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Symptom Groups of Asperger’s Syndrome
Asperger’s syndrome symptoms are similar to the general symptoms of autism, but include traits specific to Asperger’s. According to the Gillberg diagnostic criteria, the main symptom groups are as follows:
- Social impairment
- Narrow interests
- Compulsive need for routines and interests
- Speech and language peculiarities
- Non-verbal communication problems
- Motor clumsiness
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People with Asperger’s have problems with social skills and often find it difficult to interact with their peers. Although they desire friendship, they often behave in an inappropriate manner that others find offensive or strange. Social skill problems are connected to some of the other Asperger’s symptoms such as speech and non-verbal communication which will be discussed shortly.
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Another sign of Asperger’s syndrome is a narrow interest that may develop into an obsession. The person often spends an inordinate amount of time researching this interest, collecting items associated with it, and talking about it. It may reach a stage where this behavior interferes with daily life and employment. The person may corner others and talk incessantly about their interest, causing people to avoid them.
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People with Asperger’s syndrome like repetition and routine and may become quite distressed if something out of the ordinary happens. Routine helps them to cope with daily life, and they may enjoy structure to the point of ordering what to eat on certain days and what clothes to wear. Children sometimes like a written timetable that they can follow each day. Most people with Asperger's find it hard to engage in spontaneous activities.
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Asperger’s Syndrome and Speech and Language
Many people with Asperger’s have problems with speech. While there is generally no delay in language development, they may speak in a stilted or monotonous manner. Their academic grasp of language is often excellent, but the delivery may be formal and pedantic, coming across as odd or inappropriate for the setting. They also struggle to understand figures of speech, sarcasm and humor. This can leave them floundering in conversation as they miss the point of what the other person is saying. Confusion is common as they take everything literally. Some people with Asperger's will leave long silences in conversation while they try and work out what the other person means. If they are not sure, they may abruptly change the subject, rather than ask for clarification.
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Asperger’s Syndrome and Non-Verbal Communication Problems
Body language is weak in a person with Asperger’s and they find it difficult to interpret what a person is thinking by the way they stand and their facial expressions. This can lead to miscommunication and awkwardness in conversation. In a similar fashion, people with Asperger’s may stand stiffly when talking to others and their facial expressions are limited. They struggle with eye contact and may appear uninterested in the other person when this is not the case at all.
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Asperger’s Syndrome and Motor Clumsiness
Asperger’s syndrome symptoms include muscular weaknesses. This is apparent in gross and fine motor skills and the person may appear clumsy and uncoordinated. This affects them in many ways such as on the sports field and in the classroom. As children, they may struggle to master skills such as writing neatly, tying shoelaces and riding a bicycle.
While some Asperger’s people are clearly affected by all the above symptoms, there are others who are weaker in some areas than others. Each case is unique, and with therapy and training, there is always room for improvement.
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The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome by Tony Attwood, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2007