Fact sheet on communication issues arising from Asperger's syndrome


Individuals diagnosed with Asperger syndrome may develop problems in their abilities to successfully engage in interpersonal relationships.


Social impact of Aspergers syndrome

Asperger syndrome may lead to problems in social interaction with peers. These problems can be severe or mild depending on the individual. Children with Asperger's syndrome are often the target of bullying at school due to their idiosyncratic behavior, precise language, unusual interests, and impaired ability to perceive and respond in socially expected ways to nonverbal cues, particularly in interpersonal conflict. Children with Asperger's syndrome may be overly literal, and may have difficulty interpreting and responding to sarcasm, banter, or metaphorical speech. Difficulties with social interaction may also be manifest in a lack of play with other children.[1]


The above problems can even arise in the family; given an unfavorable family environment, the child may be subject to emotional abuse. A child or teen with Asperger's syndrome is often puzzled by this mistreatment, unaware of what has been done incorrectly. Unlike other pervasive development disorders, most children with Asperger's syndrome want to be social, but fail to socialize successfully, which can lead to later withdrawal and asocial behavior, especially in adolescence.[2] At this stage of life especially, they risk being drawn into unsuitable and inappropriate friendships and social groups. People with Asperger's syndrome often interact better with those considerably older or younger than themselves, rather than those within their own age group.[3]


Children with Asperger's syndrome often display advanced abilities for their age in language, reading, mathematics, spatial skills, and/or music—sometimes into the "gifted" range—but this may be counterbalanced by considerable delays in other developmental areas. This combination of traits can lead to problems with teachers and other authority figures. A child with Asperger's syndrome might be regarded by teachers as a "problem child" or a "poor performer." The child’s extremely low tolerance for what they perceive to be ordinary and mediocre tasks, such as typical homework assignments, can easily become frustrating; a teacher may well consider the child arrogant, spiteful, and insubordinate. Lack of support and understanding, in combination with the child's anxieties, can result in problematic behavior (such as severe tantrums, violent and angry outbursts, and withdrawal).[4]


Although adults with Asperger's syndrome may have similar problems, they are not as likely to be given treatment as a child would. Adult individuals diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome may find it difficult finding employment or entering undergraduate or graduate schools because of poor interview skills or a low score on standardized or personality tests. Such persons may also be more vulnerable to poverty and homelessness than the general population, because of their difficulty finding (and keeping) employment, lack of proper education, premature social skills, and other factors.[5] If they do become employed, adults with Asperger's syndrome may be misunderstood, taken advantage of, paid less than those without Asperger's syndrome, and be subject to bullying and discrimination. Communication deficits may mean coworkers have difficulty understanding persons with Asperger's syndrome, who in turn do not understand them. Resultant problems with authority figures continue as difficult, tense relations become prevalent.


Difficulties in relationships

Two potentially disruptive traits sometimes found in the profile of Asperger's syndrome individuals are mind-blindness (the inability to predict the beliefs and intentions of others) and alexithymia (the inability to identify and interpret emotional signals in oneself or others), which traits both impose a reduction in the ability to be empathetically attuned to others.[6][7] Alexithymia in Asperger's syndrome, it must be noted, is in no way a result of mind-blindness but functions as an independent variable relying on different neural networks than those implicated in Theory of Mind.[6][7] In fact, lack of Theory of Mind in Asperger's syndrome may be a result of a lack of information available to the mind due to the operation of the alexithymic deficit.[6][7]


A second issue related to alexithymia involves the inability to identify and therewith modulate strong emotions such as sadness or anger, which leaves the individual prone to “sudden affective outbursts such as crying or rage”[8][9][10] According to Tony Attwood, the inability to express feelings using words may also predispose the individual to use physical acts to articulate the mood and release the emotional energy.[11]


People with Asperger's syndrome report a feeling of being unwillingly detached from the world around them. They may have difficulty finding a life partner or getting married due to poor social skills.[12] In a similar fashion to school bullying, the person with Asperger's syndrome is vulnerable to problems in their neighbourhood, such as anti-social behaviour and harassment. Due to social isolation, they can be seen as the 'black sheep' in the community and thus may be at risk of wrongful suspicions and allegations from others.[5] Individuals with Asperger's syndrome will need support if they desire to make connections on a personal level. In order for them to see the purpose or relevance of a relationship beyond a point of interest or concept it may represent to them, it will require facilitation from a skilled professional.


These connections are crucial throughout the life of an individual with Asperger's syndrome. When these connections become incredibly complex, however, is in adulthood and unfortunately this is when the fewest services are provided for this population. Direct teaching around how to identify and establish social boundaries as well as recognizing a person and relationship that he or she can trust is necessary for social success. The complexity and inconsistency of the social world can pose an extreme challenge for individuals with Asperger's syndrome. And if all else fails, at least in the UK Aspergers is now confirmed as being covered by the Disability Discrimination Act. This means that those with Asperger's syndrome who get treated badly because of it may have some redress. The first case was that of Hewett (sometimes referred to as Hewitt) v Motorola 2004.[13] and the second was Isles v Ealing Council[14]


The intense focus and tendency to work things out logically often grants those people with Asperger's syndrome a high level of ability in their field of interest. When these special interests coincide with a materially or socially useful task, the person with Asperger's syndrome often can lead a profitable career and a fulfilled life. The child obsessed with naval architecture may grow up to be an accomplished shipwright.[15] People with Asperger's syndrome have also served and in many cases done well in the military. Although Asperger's syndrome is generally a disqualifier for military service, the individual can be qualified if he or she has not required special accommodations or treatment for the past year.[16] More research is needed on adults with Asperger's syndrome.[17]



1 Asperger Syndrome: What Is It?. The National Autistic Society (2007). Retrieved on 2007-12-29.
2 Stoddart, Kevin P. (Editor) (2005), p. 22.
3 Asperger Syndrome: What Is It?. The National Autistic Society (2007). Retrieved on 2007-12-29.
4 Myles, Brenda Smith; Southwick, Jack (2005). "Asperger Syndrome and Difficult Moments". Shawnee Mission, Kansas: Autism Asperger Publishing Co. ISBN 1-931282-70-6, pp. 14–17
5 Barnard J, et al. Ignored or Ineligible? : The reality for adults with ASD (PDF). The National Autistic Society, London, 2001.
6 Moriguchi, Y., Decety, J., Ohnishi, T., Maeda, M., Matsuda, H., & Komaki, G. Empathy and judging other’s pain: An fMRI study of alexithymia. Cerebral Cortex (2007);
7 Bird, J., Silani, G., Brindley, R., Singer, T., Frith, U., and Frith, C. Alexithymia In Autism Spectrum Disorders: and fMRI Investigation (2006)
8 Nemiah, C.J., Freyberger, H., & Sifneos, P.E., ‘Alexithymia: A View of the Psychosomatic Process’ in O.W.Hill (1970) (ed), Modern Trends in Psychosomatic Medicine, Vol-2, p.432-33
9 Krystal, H. Integration and Self-Healing: Affect, Trauma, Alexithymia (1988), p. 246; McDougall, J. Theaters of the Mind 1985, p.169-70
10 Taylor, G.J, Parker, J.D.A., & Bagby, R.M. Disorders of Affect Regulation- Alexithymia in Medical and Psychiatric Illness (1997), p.246-47
11 Atwood, Tony (2006). The Complete Guide to Asperger's Syndrome, Jessica Kingsley Pub. ISBN-1843104954 p. 130, 136
12 Tsatsanis KD (2003). "Outcome research in Asperger syndrome and autism". Child Adolesc Psychiatr Clin N Am 12 (1): 47–63, vi. PMID 12512398.
13 List of Cases / Hewett v Motorola Ltd, EAT 2004
14 Unison: Disabled members, Union member discriminated against
15 Stoddart, Kevin P. (2005), p. 24. Stoddart notes: "Adults who have succeeded in keeping employment may be found in vocations that rely on a circumscribed area of knowledge."
16 Meyer, Roger N. (2007-12-02). Asperger Syndrome in Military Service. ASPIRES. Retrieved on 2007-12-29.
17 Stoddart, Kevin P. (2005), p. 239.



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At the milder end of the autism spectrum, Asperger's syndrome still posese communication issues for children, with early intervention required to minimize developmental delays