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Asperger's Syndrome Explained

If you know a child who has big problems interacting socially, a high IQ and an interest in one subject to the point of obsession, it might be more than a quirky personality. It may be Asperger's syndrome.

Health Correspondent Dr. Emily Senay reports on CBS News This Morning.


Asperger's syndrome is a disorder in which good language and verbal skills are combined with severely deficient social skills.

It was named for the Viennese pediatrician who first described it in 1944. The cause is not known but there's some evidence it runs in the family.

It's estimated it affects one in every 500 people in this country. But because it is hard to diagnose, the count may be a lot higher. In fact, you may know someone just like Adam Shery.

When 12-year-old Adam was growing up, his parents realized he was a bit different from other kids.

"He knew his letters and shapes and colors and numbers by the time he was a year old. He was reading at age 2 and comprehending," notes his mother Lori Shery.

"You're an adult in dog years. You've actually been one since you turned 2. You know what? You're 21 in dog years," says Adam.

But soon his parents also realized that his social skills did not match his intellectual ones.

He had trouble making friends, couldn't keep still and was uncoordinated. After years of doctor visits, he was finally diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome.

"It's a neurobiological disorder that affects the brain; sometimes it can have positive effects and sometimes it can have negative effects," explains Adam.

The positives are good verbal skills and higher than average intelligence.

"I get all As in school; I'm a genius in geography," he says. "I know like 75 percent of the world capitals, all of the U.S. capitals."

Adam also knows all the U.S. presidents by heart. "James Polk, Zachary Taylor,...Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Abraham Lincoln," he recites.

Obsessive interest in a particular subject is a defining characteristic of Asperger's syndrome, and a warning sign that is often missed.

"Many children with Asperger's are really quite bright, especially in terms of their verbal skills. And that is certainly true for Adam. But it's harder for people to appreciate how impaired they are in other areas," notes Dr. Fred Volkamar.

Those with Asperger's syndrome miss the social cues that most of us unconsciously read every day. The social isolation that can result, often leads to other problems.

It could lead to depression, stress and not getting along with people, says Adam.

But Adam is learning to use his intelligence to help him learn how to get along with others. And he has advice for other kids like him.

"Make the most of it. Take advantage of your intelligence. Do something productive. Get good grades in school," he suggests.

Early diagnosis is important because people with Asperger's are s bright they can learn cognitively what other people know intuitively, things like interacting socially, reading facial expressions and learning how to conduct a conversation properly.

The main warning signs for Asperger's are a combination of an interest that is so all-encompassing it interferes with family life and major problems with social interaction.

For more information visit the Asperger Syndrome Education Network of America or the Asperger Syndrome Education Network of New Jersey Web sites.

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