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The Symptoms and Characteristics of Asperger's Syndrome in Adults

written by: Sandi Johnson • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 12/8/2010

Precious little information is easily accessible concerning Asperger’s syndrome in adults. Checklists, questionnaires, and other information on adult Asperger’s symptoms are not as prevalent as those designed for children. Many of the characteristic symptoms are similar, just in lesser degrees.

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    Most information available on the symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome assumes diagnosis in children. Asperger’s syndrome in adults bares little information, due in part to the disorder not appearing in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) until 1994. The result is few confirmed diagnoses and little research or awareness for Asperger's in regards to adult patients. In fact, adults with Asperger’s can remain undiagnosed until their child undergoes evaluation and the similarity in symptoms and characteristics between parent and child become apparent. Such situations often prompt parents to pursue evaluation for their own symptoms.

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    The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders

    According to the DSM-IV, diagnostic criteria for Asperger’s syndrome do not distinguish between child and adult. In order to diagnose Asperger’s syndrome in adults, patients must meet the same stated criteria as a child under evaluation for Asperger’s. These criteria include:

    • Significant impairment of social interactions (Patients must present with a minimum of two of the listed symptoms in this category).
      • Impairment in regards to using eye contact, facial expressions, and body language to read social cues
      • Relationships with peers are not developed
      • Does not seek to share interests, activities, or enjoyment with others
      • Does not display emotional or social reciprocal responses
    • Behavior patterns stereotypical of Asperger’s symptoms in adults and children alike (Patients must present with at least one of the listed examples).
      • Preoccupation with a particular interest that is restrictive, stereotypical, and abnormal in intensity
      • Adheres to inflexible routines and rituals that do not contribute to functional behaviors or interests
      • Repetitive motor movements such as hand flapping, twisting, and other stereotypical body movements
      • Preoccupied with parts of objects in a marked, persistent manner
    • The impairments must cause clinically significant disturbance in the patient’s ability to function.
    • Patients have no clinically significant delay in language development.
    • The patient does not meet the diagnostic criteria for other Pervasive Developmental Disorders or Schizophrenia.
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    The Difference between Adult Asperger’s Symptoms and Symptoms in Children

    The primary difference between adult Asperger’s symptoms and those of a child with Asperger’s is the degree with which the symptoms affect functionality. Adults typically present with less pronounced impairments, leading peers to label them as quirky or eccentric. Some may even view them as anti-social. Adult Asperger’s symptoms such as a preoccupation with a particular interest often lead to employment in a related field. The preoccupation is easily mistaken for passionate interest or dedication to the job. Poor social interactions are mistaken for self-centeredness or indifference to others.

    Parents of children on the autism spectrum and adults who suspect their symptoms may indicate the need for evaluation often find themselves stumped for resources. Checklists and other questionnaires often ask about childhood developmental milestones. However, there are quizzes, articles, and other resources online that can help an individual looking for information on Asperger’s syndrome in adults.

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    References and Resources

    Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide: http://www.health.harvard.edu/fhg/updates/update0305a.shtml

    Aspires, Adult Diagnosis and Aftermath: http://www.aspires-relationships.com/as_grows_up_adult_diagnosis.htm

    American Psychiatric Association (Click on the "DSM-IV" tab for current diagnostic criteria): http://www.dsm5.org/ProposedRevisions/Pages/proposedrevision.aspx?rid=97#