How Asperger’s Disorder is Diagnosed

By Marina Benjamen, Ph.D.

Psychological Assessment for Asperger’s

This component aims at establishing the overall level of intellectual functioning, profiles of strengths and weaknesses, and style of learning. The specific areas to be examined and measured include neuropsychological functioning (e.g., motor and psychomotor skills, memory, executive functions, problem-solving, concept formation, visual-perceptual skills), adaptive functioning (degree of self-sufficiency in real-life situations), academic achievement (performance in school-like subjects), and personality assessment (e.g., common preoccupations, compensatory strategies of adaptation, mood presentation).

The neuropsychological assessment of individuals with AS involves certain procedures of specific interest to this population. Whether or not a Verbal-Performance IQ discrepancy is obtained in intelligence testing, it is advisable to conduct a fairly comprehensive neuropsychological assessment including measures of motor skills (coordination of the large muscles as well as manipulative skills and visual-motor coordination, visual-perceptual skills) gestalt perception, spatial orientation, parts-whole relationships, visual memory, facial recognition, concept formation (both verbal and nonverbal), and executive functions. A recommended protocol would include the measures used in the assessment of children with Nonverbal Learning Disabilities (Rourke, 1989). Particular attention should be given to demonstrated or potential compensatory strategies: for example, individuals with significant visual-spatial deficits may translate the task or mediate their responses by means of verbal strategies or verbal guidance. Such strategies may be important for educational programming.

Communication Assessment for Asperger’s

The communication assessment aims to obtain both quantitative and qualitative information regarding the various aspects of the child’s communication skills. It should go beyond the testing of speech and formal language (e.g., articulation, vocabulary, sentence construction and comprehension), which are often areas of strength. The assessment should examine nonverbal forms of communication (e.g., gaze, gestures), nonliteral language (e.g., metaphor, irony, absurdities, and humor), prosody of speech (melody, volume, stress and pitch), pragmatics (e.g., turn-taking, sensitivity to cues provided by the interlocutor, adherence to typical rules of conversation), and content, coherence, and contingency of conversation; these areas are typically one of the major difficulties for individuals with AS. Particular attention should be given to perseveration on circumscribed topics and social reciprocity.

Psychiatric Examination for Asperger’s

The psychiatric examination should include observations of the child during more and less structured periods: for example, while interacting with parents and while engaged in assessment by other members of the evaluation team. Specific areas for observation and inquiry include the patient’s patterns of special interest and leisure time, social and affective presentation, quality of attachment to family members, development of peer relationships and friendships, capacities for self-awareness, perspective-taking and level of insight into social and behavioral problems, typical reactions in novel situations, and ability to intuit other person’s feelings and infer other person’s intentions and beliefs. Problem behaviors that are likely to interfere with remedial programming should be noted (e.g., marked aggression). The patient’s ability to understand ambiguous nonliteral communications (particularly teasing and sarcasm) should be examined (as, often, misunderstandings of such communications may elicit aggressive behaviors). Other areas of observation involve the presence of obsessions or compulsions, depression, anxiety and panic attacks, and coherence of thought.

 

APA Reference
Benjamen, M. (2007). How Asperger’s Disorder is Diagnosed. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 2, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/how-aspergers-disorder-is-diagnosed/000881
Scientifically Reviewed
    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2013
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