Asperger syndrome or Asperger’s, a form of autism, is marked by repetitive behavior patterns and difficulties in social interaction. Identifying the symptoms of the condition can enable one to seek treatment and overcome the disorder.
How Asperger’s Syndrome Affects Us?
Asperger syndrome (AS), or simply Asperger’s, is a type of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and a neurodevelopmental disorder. Sufferers find social interactions difficult and experience communication challenges, whether verbal or nonverbal. Moreover, they also tend to have restricted interests and repetitive patterns of behavior. Mind Help explains that the condition is “marked by a lesser or greater level of impairment communication & language skills along with limited yet repetitive thought and behavior patterns.” Symptoms in children typically tend to manifest by the first year of their life, but such impairments may persist during the sufferer’s adolescence & adulthood as well.
Research 1 indicates that men are more likely to be affected by Asperger’s syndrome than women. It was also found that the male-to-female ratio is around 3:1 which indicates that women are less likely to receive a clinical diagnosis. A 2017 study 2 states “There appears to be a diagnostic gender bias, meaning that girls who meet criteria for ASD are at disproportionate risk of not receiving a clinical diagnosis.” Women with autism are also at higher risk of experiencing serious intellectual disability 3 as well. Young individuals suffering from this syndrome can face severe communication and socialization challenges while trying to interact with others. They also tend to have rigid thoughts and behaviors. Other symptoms may include sensory difficulties, lack of imagination, delay in motor skills, social isolation, obsessive interests, ritualized behavior and formal speech.
Symptoms Of Asperger’s Syndrome
Symptoms often start early, usually before the age of two. In case of children, parents may notice that they avoid making eye contact, feel uncomfortable in social situations and have difficulty in responding to or interacting with others. They may also have difficulty understanding social cues, like reading facial expressions and body language. Moreover, they may also show limited emotions and may appear mechanical, even though they may feel emotions. A child with Asperger’s syndrome may talk about a particular topic with a lot of passion or intensity or they may talk a lot about themselves. They may also keep repeating phrases, behaviors, and movements. Sufferers may also have difficulty accepting and adjusting to change. Such symptoms are typically observed in engineers and scientists who invest most of their time in analyzing data and using technology which cannot confuse them.
Every patient may experience the syndrome in their own individual way. However, there are some common symptoms that are associated with this condition. A sufferer may either have all the symptoms or experience only a few of them. Here are some of the signs and symptoms of Asperger disorder:
A. Emotional and behavioral symptoms
Behavioral symptoms of this disorder may include the following:
1. Repetitive behaviors
One of the most common signs of Asperger’s syndrome is engaging in repetitive behavior. They may do the same things every morning after waking up, like opening the door in a particular way or turning the lights off for a particular number of times. However, repetitive behaviors can indicate other disorders, like Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) as well. Hence, engaging in such behavior does not necessarily mean that they have high-functioning autism spectrum disorder. According to a 2009 study 4 , sufferers tend to have “stereotyped and repetitive motor mannerisms,” along with “preoccupation with one or more stereotyped and restricted patterns of interest that are abnormal either in intensity or focus.”
2. Lack of empathy
People with Asperger’s usually have a first-person focus. They are unable to understand the feelings and perspectives of others. They struggle with reacting to words and behaviors with genuine concern or empathy. One 2019 study 5 found that although some women with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have the ability to share the pain of another person, “they are less able to rely on their shared representations of emotions along with difficulties to take over a person’s perspective.” Hence, they are unable to distinguish between their own emotions and the experience of someone else.
Read More About Empathy Here
Compulsive routine adherence 6 is another common symptom of Asperger’s syndrome. People with this disorder may follow their own rules & rituals which they may maintain systematically to eliminate confusion. As they have difficulty adjusting to changes, they may become anxious or upset with a sudden change in their routine.
4. Over-sensitivity or under-sensitivity
Sufferers often respond to sensory stimuli in an abnormal way. They can be either hypersensitive or hyposensitive to sensations. Hence, they may like staying in the dark in absence of any lights, compulsively touching others and different items or excessively smelling things.
5. Amplified emotional response
Adults having this condition may have a hard time dealing with emotional situations. However, this is usually unintentional. They may also struggle with changes in pattern or with feelings of frustration resulting in emotional outbursts. Research 7 shows that poor emotion regulation may be an intrinsic aspect of Asperger’s syndrome which may offer a “more parsimonious conceptualization for the many associated socio-emotional and behavioral problems in this population.”
6. Unable to understand emotional problems
Sufferers may have a hard time identifying and interpreting emotional or social interaction issues, like frustration, grief etc. They are incapable of understanding metaphoric and intangible problems as it escapes their way of thinking which is largely based on logic.
As they are highly logical and reasonable, they often tend to have poor imagination. It is difficult for them to imagine situations or alternative outcomes to problems. Moreover, they are uninterested in games and activities that require imagination. One study 8 found evidence of imaginative impairments in children with Asperger’s, particularly relating to story-telling.
B. Communication symptoms
According to a 2016 study 9 , “many individuals diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) experience challenges with recognizing and describing emotions in others, which may result in difficulties with the verbal expression of empathy during communication.” Common communication symptoms of Asperger’s Syndrome generally includes:
1. Lack of eye contact
People with Asperger’s Disorder generally shy away from making eye contact when talking or communicating with someone.
2. Trouble with speech
Repetitive or robotic speech is perhaps one of the most common features of people with Asperger’s. They may also struggle with appropriately moderating their voice and tone for different environments and situations. “A failure to develop language is one of the earliest signs of autism,” explains a 2013 study 10 .
3. Problems with socializing
People with this disorder often struggle with social conventions and interactions. They are unable to follow social rules and engage in conversations that involve small talk.
4. Poor nonverbal skills
Adults affected by this condition may have weak or below-average body language skills. They may have difficulty understanding nonverbal cues or subtle hints from other people, such as body language, facial expressions and hand gestures.
5. Remarkable verbal skills
Communication deficits 11 are one of the primary symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome. However, some sufferers tend to have outstanding verbal skills and they may exhibit strong vocabulary skills in certain areas, especially in topics they are interested in.
C. Other common symptoms
Here are some other symptoms that can be observed in people with this condition:
Difficulties in motor coordination 12 are typical in adults with Asperger’s Syndrome. This may lead to difficulties in performing daily activities and even affect their ability to walk or sit properly. Moreover, they may also have trouble with other simple activities, like riding a bike, opening envelopes or tying their shoes that require fine motor skills.
Research 13 shows that children with autism or Asperger’s syndrome tend to have ‘obsessions’ which indicate “strong, repetitive interests.” Sufferers, whether children or adults, may have hyperfocus towards a particular topic. When it comes to their areas of interest, they may have a profound understanding of the topic and an expansive vocabulary related to it. They may be so obsessed 14 with the topic that they may keep talking about it when interacting with others. According to a 2005 study 15 “Obsessions and compulsions are both common in adults with high-functioning ASD and are associated with significant levels of distress.”
3. Social isolation
Due to their poor communication and social skills, people with high-functioning ASD may become socially withdrawn. As they tend to keep talking about a particular topic, they may appear uninterested in other topics and may seem aloof or distant. As building new connections, friendships and relationships is difficult for them, they tend to prefer social isolation.
Signs Of Asperger’s Syndrome
Apart from the common symptoms mentioned above, here are some other signs you may need to look out for –
- Lack of social awareness
- Inability to express thoughts and emotions to others
- Difficulty making or maintaining relationships and friendships
- Lack of use and understanding of gestures
- Inability to respect interpersonal boundaries & issues with proximity
- Stereotypical & repetitive motor patterns
- Lack of or exaggerated facial expressions
- Confused & distressed by jokes, sarcasm or irony
- Delays in motor skills development
- Difficulty with coordination
- Lack of common sense
- Awkward movements
- An enhanced rote memory
- Prone to be engaged in one-sided conversations
- Literal interpretation of information
- Robotic, formal or scripted & repetitive speech
- Speech tends to be loud or high-pitched
- Inappropriate behaviors or odd mannerisms
- Sensitivity towards strong odors, noises, food or clothing textures
- Highly capable of understanding facts or technical information
- Issues with decoding abstract information
- Lack of inflection while speaking
- Inability to focus on the bigger picture
- High esteem for honesty & fairness
Like any other condition, the severity and level of the signs and symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome may greatly vary depending on the individual.
Asperger’s Symptoms May Vary
The symptoms may manifest differently in varying degrees in different individuals as Asperger’s can be a unique experience for each sufferer. Some people may experience certain symptoms, while other sufferers may have completely different symptoms. Moreover, one sufferer can have only mild problems while another person may experience severe issues and challenges. As Asperger’s syndrome is now broadly categorized under autism spectrum disorder (ASD), some of the symptoms mentioned above may not be specifically applicable to Asperger disorder exclusively. These symptoms may be included in the broader autism spectrum, according to American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).
If you can identify most or some of the symptoms in your child or loved one, then it may be a sign that they are suffering from ASD. Make sure to consult a doctor or a mental health professional for a proper diagnosis and seek treatment immediately. Effective and prompt treatment can help the sufferer to overcome the symptoms and live a healthier life.
- Hosseini SA, Molla M. Asperger Syndrome. [Updated 2020 Jun 22]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK557548/
- Loomes R, Hull L, Mandy WPL. What Is the Male-to-Female Ratio in Autism Spectrum Disorder? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2017 Jun;56(6):466-474. doi: 10.1016/j.jaac.2017.03.013. Epub 2017 Apr 5. PMID: 28545751.
- Volkmar F, Siegel M, Woodbury-Smith M, King B, McCracken J, State M; American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) Committee on Quality Issues (CQI). Practice parameter for the assessment and treatment of children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2014 Feb;53(2):237-57. doi: 10.1016/j.jaac.2013.10.013. Erratum in: J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2014 Aug;53(8):931. PMID: 24472258.
- Roy, M., Dillo, W., Emrich, H. M., & Ohlmeier, M. D. (2009). Asperger’s syndrome in adulthood. Deutsches Arzteblatt international, 106(5), 59–64. https://doi.org/10.3238/arztebl.2009.0059
- Stroth, S., Paye, L., Kamp-Becker, I., Wermter, A. K., Krach, S., Paulus, F. M., & Müller-Pinzler, L. (2019). Empathy in Females With Autism Spectrum Disorder. Frontiers in psychiatry, 10, 428. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00428
- Barahona-Corrêa, J. B., & Filipe, C. N. (2016). A Concise History of Asperger Syndrome: The Short Reign of a Troublesome Diagnosis. Frontiers in psychology, 6, 2024. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.02024
- Mazefsky, C. A., Herrington, J., Siegel, M., Scarpa, A., Maddox, B. B., Scahill, L., & White, S. W. (2013). The role of emotion regulation in autism spectrum disorder. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 52(7), 679–688. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaac.2013.05.006
- Craig J, Baron-Cohen S. Story-telling ability in children with autism or Asperger syndrome: a window into the imagination. Isr J Psychiatry Relat Sci. 2000;37(1):64-70. PMID: 10857274.
- Kern Koegel, L., Ashbaugh, K., Navab, A., & Koegel, R. L. (2016). Improving Empathic Communication Skills in Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Journal of autism and developmental disorders, 46(3), 921–933. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-015-2633-0
- Mody, M., & Belliveau, J. W. (2013). Speech and Language Impairments in Autism: Insights from Behavior and Neuroimaging. North American journal of medicine & science, 5(3), 157–161. https://doi.org/10.7156/v5i3p157
- Paul R. (2008). Interventions to improve communication in autism. Child and adolescent psychiatric clinics of North America, 17(4), 835–x. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chc.2008.06.011
- Cassidy S, Hannant P, Tavassoli T, Allison C, Smith P, Baron-Cohen S. Dyspraxia and autistic traits in adults with and without autism spectrum conditions. Mol Autism. 2016 Nov 25;7:48. doi: 10.1186/s13229-016-0112-x. PMID: 27924217; PMCID: PMC5123360.
- Baron-Cohen S, Wheelwright S. ‘Obsessions’ in children with autism or Asperger syndrome. Content analysis in terms of core domains of cognition. Br J Psychiatry. 1999 Nov;175:484-90. doi: 10.1192/bjp.175.5.484. PMID: 10789283.
- Mack H, Fullana MA, Russell AJ, Mataix-Cols D, Nakatani E, Heyman I. Obsessions and compulsions in children with Asperger’s syndrome or high-functioning autism: a case-control study. Aust N Z J Psychiatry. 2010 Dec;44(12):1082-8. doi: 10.3109/00048674.2010.515561. Epub 2010 Oct 25. PMID: 20973622.
- Russell AJ, Mataix-Cols D, Anson M, Murphy DG. Obsessions and compulsions in Asperger syndrome and high-functioning autism. Br J Psychiatry. 2005 Jun;186:525-8. doi: 10.1192/bjp.186.6.525. PMID: 15928364.