General Description - Asperger
Syndrome (AS) is a condition affecting between 1 in 400 to
500 people, though this number doesnt reflect the numbers
of undiagnosed cases. It was previously thought to affect
males more than females, however, this is being challenged
as it can look different in the female and may not be diagnosed.
It often runs in the family. Most people with AS can look
through their immediate and extended family members and see
a parent or aunt or uncle who has similar traits.
Though not every person with Asperger Syndrome
will look alike, they will have most of these general characteristics:
- 1) poor social skills
- 2) intense interest in a limited number of
- 3) rigidity of behavior
- 4) pronounced anxiety
- 5) a tendency to overact to certain stimuli.
Children with AS will look different than adults
with AS because the adults have frequently learned to adapt their
How this translates into daily life is that the child or adult with
AS will be socially isolated with few if any friends. They will
appear naïve and serious, have difficulty understanding when
people are joking with them, and will take comments literally. They
are not adept at small talk and tend to follow the dictum "say
what you mean and mean what you say". In a child this might
be interpreted as extreme rudeness. For example, if a grandmother
wearing strong perfume asks an AS child to "give her a hug",
the child may respond by saying "no, you smell really badly."
People with AS cannot "read" others and therefore will
frequently act or talk inappropriately as they don't seem to pick
up standard social clues. For example, they may continue to talk
to a person who is giving signs such as looking at their watch or
trying to interject to indicate they have to leave. Often they will
have poor eye contact. For someone with AS, eye contact can be very
distracting and uncomfortable.
In addition, the child with AS will often have involuntary
gestures such as hand flapping, tics, finger twisting or snapping
of fingers when excited or upset. This is seen less often in adults
as they have often been trained out of this behavior. Or, in some
cases, these mannerisms are less obvious. Another common attribute
is poor handwriting. Fortunately, this becomes less of an issue
as computers are welcomed in younger and younger grades.
There are frequently sensory issues with those with AS. That means
that they can have a heightened sense of smell, taste, or sound.
Their senses are often hyper-acute resulting in an overreaction
to ordinary sounds such as fluorescent lights, fans, and other electrical
appliances. Thus, things that might be annoying to the average person,
can be amplified and uncomfortable to the person with AS. For example,
the child/adult with AS can be often very uncomfortable in places
such as malls/airports/supermarkets in which tend to be noisy and
crowded with large numbers of people coming and going. They can
experience severe anxiety and either withdraw or become very loud
in these situations.
Another common characteristic of people with AS is perseveration.
The person will talk about the same problem or topic over and over
Overreaction to situations is another common characteristic in AS.
The person may perceive danger when there isn't any. For example,
a child witnessing an auto accident may translate the occurrence
into "he, the person with AS, was almost killed" and develop
a subsequent fear of being in the location where the accident took
In children and young adults with AS, there is an additional concern
of violence. If provoked, they may overreact in a violent way, or
they may use violent language to the person who has provoked them.
This is not to suggest that people with AS are the aggressors. Much
to the contrary, they tend to be victims of bullying. Though they
often prefer less social contact, their unusual mannerisms and speech
make them targets of bullies. This can lead to depression - an unfortunately
somewhat common problem among those with AS. If this is the case,
you may see the AS person as extremely withdrawn and quiet. Time-out
is a necessary part of life for both children and adults with AS.
They will need more time by themselves than people without AS.
Despite characteristics which the average person may deem negative,
the person with Asperger Syndrome has many positive attributes.
Their intelligence levels are average and above. They tend to be
extremely conscientious once a task is undertaken. They are loyal
and steadfast. They like rules and routines. If their profession
coincides with one of their special interests, they will work much
harder than their coworkers.
Some of those with AS can be found among the ranks of college professors
and NASA scientists. It has been suggested that there are more Nobel
prize winners with AS characteristics than without. In fact, if
nurtured and allowed to be different, people with AS can lead happy
and productive, though not quite normal lives.