Asperger's Syndrome (AS) is a disorder on the autism spectrum, and it has a variety of characteristic behaviors. If you or your child has been diagnosed with Asperger's, it can help to be aware of these behaviors. While some of them may seem unusual or even problematic, they serve an important purpose for the individual with AS.
Common Behaviors Associated with Asperger's Syndrome
For many people, the behaviors associated with AS are some of the first clues that there may be something different about a child. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, most of the following behaviors are apparent by age 3, although some may become more pronounced as the child gets older.
Behaviors Related to Language and Communication
There may be some distinct differences in the way people with AS speak or communicate. In some cases, this is due to problems with language processing. The person with AS may hear what you say, but he or she may not interpret it accurately or in the way you intended.
It's common to see the following language-related behaviors in children and adults with AS:
- The individual may speak very formally and appear precocious.
- Someone with AS is likely to have an exceptional vocabulary.
- A person with Asperger's may dominate the conversation, not giving others a chance to speak.
- Children with AS may have trouble asking questions.
- Many people with Asperger's have problems with prosody, or the tone of their language. They may speak in a monotone or use inappropriate inflection.
- Someone with AS may have difficulty interpreting non-verbal cues like body language or facial expression.
- A child with AS may not be able to control the volume of his voice.
- Someone with Asperger's may literally interpret figurative language and idioms, such as "hop in the car."
Asperger's Syndrome Social Behaviors
Social skills can also be a challenge for people with AS. Often, this is due to difficulty processing the non-verbal communication that makes up many social interactions. To someone with AS, the emotional content of these interactions is lost. Additionally, people with Asperger's may find Theory of Mind challenging, which means they may have trouble taking the perspective of another person.
If you or your child has AS, you may notice the following social behaviors:
- Individuals may have difficulty making eye contact.
- Many AS children play with toys in atypical ways, such as focusing on spinning the wheels of a toy truck.
- Many people with AS become fixated on a favorite topic and may have difficulty perceiving others' lack of interest.
- Children with AS may have limited pretend play.
- People with Asperger's may need more personal space than other people, or they may not understand others' needs for space.
AS Repetitive Behaviors
Asperger's Syndrome is also characterized by restricted or repetitive behaviors. These may arise from a sensory overload or a sensory need, which can help a person with AS make sense of his or her environment. Additionally, many people on the autism spectrum are reassured by routine, and the repetitive nature of these behaviors may fulfill this need as well.
The following repetitive behaviors are common in people with AS:
- Flapping the hands or rocking the body may indicate some of the sensory challenges that come with Asperger's.
- Some children with AS may line up toys.
- People with AS may resist changing a routine, such as taking an unexpected appointment in the middle of the day.
- Individuals with Asperger's may do tasks in the same order every time.
Physical Behaviors of AS
There are also some physical behaviors associated with Asperger's Syndrome. For many parents, these behaviors are the first sign that a child may have AS.
Physical behaviors include the following:
- A child with AS may crawl late or have a delay in learning to walk.
- Many children with Asperger's struggle to learn to swim or ride a bike or climb on equipment at the playground.
- Handwriting and other fine motor tasks may be difficult for a child with AS.
- Many people with AS have unusual body posture.
- Some people with Asperger's have a unique style of walking.
- People may describe an individual with Asperger's Syndrome as "clumsy."
How to Deal with Asperger's Syndrome Behaviors
If you or your child has Asperger's Syndrome, you probably already recognize that there's a fine line between changing a behavior that is part of the individual and helping the individual adapt to his or her typical environment. A good rule of thumb is to consider whether the behavior interferes with the individual's daily life. If it does, it may make sense to modify it if possible.
There are lots of resources to help you identify and work to improve these problematic behaviors. They include the following:
- Speech therapy can target more than articulation problems. It can also help with non-verbal communication, functional use of language, and the communication aspects of social interactions.
- Special education services can help improve a child's social functioning in the classroom.
- Social skills groups can help individuals of all ages learn to read and interpret social cues.
- Occupational therapy can help address sensory issues and improve fine motor coordination.
- Physical therapy and adaptive physical education can help with physical behaviors associated with Asperger's.
Know the Reason for the Behavior
When considering Asperger's Syndrome behaviors, it's important to remember that each behavior serves a purpose for the individual. If you can identify that purpose, whether it is a need for routine or sensory over-stimulation, you can help address the behavior in a more appropriate way.