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Is Rett Syndrome the Same as Asperger's Syndrome?

written by: ChelseaOliver • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 12/21/2010

Rett syndrome and Asperger's syndrome are autism spectrum disorders with different symptoms and causes. Read on to learn about the similarities and differences.

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    Rett Syndrome and Asperger's Syndrome Defined

    Is Rett syndrome the same as Asperger's syndrome? Rett syndrome is a progressive, neurodevelopmental autism spectrum disorder, or ASD. The majority of affected individuals are female, and the main characteristics of this disorder are normal development followed by developmental regression.

    Asperger's syndrome is also an autism spectrum disorder related to development. While Rett syndrome symptoms primarily center on the inability to perform motor functions, Asperger's syndrome symptoms are more to do with language and communication impairment.

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    Symptoms

    When there is a delay in a child's motor development both Rett syndrome and Asperger's syndrome are sometimes suspected.

    Asperger's syndrome is characterized most frequently by a preoccupation with a particular object, to the point where the child will exclude other activities; the child may also have limited interests.

    Other symptoms include:

    • Peculiarities in language
    • Repetitive routines
    • Emotionally and socially inappropriate behavior
    • Problems interacting with peers and engaging in non-verbal communication.

    Rett syndrome symptoms are often categorized into four stages. The first, early onset is where a slowing of development occurs when the infant is between six and eighteen months old. In the second stage, the child loses previously gained developmental goals, such as speech and purposeful hand movements; severe regression occurs either rapidly or gradually. A similarity to Asperger's syndrome at this stage is that some children also exhibit problems with communication and social interaction. Rett syndrome symptoms then plateau, at stage three. Many girls remain in stage three, where improvements are often seen in some symptoms but motor problems and seizures are prominent. Late motor deterioration occurs in the final stage, which can last for decades.

    The two disorders share another symptom, that of problems with motor movements, but it is more severe in people with Rett syndrome.

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    Causes and Treatment

    Current research points to brain abnormalities as the cause of Asperger's syndrome, and a mutation of the MECP2 gene as the cause of Rett syndrome. While Rett syndrome is a genetic disorder, there are few recorded instances of it being passed down the generations; many cases are due to a spontaneous gene mutation. Asperger's syndrome is also thought to be genetic, but here there is a higher incidence of family members with similar behavioral symptoms.

    Treatment for Asperger's syndrome focuses on the core symptoms of physical clumsiness, poor communication and obsessive routines. The most effective treatment programs are thought to include a predictable schedule, behavior reinforcement and engaging the child in structured activities. This involves social skills training, speech and language therapy and talk therapy.

    Treatment for Rett syndrome often focuses more on the physical issues of the disorder. Medication may be needed for seizures and breathing irregularities, and children with Rett syndrome need to be monitored for heart problems and scoliosis. Physical therapy as well as aids such as braces can help children with their mobility.

    A treatment similarity between these two autism spectrum disorders is the use of occupational therapy for developing skills such as self-feeding and sensory integration.

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    So, is Rett Syndrome the Same as Asperger's Syndrome?

    While these two disorders both fall within the autism spectrum, the core problems and symptoms associated with them are very different. In terms of outcome, individuals with Asperger's syndrome often learn to cope with their disabilities and successfully gain mainstream jobs. Individuals with Rett syndrome often live into middle age, but little is known regarding prognosis and life expectancy due to the rarity of the disorder.

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    References

    National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: Rett Syndrome http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/rett/detail_rett.htm

    International Rett Syndrome Foundation http://www.rettsyndrome.org/

    Kids Health: Asperger's Syndrome http://kidshealth.org/parent/medical/brain/asperger.html

    National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: Asperger's Syndrome http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/asperger/asperger.htm