Smart kids with poor social skills

Asperger's syndrome is a type of high-functioning autism where a child has good language and cognitive abilities but poor social interaction skills.

These include the inability to read body language and carry out meaningful conversations.

Children with Asperger's syndrome display behaviour similar to low-functioning autistic children who are less adept at language and communication. However, they are sometimes thought to be geniuses.

Scientists have, over time, claimed that Einstein, Isaac Newton, Michaelangelo, Socrates and Jane Austen had this form of autism.

The biggest tell-tale sign in a child is the huge discrepancy between his cognitive ability and his emotional and social interaction development.

Children with Asperger's syndrome tend to be diagnosed later than those with low-functioning autism, as they do not exhibit significant language impairment, said Dr Chong Shang Chee, associate consultant at the Child Development Unit (CDU), National University Hospital.

'This condition is normally presented when the child starts school and has problems assimilating in class. He has no perception of social relationships and may often be punished for doing something strange,' she said.

The condition is usually diagnosed between the ages of two and six, when a child starts to interact with others in social settings, though some cases are presented later in life.

Based on CDU's data, one in five to eight autistic children have Asperger's syndrome.

Worldwide figures estimate that two to six out of 1,000 children are autistic.

To be diagnosed with autism, children have to show difficulties or disabilities in language and communication and social interaction before the age of three.

Dr Chong added that autistic children lack problem solving skills.

'Instead of sorting it out with the bullies, Ethan* chose to prove that he could travel the distance without having a perspective of what others would think or the consequence of the action,' she said.

*Ethan is a 15-year-old Australian boy who cycled 966km in 6 days to prove to bullies that he is not 'an idiot' in March 2009.

This article was first published in Mind Your Body, The Straits Times.