WHAT IS ASPERGER'S SYNDROME?
Asperger’s syndrome is currently considered a form of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Many of us simply consider it a neurological difference.
Asperger’s syndrome was a unique diagnosis listed in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnosis and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) until 2013, when all forms of autism were combined (some of us would say lumped) under one umbrella diagnosis, ASD.
Many doctors still use the term Asperger syndrome, or Asperger’s, and many people with ASD still identify and relate to the term.
People with Asperger’s syndrome may have high intelligence and better than average verbal skills. Asperger’s is considered a “high-functioning” form of autism, which in-itself is a controversial term.
Most adults with Asperger’s Syndrome have few cognitive or language skill delays. In fact, many have above-average intelligence and develop speech and language skills earlier than their neurotypical counterparts. However, adults with Asperger’s Syndrome may experience other symptoms including sensitivity to light, sounds, and touch. Many of these can significantly impact daily life.
No two people experience Asperger’s in quite the same way. They may have only a few of these symptoms, or they may experience all of them at different times.
Symptoms of high-functioning ASD/Asperger’s in adults can be divided into three areas:
Emotional and behavioral symptoms
Repetitive behaviors. Engaging in repetitive behavior is a common symptom of ASD. This may include doing the same thing every morning before work, spinning something a certain number of times, or opening a door a certain way. Just because you engage in this type of behavior does not mean that you have Asperger’s — other disorders can result in these behaviors as well.
Inability to understand emotional issues. People with Asperger’s may have difficulties when asked to interpret social or emotional issues such as grief or frustration. Nonliteral problems e.g. emotional or intangible issues that cannot be seen may evade their logical way of thinking.
First-person focus. Adults with Asperger’s may struggle to see the world from another person’s perspective. They may have a hard time reacting to actions, words, and behaviors with cognitive empathy. Most people with Asperger’s have very high emotional and compassionate empathy.
Exaggerated emotional response. While not intentional, adults with Asperger’s may struggle to cope with emotional situations, feelings of frustration, or changes in pattern. This may lead to emotional outbursts.
Abnormal response to sensory stimuli. This can be hypersensitivity (over-sensitivity) or hyposensitivity (under-sensitivity) to sensations. Examples include lighting, sounds, tactile sensations, and others.
Social difficulties. People with Asperger’s may struggle with social interactions. They may not be able to carry on “small talk” conversations. This is extremely common.
Speech difficulties. It’s not unusual for adults with AS to have “stiff” (sometimes referred to as “robotic”), repetitive or overly exaggerated speech. They may also have difficulties moderating their voice for the appropriate environment. For example, they may not lower their voice in a church or library.
Exceptional verbal skills. Adults with Asperger’s may have very strong verbal skills. This may translate to greater vocabulary skills, especially in areas of interest.
Below-average nonverbal skills. Adults with Asperger’s may not pick up on nonverbal cues from others, such as hand gestures, facial expressions, or body language.
Lack of eye contact. When talking to another person, they may not make eye contact. This may occur in varying degrees from extremely obvious and limited eye contact to almost unnoticeable subtle “cutting” of the eyes.
Clumsiness. Motor coordination difficulties are significantly more common in adults with Asperger’s. These motor skill issues may show up as difficulty performing tasks like sitting or walking correctly. Fine motor skills, like tying shoes or opening an envelope, may also be affected. Again there are varying degrees of “clumsiness” from extremely obvious to barely noticeable.
Obsession. It is not uncommon for people to have hyper-focus or perseverate as a symptom of Asperger’s - usually toward a specific topic. They may have a deep understanding and vast vocabulary related to this topic. They may also insist on talking about it when engaging with others.
Individuals with Asperger’s may also experience symptoms that can be considered beneficial or helpful. For example, as noted above, adults with Asperger’s often have a remarkable ability to focus. They may be able to concentrate on an issue or problem, especially if it is of interests, for long periods of time. Likewise, their attention to detail may make them incredibly successful at problem solving.