Traits That May Signal the Presence of Asperger’s
Asperger’s is no longer an official diagnosis, as it is now falls under the umbrella of autism spectrum disorder. But many people still use the term, and there are certain traits that are associated with what was formerly diagnosed as Asperger’s.
No physical test can detect Asperger’s or autism. Instead, most people spot signs of the disorder on their own, and they visit doctors for confirmation of a diagnosis.
That means it pays to know what traits to look for. When you do, you can get help as needed.
Defining Asperger’s Syndrome
In 1944, Asperger’s was defined for the first time by an Austrian physician. He published a study concerning just four young patients. In 1981, a British psychiatrist resurrected the work with a study about several of her patients.
Since the 1980s, Asperger’s has moved into our common language. People use words like “aspie” to describe themselves or their partners. Most of us can name one or two famous people or colleagues who embrace the Asperger’s term and use it often.
Professionals don’t agree with the terminology.
In 2013, Asperger’s was rolled into the larger autism spectrum disorder (ASD) category. Experts said that move allowed them to:
- Clean up diagnostic data. Meaningful differences between standard autism and Asperger’s exist. Some people sit on the cusp of the two conditions. Blending them makes diagnosis easier.
- Ensure reliable diagnoses. Someone with Asperger’s syndrome could get that diagnosis from one doctor and an autism diagnosis from another. Combining them eliminates that problem.
- Allow for individuality. Putting people into narrow boxes reduces their ability to get the help they need. Placing people on a spectrum ensures an individual’s strengths and weaknesses can be supported.
Even if you spot all of the symptoms we’ll describe below, you won’t go into a doctor’s office and emerge with an Asperger’s diagnosis. Instead, you’ll get an ASD diagnosis. With that, you can get the support you need.
Asperger’s Traits to Watch For
Each person with Asperger’s is different, and symptoms can vary widely between individuals. But some core symptoms are closely tied to those with Asperger’s syndrome.
The five core symptoms most closely related to Asperger’s involve:
- Using nonverbal communication. People with Asperger’s often have significant difficulty making eye contact, using facial expressions appropriately, and gesturing naturally.
- Interpreting nonverbal communication. They may not understand why this type of communication is important, and they may not understand what people mean when they gesture, smile, or frown.
- Relationships. They may have few close friends. Many people with Asperger’s have very limited social connections.
- Spontaneous social interactions. They may not reach out to peers to show them an object or share a victory.
- Restricted and repetitive behavior. They may seem obsessed with one or two restricted topics. They may talk about these subjects endlessly, whether or not others are interested, and they are often unable to shift to new topics. They are often fond of routines and schedules too.
Parents of children with autism often learn about the disorder around the child’s third birthday. The baby doesn’t babble or coo or chuckle. A lack of verbal skills may set these children apart.
Asperger’s is different. Children with Asperger’s don’t experience delayed speech, but they may have an unusual way of talking that involves:
- Flatness. Their voices don’t rise and fall as they talk. Instead, the sound seems to drone on.
- Rhythm. They may emphasize unusual parts of words or sentences.
- Volume. They may always speak loudly, even when in quiet spaces, like churches.
Some Asperger’s symptoms aren’t always present, even when people meet all the other criteria. For example, some people with Asperger’s have special skills not seen in others. They may be able to focus on one task for hours, with a persistence others don’t have. They may spot patterns others miss, and they may have an attention to detail others envy.
Sometimes, these symptoms seem almost superhuman, and they can help people with Asperger’s get well-paying jobs. But plenty of people with Asperger’s don’t have these remarkable skillsets.
What to Do if You Spot Asperger’s Traits
If you’ve read through the symptom list with a growing sense of familiarity, it might be worthwhile to talk with your doctor about a screening test.
When compared to other people on the autism spectrum, those with Asperger’s often have symptoms that seem mild. Others may think of people with Asperger’s as quirky or unusual, but they may not recognize that a disorder is present.
For these reasons, people with Asperger’s may move into adulthood with no idea that they have the disorder. This means they don’t get treatment services that may be needed. You’ll need a professional’s help to find out for sure if you have the disorder.
Diagnosing ASD is a complex process that may involve:
- Doctors. Your primary care physician might start the process with a simple questionnaire. Your doctor can also perform a quick, in-office test to assess your skills.
- Speech-language pathologists. While Asperger’s syndrome doesn’t cause speech delays, a professional may assess the way you talk. The quality and tone of your voice could provide important diagnostic clues.
- Mental health specialists. Psychiatrists or psychologists perform intense screening tests doctors can’t always access. Sometimes, you’ll answer questions. Sometimes, the professionals will just observe you as you complete tasks.
Plan for many appointments as you move through this diagnostic process. Your effort is worthwhile, as you could end up with a diagnosis that gives you access to treatment services when you’re through.
Should You Treat Asperger’s?
Asperger’s, like all spectrum disorders, is incurable. The brain changes that spark your symptoms will persist throughout your lifespan, no matter what you do. But therapy could be helpful.
Some people benefit from applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy to build social and communication skills. You could use the therapy to help you understand how to:
- Maintain an appropriate conversation. Learn how to approach someone to start a conversation, what to talk about, and how to keep the words flowing.
- Read the emotions of others. Practice understanding nonverbal communication and learn how people communicate with you, even when their mouths aren’t moving.
- Build healthy relationships. Practice introducing yourself to someone new, and learn about core dating do’s and don’ts.
ABA therapy is goal-oriented. You decide what you’d like to work on, and your therapist helps you understand how success is measured. Together, you can create a plan that seems helpful as you build a new life.
Some people need a short course of ABA therapy to move through limitations. Others must spend more time in therapy to get the results they need.
Some people with Asperger’s syndrome never enter therapy programs. Instead, they use the diagnosis to help friends and family members know how to support them. They can explain their tendencies and feelings, and family and close friends can learn to adjust.
There’s no shame in getting help to lead a happier and healthier life. If you have a diagnosis, reaching out to access therapy services could be wise. The progress you see over time could make the effort well worth it.
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