CHARACTERISTICS OF ASPERGER'S
Asperger syndrome is distinguished by a pattern
of symptoms rather than a single symptom. It is characterized by
qualitative impairment in social interaction, by stereotyped and
restricted patterns of activities and interests, and by no clinically
significant delay in cognitive development or general delay in language.
with a narrow subject, one-sided verbosity, restricted prosody and
intonation, and motor clumsiness are typical of the condition, but
are not required for diagnosis.
The lack of demonstrated empathy is possibly the
most dysfunctional aspect of Asperger syndrome. Individuals with Aspergers syndrome experience difficulties in basic elements of social interaction,
which may include a failure to develop friendships or enjoy spontaneous
interests or achievements with others, a lack of social or emotional
reciprocity, and impaired nonverbal behaviors such as eye contact,
facial expression, posture, and gesture.
Unlike those with autism, people with Aspergers syndrome are not
usually withdrawn around others; they approach others, even if awkwardly,
for example by engaging in a one-sided, long-winded speech about
an unusual topic while being oblivious to the listener's feelings
or reactions, such as signs of boredom or wanting to leave. This
social awkwardness has been called "active, but odd".
This failure to react appropriately to social interaction may appear
as disregard for other people's feelings, and may come across as
insensitive. The cognitive ability of children with Aspergers syndrome often lets
them articulate social norms in a laboratory context, where they
may be able to show a theoretical understanding of other people’s
emotions; however, they typically have difficulty acting on this
knowledge in fluid, real-life situations. People with Aspergers syndrome may
analyze and distill their observation of social interaction into
rigid behavioral guidelines and apply these rules in awkward ways—such
as forced eye contact—resulting in demeanor that appears rigid or
socially naive. Childhood desires for companionship can be numbed
through a history of failed social encounters.
The hypothesis that individuals with Aspergers syndrome are predisposed
to violent or criminal behavior has been investigated and found
to be unsupported by data. More evidence suggests children
with Aspergers syndrome are victims rather than victimizers.
Restricted and repetitive interests and behavior
People with Asperger syndrome display behavior,
interests, and activities that are restricted and repetitive and
are sometimes abnormally intense or focused. They may stick to inflexible
routines or rituals, move in stereotyped and repetitive ways, or
preoccupy themselves with parts of objects.
Pursuit of specific and narrow areas of interest
is one of the most striking features of Aspergers syndrome. Individuals with Aspergers syndrome may collect volumes of detailed information on a relatively narrow
topic such as dinosaurs or deep fat fryers, without necessarily
having genuine understanding of the broader topic. For example,
a child might memorize camera model numbers while caring little
about photography. This behavior is usually apparent by grade
school, typically age 5 or 6 in the U.S. Although these special
interests may change from time to time, they typically become more
unusual and narrowly focused, and often dominate social interaction
so much that the entire family may become immersed. Because topics
such as dinosaurs often capture the interest of children, this symptom
may go unrecognized.
Stereotyped and repetitive motor behaviors are
a core part of the diagnosis
of Aspergers syndrome and other Autism Spectrum Disorders. They include hand movements such as flapping
or twisting, and complex whole-body movements. These are typically
repeated in longer bursts and look more voluntary or ritualistic
than tics, which are usually faster, less rhythmical and less often
Speech and language
Although children with Asperger syndrome acquire
language skills without significant general delay, and the speech
of those with Aspergers syndrome typically lacks significant abnormalities, language
acquisition and use is often atypical. Abnormalities include
verbosity; abrupt transitions; literal interpretations and miscomprehension
of nuance; use of metaphor meaningful only to the speaker; auditory
perception deficits; unusually pedantic, formal or idiosyncratic
speech; and oddities in loudness, pitch, intonation, prosody, and
Three aspects of communication patterns are of
clinical interest: poor prosody, tangential and circumstantial speech,
and marked verbosity. Although inflection and intonation may be
less rigid or monotonic than in autism, people with Aspergers syndrome often have
a limited range of intonation; speech may be overly fast, jerky
or loud. Speech may convey a sense of incoherence; the conversational
style often includes monologues about topics that bore the listener,
fails to provide context for comments, or fails to suppress internal
thoughts. Individuals with Aspergers syndrome may fail to monitor whether the listener
is interested or engaged in the conversation. The speaker's conclusion
or point may never be made, and attempts by the listener to elaborate
on the speech's content or logic, or to shift to related topics,
are often unsuccessful.
Children with Aspergers syndrome may have an unusually sophisticated
vocabulary at a young age and have been colloquially called "little
professors", but have difficulty understanding metaphorical
language and tend to use language literally. Individuals with Aspergers syndrome appear to have particular weaknesses in areas of nonliteral language
that include humor, irony, and teasing. They usually understand
the cognitive basis of humor but may not enjoy it due to lack of
understanding of its intent.
Other symptoms of Asperger syndrome
Individuals with Asperger syndrome may have symptoms
that are independent of the diagnosis, but can affect the individual
or the family. These symptoms include atypical perception and problems
with motor skills, sleep, and emotions.
Asperger’s initial accounts and other diagnostic
schemes include descriptions of motor clumsiness. Children with Aspergers syndrome may be delayed in acquiring motor skills that require motor dexterity,
such as bicycle riding or opening a jar, and may appear awkward
or "uncomfortable in their own skin". They may be poorly
coordinated, or have an odd or bouncy gait or posture, poor handwriting,
or problems with visual-motor integration, visual-perceptual skills,
and conceptual learning. They may show problems with proprioception
(sensation of body position) on measures of apraxia (motor planning
disorder), balance, tandem gait, and finger-thumb apposition. There
is no evidence that these motor skills problems differentiate Aspergers syndrome
from other high-functioning Autism Spectrum Disorders.
Many accounts of individuals with Aspergers syndrome
and other Autism Spectrum Disorders report unusual sensory and perceptual
skills and experiences. They may have superior performance in tasks
like visual search problems that require processing of fine-grained
features rather than entire configurations. They may be unusually
sensitive or insensitive to sound, light, touch, texture, taste,
smell, pain, temperature, and other stimuli, and they may exhibit
synesthesia, for example, a smell may trigger perception of color;
these sensory responses are found in other developmental disorders
and are not specific to Aspergers syndrome or to Autism Spectrum Disorder. There is little
support for increased fight-or-flight response or failure of habituation
in autism; there is more evidence of decreased responsiveness to
sensory stimuli, although several studies show no differences.
Children with Aspergers syndrome are more likely to have sleep
problems, including difficulty in falling asleep, frequent nocturnal
awakenings, and early morning awakenings. Aspergers syndrome is also associated
with high levels of alexithymia, which is difficulty in identifying
and describing one's emotions. Although Aspergers syndrome, lower sleep quality,
and alexithymia are associated, their causal relationship is unclear.
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