What is Asperger syndrome?

Asperger syndrome (AS) is a form of autism. People with Asperger syndrome see, hear and feel the world differently to other people. Some people with Asperger Syndrome or ‘Asperger’s’ as it’s also commonly known, find the world overwhelming and day-to-day life can cause them considerable anxiety. Autism is a ‘spectrum’ condition. All autistic people share certain difficulties, but people will experience them in different ways.

If you have Asperger’s - it’s for life. It’s not an illness or disease and it cannot be ‘cured’. 

People with Asperger syndrome tend to have average or slightly above-average levels of intelligence. They do not tend to have a plethora of learning disabilities that many autistic people have, but they may have a specific learning difficulty. They are less likely to have an issue with their speech, but often find it difficult to interpret language. They often often exhibit specific repetitive routines or rituals, as well as having a tendency to speak in a particularly formal way or with a ‘monotonous’ tone of voice. 

Understanding and relating to other people can be difficult for someone with Asperger’s and they find it difficult to ‘read’ social situations. They often have difficulty deciphering rhetorical forms of speech and take words spoken explicitly literally. Other people seem to be able to interpret speech and ‘intuitively’ know how to communicate in a given situation, for someone with Asperger’s - this is very difficult. 

It is estimated that around three in every 1,000 children have Asperger syndrome. It is known to be more common in boys than girls. It is believed that scientists such as Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton, artists such as Michelangelo and talented musicians, such as Beethoven are likely to have had what is now known as Asperger syndrome.

Signs and symptoms vary greatly from person to person. The first signs of Asperger syndrome may appear during the first year of life and include:

Repetitive behaviour and routines: The world can feel very uncomfortable and confusing or someone with Asperger syndrome. Someone with Asperger’s would prefer to have a set and consistent daily routine, so they have a sense of certainty of what will happen during each day. A change in routine can cause anxiety. 

The idea of ‘rules’ are important, once something has been taught or learned a specific way, the idea of change maybe uncomfortable and can cause high levels of stress. 

Formal or different speech: It is possible that someone with Asperger’s has a lack of rhythm or intonation when speaking. Their speech may be ‘flat’, monotonous, unusually slow or fast, without this having any connection to the content or context of the conversation. 

Social interaction: People with Asperger syndrome tend to find it difficult to ‘read’ social situations, finding it difficult to identify other people’s emotions, feelings and intentions . When engaged in conversation, they often only focus on talking about a specific field of their interest and find it difficult to interact socially in a ‘generalised’ sense, which can lead to social isolation. They may seem distant and withdrawn. Making and keeping friends can be challenging.

Delayed motor development: Poor coordination can make it difficult to perform simple tasks such as tying shoelaces.

Personal space: Asperger syndrome can void a person’s ability to judge how physically close to another person is appropriate. A lack of spatial awareness and intuition can mean they don;t know how close they should be to another person while talking.

Jokes, sarcasm, and irony can cause distress and confusion: Someone with Asperger’s has a very literal view of the world. Underlying inferences, irony, or sarcastic humour is difficult to understand. This kind of interaction can lead to frustration and confusion.  

Aside from the challenges Asperger’s brings, everything related to logic and memory is fascinating for a person with Asperger’s. This means people with Asperger’s are often exceptionally good at mathematics, computer science and, or reading music.

Diagnosis

Due to the variety and complexity of symptoms, Asperger’s is often difficult to diagnose, especially in early childhood.

A diagnosis is a formal identification of Asperger’s, usually done by a multidisciplinary diagnostic team. This team often includes a speech and language therapist, paediatrician, psychiatrist and/or psychologist. There is no one specific test to pinpoint Asperger syndrome. Physical tests such as hearing, blood tests, or x-rays are also likely to be done to rule out other conditions.

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