Developing a research agenda in Asperger Syndrome
Children with non-specific social impairments have existed for a long time. For the most part, they do not get into trouble unless there is associated impairment at home, at school, or in the community. The identification by Kanner over 50 years ago of children with impairments characterized by deficits in social reciprocity and joint attention has unleashed an avalanche of papers describing the syndrome, discussing the diagnosis and differential diagnosis, and attempting to find the causes and effective treatments of this condition. Although there is much less research on Asperger Syndrome (AS), the number of papers published each year is growing steadily.
The issue of whether AS “is” or “is not” autism has been extremely controversial, igniting fierce debates in a field known more for its slow and quiet progress (interrupted, it is true, by outlandish claims for “cures”). The objective of this chapter is to stand back and survey the “battlefield”. By briefly reviewing the papers that have tried to test for similarities and differences between autism and AS, I also hope to catch a glimpse of the horizon; that is, what lies just beyond our current research endeavours. In that way, a research agenda may be proposed that would settle some of the debates currently occupying the field, and move the science forward to indeed finding the causes and effective treatments for all children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs).
Consider two children who come to the office on the same day. The first, Johnny, is five years old and has been referred by his kindergarten teacher for speech delay. His parents report that, in addition to his problems in communication, he is