What is Asperger Syndrome

As soon as we meet a person we make judgements about them. From their facial expression, tone of voice and body language we can usually tell whether they are happy, angry or sad and respond accordingly.

People with Asperger syndrome can find it harder to read the signals that most of us take for granted. This means they find it more difficult to communicate and interact with others which can often lead to high levels of anxiety and confusion.

Asperger syndrome is described as a pervasive developmental condition that falls within the autistic spectrum. It is a lifelong condition, affecting about 1 in 200 people and is more commonly found in men than women.

First identified by the Austrian Psychiatrist Hans Asperger in 1944, Asperger syndrome is a form of autism and was not officially recognised until 1994. The exact cause of Asperger syndrome continues to be investigated. However, research suggests that a multiplicity of underlying causes, both genetic and environmental – may account for changes in brain development.

Asperger syndrome is most definitely not caused by a person’s upbringing, their social circumstances and is not the fault of the individual with the condition and should not be confused with conduct disorder.

There is currently no ‘cure’ and no specific treatment for Asperger syndrome. Children with Asperger syndrome become adults with Asperger syndrome. However, as our understanding of the condition improves and services continue to develop, people with Asperger syndrome have more opportunity than ever of reaching their full potential.

Asperger syndrome shares some similarities with autism, however people with Asperger syndrome generally do not experience the same language and cognitive delays or other learning disabilities normally associated with autism. Instead, people with the condition experience difficulties in the areas of social imagination, social communication and social interaction.

People with Asperger syndrome may experience other specific learning difficulties which can include dyslexia and dyspraxia, or other conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and epilepsy.

People with autism or Asperger syndrome may be particularly vulnerable to mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, especially in late adolescence and early adult life.

Whilst those with the condition will likely face varying degrees of difficulty, each will also have particular areas of strength. It is vital that each person is viewed as being unique with a condition that is unique only to themselves.

Some Symptoms of Asperger syndrome:

There are a wide variety of symptoms for Asperger syndrome. These symptoms can vary greatly in severity and an individual with Asperger syndrome may experience a few or many of these symptoms. Whilst Asperger syndrome shares some similarities with autism, a child with Asperger syndrome typically is less likely to experience the same level of language and cognitive delays or other learning disabilities.

Symptoms and Characteristics of Asperger syndrome:

Symptoms of Asperger syndrome tend to become first apparent when a child starts school and begins to interact with other children. However because Asperger syndrome varies widely from person to person, making a diagnosis can be difficult. It is often diagnosed later in children than autism and sometimes difficulties may not be recognised and diagnosed until adulthood.

Asperger syndrome is mostly a ‘hidden disability’. This means that you can’t tell that someone has the condition from their outward appearance. People with the condition have difficulties in three main areas. These are usually referred to as:

  • Forming Relationships / Social Interaction
  • Social Communication
  • Social Imagination / Flexible Thinking

Forming Relationships / Social Interaction:

Most people with Asperger syndrome want to be sociable and enjoy human contact. However, they can find it hard to understand non-verbal signals, including facial expressions, tone of voice and body language. These problems arise from a lack of intuitive ability to understand the unwritten and ever changing rules that govern, this makes it more difficult for them to form and maintain social relationships with people who are unaware of their difficulties.

People with Asperger syndrome usually over time will learn some of these social behaviour rules but may only apply them to specific and familiar situations where they have learned that they apply, they may appear to interact quite well with others at these times, but the conscious effort of keeping to the correct rules will often leave them exhausted.

Social Communication:

People with Asperger syndrome often speak fluently, though their words can sometimes sound formal or stilted, and they may struggle to notice the reaction of people listening to them.

They may talk on regardless of the listener’s interest, or they may appear insensitive to the feelings or responses of others and persist in their talking until achieving a desired / required response.

Significant language delays are rare. However presenting with good verbal skills may mask their ability in comprehension and understanding, including a very literal interpretation of language or not comprehending non-verbal signals such as body language, cues and facial expressions.

Social Imagination / Flexible thinking:

While they may often excel at memorising fact in a specific subject, people with Asperger syndrome find it hard to think in abstract ways. This can cause problems for children in school where they may have difficulty with certain subjects, such as fictional literature, poetry, or religious studies, in such cases it is often likely that the child will excel in mathematics or factual lead subjects.

Despite the very varied, individual and unique characteristics of Asperger syndrome, a high proportion of people with the condition also display many of the following characteristics / difficulties:

Need for routines:

To try and make the world less confusing, people with Asperger syndrome often develop their own strategies, rules and rituals (ways of doing things) which they insist upon. Young children, for example, may insist on a particular order of routines / events at bedtimes, they may become upset if there is a sudden change to their timetable. People with Asperger syndrome often prefer to order their day to a set pattern. For example, if they work set hours, an unexpected delay to their journey to or from work can cause high levels of stress or anxiety.

Special interests:

People with Asperger syndrome may develop an intense, sometimes obsessive, interest in a particular hobby or themed collecting. It is however important that these special interests do not become confused with obsessive compulsive disorder as is often the case due to the level of intensity, fascination and interest that can often be displayed. With encouragement and support in a high number of cases, these special interests can be developed and become an extremely powerful asset to the individual in the areas of their education and subsequently their careers. Some children with Asperger syndrome may find it difficult to play ‘let’s pretend’ games or prefer subjects rooted in logic and systems, such as mathematics.

Sensory difficulties:

People with Asperger syndrome may have sensory difficulties. These can occur in one or all of the senses (sight, sound, smell, touch, or taste). The degree of difficulty varies from one individual to another. Most commonly, an individual’s senses are either intensified (hyper-sensitive) or underdeveloped (hypo-sensitive). For example, bright lights, loud noises, overpowering smells, particular food textures and the feeling of certain materials can be a cause of anxiety and pain for people with Asperger syndrome.

People with sensory sensitivity may also find it harder to use their body awareness system. This system tells us where our bodies are, so for those with reduced body awareness, it can be harder to navigate rooms avoiding obstructions, stand at an appropriate distance from other people and carry out ‘fine motor’ tasks such as tying shoelaces. Some people with Asperger syndrome may rock or spin to help with balance and posture or to help them deal with stress.

Processing information:

For most people, the majority of information received by the brain is automatically disregarded as unimportant. Many people with Asperger syndrome have difficulty with sifting through the important and unimportant information, therefore taking in a lot of details that others might miss.

Although this may be regarded as a positive trait at times, decision making and prioritising what is important can be very difficult with so much information to sort through. For some, making a decision over what to have for lunch, for example, can be a very time consuming and tiring process. Because of this they may need help restricting their options or structuring a timetable to reduce the incidents of decision making.

Development and Learning:

People with Asperger syndrome tend to learn more effectively when things are presented visually, rather than orally.

When tackling a task, many people with Asperger syndrome will do it in the way they did it before, even if that method did not work. They may recognise that it doesn’t work and may have been told a better way of performing the task, but still find themselves doing it the same way as before.

It is often only in the action of doing something in the correct manner that someone will learn to do it that way again. Working alongside someone with Asperger syndrome and guiding them through a task can be an effective teaching method.

Physical abilities:

For some people with Asperger syndrome, poor motor / organisational and co-ordination skills, these can often present themselves as clumsiness. They may find difficulty with games that involve gross motor and social skills, such as football or rugby.

Mental Health Issues

There is a need to be mindful that people with Asperger syndrome are no exception to the rule that in certain circumstances and at any time in our lives we may all suffer a psychiatric condition / mental illness.

While many researchers have described the causes and treatment of autism and Asperger syndrome, none has specifically focused on the occurrence of any particular mental illness. However this does not mean that because there are insufficient statistical facts that we should assume that people with the condition cannot be affected.

People with Asperger syndrome due to their unique complex condition and having to deal with significant difficulties daily, are particularly vulnerable to mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.  Diagnosis of these illnesses can often be difficult with many professionals unable to identify these as stand-alone illnesses and separate them from Asperger syndrome symptoms / characteristics.

As with autism, when this is the case, the consequences likely are that a late diagnosis will occur when the illness is well developed often leading to more severe consequences and prolonged treatment regimes.

Some people are diagnosed with high-functioning autism (HFA) while others are diagnosed with Asperger syndrome (AS). There are however significant differences between these:

High-functioning autism and Asperger syndrome are both part of the ‘autism spectrum’. The main difference between the two is considered as being in language development: people with Asperger syndrome, typically, will not have had delayed language development when younger.

Sometimes it can seem like the two diagnoses are given on an almost interchangeable basis. The controversy over the differences between these two diagnoses still however continues today.

Once a person has been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, it is necessary that treatment is given to the individual to help deal with their condition. Although there is no definitive cure for Aspergers, the condition can be controlled and a patient may be able to deal with it in a healthy manner. Treatment for Aspergers in adults may vary from children and please do get in touch with a specialist with lots of experience in handling Aspergers treatment cases. With the right treatment for Aspergers, one can lead a meaningful and purposeful life. There are currently numerous Asperger treatment centers in the UK that offer Aspergers treatment adults.