What Is Asperger’s?
Asperger’s is a neurological condition on the autism spectrum. Although Asperger’s shares many of the features of classical autism, speech is not delayed and the symptoms are generally less severe. Asperger’s is therefore considered to be on the “high-functioning” end of the spectrum.
What Are The Characteristics of Asperger’s?
The main characteristic is that people with Asperger’s have difficulties with social interactions and non-verbal communication. Although our IQs are typically in the normal to very superior range, there is a significant discrepancy between our intellectual ability and our social abilities. Some of us also tend to have a restricted range of interests and may exhibit repetitive behaviors.
People with Asperger’s usually experience one or more of the following:
Feel Different – Many of us intuitively feel different and somewhat disconnected from the rest of the world. We feel as if we don’t “fit in.” This is sometimes called “wrong planet” syndrome. When I was diagnosed with Asperger’s at the age of 12, I was extremely relieved because it confirmed the fact that not only did I feel different, I was different.
Social Difficulties – We have great difficulty knowing what to say or how to behave in social situations. Many of us have a tendency to say the “wrong thing.” As a consequence, we may appear awkward, aloof, uninterested and rude, which unintentionally upsets others. Yet, we really want to fit in and desperately want to interact with our peers. Unfortunately, since we are socially awkward and struggle with social conventions, we have a tendency to give off the opposite impression. Because we make limited eye contact, seem unengaged in a conversation and struggle to understand the use of gestures and/or sarcasm, this sabotages our ability to engage and socialize with others.
Communication Difficulties – We have trouble perceiving the intentions and emotions of other people because of our tendency to ignore or misinterpret non-verbal cues (such as facial expressions, body language and vocal intonation).
Processing Difficulties – We tend to have slower than average auditory, visual and/or intellectual processing, which can contribute to difficulties keeping up in a range of social settings and in a classroom. For example, if I am called on in class, I need extra time to verbalize my thoughts.
Sensory Issues – We tend to experience extreme sensitivity or insensitivity to sights, sounds, smells, tastes, temperature and/or textures. I am extremely sensitive to noise, temperature and touch. For example, I cannot wear shorts because the air against my skin feels like my legs are being scorched. Although I have trained myself to return a high five, I have to prepare myself for the thunderbolt of agony that will jolt my hand upon contact. The good news is that many people outgrow their sensory issues (at least to some extent) as they get older.
Motor Co-ordination Difficulties – We tend to be clumsy, awkward and have difficulty judging personal space. I am forever tripping over my own feet, bumping into walls and knocking over things. As a result, I tend to be covered in bruises.
Limited Facial Expressions – Most people with Asperger’s do not show their emotions in their facial features. We tend to have fairly blank expressions and speak in a flat, monotone manner. This is why we are often described as being “robotic.” However, this could not be further from the truth. Although we don’t show our emotions on the outside, we do feel emotions just as strongly as others do.
Distinct Speech Difficulties – Most people with Asperger’s speak in a flat, monotone manner. We tend to have difficulties with volume, intonation (the rise and fall of our voice), inflection (our pitch) and rhythm. For example, when I think I am whispering and being highly discreet, others alert me to the fact that I am speaking at my usual volume. When I am nervous, my voice goes so screechingly high that I sound like I just inhaled from a helium balloon.
Distinct Language Difficulties – Although most kids with Asperger’s have advanced verbal skills, we tend to have trouble with semantics (the meaning of words). We tend to speak in an inappropriately formal manner (pedantic speech) and have difficulties understanding sarcasm, figures of speech, metaphors, idioms and double entendres (a word or phrase open to two interpretations). We also interpret things literally and struggle to understand humor and jokes, often misinterpreting teasing as an intentional and mean-spirited insult.
Little Professor Syndrome – Many kids with Asperger’s use pedantic speech that is overly precise, highly formal and too advanced for most of their peers to understand. We may speak more like a brilliant adult than a kid or teenager (which is why some people refer to Asperger’s as “the little professor” syndrome). When I was younger, I sometimes got in trouble for correcting adults’ use of words that I found to be less-than-perfect for the sentence.
Organizational Issues – We have trouble organizing, initiating, analyzing, prioritizing and completing tasks. This can make school especially challenging. For example, for many years I was notorious for loosing, misplacing or forgetting to turn in my homework.
Intense, Narrow and Time-consuming Interests – We tend to be obsessive about our interests (some of which can be eccentric in nature). For example, being obsessed with train schedules or astronomy. In my case, it is math. The intense focus on a subject, especially as a kid, can set you apart from your peers and make it more difficult to fit in.
Vulnerable to Stress and Anxiety – Many people with Asperger’s are stressed and have severe anxiety. This can lead to psychological and/or emotional problems, including low self-esteem and depression. It is already difficult enough to be a kid in this day and age. However, having Asperger’s adds a whole other dimension of difficulties and obstacles that most kids to do have to face. This makes us more susceptible to feeling overwhelmed and anxious.
Inflexibility and Resistance to Change – Many of us take great comfort in the predictability of a routine. Familiar objects, settings, and routines offer reassurance whereas changes introduce an element of uncertainty and chaos. For this reason, changes to our routine can trigger severe anxiety and resistance to change.