What is Asperger's Syndrome?

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Definition of Asperger’s Syndrome

Asperger’s syndrome is a neurobiological disorder, with symptoms that are similar to those of “high-functioning autism.” The disorder’s name comes from its founder, Hans Asperger, a pediatrician from Vienna who coined the term in 1940. He discovered that several of his patients had typical intelligence and language skills but lacked age-appropriate social and communication skills.

Interestingly, some “Aspies,” as they call themselves, are proud of their disorder. In fact, they view it as a gift, rather than a disorder. They feel frustrated with the fact that the “neurotypicals” around them try to get them to “fit in socially,” rather than letting them enjoy being themselves.

What is Asperger’s? A Look at Symptoms

The main symptom of Asperger’s syndrome is the lack of age-appropriate social skills. People with AS may have odd speech patterns and speak in scripted language, or repeat phrases that they have heard elsewhere (e.g., movies, television and radio commercials). Part of this may be as a compensation for their inability to read body language or to convey emotions through facial expressions.

Their conversations usually focus on themselves rather than on those around them, and they may obsess about specific topics or special interests to the exclusion of all else. People with Asperger’s syndrome may also have certain rituals or routines that they feel they “must” engage in, as well as other peculiar behaviors and mannerisms. They also overreact or under react to sensory stimuli, a symptom that appears in people with Sensory Processing Disorder.

Although people with Asperger’s syndrome may seem to be without any “common sense,” and some may also lack nonverbal communication skills, most Aspies do actually posses strong verbal skills. They may speak with an advanced vocabulary and complex grammatical constructions, even at a young age. However, they may interpret verbal exchanges extremely literally, which can make discussions extremely difficult. They may also exhibit problems with skills related to reading, math, or writing.

What is Asperger’s? DSM-IV Criteria

Although people with Asperger’s syndrome can differ in terms of the symptoms they display, they all have to match the given criteria in the DSM-IV, or the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Volume IV. This manual presents the following as criteria for answering the question, “What is Asperger’s syndrome?” It specifies that a person must meet all five of these criteria in order to receive a diagnosis of Asperger’s:

1. The person must have two of the following social issues:

  • problems with understanding and displaying non-verbal communication
  • problems with friendships, family members, and other relationships
  • problems with spontaneously sharing enjoyment or interests with other people
  • problems with taking part in social or emotional exchanges with others

2. The person must have one of the following issues:

  • an obsession with a specific (usually abnormal) interest
  • a need for specific routines or rituals, problem adapting to any changes in these routines and rituals
  • perseverations or stimming behaviors, repetitive actions or speech
  • obsessive interest in mechanical objects, especially their component parts

3. The person must have issues (such as those mentioned above) that impair their ability to function well socially or in other areas of activity.

4. The person has no significant cognitive delays, or delays in curiosity or self-help skills

5. The person does not meat diagnostic criteria for another disorder on the autistic spectrum or for schizophrenia.

You might like to take this self-graded Asperger’s quiz, based on the DSM-IV diagnostic criteria, to figure out whether you may have Asperger’s. Just click on the hyperlink to reveal a long list of questions such as “Do you find yourself making social gaffes often? Do people complain that you lack empathy or that you don’t understand where they are coming from?”





This post is part of the series: Children with Asperger’s Syndrome

Children with Asperger’s syndrome have their own unique needs and characteristics. If you are working with these children, this series will give you a deeper understanding into how they work.

  1. So Just What is Asperger’s Syndrome?
  2. The Genetics of Asperger’s Syndrome: Is Asperger’s Hereditary?
  3. Four Main Types of Asperger’s Syndrome Behavior
  4. Treating AS: How Does Asperger’s Syndrome Affect Social Behaviors?
  5. Finding the Right Diet for Asperger’s Syndrome