Asperger's Symptoms

Marcelina Hardy, MSEd, BCC
Hyper focus
Intense focus

Aspergers symptoms are relatively subtle compared to more severe forms of pervasive developmental disorders. Many children are not properly diagnosed until they are school-aged, and some go undiagnosed through adulthood. Learning about Asperger characteristics is an important aspect of recognizing the condition.

Aspergers Symptoms and Diagnosis

The diagnostic criteria for Asperger's syndrome are outlined by the DSM IV for the appropriate identification and diagnosis of the condition, but the diagnosis may merge with autism spectrum disorder in the DSM V. The symptoms exhibited by the individual play a significant role in the process of identifying the pervasive developmental disorder.

Four realms are significant in the diagnosis of the autism spectrum disorder.

  • Social
  • Behavior
  • Functioning
  • Other considerations

Social Impairment

The DSM-IV requires at least two of four criteria to be met in the realm of social behavior. The individual does not need to have each of the social impairments in order to have Aspergers syndrome.

  • Nonverbal social impairments
    • Eye gaze
    • Facial expressions
    • Body positioning and posture
  • Peer relationships
    • Has not developed age-appropriate relationships with peers
  • Sharing experiences
    • Does not share enjoyment with others
    • Does not show or point to items of interest
    • Does not share achievements
  • Emotional reciprocity

Behavior

The behavioral criteria rest mostly in the realm of idiosyncrasies and stereotyped repetitive movements. Patterns are among the most important features of the symptoms. The individual displays as least one of the behaviors consistently.

  • Does not respond to others' emotional states appropriately
  • Does not reciprocate conversation appropriately

An individual may have excellent eye contact but have odd facial expressions not fitting the social situation. There must be another social impairment as well, such as lack of emotional reciprocity. An individual with Asperger's syndrome may have age appropriate relationships in spite of having nonverbal social impairments, the lack of shared enjoyment, and lack of social reciprocity. If the individual fits only one of the four descriptions, a diagnosis is not fitting.

  • Interests

    • Obsessive preoccupation
    • Restricted to familiar patterns
    • Intense focus
  • Routines

    • Ritualistic behaviors
    • Inflexible
    • Strict adherence to schedules and routines
    • Rituals and routines are nonfunctional
  • Stereotyped repetitive movements

    • Repeats movements consistently
    • Movements do not appear to have a function
  • Preoccupation

Functioning

Aspergers symptoms must interfere with the individual's ability to function normally in everyday situations for a formal diagnosis. The impairments can manifest in social, life skill, or other significant areas of functioning.

Other Considerations

The DSM-IV includes criteria that the individual should not meet in order for the proper diagnosis of Asperger syndrome. There should be no clinically significant delays in some areas:

  • Language acquisition

    • Develops language skills normally
    • Uses words to communicate at an age-appropriate level
  • Development

The DSM-IV notes that the individual should not meet the criteria for any of the other pervasive developmental disorders, including PDD NOS and classical autism, or schizophrenia.

Early Symptoms of Aspergers

The key to successfully treating Aspergers is to identify the condition as early as possible. This can be challenging considering the relatively subtle nature of the syndrome. It can be difficult to recognize the diagnostic criteria as it appears in real life. Some things to look for in infants and toddlers include:

  • No cognitive delays are apparent
  • Develops self help skills
  • Displays adaptive behavior in areas other than social
  • Is curious about surroundings
  • Lack of eye contact
  • Repetitive movements like hand flapping, spinning or any intense movements
  • Temper tantrums for seemingly no reason
  • Does not point to objects
  • Does not seek out praise
  • Does not show objects
  • Desperate need for order
  • Intense ability to concentrate for a long time
  • Plays with parts of toys instead of the toy as a whole (spins wheels on a car rather than pushing it)
  • Intolerant of changes in routine
  • Appears to be afraid

How Aspergers Affects Teens

Many of the signs of Asperger syndrome persist throughout the teenage years. Many teens with the disorder do learn some of the social skills they are lacking. The largest difficulty from the teen's point of view is being able to communicate appropriately and effectively. Many teens with Asperger syndrome have difficulty reading other people's behavior.

During the teen years, the child wants to have friends but may realize that he or she is very different from other teenagers. This holds many back. They are too intimidated to step out of their comfort zone to make friends. Many Asperger teens end up becoming very withdrawn and socially isolated. In some situations, teens with Asperger's syndrome are able to develop relationships with a few close friends.

Most teens with Asperger's syndrome are uninterested in fads or following the social trends. Most will continue to pursue their own interests and will remain creative thinkers rather than relying on the ideas of others.

Adult Symptoms

Asperger symptoms in adults can be difficult to recognize as well. Adult Asperger syndrome can include people who have never received a diagnosis. It is important to note that it is necessary to have an evaluation instead of diagnosing yourself or others. The syndrome can manifest in a number of ways.

Theory of Mind

  • Seems to think everyone knows the same information
  • Is surprised by other people's responses to behaviors and statements
  • Thinks everyone is interested in his subject of focus
  • Appears insensitive to other people's feelings

Social Impairments

  • Unable to read body language
  • Does not pick up on subtle social cues
  • Unable to "get" jokes, metaphors and figurative language
  • Does not recognize appropriate boundaries
  • Makes insensitive statements

Positive Aspects of Aspergers

While many of the symptoms of the condition can interfere with the individual's ability to interact and function as neurotypical people do, there are many benefits to Asperger's syndrome. Focus, honesty, and adherence to structure are admirable traits that many people strive to achieve. These traits can lead to incredible accomplishments in the individual's life when given the proper guidance and support.

  • Very dependent on order and routine
  • Becomes frustrated with changes in schedules
  • Odd mannerisms and movements
  • Awkward posturing

Speak to Your Doctor

If you notice these symptoms in your child or even yourself, please contact your doctor. This information is only for education purposes and is not given for diagnostic use. Your doctor will be able to give you or your child a thorough evaluation to conclude whether or not an Aspergers syndrome diagnosis needs to be made.

Asperger's Symptoms