Asperger syndrome is one of several previously separate subtypes of autism that were folded into the single diagnosis autism spectrum disorder (ASD) with the publication of the DSM-5 Diagnostic Manual in 2013.
Asperger syndrome was generally considered to be on the “high functioning” end of the spectrum. Affected children and adults have difficulty with social interactions and exhibit a restricted range of interests and/or repetitive behaviors. Motor development may be delayed, leading to clumsiness or uncoordinated motor movements. Compared with those affected by other forms of ASD, however, those with Asperger syndrome do not have significant delays or difficulties in language or cognitive development. Some even demonstrate precocious vocabulary – often in a highly specialized field of interest.
Asperger’s disorder generally tends to have a somewhat later onset than Autistic disorder and is more common in boys than in girls.
The following behaviors are often associated with Asperger syndrome. However, they are seldom all present in any one individual and vary widely in degree:
How is Asperger Syndrome diagnosed?
Asperger syndrome often remains undiagnosed until a child or adult begins to have serious difficulties in school, the workplace or their personal lives. Indeed, many adults with Asperger syndrome receive their diagnosis when seeking help for related issues such as anxiety or depression. Diagnosis tends to center primarily on difficulties with social interactions.
Children with Asperger syndrome tend to show typical or even exceptional language development. However, many tend to use their language skills inappropriately or awkwardly in conversations or social situations such as interacting with their peers. Often, the symptoms of Asperger syndrome are confused with those of other behavioral issues such as attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Indeed, many persons affected by Asperger syndrome are initially diagnosed with ADHD until it becomes clear that their difficulties stem more from an inability to socialize than an inability to focus their attention.
For instance, someone with Asperger syndrome might initiate conversations with others by extensively relating facts related to a particular topic of interest. He or she may resist discussing anything else and have difficulty allowing others to speak. Often, they don’t notice that others are no longer listening or are uncomfortable with the topic. They may lack the ability to “see things” from the other person’s perspective.
Another common symptom is an inability to understand the intent behind another person’s actions, words and behaviors. So children and adults affected by Asperger syndrome may miss humor and other implications. Similarly, they may not instinctually respond to such “universal” nonverbal cues such as a smile, frown or “come here” motion.
For these reasons, social interactions can seem confusing and overwhelming to individuals with Asperger syndrome. Difficulties in seeing things from another person’s perspective can make it extremely difficult to predict or understand the actions of others. They may not pick up on what is or isn’t appropriate in a particular situation. For instance, someone with Asperger syndrome might speak too loudly when entering a church service or a room with a sleeping baby – and not understand when “shushed.”
Some individuals with Asperger syndrome have a peculiar manner of speaking. This can involve speaking overly loud, in a monotone or with an unusual intonation. It is also common, but not universal, for people with Asperger syndrome to have difficulty controlling their emotions. They may cry or laugh easily or at inappropriate times.
Another common, but not universal, sign is an awkwardness or delay in motor skills. As children, in particular, they may have difficulties on the playground because they can’t catch a ball or understand how to swing on the monkey bars despite their peers’ repeated attempts to teach them.
Not all individuals with Asperger syndrome display all of these behaviors. In addition, each of these symptoms tends to vary widely among affected individuals.
It is very important to note that the challenges presented by Asperger Syndrome are very often accompanied by unique gifts. Indeed, a remarkable ability for intense focus is a common trait.