Susan Boyle Reveals Asperger’s Syndrome Diagnosis

From the moment singer Susan Boyle stood on the stage of Britain’s Got Talent in 2009, part of her endearing charm was her slightly awkward personality- which, when she started to sing, really took the audience by surprise. Five albums and over 19 million albums sold later, Boyle will be making her first appearance in acting as Eleanor Hopewell in The Christmas Candle.

But her path through fame has not always been smooth. Shortly after her success on Britain’s Got Talent, Susan had to be hospitalized for “exhaustion and anxiety.” She often feels insecure around strangers (something she has to contend with often with her new found fame), and may suddenly laugh in the middle of conversations. If she feels uncomfortable with a particular subject, she may show an sudden and obvious emotional withdrawal.  Articles about her sometimes refer to her as having  “learning difficulties” or “slowness” caused by complications at birth.

However, in a revealing article in the UK’s publication The Guardian, Boyle reveals that she saw a Scottish specialist who diagnosed her as having Asperger’s Syndrome. She learned that her IQ is actually above normal. Finding out the diagnosis has actually been a great “relief” to her:

“Asperger’s doesn’t define me. It’s a condition that I have to live with and work through, but I feel more relaxed about myself. People will have a greater understanding of who I am and why I do the things I do.”

What is Asperger’s Syndrome

Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) is a developmental disorder which is part of the Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD)– a group of neurological conditions characterized by a greater or lesser degree of:

  • impairment in communication and social skills
  • repetitive or restrictive patterns of thought and behavior.

Individuals with AS are differentiated from others with autism in that they retain their early language  and cognitive skills, and tend to be less severely impaired than those with autism.

Like those with autism, those with AS tend to be

  • Socially awkward
  • Have difficulty with changes in routine
  • Have clumsy and uncoordinated motor movements
  • Engage in repetitive routines or rituals.
  • The most distinguishing symptom of AS is an individual’s obsessive interest in a single object or topic to the exclusion of any other. They frequently have such expertise in this topic, and speak with such formal speech patterns, that they seem like little professors.

Children with AS are isolated because of their poor social skills and narrow interests.

autismThe cause of autism and Asperger’s Syndrome are unknown.

It should be noted that diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome was removed from the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders  (DSM-V) which came out in May 2013. The DSM is “the bible” of recognized mental health conditions guide and created by the American Psychiatric Association to assist mental health professionals and government agencies. Asperger’s will no longer be considered a separate diagnosis but rather part of the Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis.

There is no known “cure,” however much can be done to help these individuals. The ideal treatment for AS coordinates therapies that address the three core symptoms of the disorder:  poor communication skills, obsessive or repetitive routines,and physical clumsiness.  There is no single best treatment package for all children with AS, but most professionals agree that the earlier the intervention, the better.

See our story about Applied Behavior Analysis, which talks about one method of teaching children with autism.

For more information, click here to go the Resounding Health Casebook on the topic.

Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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