normal and fruitful life.

"There are lots of ways to intervene to make life at school and at home not just more bearable, but also rich, for children with Asperger's," Stone said.

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