Asperger’s syndrome, also known as Asperger’s disorder or high functioning disorder, is one of the milder pervasive developmental disorders (PDDs) on the autism spectrum. While Asperger’s disorder is closer to “normal” than other PDDs, any symptom of Asperger’s syndrome can range in severity from one person to the next. Asperger’s symptoms affect social behavior, language, and behavior.
Symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome resemble high functioning autism, and some autism / Asperger’s specialists believe the two PDDs are actually a single condition. Others believe there are subtle differences between Asperger’s and high functioning autism.
Asperger’s Disorder and Restricted Interests
An obsession or fascination with a particular topic is a hallmark symptom of Asperger’s syndrome. Both Asperger’s children and adults develop intense interest in restricted subjects and can talk, often for hours, about their interest.
Some Asperger’s children develop interests that last throughout their lifetime, and often determine their careers. A child who obsesses on weather patterns, for instance, may mature into an adult who works as a meteorologist. Other children with Asperger’s go through a series of interests, but the intensity of their current interest, and the exclusion of all other interests, is similar to those who focus on one interest..
Given half a chance, a child with Asperger’s will talk incessantly about his topic of interest. Aspie children are often described as “little professors” by adults, although their one-sided conversation is often a litany of disjointed facts.
Impairments in social development make it difficult for someone with Asperger’s to judge when a listener becomes bored or frustrated with their endless wealth of information about clouds, train numbers, dinosaurs, or other computer spreadsheets.
Asperger’s Symptoms and Social Impairments
Asperger’s symptoms result from developmental delays and impairment in social skills, communication and behavior. An Asperger’s diagnosis requires observable impairment in all three developmental areas. Asperger’s social impairment symptoms include:
- avoidance of eye contact
- difficulty making and maintaining friends
- difficulty understanding turn taking and sharing
- difficulty understanding / identifying emotions
- egocentric conversations (conversations center on themselves)
- impaired interactive play
- narrow, restricted interests
- socially inappropriate behavior.
Communication and Language Development
Like autism, Asperger’s symptoms can include developmental delays in language. Often, however, Asperger’s children don’t have developmental delays in language development. In fact, they often have large and complex vocabularies for their age.
Instead of delaying language development, Asperger’s impairs the subtleties of social communication. Asperger’s children have difficulty understanding nuances such as irony, sarcasm and fanciful or metaphoric language. Many Aspie kids take language literally. Expressions like “like watching paint dry,” or “smart as a tack” leave Aspie kids very confused.
Asperger’s speech patterns often seem odd to people who don’t know them. Tone, intonation and volume are often restricted, seemingly inappropriate, or at appear at odds with what is being said.
People with Asperger’s also have difficulty interpreting and displaying non-verbal communication. Facial expressions, body language, gestures and postures are often mysteries to Aspie kids, as is personal space. This inability to instinctively comprehend unspoken communication has led some experts to suggest Asperger’s syndrome is actually a non verbal communication disorder.
Motor Skills and Sensory Integration Symptoms
Asperger’s kids often appear clumsy or klutzy due to developmental delays in motor skills. Catching balls, learning to ride a bike and other childhood skills can be difficult to master. In school, problems with motor skills often manifests as terrible, almost illegible handwriting—a common problem for Aspies.
Asperger’s kids can also have sensory integration problems. Certain sounds, smells or physical sensations may be unbearable, even though “normal” people cannot detect them. A light touch may feel painful to an Asperger’s child, or he may develop “stims,” physical activities designed to stimulate the senses. Spinning is a common “stim” in Aspie kids, who may spin in circles long after other people would get dizzy.
Some Asperger’s kids experience a rare sensory integration condition called synesthesia, where the senses are very different from normal. A person with synesthesia may “see” music, “hear” colors, or other unusual combinations of the senses.