Asperger’s Syndrome has been recognized internationally as a legitimate autism spectrum disorder for nearly six decades. It was included in the DSM in 1994. Increasing awareness of this form of high functioning autism is crucial to elevating our cultural understanding of how individuals with Asperger’s integrate socially. In the article below, we’ll explore the history, symptoms, and characteristics of this disorder.
How Asperger’s Syndrome Differs From Other Autism Spectrum Disorders
Unlike many other autistic spectrum disorders, Asperger’s Syndrome doesn’t present with language acquisition delays or blocks to intellectual growth. In fact, its apparently mild presentation is often mistaken for social awkwardness or aloofness. Individuals may experience mild to severe manifestations of symptoms, all of which prevent normal social interaction. But they are acutely aware of the social world around them and often feel an intense desire to engage with their peers. They simply don’t know how to go about it.
In the 1940s, the Viennese pediatrician, Hans Asperger, noticed that a group of his young patients seemed to exhibit the symptoms of autism, yet lacked the usual linguistic and cognitive disabilities associated with the condition. In fact, while many young individuals exhibit an unusual application of language skills, they seem to have little to no difficulty in this area of development. Unlike other manifestations of autism, the problem is purely one of sociality.
Individuals with this disorder may not grasp many of the finer shadings of social interaction, such as sarcasm or subtlety. They employ language according to an individually determined system, and may also have trouble performing accepted social ballets, such as the use of eye contact or physical interaction to indicate affiliation with a group.
Children who have been diagnosed with this autism spectrum disorder generally exhibit normal to exceptional intellectual abilities. One common feature of all children is also unusually heightened in them—fascination. They may collect objects of a specific type or exhibit an atypical precocity with domain-specific information, such as the statistics of a particular sport, taxonomy, or game play.
Different Manifestations of the Spectrum
While Asperger’s is classified as a high-functioning form of autism, upon closer inspection we see many of the same features associated with those diagnosed with more severe or different types of spectrum disorders. These features are simply manifested in a different way. Often, the only key difference is that those with Asperger’s lack the linguistic and cognitive difficulties associated with other disorders.
They may have trouble recognizing social and personal boundaries, whether as personal space or the observation of tact. Their movements may be repetitive or stereotyped and they often have difficulty with the natural flow of social exchange. The appearance of lacking empathy is one other common feature this disorder shares with other spectrum disorders. Rather than a legitimate absence, this often stems from the difficulty individuals with Asperger’s experience when reading social cues and non-verbal expressions of emotion or intention.
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It’s vital that we, as a culture, gain a greater understanding of this and other autism spectrum disorders. While “Aspergians” may require some assistance adapting to life among their peers, they are capable of great things. Individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome often possess superior intellectual capacities and, given their unique way of understanding their world, generally produce novel solutions to problems commonly experienced by others.