What is Asperger’s?

Asperger’s syndrome is a developmental disorder that belongs to the autism spectrum. It was first identified and named by Austrian physician Hans Asperger in 1944. Asperger’s is characterised by challenges in social interaction, restricted and repetitive behaviours, difficulties in communication, and sensory processing issues.

People with Asperger’s often feel, see and experience the world in a different way than neurotypical people. Since Asperger’s is a spectrum disorder, people will share similar symptoms and challenges, but no two people will experience their condition exactly the same way.

Up until recently, Asperger’s syndrome was considered its own diagnosis. This changed in 2013 when Asperger’s syndrome was merged into the broader category of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). It is up to each individual to decide how they wish to define their diagnosis. Some people still prefer the term Asperger’s while others refer to themselves as autistic or the autism spectrum.

How Do People with Asperger’s See the World?

For people with Asperger’s syndrome, their perception of the world can be vastly different from that of neurotypical individuals. The way they process and interpret information, emotions, and social cues often differs, shaping their unique perspective on the world around them.

One of the key challenges faced by individuals with Asperger’s is navigating social interactions. People with Asperger’s may find it challenging to understand subtle yet important nonverbal cues such as facial expressions or body language. This can make it difficult for them to fully grasp the intricacies of social dynamics. They may feel like they are on the outside looking in, longing for a deeper sense of connection and understanding.

People with Asperger’s often experience sensory sensitivities that can heighten their perception of the world. Sounds, sights, tastes, and smells may be intensified and overwhelming, often leading to discomfort and distress. Certain environments or situations that may seem unremarkable to others can trigger sensory overload for someone with Asperger’s.

Despite these challenges, people with Asperger’s are all unique individuals with their own strengths and abilities. They often exhibit exceptional attention to detail, a strong focus on specific interests, and a penchant for systematic thinking.

Their unique perspectives and deep knowledge in their areas of interest can lead to significant contributions and accomplishments. It is important, however, to note that not all individuals with Asperger’s exhibit savant abilities, which are extraordinary skills in specific areas.

Adapting to change and unpredictability can be particularly difficult for people with Asperger’s. The world can appear uncertain and overwhelming, leading them to rely on routines and predictability as a source of comfort and stability. Navigating new situations may require careful planning and support, as unfamiliar circumstances can trigger feelings of uncertainty and anxiety.

Diagnosing Asperger’s Syndrome

Diagnosing Asperger’s syndrome, or what is now considered autism spectrum disorder (ASD), involves a comprehensive evaluation conducted by qualified professionals experienced in diagnosing these conditions.

It’s important to note that the diagnostic criteria and guidelines may vary slightly depending on the country and the specific diagnostic manual used. However, the core focus remains on assessing the individual’s social communication skills, restricted or repetitive behaviours, and the impact of these symptoms on their daily life.

The diagnostic process typically includes the following approaches:

  • Diagnostic Interviews: Clinicians conduct interviews with the individual and their support network to gather information about their developmental history, social interactions,and communication skills.
  • Behavioural Observations: Direct observations are conducted of the individual’s behaviour in various settings, such as at home, school, or during a clinical evaluation.
  • Questionnaires and Rating Scales: Standardised questionnaires and rating scales, such as the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) and the Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (ADI-R) are often used.
  • Medical Evaluation: A medical evaluation is typically conducted to rule out other possible medical conditions or genetic disorders that may be associated with autism-like symptoms.
  • Collaboration with Other Professionals: The diagnostic process often involves collaboration with other professionals, such as psychologists, psychiatrists, speech-language pathologists, and occupational therapists. These professionals may provide additional assessments and evaluations based on their respective areas of expertise.

The Benefits of an Asperger’s Diagnosis

There are varying perspectives on the significance of a diagnosis. Although some people see a diagnosis as an unhelpful label, others find several benefits in obtaining a thorough assessment and diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome.

For children, a formal diagnosis can help:

  • Understanding Your Child’s Needs: A diagnosis helps parents gain a deeper understanding of their child’s unique strengths, challenges and needs so that they can provide better support.
  • Access to Support and Services: With a diagnosis, parents can access specialised support services tailored to their child’s specific needs. This can include interventions, therapies, educational programs, and resources aimed at promoting their children’s communication skills, social interaction, and overall well-being.
  • School Support: A diagnosis often helps parents to obtain valuable guidance and support from the educational system. They can collaborate with teachers and administrators to create an Education, Health, and Care (EHC) plan, ensuring appropriate accommodations and support are provided.
  • Support for Parents and Carers: An autism diagnosis opens doors to support networks and resources designed for people with autism. These can include parent support groups, counselling services, workshops, and access to information about financial benefits and assistance programs.

There are also many benefits of an Asperger’s syndrome diagnosis for adults:

  • Self-Understanding and Self-Advocacy: An autism diagnosis provides adults with a better understanding of their own experiences and provides a pathway for self-acceptance and personal growth.
  • Explaining Differences to Others: It can be difficult for a person with Asperger’s to explain their perspectives, sensory sensitivities, and social difficulties to others. A diagnosis offers understanding and promotes empathy, allowing for more meaningful interactions with friends, family, and colleagues.
  • Support in Educational and Workplace Settings: With an Asperger’s diagnosis, people can access support services and accommodations in educational institutions, colleges, universities, and workplace environments.
  • Financial Benefits: A diagnosis can provide access to financial benefits or disability-related support programs. These resources can help alleviate some of the financial burdens associated with therapy, interventions, and other necessary support.

The Symptoms & Characteristics of Asperger’s Syndrome

People with Asperger’s are unique individuals just like everyone else with their own strengths and abilities. While each person’s experience with Asperger’s is distinct, there are some common symptoms that are associated with the condition:

  • Social difficulties: People with Asperger’s may struggle with social interaction, including interpreting social cues, initiating and maintaining conversations or understanding other people’s perspectives and emotions. This may lead to social awkwardness and challenges in forming and maintaining friendships.
  • Restricted and repetitive behaviours and interests: People with Asperger’s often exhibit repetitive behaviours, routines, or rituals. They may have intense and focused interests in specific subjects and engage in repetitive or soothing behaviours such as hand-flapping or rocking.
  • Difficulty with communication: While individuals with Asperger’s syndrome typically have good language skills, they may struggle with the social aspects of communication.
  • Sensory sensitivities: Many individuals with Asperger’s syndrome have heightened sensitivities to sensory experiences. They can be overly sensitive or under-sensitive to certain sensory stimuli, such as loud noises, bright lights, specific textures, or certain tastes and smells. These sensitivities can cause discomfort or distress and can have a significant impact on their daily lives.

What Causes Asperger’s Syndrome?

The causes of Asperger’s syndrome are still not fully understood and ongoing research aims to uncover more insights.

It is crucial to emphasise that Asperger’s syndrome is not caused by a child’s upbringing or poor parenting. Extensive research has debunked any correlation between parenting practices and the development of autism spectrum disorders. The focus of current research is to understand the complex interplay of genetic, neurological, and environmental factors involved in the development of Asperger’s.

Some factors that have been identified as potential contributors:

  • Genetic Factors: Evidence suggests a strong genetic influence on the development of Asperger’s syndrome. Studies have identified certain genes and genetic mutations that may increase the risk of developing autism spectrum disorders, including Asperger’s syndrome. No single gene or genetic mutation has yet been identified as the sole cause.
  • Neurological Differences: People with Asperger’s syndrome often exhibit differences in brain structure and functioning compared to neurotypical individuals. Brain imaging studies have revealed variations in the size, connectivity, and activity of specific brain regions involved in social communication, emotional processing, and sensory perception.
  • Environmental Factors: Some studies have suggested that certain factors such as advanced parental age, prenatal exposure to certain medications or toxins, and complications during pregnancy or childbirth may be associated with an increased risk. These factors are not direct causes but may contribute to the overall risk in combination with other factors.

Debunking Myths and Misconceptions

Myth: Asperger’s syndrome is a rare condition.
Fact: Asperger’s syndrome is more common than previously believed. While prevalence varies across studies, it is generally considered to be on the milder end of the autism spectrum.

Myth: Individuals with Asperger’s syndrome lack empathy.
Fact: People with Asperger’s syndrome experience a full range of emotions just like everybody else. They may struggle with recognising and understanding emotions in others due to social interaction and communication challenges, but they are fully able to experience empathy and compassion.

Myth: Asperger’s syndrome only affects boys or men.
Fact: Autism spectrum disorders impact both males and females. However, it may be more commonly diagnosed in males due to different presentation patterns or underdiagnosis in females.

Myth: Individuals with Asperger’s syndrome are intellectually disabled.
Fact: Asperger’s syndrome does not imply intellectual disability. Many individuals have average or above-average intelligence and often excel in specific areas of interest. However, some may have coexisting intellectual disabilities or learning differences.

Myth: People with Asperger’s syndrome cannot form meaningful relationships or friendships.
Fact: While social interaction can present certain challenges, people with Asperger’s can form meaningful relationships and friendships just like anyone else.

Myth: Asperger’s syndrome is caused by bad parenting or a lack of discipline.
Fact: Asperger’s syndrome is a neurodevelopmental condition with a strong genetic component. It is not caused by parenting or discipline.

Support & Resources Available

Here are some additional resources that can help people with Asperger’s and their families:

  • Project Aspie: A community-based organisation offering support, empowerment, and opportunities for individuals with Asperger’s and autism.
  • Autism Education Trust: Provides resources, training, and support for educators, parents, and professionals working with individuals on the autism spectrum.
  • National Autistic Society (NAS): A leading UK charity providing information, support, and services for individuals with autism, including Asperger’s syndrome, and their families.
  • The Spectrum Magazine: A quarterly magazine dedicated to sharing personal stories, insights, and practical advice from individuals with Asperger’s and autism.
  • Ambitious about Autism: A charity focused on improving the lives of children and young people with autism, offering education, employment, and support services.
  • Autistica: A charity funding research to understand and improve the lives of individuals with autism, including Asperger’s syndrome. Offers resources and information on autism research.
  • Autism Eye Magazine: A publication focused on autism-related news, research, therapies, and educational resources. Provides insights and guidance for parents and professionals.
  • The Autism Show: An annual event featuring seminars, workshops, and exhibitions showcasing the latest information, resources, and support for individuals with autism and their families.
  • Autism Toolbox: A website offering practical resources and strategies for supporting individuals with autism in various areas, including education, communication, and social skills.

Specialist Support from Liaise

At Liaise, we believe that with the right awareness, understanding, and support, people with Asperger’s can navigate the world with greater confidence and find fulfilment and happiness in their own unique way.

Through our residential and supported living services, people with autism can learn, work and create lifelong friendships in a positive, structured environment. The care we provide is always person-centred and tailored to the specific needs, desires and ambitions of each individual.

If you would like to learn more about our autism care and support services, do not hesitate to contact us. We look forward to hearing from you.