Asperger’s Disorder (also known as Asperger’s Syndrome, or AS), like other pervasive developmental disorders (PDDs), involves delays and deviant patterns of behavior in multiple areas of functioning, that often require the input of professionals with different areas of expertise, particularly overall developmental functioning, neuropsychological features, and behavioral status. Hence the clinical assessment of individuals with this disorder is most effectively conducted by an experienced interdisciplinary team.
A few principles should be made explicit prior to a discussion of the various areas of assessment. First, given the complexity of the condition, importance of developmental history, and common difficulties in securing adequate services for children and individuals with AS, it is very important that parents are encouraged to observe and participate in the evaluation. This guideline helps to demystify assessment procedures, avails the parents of shared observations that can then be clarified by the clinician, and fosters parental understanding of the child’s condition. All of these can then help the parents evaluate the programs of intervention offered in their community.
Second, evaluation findings should be translated into a single coherent view of the child: easily understood, detailed, concrete, and realistic recommendations should be provided. When writing their reports, professionals should strive to express the implications of their findings to the patient’s day-to-day adaptation, learning, and vocational training.
Third, the lack of awareness of many professionals and officials of the disorder, its features, and associated disabilities often necessitates direct and continuous contact on the part of the evaluators with the various professionals securing and implementing the recommended interventions. This is particularly important in the case of AS, as most of these individuals have average levels of Full Scale IQ, and are often not thought of as in need for special programming. Conversely, as AS becomes a more well-known diagnostic label, there is reason to believe that it is becoming a fashionable concept used in an often unwarranted fashion by practitioners who intend to convey only that their client is currently experiencing difficulties in social interaction and in peer relationships. The disorder is meant as a serious and debilitating developmental syndrome impairing the person’s capacity for socialization and not a transient or mild condition. Therefore, parents should be briefed about the present unsatisfactory state of knowledge about AS and the common confusions of use and abuse of the disorder currently prevailing in the mental health community. Ample opportunity should be given to clarify misconceptions and establish a consensus about the patient’s abilities and disabilities, which should not be simply assumed under the use of the diagnostic label.
In the majority of cases, a comprehensive assessment will involve the following components: history, psychological assessment, communication and psychiatric assessments, further consultation if needed, parental conferences, and recommendations.
Taking a History of the Asperger’s Patient
A careful history should be obtained, including information related to pregnancy and neonatal period, early development and characteristics of development, and medical and family history. A review of previous records including previous evaluations should be performed and the information incorporated and results compared in order to obtain a sense of course of development. Additionally, several other specific areas should be directly examined because of their importance in the diagnosis of Asperger’s Disorder. These include a careful history of onset/recognition of the problems, development of motor skills, language patterns, and areas of special interest (e.g., favorite occupations, unusual skills, collections). Particular emphasis should be placed on social development, including past and present problems in social interaction, patterns of attachment of family members, development of friendships, self-concept, emotional development, and mood presentation.