When learning about autism spectrum disorder, discussions will invariably cover Asperger’s Syndrome, and learning about what is Aspergers can help those diagnosed with the disorder learn about their own behaviors, and it can also help family members understand a family member with the diagnosis.
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.
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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 gameplay.
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.
Asperger’s Syndrome in Adults
There are a few related sets of symptoms associated with Asperger’s Syndrome in adults. Those symptoms are divided into emotional & behavioral symptoms and communication symptoms. Emotional and behavioral symptoms may include repetitive behaviors, and communication symptoms may include speech difficulties. Some adults may also exhibit other symptoms like clumsiness or an obsession with a specific topic.
Here are some of the emotional and behavioral symptoms that an individual may have who has been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.
Hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity of the senses. An individual may have an over-sensitivity or under-sensitivity to sensations like touching and may touch other people more than is often acceptable in routine interactions. Individuals may also have a sensitivity to light and prefer to sit in the dark, or they might have an extreme reaction to smells or a reaction to smells that causes them to smell objects repeatedly.
Heightened emotional response. Someone with Asperger’s Syndrome may have problems coping with emotional situations and may exhibit frustration as a result. Emotional outbursts are common when people with AS feel unable to cope with their emotions or the emotions of those around them.
First-person emphasis. Adults who have Asperger’s Syndrome may not have the ability to see situations from another person’s point of view. Empathy is an emotion that may not come naturally to someone with AS. Additionally, a person with AS might not be able to decipher the words and behaviors of another person.
Understanding emotional cues and issues. Routine social and emotional issues might escape the notice of someone with Asperger’s Syndrome. A person with AS might not understand frustration or grief when another person exhibits those emotions. An emotion that isn’t visually apparent may completely escape the notice of someone with AS.
Repetition of behaviors. Autism spectrum disorder is strongly associated with repetitive behaviors, and individuals with AS may also have this symptom. Someone with AS might need to perform a certain activity before leaving the house every morning, or he or she might have to open doors in a certain way.
In addition to the emotional and behavioral issues that may come to someone with Asperger’s Syndrome, there are also some communication symptoms that may come about. The following are some of those possible communication symptoms.
No eye contact. An individual with AS may not make regular eye contact. While it’s common for some people who aren’t on the autism spectrum to not make regular eye contact, the problem for individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome is often much more acute and obvious.
Poor non-verbal skills. Common gestures that people make in regular conversation may not be noticed by someone with Asperger’s Syndrome. Body language and facial expressions may go unseen by someone with AS and may completely ignore things like hand gestures.
Excellent verbal skills. An individual with AS may have a large vocabulary and may speak at length about a topic that interests him or her. Not everyone who is diagnosed with AS may have exceptional verbal skills, but it’s a characteristic that may come up during discussions about what is Aspergers.
Speech problems. One of the most common descriptors used about people with AS is that they speak like robots or have repetitive speech patterns. Asperger’s Syndrome may also lead to problems with voice modulation. For example, a person with AS might not realize he or she should lower vocal volume when in a quiet place like a library.
Social interaction problems. One of the normal types of social interaction that may elude someone with AS is the concept of small talk. Low-key social interactions might be quite difficult for an individual with AS and social interactions may lead to frustration.
Positive Symptoms for Asperger’s Syndrome
One of the interesting facets of Asperger’s Syndrome is that some of the potential symptoms aren’t considered drawbacks and may actually be considered positive. For example, people with AS often have excellent attention to detail, which may benefit them in certain jobs where focusing for many hours at a time is necessary.
The ability to focus on one topic for an extended amount of time may also be a benefit for anyone who must solve problems in their everyday work life. People with AS are often known as excellent problem-solvers and may thrive in job environments where it’s necessary to solve problems each day.
Meeting the Criteria for Asperger’s Syndrome
Someone who is suspected of having Asperger’s Syndrome will usually undergo a period of observation with a healthcare provider to confirm the presence of the condition or confirm a diagnosis. A patient may meet with a doctor who will ask questions about the patient’s social life and make an assessment of the patient’s overall social skills and ability to interact with other people.
Some of the symptoms of Asperger’s Syndrome are shared with other conditions, and the doctor will likely ask questions about any physical conditions or other conditions that are present in the patient’s life. Discussing other conditions may also help people who have been misdiagnosed as having depression, anxiety, or hyperactivity and who actually have Asperger’s Syndrome or are somewhere on the autism spectrum.
Treatments for Asperger’s Syndrome
Individuals who are diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome will have the condition for their entire life, but there are some treatments offered that may help those who are diagnosed with AS deal with the condition. One common therapy is called cognitive behavioral therapy, and this method may help treat issues like anxiety and social isolation.
People who have AS may also benefit from speech therapy that will help the person modulate their voice in situations where it’s necessary to be quiet, as well as benefit from vocational therapy that may help the individual hold and maintain a job. Some people with AS are prescribed drugs that are used to treat issues like hyperactivity. Prescriptions may include antipsychotics, stimulants, or serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
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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. Understanding what is Aspergers may help those who have been diagnosed with the condition adapt to life with the disorder and lead positive and productive lives.