Asperger’s Disorder Symptoms
Ever had an interaction with someone who always seems to say the wrong things? At times, it seems like they don’t have a filter between their brain and their mouth.
They say whatever comes into their head, without caring about the impact of their words on other people.
In some cases, this person seems to be incapable of understanding what others are going through or showing emotion.
When you are hurting, they do not seem to know that they are supposed to comfort you.
Even when they do comfort you, it does not satisfy you. You feel as if something is lacking.
This person seems to think logically about everything, and it seems like they are incapable of picking up nuances, for instance in jokes or sarcasm. They can’t even read other people’s body language.
You might have also noticed that the person has a very weird commitment to their routines.
There are certain things that they have to do at a particular time in a particular way, every single day.
When they are focused on their interests, they seem to be fully at peace, as though it calms them in a way nothing else can, and if you will admit it, you kind of admire that.
Does this sound like someone you know?
Does it sound like yourself?
If it does, you could be dealing with someone who is suffering from Asperger’s Disorder, a high-functioning type of autism.
In this article, we are going to take a look at what Asperger’s Disorder is, and how to know if someone is suffering from the condition.
WHAT IS ASPERGER’S DISORDER?
Asperger’s Disorder is also known as Asperger’s Syndrome, Asperger’s, autistic psychopathy, schizoid disorder of childhood, high functioning autism, or level 1 autism spectrum disorder.
It is a development disorder whose main features include significant difficulties with nonverbal communication and social interaction.
People who have Asperger’s also struggle with anxiety and depression, have restrictive and repetitive patterns of interests and behaviors, and are hypersensitive to lights sounds, tastes etc.
These tendencies/challenges vary widely. Many people with Asperger’s eventually overcome the challenges by developing their strengths.
While it has several challenges, the condition does have its strengths.
People with Asperger’s possess an aptitude for recognizing patterns, a remarkable persistence or focus, and high attention to detail.
Asperger’s Syndrome exists on the milder side of the autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The difference between Asperger’s and other ASDs is that people with this disorder have a relatively normal language and intelligence.
While not relevant for diagnosis, being physically clumsy and having an unusual use of language are also common behaviors of people with Asperger’s.
The symptoms of Asperger’s start to show before one is 2 years old, and one typically has it for life.
There’s no Asperger’s treatment for Asperger’s Syndrome as of now. Existing treatment focuses on reducing the impact of the symptoms, rather than the disease itself.
Even then, the effectiveness of such interventions does not have enough supporting data.
Treatment methods focus on improving communication skills, the repetitive or obsessive routines, and the physical clumsiness.
Asperger’s interventions include speech therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, skills training, speech therapy, and parent training. People with Asperger’s are also given medication to treat associated problems such as anxiety or mood.
Most children who have Asperger’s tend to show improvement as they grow up.
However, social and communication difficulties tend to persist.
Some researchers and people who on the autism spectrum have championed for a change in attitudes about autism spectrum disorders, arguing that it is a difference not a disease which must be cured or treated.
Autism spectrum disorder occurs more in males than females. In addition, females are typically diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at a later age than males.
Asperger’s Disorder was named after Hans Asperger, an Austrian pediatrician who, in 1944, observed that there were children in his practice who had limited understanding of other’s feeling, lacked nonverbal communication skills, and were prone to physical clumsiness.
However, the modern concept of the disorder came into existence much later, in 1981.
It then went through a popularization period and did not become a standardized diagnosis until the early 1990s.
It is unclear whether there is a distinction between Asperger’s syndrome and high-functioning autism (HFA). This is partly the reason why the percentage of people with Asperger’s is not firmly established.
COMMON ASPERGERS’ DISORDER SYMPTOMS
Some of the symptoms that are associated with Asperger’s Syndrome include:
Difficulty With Empathy
Empathy is having awareness not just of your own feelings and thoughts, but also the feelings and thoughts of others.
Empathy also plays a role in communication – the wherewithal to speak about this awareness. Empathy is about fostering a sense of caring and mutual understanding with others.
One of the main causes of the issues people dealing with Asperger’s Syndrome have when dealing with other people is their inability to understand what other people are feeling.
Neurotypicals (people not on the autism spectrum) often complain about their friends or family members who have Asperger’s, saying things like “She doesn’t connect with my feelings” or “He never sees my point of view, no matter how many times I explain it.”
This is because people with Asperger’s have a disconnect between thinking and feeling. In other words, their cognitive empathy (CE) and emotional empathy (EE) are not aligned.
The reason is that certain neurological circuits in an Aspie’s brain do not work in the same way as in a neurotypical’s brain.
Their brains have limited neurological mechanisms in place for empathy. An easy way to explain this neurological perspective of the Aspie’s lack of empathy is “out of brain, out of mind”.
Empathy is dependent on the connection of numerous brain circuits.
Our brains contain circuits connected to each other. If one part does not work correctly, then the other circuits will have a problem too.
Multiple circuits are dependent upon other multiple circuits, leading to our sophisticated human behaviors and our ability to understand feelings and thoughts.
For a person to feel empathy, a lot of these brain circuits must connect.
For you to understand how empathy works, we have to discuss a sampling of brain parts involved in the empathy circuits.
No part is functional by itself, but each needs other circuits to enable the complexity that is empathy.
These parts include:
- Medial prefrontal cortex – enables comparison between your perspective and another’s perspective.
- Dorsal medial prefrontal cortex – enables understanding of one’s own feelings and thoughts.
- Ventral medial prefrontal cortex – storage of information concerning your feelings about a given course of action.
- Inferior frontal gyros – enables emotion recognition.
- Caudal anterior cingulated cortex – pain activates this part, both when you feel your pain and when you observe pain in others.
- Anterior insula – enables bodily self-awareness, and this too is tied to empathy.
- Right temporoparietal junction – enables you to judge or determine other people’s beliefs and intentions.
- Amygdala – this part has a central role to play in empathy. It has a connection to fear, and cues you to look at someone’s eyes for you to gather information about their intentions and emotions. People with Asperger’s typically avoid eye contact, except when they have been given specific instructions to look into someone’s eye.
- The mirror neuron system – it connects multiple parts of your brain. It is the part that produces the “mirroring effect”, when you mimic someone’s actions, often quite unconsciously.
These different regions in the brain contain its empathy circuits. It’s a complex system, whereby the failure of one will affect the whole network, and as a consequence, our relationships.
This is why Aspies seem to act so differently from neurotypicals.
Let’s talk about theory of mind. Theory of mind refers to your ability to imagine someone else’s life.
It is the ability to understand why that person does the things they do, how they would feel if they found themselves in a certain circumstance, and what is likely to be most important to that person.
In other words, theory of mind is being able to place yourself in someone else’s mind and view the world from their point of view. You are basically creating a theory about how their mind works.
Theory of mind is the foundation of empathy.
If you are able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, it also means that you are also, by extension, capable of imagining and feeling the pain or joy that the person experiences. Theory of mind enables you to understand the person from the inside out.
People with Asperger’s Syndrome typically have either delayed or no access to theory of mind. They have a problem called mind-blindness.
Our interpersonal communications are more nonverbal than verbal. 65% of communication is nonverbal.
This explains why not being able to develop a theory of mind puts Aspies at a disadvantage when relating with others. Put simply, Aspies struggle in social situations because other people’s behavior makes no sense to them.
This becomes a problem when parents treat their Aspie kid with the same interpersonal expectations as their neurotypical children, assuming intact theory of mind capabilities.
As a result, the parent may believe that a child’s behavior is intentionally hurtful, while it merely means that the Aspie child is acting out of a lack of awareness.
When a person with Asperger’s acts the way they do, it is not because they are playing games or trying to manipulate you. It is not that they are callous or don’t care.
It’s just that they are not capable of seeing what you see so clearly.
They can say something insulting without realizing it reads as insulting – to them, it may be a simple stating of facts.
Another common symptom of Asperger’s disorder is a tendency to engage in repetitive behavior.
This manifests in the obsession with doing the same thing on a regular basis, and usually in the same way.
People with Asperger’s have obsessions and routines, which they consider a source of enjoyment. Their routines help them cope with everyday life.
When working on their obsession, they are able to and to relax and achieve clarity of mind.
Aspies tend to have intense, highly-focused hobbies and interests right from when they are very young. Over time, they may change, but sometimes these interests are held for life.
These hobbies and interests could be anything, from music and art to car registration numbers, train timetables, computers, postcodes, traffic lights, table tennis, and so on.
Autistic people may also develop attachments to objects, for instance, model cars, toys, shoes, stones, shoes, milk bottle caps, and so on. Collecting is a common interest among them.
This symptom is often a strength.
Autistic people report that that pursuing their chosen interests, even though seemingly obsessive to everyone else, is key to their happiness and wellbeing.
The benefits they gain from their keen devotion to their interests include:
- Relaxation and feelings of wellbeing.
- Structure, order, and predictability – this enables them to cope with the uncertainties of life.
- Can provide a way to start a conversation, and to generally have more self-assurance when in social situations.
Repetitive behavior could also include activities such as rocking, jumping, twirling, spinning, finger-flicking, hand-flapping, and head-banging, among other body movements.
It could also involve repetitive use of an object, for instance twirling a piece of string or flicking a rubber band repetitively.
For Aspies, the world may appear to be a confusing, unpredictable place.
The way they cope with that uncertainty is to develop daily routines which help them know what will happen every day.
Structure is important to them.
For instance, they might want to have the same exact food for breakfast every morning or always take the same route to or from school.
For Aspies, their routines can become almost ritualistic, being followed with precision and utmost attention paid to the tiniest details.
This symptom can manifest itself in verbal rituals, where the person with Asperger’s repeatedly asks the same questions and expects a specific answer.
It can also manifest in compulsive behavior such as constantly washing hands. However, this does not necessarily imply that Aspies have obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
This ability to focus obsessively on their interests can give Aspies an advantage. Being able to focus is one of the abilities one needs to master a skill.
Aspies can be encouraged to develop their obsessions into useful and functional interests, maybe even rewarding careers.
For instance, being obsessed with computers could mean that a person will do very well if they pursue a career in IT.
If you are interested in historical dates, you could join a history group and there socialize with people who share your interest.
The Aspie’s obsession can therefore be a means for them to open up to other people, forge friendships, and be at ease in social settings.
Abnormal Response to Sensory Stimuli
People on the autism spectrum struggle with processing sensory information.
Their sense may be either over or under-sensitive, or even both, at different times.
This can affect their behavior and even their lives.
They see the world in a different way from neurotypicals. The filtering mechanism in their brains assimilates the senses in a different way.
This results in the tendency to be extremely sensitive to some senses, while at the same time finding some seemingly routine events to be fascinating.
For instance, an Aspie can be mesmerized by the rustling of leaves in the wind, or the patterns light makes on a wall.
This problem is known as sensory processing disorder (SPD).
It is a neurological disorder that manifests itself through difficulties in processing sensory information.
People who have SPD sense information normally but perceive it in an abnormal way.
Therefore, it is not like blindness or deafness where sensory information is not perceived.
It is the brain’s manner of analyzing this information that is unusual and that tends to lead to confusion or distress for the individual.
An Aspie who is oversensitive will experience:
- Fragmentation of images.
- Distorted vision, as all objects and bright lights seem to jump around.
- Difficulty sleeping due to sensitivity to light.
- Can focus on one detail with greater ease and pleasure than on the whole object.
- May not be able to hear conversations happening at a distance.
- Magnification of noise and sounds becoming muddled or distorted.
- Unable to cut out sounds, especially background noise, and that leads to difficulty in concentration.
- Smells can become intense and overpowering.
- Can’t stand distinctive shampoos or perfumes etc.
- Sensitive taste buds that find certain foods and flavors too strong and overpowering. This leads to a restricted diet of only the foods they can stand.
- Foods with certain textures cause them discomfort, so they may prefer to only eat smooth foods like ice cream or mashed potatoes.
- Experience touch as uncomfortable and painful.
- Loathes having anything on feet or hands.
- Finding many food textures uncomfortable.
- Able to tolerate only certain clothing textures or types.
- Dislikes washing or brushing their hair because of their head’s sensitivity.
On the other hand, an Aspie who is under-sensitive will experience:
- Objects seem dark or may even lose some of their features.
- Blurred central vision, but a sharp peripheral vision.
- Magnification of central object but with objects on the periphery blurred.
- Depth perception is low, which leads to clumsiness and problems with throwing.
- May not acknowledge certain sounds.
- Enjoying noisy or crowded places.
- May hear through one ear but only have partial or no hearing through the other ear.
- May have to lick things so as to get a better sense of what they are, since the sense of smell isn’t very helpful.
- Having no sense of smell and failing to notice extreme smells such as one’s own body odor.
- Liking spicy foods.
- They may have pica, which is an eating disorder that manifests itself in the eating or mouthing of non-edible items such as grass, soil, stones, dirt, metal, and so on.
- Holding other people tightly.
- A high pain threshold.
- Enjoying having heavy objects such as weighted blankets upon their bodies.
- Inability to feel food in their mouth.
Exaggerated Emotional Response
This is not always intentional among persons with Asperger’s, but they do struggle to maneuver when they find themselves in emotional situations.
An example is when they are faced with feelings of frustration or with changes in pattern.
Such situations have the potential to lead to emotional outbursts.
Aspies have a hard time navigating social situations. Most social skills which come naturally to non-autistic people are a struggle for a person on the spectrum to learn.
For instance, they are not given to small talk. They do not make eye contact when talking to people.
Their speech can be seen as “stiff” or “robotic” by other people.
Furthermore, it is usually repetitive. They may also struggle with voice moderation to suit the present environment – for instance, the inability to lower one’s voice when in a library or church.
Aspies may also lack the ability or tendency to spontaneously share in enjoyment or interests with other people. They also lack social or emotional reciprocity.
People in relationships or friendships with Aspies may complain that they feel as if they are in a one-sided relationship, where they are always the giver and the Aspie the taker.
We also saw that they have inability to empathize with what other people are feeling.
Feeling empathy or performing empathy is absolutely necessary for successful human interaction.
Aspies may lack the ability to pick up nonverbal cues from other people.
These include facial expressions, hand gestures, body language, or tone of voice.
They may also lack the ability to understand jokes, sarcasm, vagueness, and abstract concepts.
This is unfortunate, since a lot of social interactions are about subtext rather than what is overtly stated.
When communicating with a person who has Asperger’s, it is best that you communicate in a clear and consistent manner.
If you notice the symptoms discussed above in your child, there is a chance that they could be suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome.
The good thing is that Asperger’s Syndrome does not greatly affect the functioning of a person, and with the right kind of help from a psychiatrist or psychologist, the person can learn to overcome many of the challenges experienced by Aspies, do well in school and live a fairly normal life.
If you notice the symptoms, take your child to a specialist who will help diagnose the condition and propose ways on how to deal with the condition.
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