Asperger syndrome is a form of autism. Find out what the biggest difficulties of ‘Aspies’ are, how many there are, and what possible causes are.
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- People with Asperger’s syndrome find it difficult to interact with other people and to build relationships.
- They have good language skills, but often have trouble with the social aspects of communication.
- They often process sensory stimuli differently, have intense (sometimes very specific) interests, and an aversion to change.
Autism is described as a "spectrum" because some people are severely autistic and others are just a little bit. Transitions are smooth.
- social communication
- social interaction
- Social understanding
Also, they have
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- A different processing of sensory stimuli
- Intense (often very special) interests
- a need for consistency
(We explain in more detail below what this means.)
People with "classic" autism also have these difficulties. So what is the difference?
Asperger’s autistic*s have Have fewer language problems. Their vocabulary is often large, and they can express themselves in grammatically correct and complex ways. Their linguistic problems are exclusively in the area of social Communication, the use of language in a social context.
I see people with Asperger syndrome as a shining thread in the rich tapestry of life.
What can these problems look like? Example:
Luke, a student with Asperger’s syndrome goes to the library. There he sees a sign that says, "Please talk quietly". He is confused and wonders who to talk to softly and why. He just wanted to read.
(The sign, of course, means "If you must talk, please do so quietly," but it doesn’t say that.)
People with Asperger’s syndrome often interpret utterances without considering the social context. This is called "literal understanding".
You can imagine: A lifetime of misunderstandings.
Thereby the Intelligence Of people with Asperger’s syndrome average or above average. They don’t usually have a learning disability, but they may have specific learning problems, for example, dyslexia, dyspraxia, or ADHD.
(It’s important to note, however, that many people with early childhood autism also have average to high intelligence – this is called high-functioning autism.)
From my clinical experience I see it that children and adults with Asperger syndrome have a different, not deficient, way of thinking.
With the right support and encouragement, people with Asperger’s syndrome can lead full and empowered lives.
Asperger syndrome: symptoms
Asperger’s autistic people have problems with social situations. They often don’t know how to act in a certain situation or how to interact with other people. They often find body language and facial expressions difficult to understand, as well as the "unwritten" rules of social interaction.
Symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome can vary from person to person. The following
Descriptions give an impression:
Difficulty with social communication
Understanding a conversation is like deciphering a foreign language if you have Asperger’s syndrome.
Asperger’s autistic people often find it difficult to understand the social and emotional aspects of a conversation, and to express themselves in this way.
- They find it difficult to interpret facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice.
- They often do not know how to start or end a conversation, what topics are appropriate, and how to change the subject.
- They use complex words or phrases, but may not fully understand what they mean.
- They take things very literally and may not understand allusions. Some Aspies find it difficult to understand irony, jokes, metaphors or sarcasm.
When a person with Asperger’s syndrome hears that someone "has hair on their teeth," they may wonder how it is biologically possible for hair to grow on teeth.
Sarcasm or jokes are often recognized by non-autistic people, for example, by a subtle change of tone, perhaps also by a wink or something similar. On the Internet, where all this information is omitted, misunderstandings therefore occur more often in communication – one reason why almost all forums use smilies.
Asperger’s autistic people always communicate under such difficult conditions: They usually fail to fully perceive, interpret, and socially respond appropriately to such information during a conversation.
To avoid misunderstandings when communicating with a person with Asperger’s syndrome, one should refrain from double entendres, innuendos and the like: Sentences should mean exactly what they say.
Difficulties in social interaction
I do not know exactly how to deal with other people. Getting to know each other is like a dance to which I can’t hear the music.
Many Asperger’s autistic*s would like to have more friends and acquaintances, but find it difficult to initiate and maintain social relationships.
- You find it difficult to make and build friendships.
- They don’t understand the "unwritten rules" that most non-autistic people understand without ever thinking about it. For example, a person with Asperger’s syndrome might stand too close to other people, or start an inappropriate topic.
- They find other people unpredictable and confusing.
- Some withdraw and don’t seem interested in other people, seem absent or unapproachable.
- They behave in ways that seem inappropriate or rude to others.
Difficulties in social understanding
I find it difficult to assess what other people are thinking or feeling, whether they are happy or angry or sad.
- People with Asperger syndrome find it difficult to predict what will happen next (in social situations), or what might come out of a situation.
- You find it difficult to assess or interpret other people’s thoughts, feelings or actions. These subtle messages are often conveyed through facial expressions, body language or tone of voice – which people with Asperger syndrome often don’t understand.
- They find it difficult to imagine how others are doing right now, how much they know about a topic, or if they are even interested in it. For example, Lena, a teenager with Asperger’s syndrome gives a long monologue about astrophysics (her special interest). She doesn’t consider that her classmates might not find the topic quite as interesting as she does.
- Some children with Asperger syndrome find it difficult to play "do-as-you-go" games and prefer games that have a logical and systematic basis, such as puzzles or logic puzzles.
Need for consistency
To try to make the world more predictable and less confusing, many people with Asperger syndrome have routines and rituals (a certain way of doing things) that they insist upon.
Children may insist on always walking the same route to school. If a lesson is suddenly cancelled, they may not be happy like the other children, but dismayed or upset that the predictable plan changes just like that.
People with Asperger’s syndrome often like every day to follow the same pattern. For example, if they have work schedules, an unexpected delay on the way to work or home can make them nervous or upset.
I remember Oskar listing the distances of all the planets to the sun to an amazed classmate on the playground when he was five. Since then, he has had many special interests, which he then talks about in detail!
Sonja, mother of Oskar
People with Asperger syndrome often develop an intense interest in a subject or hobby. For some, this interest remains for a lifetime; for others, after some time, one interest is replaced by another one.
The interest can be very particular, for example the rulers of the Incas or the life of the bark beetle. It can also be a more common topic, popular interests among people with Asperger syndrome include computers, trains, or other technical topics.
The special interests of girls and women with Asperger syndrome are often not perceived as such because they do not fit the Asperger stereotype: They may be interested in horses, literature or art.
Some people with Asperger syndrome know extremely much about their respective field of interest. With a little encouragement, a career can develop from these interests and knowledge.
Other perceptual processing
Robin only has a problem with touching when he doesn’t know what’s coming up. For example, in a crowded subway where people brush against him and accidentally bump into him. Light touches seem to be more uncomfortable for him than firm ones.
Sandra, mother of Robin
People with Asperger’s syndrome often have Peculiarities in perceptual processing. These can occur in a single sense or in all senses (vision, hearing, touch, taste, balance, and body awareness).
The degree and type of sensory peculiarities vary from person to person. A perception may be perceived more intensely than normal (hypersensitive) or weaker (hyposensitive).
The peculiarities in perception processing often lead to sensory difficulties. For example, bright lights, noise, intense smells, or certain materials on the skin can be uncomfortable, painful, or frightening for people with Asperger syndrome.
People with sensory differences often have motor problems. We have a sense that lets us know where in space our body is and what position we are in. It is called "proprioception".
When you have problems with proprioception, it’s difficult to walk through a room full of obstacles without bumping into things, or to keep an appropriate distance from other people. Fine motor activities such as tying shoes may also be difficult for Asperger’s children.
Some Asperger’s autistic people use repetitive movements like rocking to better cope with stress. Or they look for a stimulus as a focus, for example they hum to themselves in order to be able to block out other stimuli (for example background noise).
The frequency of Asperger’s syndrome
About 1 person in 100 is diagnosed with a so-called "autism spectrum disorder".
People with Asperger syndrome are found in all social classes and cultures. However, Asperger’s syndrome seems to be more common among boys and men than girls and women; the reason for this is unknown. It is possible that Asperger’s syndrome is less often recognized in girls and women.
The cause of Asperger’s syndrome
The exact cause of Asperger’s syndrome is still being researched. Current research suggests that a combination of genes cause the brain to develop a bit differently from neurotypical ("normal") people.
For more information, see Autism Causes.
Is there a "cure?"
This is often one of the first questions that comes up, and it is based on a misunderstanding. Asperger’s syndrome is not a disease; it is rather a way of being – albeit one that does not necessarily make life easier in our world.
The weaknesses that people with Asperger syndrome have, however, are inseparable from their strengths, for example logical thinking, honesty, loyalty.
"What if Asperger’s syndrome was defined by its strengths?" wondered Asperger’s experts Tony Attwood and Carol Gray, and created a list of strengths as "diagnostic criteria".
Tony Attwood is also the author of the excellent guidebook "A Whole Life with Asperger Syndrome: Everything That Helps". I highly recommend this book, as well as his other books on Asperger’s Syndrome.
So there is no "cure" and no specific treatment for Asperger’s syndrome. Children with Asperger’s Syndrome Become Adults with Asperger’s Syndrome.
But: there is a growing understanding of what makes Asperger’s syndrome tick, and as a result, people with Asperger’s syndrome can be better supported to reach their full potential.
There are many approaches, encouragement, and support that can improve the quality of life for "Aspies". This can include sensory integration, communication-based methods, or learning social skills, for example. Just understanding their strengths and weaknesses better is very helpful for many Aspies.
The autism spectrum
Asperger’s syndrome is part of the autism spectrum.
Autistic people are very different; some need a lot of support, others only a little.
The part of the autism spectrum called Asperger’s syndrome used to be overlooked. Only since the 1990s has it gradually come into the public eye.
The understanding of autism has changed since then. Today, it is increasingly common to speak of the autism spectrum. Asperger syndrome is part of it and cannot be clearly distinguished from other forms of autism.
The Asperger diagnosis
Because Asperger’s syndrome varies from person to person, it can be difficult to make a diagnosis. Children are often diagnosed with Asperger syndrome later than other forms of autism, and sometimes their problems are not recognized until adulthood.
In order to be able to assess whether an Asperger diagnosis (or also another diagnosis from the autism spectrum) could be applicable, a Online test be helpful.
For some people, self-knowledge is enough; for others, a diagnosis helps them to understand themselves better – or to explain to their families, friends or work colleagues what makes them tick.
A diagnosis may be necessary if one needs special forms of support.
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