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What is Asperger syndrome? Everything you need to know about the condition

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autism
Asperger syndrome is a form of autism, a developmental disability affecting a person's communication, behaviour and the way they experience the world. We've teamed up with National Autistic Society to explain how Asperger syndrome affects people who have it.

What is Aspergers?

Asperger syndrome is a form of autism, and people who have it find it harder to read the signals that most of us take for granted. This means communicating and interacting with others is more difficult for them, which can lead to high levels of anxiety and confusion.

Diagnosis

Asperger syndrome is usually diagnosed later in children than autism, and sometimes may not even be recognised until adulthood. The reason for this is that the condition varies greatly from person to person, which makes diagnosis difficult.

Like with autism, the best way for getting a diagnosis is to visit a GP, who can refer patients to other health professionals for a formal diagnosis.



About Asperger's syndrome

While there are similarities with autism, people with Asperger syndrome have less problems with speaking and are often of average, or above average, intelligence. Learning disabilities that are associated with autism, like dyslexia and dyspraxia, are not usually seen in people with Asperger's syndrome.

Although the characteristics of Asperger syndrome vary from one person to another, they are usually divided into three main groups - difficulty with social communication, social interaction and social imagination.

Difficulty with social communication

Emotional and social expression is an area that people with Asperger syndrome can sometimes find difficult. For example, they may:

  • struggle to understand 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 without fully understanding 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 syndrome may be confused by the phrase 'That's cool' when people use it to say something is good


Keeping sentences short and being clear and concise is key is helping someone with Asperger syndrome understand you.

Difficulty with social interaction

Although many people with Asperger syndrome want to be sociable, they may have difficulty 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

Difficulty with social imagination

While people with Asperger syndrome can be imaginative in the conventional use of the word, they can have difficulty with social imagination, which includes interpreting other people's thoughts, feelings or actions.

Some children with Asperger syndrome may find it difficult to play 'let's pretend' games or prefer subjects rooted in logic and systems, such as mathematics.

As well as different characteristics, people with the condition may have a love of routines, special interests and sensory difficulties.

Love of routines

In an attempt to try making the world less confusing, people with Asperger syndrome may have rules and rituals. Walking the same way to school everyday could be the case for young children, and 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 syndrome may develop an intense and even obsessive interest in a hobby or collecting. These interests can be lifelong be replaced by an unconnected interest.

For example, a person with Asperger syndrome may focus on learning all there is to know about trains or computers. Some can become exceptionally knowledgeable in their chosen field of interest, and could later study or work in their favourite subjects.

Sensory difficulties

People with Asperger syndrome may also have sensory difficulties. These can occur in one or all of the senses (sight, sound, smell, touch, or taste), and degree of difficulty can vary.

Most commonly, an individual's senses are either intensified (over-sensitive) or underdeveloped (under-sensitive). Bright lights or overpowering smells, for instance, 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 it can be harder for them to navigate rooms avoiding obstructions, and carry out 'fine motor' tasks such as tying shoelaces.

Some people with Asperger syndrome may rock or spin to help with balance and posture or to help them deal with stress.

Treatment

As with autism, people with Asperger syndrome have the opportunity of reaching their full potential if well supported. There are many approaches, therapies and interventions that can improve their quality of life, which can include communication-based interventions, behavioural therapy and dietary changes.

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For more information on Aspergers syndrome, visit National Autistic Society website.

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