Asperger's Syndrome is characterized by some specific symptoms, including limited eye contact, challenges in social skills, and restricted interests. Understanding these signs can help you better understand the "Aspies" you know or help you identify this syndrome in yourself or someone you care about.
Checklist of Symptoms
It's important to note that when the American Psychiatric Association Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) revised in 2013, the authors decided to combine the various types of autism, including Asperger's, into a single diagnosis: autism spectrum disorder. Those with symptoms of Asperger's are now diagnosed with high functioning autism; however, the symptoms are the same.
Social Interaction Difficulties
One of the core characteristics of autism spectrum disorders, including Asperger's, is an impairment in social functioning. According to the CDC, this can include the following:
- Abnormal approach to social situations: She wants to socialize with others but does not understand how to interact. She may try to play or talk with others in a way that isn't typical.
- Difficulty relating to others: He may not completely understand others' emotions or social responses accurately in a group situation. He may not understand if an activity or conversation is boring or upsetting to another person. He might not know how to initiate play with peers or how to play by common social rules.
- Challenges making friends: A person with Asperger's may have few or no friends her own age. She may be more than just "shy," or she may appear shy because she does not yet have the skills to create real friendships. She may also express no or very little interest in peers.
- Inability to understand common social cues: He may not comprehend common non-verbal social cues such as facial expressions, body language, or gestures. For instance, he may not notice when someone looks away and signals they have lost interest in the interaction.
- Inappropriate responses to social situations: She may behave or respond to social situations in an unusual or inappropriate manner. For example, an affected person may laugh at something sad.
- Reduced eye contact: An individual with high functioning autism may not make eye contact at all or may have what is called a "fleeting eye gaze." This means he may glance at someone's eyes for a second before looking away.
- Limited pretend play: She may not enjoy or understand games involving pretend, such as playing house, playing dolls, dressing up, or role playing. If she does engage in these activities, her involvement may be delayed for her age.
- Personal space challenges: He might stand too close to a person during an interaction, or he may require more personal space than a typical person.
- Easily distracted: She may have trouble concentrating her attention on people and objects that are not connected with her favorite subjects.
Language and Communication Problems
Typically, a person with Asperger's does not show a delay or impairment in the development of language or vocabulary. However, her or she may experience a number of communication difficulties, often to varying degrees. According to WebMD, communication problems can include the following:
- Difficulty starting a conversation: Initiating or responding to someone can be a challenge. He may not greet people or respond to greetings, or his response may be delayed. By the time he recognizes that someone has said hello, that person may have already walked away.
- Problems with two-way conversation: She may have trouble with maintaining a two-way conversation. She may appear to talk at someone than with him. She may also speak inappropriately, such as talking too loudly or softly.
- Monotone speech: He may speak in a monotone voice, without expression or emotion. This can cause others to misunderstand the subtext of what he is saying.
- Advanced vocabulary: She may sound precocious, using a vocabulary that is far advanced for her age. This is common in areas of special interest.
- Language rituals: She might have certain word scripts that she repeats ritualistically in conversation with others. These may not exactly apply to the specific situation and can sound awkward. In some cases, she may even repeat words or phrases from books, television, or songs - a phenomenon known as echolalia.
- Limited question asking: He may not ask questions for information or to connect emotionally with others. He may assume that others cannot offer help.
- Difficulty processing language: She does not always understand other's speech right away and may take a little longer to respond for this reason. She may also struggle to put together new sentences herself and may stop and restart her speech several times when the topic is new.
- Literal interpretation of words: He interprets most language on a literal level and may miss abstract meanings. Idioms and expressions can be especially confusing, and jokes can also be a huge challenge.
- Inappropriate facial expression: Facial expressions may be absent or inappropriate to the conversation or situation. She may have facial tics.
Cognitive and Motor Skill Impairments
Although WebMD also reports people with high functioning autism or Asperger's Syndrome have average or above average intelligence, they do experience some challenges in specific cognitive areas and some motor areas too:
- Mindblindness: He may find it difficult to take others' perspectives and determine what they are thinking and feeling in social situations or in relationships. This concept is also called Theory of Mind.
- Executive function difficulties: According to the Asperger's/Autism Network, an individual may experience difficulty with planning, implementing, and completing tasks as well as managing time and keeping supplies organized. This may also mean it's difficult to break down a problem into manageable parts.
- Difficulty with transitions: Moving from one task to another can also be hard for people with Asperger's. This can apply to changing classes, moving from one activity to another, or starting the work or school day.
- Problems with coordination: He may have problems with both fine and gross motor skills. Common examples of motor skill difficulty include bike riding, handwriting, and playing ball games.
Limited Interests and Unusual Behavior
The CDC also reports a person on the autism spectrum often has restricted interests and repetitive behaviors. An "Aspie" may show this in the following ways:
- Strict schedule: She prefers a rigid schedule and experiences anxiety when the schedule is interrupted.
- Intense and restricted interests and obsessions: People with high functioning autism can be intensely interested in one or a few special topics. A 2015 study in Developmental Psychopathology found these interests often focus on factual information, sensory experiences, or objects, rather than on social activities. This can interfere with social functioning, since conversation topics may focus on an obsessive interest.
- Self-stimulatory behavior: He may engage in "stimming" behavior such as hand flapping, rocking back and forth, or twirling. This may or may not be related to sensory input challenges.
Sensory Input Issues
Many people with Asperger's Syndrome have sensory difficulties and may have unusual reactions to certain sights, smells, sounds, or tastes. According to The National Autistic Society, this can manifest itself in a number of ways:
- Focus on visual details: A person with high functioning autism may choose to focus on part of an object, rather than try to view the entire thing. This can involve spinning parts or other details.
- Sensitivity to light: Someone with Asperger's may be irritated by flickering lightbulbs or especially bright sunlight.
- Difficulty with loud, crowded places: She may avoid busy restaurants, a loud gym, or other noisy settings. In these environments, she may have a hard time functioning or tuning in to interactions or tasks.
- Difficulty with strong odors: He may react strongly to certain smells. He may not be able to ignore or get used to odors.
- Challenges with textures: She may dislike certain foods because of the texture. She may hate certain fabrics.
- Dislike of certain clothing characteristics: He may refuse to wear shirts with tags or tight colors. He might hate the feel of pajamas with feet or stiff leather jackets.
- Difficulty with hygiene: Because of the feeling, she may not like brushing her teeth or washing or brushing her hair.
- Sensitivity to touch: He may not want to be hugged or patted.
Every "Aspie" Is Different
Keep in mind, individuals with high functioning autism are each unique and can display symptoms in varying levels. It's not uncommon for people with Asperger's Syndrome to have some of the symptoms and not have others. If you have concerns about symptoms interfering with daily life, discuss options with your physician. There are many ways to make life a little easier for the "Aspie" in your life.