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Treating Asperger's Syndrome in Adults

written by: sharscott • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 7/14/2011

Asperger's is not a disorder confined to childhood. Like other mental health disorders, Asperger's may require lifelong treatment or therapy. This article looks at some of the treatment options available.

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    Non-Medicinal Treatment for Asperger's Syndrome

    The most widely accepted Asperger's treatments for adults involve therapy to address particular symptoms or deficiencies caused by the disorder. The most common ones are:

    Occupational or Physical Therapy

    Some people with Asperger's may struggle with simple gross and fine motor skills. For example: using a pincer grip to writing legibly, running, learning to swim, climbing, kicking, jumping rope, bouncing and catching a ball are all skills that may be problematic. Physical and occupational therapy can help an Asperger's person master (or at least become more proficient with) these skills. Therapists may use games, exercises, and other techniques to build up fine and gross motor skills. One example of a game used in occupational therapy is one where the client uses tweezers or another tool which requires a pincer grip, to pick up small objects. By repeatedly practicing holding the tweezers or tool the person can improve their manual dexterity which is necessary for writing legibly.

    Occupational and/ or physical therapy is not just for those suffering from physical ailments or injury.

    Behavior Therapy

    Many people in society have maladaptive behaviors. However, most are aware of these problems and understand how to change them. An Asperger's adult may not be aware his or her behavior is unusual or that they can change it. Behavior therapy seeks to modify negative behaviors in individuals. The goal is to replace a negative behavior with a more acceptable alternative. For example, a person who becomes physically violent when agitated or upset could be taught calming techniques like asking to leave the area or listening to soothing music. Or they might be shown how to identify bad behavior triggers and taught how to ask for help before the behavior peaks. Many people with Asperger's benefit from having behavior skills taught explicitly. They learn how to interact in ways that are more socially acceptable which in turn may help them to integrate more easily into society.

    It must be noted that behavior modification can be a long and arduous process. Changing a negative behavior won't happen overnight. However, behavior therapy is a very effective way to teach an Asperger's person socially acceptable behavior.

    Speech Therapy

    When most people think of speech therapy, they think of individuals with speech impediments such as lisps or physical deformities which make speech difficult. Individuals with Asperger's do not receive speech therapy for either of these issues. They usually receive speech therapy to improve language skills. Some Asperger's individuals speak in a monotone voice; their speech lacks the natural change in expression and intonation. In speech therapy an Aspie can be taught how to use and recognize changes in tone of voice. Sessions can also be focused on conversation skills which involves teaching the person how to actively listen, how to wait their turn, and how not to engage in long one-sided conversations. All these skills are crucial to social interaction.

    Communication and Social Skills Therapy

    One of the most difficult aspects for Asperger's persons is communicating with others. Most people are unaware of all the nuances associated with communication. Nonverbal cues like facial expressions, waiting your turn, hand gestures, eye contact, and body posture are done without much thought. To an Asperger's person these nonverbal cues can look like a secret code which they don't understand or know. Communication and social skills therapy help to "unlock" these codes for Asperger's individuals. Learning how to use and interpret nonverbal communication cues and interact with others are key to appropriate social interaction.

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    Medicinal Treatments for Aspeger's

    Some practitioners are beginning to look to anti-psychotic medication as an Asperger's treatment for adults. Although these medications do not claim to cure Asperger's, some may help improve or even eliminate some of the symptoms associated with the disorder.

    Below are some commonly used medicines for treating Asperger's syndrome symptoms:

    Risperidone - Used to treat irritability and agitation

    Olanzapine - said to reduce repetitive behaviors

    SSRIs - used to treat depression and repetitive behaviors

    Arpiprazole - for the treatment of irritability

    Guanfacine - helpful for hyperactivity and inattention

    Again, none of these medicines are a cure for Asperger's, they are used to minimize or eliminate some of the symptoms of Asperger's. Also, it must be stated that there is some debate as to the effectiveness and safety of some these medications for Asperger's individuals.

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    Treating Adults with Asperger's

    Both the medicinal and non-medicinal Asperger's treatments for adults offer benefits. It is up to the caregivers, therapists, doctors, and Asperger's persons to determine which is the best course to pursue.
    NB: The information in this article is for information purposes only and is not intended to replace sound medical advice and opinion.
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    Sources:

    "Autism Treatment Overview" ,webmd.com, accessed April 12, 2010
    "Autism Treatments and Drugs", Mayo clinic staff, accessed May 27, 2010.

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