What is Asperger's Syndrome

This information on Asperger’s Syndrome is from the National Autistic Society’s website under What is Asperger’s Syndrome?

So what is Asperger’s Syndrome?

Asperger’s Syndrome is a form of autism, which is a lifelong disability that affects how a person makes sense of the world, processes information and relates to other people. Autism is often described as a ‘spectrum disorder’ because the condition affects people in many different ways and to varying degrees.

While there are similarities with autism, people with Asperger’s Syndrome have fewer problems with speaking and are often of average, or above average, intelligence. They do not usually have the accompanying learning disabilities associated with autism, but they may have specific learning difficulties. These may include dyslexia and dyspraxia or other conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and epilepsy.

Asperger’s Syndrome is mostly a ‘hidden disability’. This means that you can’t tell that someone has the condition from their outward appearance. However, with the right support and encouragement, people with Asperger’s can lead full and independent lives.

People with the condition have difficulties in three main areas that are often referred to as the ‘triad of impairments’. They are:

Social Communication

People with Asperger’s sometimes find it difficult to express themselves emotionally and socially. For example, they may:

  • have difficulty understanding gestures, facial expressions or tone of voice
  • have difficulty knowing when to start or end a conversation and choosing topics to talk about
  • use complex words and phrases but may not fully understand what they mean
  • be very literal in what they say and can have difficulty understanding jokes, metaphor and sarcasm. For example, a person with Asperger’s may be confused by the phrase ‘That’s cool’ when people use it to say something is good.

Social Interaction

Many people with Asperger’s want to be sociable but have difficulty with initiating and sustaining social relationships, which can make them very anxious. People with the condition may:

  • struggle to make and maintain friendships
  • not understand the unwritten ‘social rules’ that most of us pick up without thinking. For example, they may stand too close to another person, or start an inappropriate topic of conversation
  • find other people unpredictable and confusing
  • become withdrawn and seem uninterested in other people, appearing almost aloof
  • behave in what may seem an inappropriate manner.

Social Imagination

People with Asperger’s can be imaginative in the conventional use of the word. For example, many are accomplished writers, artists and musicians. But people with Asperger syndrome can have difficulty with social imagination. This can include:

  • imagining alternative outcomes to situations and finding it hard to predict what will happen next
  • understanding or interpreting other peoples thoughts, feelings or actions. The subtle messages that are put across by facial expression and body language are often missed
  • having a limited range of imaginative activities, which can be pursued rigidly and repetitively, eg lining up toys or collecting and organising things related to his or her interest.

Other Characteristics of Asperger’s

The characteristics of Asperger’s vary from one person to another but as well as the three main areas of difficulty, people with the condition may have:

  • Love of routines. To try and make the world less confusing, people with Asperger’s may have rules and rituals (ways of doing things) which they insist upon. Young children, for example, may insist on always walking the same way to school. In class, they may get upset if there is a sudden change to the 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 make them anxious or upset.
  • Special interests. People with Asperger’s may develop an intense, sometimes obsessive, interest in a hobby or collecting. Sometimes these interests are lifelong; in other cases, one interest is replaced by an unconnected interest. For example, a person may focus on learning all there is to know about trains or computers. Some are exceptionally knowledgeable in their chosen field of interest. With encouragement, interests and skills can be developed so that people with Asperger’s can study or work in their favourite subjects.
  • Sensory difficulties. People with Asperger’s 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 (over-sensitive) or underdeveloped (under-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’s may rock or spin to help with balance and posture or to help them deal with stress.

Who is affected by Asperger's

It is conservatively estimated that one person in 66 is on the autistic spectrum. People with Asperger’s come from all nationalities, cultures, social backgrounds and religions. However, the condition appears to be more common in males than females; the reason for this is unknown.

What causes Asperger's?

The exact cause of Asperger’s is still being investigated. However, research suggests that a combination of factors – genetic and environmental – may account for changes in brain development. Asperger’s is not caused by a person’s upbringing, their social circumstances and is not the fault of the individual with the condition.

Is there a cure?

There is currently no ‘cure’ and no specific treatment for Asperger’s. Children with Asperger’s become adults with Asperger’s. However, as our understanding of the condition improves and services continue to develop, people with Asperger’s hopefully have more opportunity than ever of reaching their full potential. There are many approaches, therapies and interventions, which can improve an individual’s quality of life. These may include communication-based interventions, behavioural therapy and dietary changes. Information about many of these approaches can also be found on the National Autistic Society’s website.

That's me!!

If you think you have Asperger’s and would benefit from a diagnosis then the next step you should take on the NHS route is to make an appointment with your GP. You can write this as a list of bullet points to prompt you if you are anxious; that you think you may have Asperger’s, why you think you have it (and perhaps take a long a short leaflet specifically for GP’s that Asperger’s is – you can download one of these for free from the National Autistic Society) and ask for a referral to be made to the diagnostic service which in Worcestershire is the Family Psychologist based in Droitwich – www.thefamilypsychologist.co.uk.