In Italy, there is no adequate scientific knowledge of Asperger’s syndrome by health professionals (psychologists, neuro child psychiatrists and mostly psychiatrists). Unfortunately this lack of knowledge can also be found in the social fabric and it shows as a total lack of awareness by society towards this part of the population.
Davide Moscone, a psychologist with specific training on Autistic Spectrum Disorder, says: “People in the ‘high end’ of the autistic spectrum disorder, who according to the actual diagnostic manual have Asperger syndrome, or are called “Aspies” (as Liane Holliday Willey calls herself in her book Pretending to be Normal (1999) ) force us to rethink our way of being. Aspies have many cognitive and perceptive peculiairities. They tend to focus on details we find insignificant, they lack in sensory filters or have an excessive sensitivity in some senses like touch, hearing or sight. They have difficulties in understanding other people’s thoughts and feelings and often have passions that estrange them from the social fabric, but they can be extremely helpful for society. All of this is a source of great misunderstanding from both sides, and most of all it is a source of frustration that shows in anger, anxiety and depression. These life experiences often confine those with Asperger syndrome and their families in a very painful loneliness.
To meet these people halfway we need to change our communication style and the way we use language which is rich in inconsistencies, idiomatic expressions, allusions and non verbal messages that can often be misunderstood or not at all understood by those people who perceive the world in a different way.
The latest American studies on the world population prevalence of ASD (including Asperger’s syndrome) result in a prevalence of 1,2%. If we consider only people with Asperger’s syndrome or “mild autism” the percentage drops down to 0,4% of the world population. With reference to the Italian population, there should be 200,000 Asperger people in Italy.
These people, although they have very high intellectual potentialities (or, in some specific cases, out-and-out talents) they are not acknowledged or respected in their sensory, cognitive and emotional peculiarities; Asperger people are marginalized, mocked and their family live terrible dramas.
In order to spread knowledge of this syndrome, Davide Moscone and David Vagni, the president and vice-president of the Spazio Asperger association respectively, organized two interesting education and in-depth analysis days on Asperger’s syndrome.
The event took place on the 4th and 5th of June in the Aula Magna of the Psychology faculty of La Sapienza University in Rome. The conference was entirely held by Tony Attwood, clinical psychologist who works in Brisbane, Australia, who is considered the main international expert in diagnosing and especially in treating people with Asperger’s syndrome.
The audience, who was very numerous and mainly composed by Aspergers and their families, listened with deep interest to the intervention strategies, developed by Attwood, to manage anger, anxiety and depression and demonstration of appropriate affection in Asperger people and high functioning autistic people.
During the conference, some psychiatrists invited by Spazio Asperger had the chance to confront with Prof. Attwood to deepen their knowledge about the Asperger syndrome. The professionals had also the chance to know the diagnostic tool called RAADS-R (Ritvo Autism Asperger Diagnostic Scale-Revised) which is the only validated diagnostic tool to assess Asperger’s syndrome in adults.
As Prof. Attwood said during the conference: “there are many check-lists for children and young adults, while for adults there are tools that have only been studied for autism, like ADOS2 and ADI-R which often have not been able to detect subtle features of the Aspeger’s syndrome”.
A work group of psychiatrist have been formed and briefly will be organized in a official research project with the purpose to promote an Italian to develop diagnostic competences and, in perspective, take on the responsibility of adult Asperger people.
The work group for this new test will include the collaboration with Universities, research entities and clinics.
The Association Spazio Asperger knows the work done by Prof. Ritvo and Prof. Attwood, and in particular knows the test RAADS-R which was translated into Italian by Dott. Moscone and Dott. Vagni. The validation of the translation has been confirmed by the back translation and the diagnostic tool has been already used by Spazio Asperger for the diagnosis asked to the association by Asperger people.
It’s important to know that the RAADS has already been tested on 779 people (201 ASD, 276 typical controls, 302 with other diagnosis) and it showed a great level of validity, sensitivity and specificity.
Moreover this diagnostic tool which has been published on International magazines, it is completely free and it is structured as a clinical interview. It’s comfortable for psychiatrists and psychologists who are not used to autism and it is comfortable for adult patients who see their specific difficulties and their unique way of thinking taken seriously.
The day before the conference three Asperger people have been diagnosed with RAADS-R by Prof. Attwood in Spazio Asperger’s office. These three diagnosis made by an international expert will be useful to train Italian operators who will take part in the validation study.
This diagnostic tool will allow many people to have a certain diagnosis and it’s desirable that it can contribute, in the long term, to organize specific services for Asperger people.