Aspergers / Autism FAQ

Since I first wrote about Asperger’s Syndrome and Autism on this blog I have received a lot of questions and I thought it would be easier to address them in the form of an FAQ .

So here goes:

What Is Asperger’s Syndrome?

Asperger’s Syndrome is one of three classifications of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). These classifications are Autism, Aspergers Syndrome & PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder—Not Otherwise Specified). Typically people who have Asperger’s Syndrome have reasonably mild autistic symptoms. The condition is named after a very clever Austrian chap named Hans Asperger, who worked for over forty years with people on the Autistic Spectrum. He categorised certain individuals as having very high functioning autism without the typical language development problems, which is essentially what AS is.

What are the exact symptoms of Asperger’s Syndrome / High Functioning Autism?

Every case of Asperger’s Syndrome presents slightly differently. From a diagnostic point of view there are three main criteria which are known as the Triad of Impairments. Someone with Asperger’s Syndrome will have at least one symptom from each of the following categories:

Social and Emotional Impairments:

  • Difficulties with friendships and social situations.
  • Problems managing with unstructured parts of the day.
  • Extreme difficulty working cooperatively.

Language & Communication:

  • Difficulties reading Body Language.
  • Difficulties reading Facial Expressions.
  • Interpreting things very literally.
  • Difficulties understanding and retaining verbal information.
  • Problems understanding sarcasm and the concept of irony.

Flexibility of thought:

  • Difficulty coping in change of routines or change of plans.
  • Difficulty in empathising with others (placing oneself in another’s emotional situation).
  • Difficulties with Generalizations of thought or skill.

Most people with Aspergers Syndrome also find it difficult to maintain eye contact and will occasionally find social situations very overwhelming, often to the point of anxiety. Many people with AS can also be very single minded about certain interests and will quickly become experts in their particular fields of interest. These interests sometimes change over time; but not always.

With more serious Autistic Spectrum Disorders, children usually struggle to master language and reading and writing. This isn’t the case with Asperger’s Syndrome. In many cases children with Asperger’s excel early on in education and have the facility to absorb information by rote. AS children tend to be quite logical too, and usually very inquisitive about things.

What is the difference between Asperger’s Syndrome & Mild Autism or High Functioning Autism?

Realistically there isn’t one. Autism is a spectrum, Asperger’s Sydrome indicates that you are at the mild end of the spectrum.

What is Severe Autism?

Severe autism is sometimes called low-functioning autism, classic autism, “Kanner’s” autism, or profound autism. At this end of the Autistic Spectrum there can be extreme Language / Speech issues, Cognitive and Processing problems and extreme Sensory Integration Dysfunction. It is common to have extreme repetitive behaviours, which at times can lead to self harm. Aggression and severe anti-social reactions can also be common.

What is Sensory Integration Dysfunction?

Occasionally people with Asperger’s will be very sensitive to specific sense, like smell, touch, hearing or even sight. Under certain conditions processing certain senses can be very difficult and many people with AS find that one or more of their senses is extremely hypersensitive. This is not always the case though and is not a diagnostic criterion.

What is Dyspraxia?

Dyspraxia is a condition in itself which causes poor development of fine motor control. This can lead to people seeming to be a bit clumsy occasionally. It can cause bad handwriting and make it difficult to catch things sometimes. People with Asperger’s syndrome seem to be more prone to Dyspraxia than the rest of the population, but not all people with Asperger’s have it.

What causes Asperger’s Syndrome?

Nobody is 100% sure. It appears that there is a genetic predisposition to Aspergers Syndrome, but it also appears to come out of the blue after childhood illnesses. Food sensitivities in children appear to make the symptoms worse too. Typically Aspergers Syndrome will present by six years of age.

How Common is Asperger’s Syndrome?

The truth is it is difficult to say. Aspergers Syndrome wasn’t commonly diagnosed as a seperate condition from Autism until the early 1990′s, when a researcher called Lorna Wing began examining Hans Aspergers research in depth. Current Estimates range from anything from 1 in 250 to 1 in 120. The truth is nobody really knows, but what is clear is there are far more undiagnosed cases of ASD and specifically Aspergers Sundrome than anyone could have guessed.

Is there a cure / treatment for Asperger’s Syndrome?

In a word – No. Asperger’s isn’t an illness, it is a neurological condition, and once the brain is wired, it isn’t going to change very much. Over time people with Asperger’s usually get better at hiding their symptoms, but it isn’t something that you can “Grow out of” or see a counsellor about. When you have Asperger’s Syndrome or any other Autistic Spectrum Disorder for that matter, your mind simply works a little differently.

Autistic Spectrum Disorders affect many structures in the brain. Now the brain is a complicated and wondrous thing which nobody really understands. What we do know is that each structure seems to have many functions, not just one. In the Autistic brain, the greatest differences are seen in the cerebellum and the Amygdala. These are areas which are largely responsible for emotional response, memory, language, motor control, fear and the release of stress hormones. So, quite important structures then really! Ironically in Autistic children there appears to be far too many brain cells in these areas. As people develop, brain cells die, it is a natural process; however in the autistic brain, not only do the excess cells die, but so do many more, leaving a slight deficit, and some rather uniquely connected neurology.

Are there any benefits to Asperger’s Syndrome?

Yes, usually there are some. People with Asperger’s are generally of average or above average intelligence and because they process stimuli differently they see the world in a very different way and can often pick up on connections and meanings which would be otherwise missed by neural typical people.

Most people who have Asperger’s Syndrome are completely free of sexism and racism. They are generally trusting by nature and find deceit confusing. They also tend to question basic assumptions which other people would blindly take for granted. Integrity is often second nature to to an Aspie, and they often have an extraordinary endurance to perform what others would describe as dry or repetitive tasks.

Sadly, many people with Asperger’s Syndrome are often unaware of just how differently they see and sense the world around them and assume that everyone else see’s and experiences the world in a similar way.

Are people with Asperger’s Syndrome always gifted?

Not always no. People with Asperger’s syndrome do tend to be very single minded about things they are interested in and sometimes study these things obsessively. They also tend to have there own worlds into which they can retreat. This sometimes takes the form of having a very active and good imagination or ability to picture complex things in their minds eye. This ability is sometimes referred to as Disassociation.

Often, because of the social difficulties which ‘Aspies’ face, they quite often start to find school incredibly difficult by their mid teens and often fall behind academically despite being quite clever. Also it is important to bear in mind that Aspies often struggle to focus on topics and lessons that they do not find interesting or stimulating in some way.

If you have any questions about Asperger’s Syndrome please use the form below and I will do my best to answer them or to point you to where you can find the answers.