Asperger’s: How to Recognize the Signs & Symptoms
Asperger’s syndrome is no longer an official diagnosis. Instead, people who have symptoms of Asperger’s are now diagnosed with autism.
But Asperger’s is still discussed and present in popular culture. As a result, many people want information about the diagnosis. Just remember that it now falls under the umbrella of autism spectrum disorder.
As with autism, people who have Asperger’s will have it forever. But treatment can help them to improve their skills and deepen their understanding, so they can live happy and fulfilling lives.
Effective treatment starts with a diagnosis. That means families must learn all about Asperger’s symptoms.
No blood test or brain scan can diagnose any form of autism. Instead, doctors ask families to describe the symptoms they see, and they use that observational data to make a diagnosis.
Asperger’s Symptoms by Age
Autism is a lifelong condition that can’t be cured. As the National Autistic Society explains, many people with Asperger’s think of the syndrome as a fundamental part of their identity. They may not want to be cured as much as accepted.
When you can spot the signs, you can work on that acceptance. You can help the person build up skills that might be impeded by autism.
The symptoms you’ll see vary significantly by age.
Researchers say autism signs appear in children as young as 1 year old , but it generally took longer for doctors to diagnose Asperger’s syndrome. Doctors use observations and interviews to make a diagnosis, and they’re leery of applying that label too early. But you may see signs at home that concern you.
Common Asperger’s symptoms in very young children include:
- Obsessions. Your child has a deep-set interest in one topic, one type of toy, or one form of sound.
- Inflexibility. Your child cries or seems upset when routines shift.
- Missed social cues. Your child won’t make eye contact, or your child wanders away instead of responding to a verbal cue.
- Strong senses. Your child bucks or cries when given a bite of unusual food, or your child shies away from loud noises and bright lights.
Doctors look for these signs in well-child checkups, and they may ask you for input on the unusual things you’ve seen at home. But sometimes, Asperger’s symptoms are subtle and easy to miss.
Experts explain that Asperger’s is different than other manifestations of autism. People with Asperger’s rarely have the intellectual disabilities associated with other autism types. They may speak right on schedule, and they can be incredibly knowledgeable about the topics they enjoy. Doctors who don’t dig deeper may miss the subtle signs, and that could mean your child goes without the right diagnosis.
The symptoms you see in very young children can persist as the child ages. For example, an older child may remain resistant to change and unlikely to enjoy loud noises. As children age, some new Asperger’s symptoms may appear that you missed before.
As children enter school, Asperger’s symptoms you or your child’s teacher may notice include:
- Social struggles. Your child interprets language literally and doesn’t understand sarcasm or humor. Your child talks bluntly and doesn’t reciprocate in conversation.
- Communication challenges. Your child repeats words that are said by others. During conversation, your child stands too close to others and uses eye contact and voice inflection in an unusual manner.
- Cognition difficulties. Your child is a literal thinker and can’t always differentiate between what is relevant and irrelevant. Your child can’t apply knowledge to new situations.
- Poor motor skills. Your child struggles with handwriting and other tasks involving coordination.
Your child may become the target of bullies at this age. Some children feel the pain of bullying acutely, and they respond by resisting the call to attend school. Others seem unaware of their classmates, but you may notice that they have few close friends. Their weekends are spent with you rather than with their peers.
Autism screenings may remain part of some well-child visits, but if you see symptoms like this, a visit with the doctor makes sense. Schedule that appointment, and discuss what you’ve seen. Push for a specialist appointment, if needed, so your child can talk with an expert about Asperger’s syndrome and autism.
Some adults with Asperger’s syndrome are well aware of their condition, and they have years of work with therapists behind them. They know what to do to keep symptoms in check, and they’re adept at advocating for themselves and requesting what they need from others.
Some people grow up with absolutely no idea that they have Asperger’s syndrome, but they may know something about them is unusual. They may live with:
- Fatigue. They spend their lives trying to fit in. Through observation and experimentation, they learn how to handle various tasks, such as attending business meetings or eating family dinners. But these events are hard work, and they leave the person feeling exhausted.
- Depression. They wonder why it’s so hard to do things others handle with ease, and they lack the ability to change things for the better.
- Anxiety. They worry they’ll make a mistake, which they won’t understand, at work or in relationships.
A diagnosis can come as a relief, as it helps people understand why life has been such a struggle so far.
Treatments That Work
Doctors screen children for autism, as they know that early intervention is critical. When small children start work with therapists, they pick up skills that help them succeed in mainstream classrooms.
Unfortunately, it’s common for people with Asperger’s syndrome to evade diagnosis until late in life. In fact, experts say, people with Asperger’s are often diagnosed between ages 6 and 11 rather than in earlier stages, as we see with other forms of autism.
People with Asperger’s may not have the same struggles as those with other forms of autism. They can typically talk with ease, for example, and they don’t always have cognitive declines. But they do have issues that benefit from therapy.
Researchers say people with Asperger’s syndrome can benefit from therapies that address:
- Social situations. They may need to practice proper greetings, conversational nuance, and friendly partings.
- Forming relationships. They may need to learn how to read nonverbal communication queues.
- Social anxiety. They may enjoy practicing social skills, so they’ll feel less worried when thrust into social situations.
- Conversational skills. They may feel most comfortable while talking about specific subjects. They may appreciate learning how to talk about things they don’t know about.
Therapists are adept at tailoring their approaches by age level. Small children need different types of therapy than adults. The kind of help people need will also change throughout their lifespan.
For example, experts say people with Asperger’s syndrome can leverage their obsessions into meaningful careers, but they may need counseling before they enter the job market. They may also need understanding employers that tailor the work and the office environment to help them succeed.
While people with Asperger’s syndrome can live full lives, many need some kind of therapy throughout life to reach their full potential and avoid depression and anxiety. The sooner therapy starts, the better.
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Life Journey Through Autism: An Educator’s Guide to Asperger Syndrome. (April 2016). Organization for Autism Research.
Living With an Asperger Profile for Adults. Asperger Autism Network.
Why the Delay in Asperger Diagnosis? (September 2012). Autism Speaks.
Treating Clients with Asperger’s Syndrome and Autism. (2013). Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health.
Asperger Syndrome Treatment and Management. (February 2018). Medscape.