Asperger Syndrome has been the subject of much research and debate in the field of psychiatry and psychology. Asperger Syndrome was first described by Austrian pediatrician Hans Asperger in the 1940s, but it wasn’t until decades later that it became a widely recognized diagnosis.
People with Asperger Syndrome may struggle with nonverbal communication, such as facial expressions and body language, and may have difficulty picking up on social cues.
One of the hallmarks of Asperger Syndrome is a strong, narrow interest in a particular subject, often to the exclusion of other activities or topics. Despite the challenges associated with Asperger Syndrome, many individuals with the condition can lead fulfilling and meaningful lives, often with the help of supportive family members, therapists, and educators.
Asperger Syndrome (AS), also known as Asperger’s Disorder, is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by difficulties in social interaction, communication, and restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests. The classification of AS has evolved, with the latest version being the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which includes AS as part of the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) (1). The decision to merge AS with ASD was based on the recognition that there is a significant overlap between the two disorders and that the diagnostic criteria for AS were not sufficiently distinct from those of other ASDs (2).
The pathophysiology of AS is not fully understood, but research suggests that it may be related to abnormalities in brain development and connectivity (3).
Asperger Syndrome was first described by Austrian pediatrician Hans Asperger in 1944, but it was not recognized as a distinct disorder until the 1980s. AS is a neurodevelopmental disorder that is characterized by deficits in social communication and interaction and the presence of restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities.
Although AS is now classified as part of ASD, some researchers still distinguish between AS and other ASDs based on clinical presentation and cognitive profiles. One proposed classification system is based on the severity of social communication and restricted and repetitive behaviors, with three subtypes: severe, moderate, and mild (4). Another proposed classification system is based on cognitive profile, with two subtypes: verbal and nonverbal.
The pathophysiology of AS is not fully understood, but research suggests that it may be related to abnormalities in brain development and connectivity. Neuroimaging studies have found that individuals with AS have differences in brain structure and function, including increased grey matter in the frontal and temporal lobes and decreased white matter connectivity (2). These differences may contribute to the social communication and cognitive deficits seen in AS.
The symptoms of Asperger Syndrome can vary widely from person to person, but several standard features are often present. Here are ten of the most common symptoms of Aspergers in adults:
Difficulty with social communication: People with AS may have difficulty initiating and maintaining conversations, understanding nonverbal cues such as body language, and recognizing sarcasm or humor.
Limited interests: Individuals with AS may have a narrow range of interests and engage in these activities with great intensity, often to the exclusion of other activities.
Repetitive behaviors: People with AS may engage in repetitive or stereotyped behaviors, such as hand flapping or lining up objects.
Sensory sensitivities: Individuals with AS may be hypersensitive or hyposensitive to certain sensory stimuli, such as sounds, touch, taste, or smell.
Difficulty with transitions: Changes in routine or unexpected events can be challenging for individuals with AS, and may lead to anxiety or emotional outbursts.
The literal interpretation of language: People with AS may have difficulty understanding figurative language, sarcasm, or idioms and may interpret language very literally.
Difficulty with social relationships: Individuals with AS may struggle to form and maintain friendships or romantic relationships.
A narrow range of emotions: People with AS may have difficulty expressing or interpreting emotions, and may appear emotionally detached or unresponsive.
Difficulty with executive functioning: Planning, organizing, and completing tasks may be challenging for individuals with AS.
Unusual speech patterns: Some individuals with AS may have an unusual or formal way of speaking, with a monotone or overly precise language use.
People with AS often exhibit difficulties in social interaction, communication, and restrictive and repetitive behavior patterns, interests, or activities (2). Although there is no cure for AS, early diagnosis and intervention can help individuals with AS to better manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life. In this article, we will discuss the characteristics of a person with Asperger syndrome based on scientific research.
Social Interaction and Communication
One of the most characteristic features of AS is a marked impairment in social interaction and communication (5). People with AS have difficulty understanding social cues, such as body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions, and often have trouble initiating and maintaining conversations. They may also struggle with making and maintaining friendships and relationships and have difficulty understanding and responding to social norms and rules (6). These difficulties can lead to social isolation, feelings of loneliness, and depression.
Repetitive and Restricted Behaviors and Interests
People with AS often exhibit repetitive and restrictive behavior patterns, interests, or activities. They may engage in stereotyped or repetitive behaviors, such as hand-flapping or rocking, or have a strong preference for sameness and routine. They may also have intense and focused interests in specific topics, often to the exclusion of other activities or interests (7). These interests can be highly specialized, such as an interest in train schedules or a fascination with a particular subject.
Another characteristic feature of AS is sensory sensitivities (8). People with AS may experience heightened or reduced sensitivity to sensory stimuli, such as noise, light, touch, taste, and smell. For example, they may find loud noises, bright lights, or certain textures of clothing uncomfortable or even painful. Alternatively, they may have a high threshold for pain and not notice when they are injured. Sensory sensitivities can cause significant distress and anxiety, leading to social withdrawal and avoidance of certain situations.
People with AS have a wide range of intellectual abilities, from average to above-average intelligence. They may have excellent memory skills and attention to detail, as well as strong analytical and problem-solving skills. However, they may struggle with abstract reasoning, such as understanding metaphors or sarcasm, or with tasks that require flexibility and creativity (9). Their cognitive strengths can be harnessed through tailored education and employment opportunities.
While the exact causes of Asperger syndrome are not yet fully understood, research has identified several factors that may contribute to its development. Here we will discuss the 10 most common causes of Asperger syndrome, based on current scientific evidence.
Genetic Factors: Research suggests that genetic factors play a role in the development of Asperger syndrome. Studies have shown that the condition tends to run in families and that certain genetic variations may increase the risk of developing the disorder.
Brain Development: The brain development of individuals with Asperger syndrome differs from that of typically developing individuals. Studies have shown that there are differences in the size and connectivity of certain brain regions in people with the condition. (10)
Environmental Factors: While the same environmental factors that may contribute to the development of Asperger syndrome are not yet known, some studies have suggested that prenatal exposure to certain substances, such as valproic acid, may increase the risk of developing the condition.
Neurochemical Imbalances: Some research has suggested that imbalances in certain neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine, may play a role in the development of Asperger syndrome. (11)
Immune System Dysfunction: Some studies have suggested that immune system dysfunction may be associated with the development of Asperger syndrome.
Parenting Styles: Some studies have suggested that certain parenting styles, such as overly strict or unemotional parenting, may contribute to the development of Asperger syndrome. (12)
Social Isolation: Children who are socially isolated and have limited opportunities for social interaction may be at increased risk of developing Asperger syndrome.
Emotional and Physical Trauma: Emotional and physical trauma during childhood may also contribute to the development of Asperger syndrome in some individuals. (13)
Cognitive Style: Some studies have suggested that individuals with Asperger syndrome have a cognitive style that is characterized by a focus on detail and a tendency to process information more analytically and logically.
Sensory Processing Issues: Individuals with Asperger syndrome often have difficulties processing sensory information, such as sounds, sights, and textures. This can lead to behavioral issues and difficulties with social interaction. (14)
Although Asperger Syndrome is considered a lifelong condition, it can present differently in children and adults. Here we will discuss the differences between Aspergers in children and adults and provide scientific evidence to support these differences.
One of the primary differences between Asperger Syndrome in children and adults is how symptoms are manifested. In children, the symptoms of Asperger Syndrome may be more overt, with difficulties in social interaction, communication, and behavior being more apparent. In contrast, adults with Asperger Syndrome may have learned to mask their symptoms, making it more challenging to diagnose. Adults may have developed coping strategies and learned how to adapt to social situations, making it difficult to identify difficulties in social interaction and communication (5).
Another critical difference between Asperger Syndrome in children and adults is how it is diagnosed. In children, Asperger Syndrome is typically diagnosed through a combination of assessments, including developmental and cognitive assessments and behavior observation. In contrast, in adults, Asperger Syndrome is often diagnosed through self-referral or a referral from a primary care physician. This can result in underdiagnosis in adults, as individuals may not seek a diagnosis or be unaware of the symptoms of Asperger Syndrome.
One of the most significant challenges faced by adults with Asperger Syndrome is maintaining employment. Adults with Asperger Syndrome often experience difficulties with executive functioning, affecting their ability to manage time, organize tasks, and prioritize responsibilities. They may also have difficulties with social interaction in the workplace, such as understanding nonverbal cues, communicating with coworkers, and managing conflict. These difficulties can make it challenging for adults with Asperger Syndrome to maintain employment and can result in underemployment or unemployment (15).
Another difference between Asperger Syndrome in children and adults is how it affects mental health. Children with Asperger Syndrome may experience anxiety and depression related to their social difficulties and struggles with communication. In contrast, adults with Asperger Syndrome are more likely to experience comorbid mental health conditions, such as anxiety disorders, mood disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. These conditions may be related to the challenges of adapting to the demands of adulthood, such as managing finances, maintaining employment, and forming romantic relationships (16).
Finally, Asperger Syndrome in adults is associated with a higher risk of physical health problems. Adults with Asperger Syndrome may be more likely to experience chronic health conditions, such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. These conditions may be related to difficulties with executive functioning, such as managing diet and exercise and may also be related to a higher prevalence of mental health conditions, such as depression, which can contribute to poor health outcomes (17).
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). doi: 10.1176/appi.books.9780890425596.
- Wing L, Gould J. Severe impairments of social interaction and associated abnormalities in children: epidemiology and classification. J Autism Dev Disord. 1979;9(1):11-29. doi: 10.1007/BF01531288
- Lai, M. C., Lombardo, M. V., & Baron-Cohen, S. (2014). Autism. The Lancet, 383(9920), 896-910. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(13)61539-1.
- Szatmari, P., et al. (2012). Differentiating Autism and Asperger Syndrome on the Basis of Language Delay or Impairment. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 42(5), 1069-1080. doi: 10.1007/s10803-011-1330-1.
- Howlin P. The outcome of high-functioning autism and Asperger’s syndrome. J Autism Dev Disord. 2003;33(1):3-18. doi: 10.1023/A:1022270118899
- Baron-Cohen S, Leslie AM, Frith U. Does the autistic child have a “theory of mind”? Cognition. 1985;21(1):37-46. doi: 10.1016/0010-0277(85)90022-8
- Klin A, Volkmar FR, Sparrow SS, et al. Asperger syndrome. In: Volkmar FR, Paul R, Klin A, et al., eds. Handbook of Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorders, Third Edition. John Wiley & Sons; 2005:88-125. doi: 10.1002/9780470939345.ch5
- Green SA, Ben-Sasson A. Sensory experiences of children with autism spectrum disorder: in their own words. J Autism Dev Disord. 2010;40(10):1255-1267. doi: 10.1007/s10803-010-0987-3
- Dawson G, Watling R. Interventions to facilitate auditory, visual, and motor integration in autism: a review of the evidence. J Autism Dev Disord. 2000;30(5):415-421. doi: 10.1023/A:1005537623948.
- Just MA, Cherkassky VL, Keller TA, et al. Functional and anatomical cortical underconnectivity in autism: evidence from an FMRI study of an executive function task and corpus callosum morphometry. Cereb Cortex. 2007;17(4):951-961. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhl006
- Veenstra-VanderWeele J, Cook EH Jr. Molecular genetics of autism spectrum disorder. Mol Psychiatry. 2003;8(6):557-569. doi: 10.1038/sj.mp.4001327
- Bauminger N, Solomon M, Rogers SJ. Predictors and correlates of developmental changes in adolescents with autism spectrum disorders: a prospective follow-up study. J Autism Dev Disord. 2010;40(10):1249-1265. doi: 10.1007/s10803-010-0981-2
- De Giacomo A, Fombonne E. Parental recognition of developmental abnormalities in autism. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 1998;7(3):131-136. doi: 10.1007/s007870050068
- Baranek GT. Efficacy of sensory and motor interventions for children with autism. J Autism Dev Disord. 2002;32(5):397-422. doi: 10.1023/A:1020560006425
- Hurlbutt K, Chalmers L. Employment and adults with Asperger syndrome. Focus Autism Other Dev Disabl. 2004;19(4):215-222. doi: 10.1177/10883576040190040501
- Lugnegård T, Hallerbäck MU, Gillberg C. Psychiatric comorbidity in young adults with a clinical diagnosis of Asperger syndrome. Res Dev Disabil. 2011;32(5):1910-1917. doi: 10.1016/j.ridd.2011.03.025
- Hofvander B, Delorme R, Chaste P, et al. Psychiatric and psychosocial problems in adults with normal-intelligence autism spectrum disorders. BMC Psychiatry. 2009;9:35. doi: 10.1186/1471-244X-9-35
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