Many successful persons live well with Asperger's syndrome. Find out why!
Last updated date: 25-Mar-2022
14 mins read
What's Asperger's syndrome?
Asperger's syndrome is considered to be part of the autism spectrum disorders (ASD), as it is a developmental disorder that can influence the brain's activity. It is mostly affecting it by modifying the way that information is processed.
Asperger's syndrome definition
The main definition of Asperger's syndrome is that it is a neurodevelopmental disorder that is part of the autism spectrum disorders (ASD) along with the pervasive developmental disorder, Rett syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, and typical autism. Asperger's syndrome is also categorized as a neurological condition distinguished by, in some cases, greater or lesser degrees of language and communication skills impairment, in other cases. Contrary to children who suffer from autism, the kids who are diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome can preserve the language skills they gain.
One of the key symptoms that children who suffer from Asperger's syndrome have is that they develop a compulsive fascination towards a particular object or a specific topic, while they tend to exclude anything else. This fascination, which seems to have no boundaries, drives children to obtain all the possible information about the topic or object they are focusing on. A child who suffers from Asperger's syndrome is very likely to involve happily in a discussion of the object or topic that fascinates him, while he will avoid talking about anything else.
Though the children who suffer from Asperger's syndrome are capable of mastering a high level of vocabulary along with some formal speeches that portray them as little professors, they end up being isolated due to their narrow interests and deficient social skills.
Furthermore, Asperger's syndrome consists of an unchanging routine, abnormal speeches and use of language, improper emotional and social behavior that steers to difficult interaction with others. It also consists of troubles in non-verbal communication, as the person who suffers from this disorder could be clumsy and not able to coordinate the movements of the motor.
Therefore, a conversation with an individual that suffers from Asperger's syndrome might not be easy at all to occur, as they would want to talk about a specific topic that is, normally, their only point of interest. Unfortunately, studies also show that children who are diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome could find it difficult to perform physical activities, like pedaling a bicycle or catching and throwing a ball, as the development of their motor skills could face some developmental delays.
What causes Asperger's syndrome?
Although specialists have not yet determined the exact causes of Asperger's syndrome, they associate it with changes in the brain. One of the factors that are thought to stimulate the development of Asperger's syndrome is genetics, as the disorder tends to run in families. Studies show that babies born to older parents are more likely to develop Asperger's syndrome. Other stimulants may be chromosomal abnormalities (for example, fragile X syndrome) and usage of certain types of medications during pregnancy. Some chemicals in prescription medicines that may increase the risk of development are valproic acid which is used as a treatment for seizures or mood disorders, and thalidomide, which plays an essential role in reducing the symptom levels of anxiety, another psychological disorder. The child's environment can consist of many chemicals and viruses that could alter the evolution of the brain.
General symptoms of Asperger's syndrome
The most common symptoms of Asperger's syndrome are strongly linked to:
- Powerful concentration on a single object or topic - people affected by this syndrome have very limited interests, but they are totally focused on them. This is the reason why talking to a person suffering from Asperger's syndrome might be a challenge, the conversation being mostly one-sided.
- Inability to identify social signs - if you are engaged in discussion with a person who is affected by Asperger's syndrome, you will notice that your interlocutor will find it difficult to change the topic of the conversation, as this person might not even realize that you are trying to change the subject of the conversation. Therefore, this is another reason why discussions with these children or adults are often one-sided, as social and conversational skills are not their greatest abilities. Another association with hyper-focus is the fact that these individuals could not adapt their voice levels to their surroundings. So, they might speak louder than they should in certain spaces like libraries, restaurants, museums, movie theatres, or others.
- Struggles to read body language and facial expressions - another symptom that is characteristic of this disorder is related to the fact that suffering people are not able to read and understand other people's feelings. They might also avoid eye contact, and they do not present too many facial expressions nor many different voice tones, as they are not capable of understanding basic social aspects.
- Difficulties in different movements - simple actions like walking, running, climbing, or riding a bike might be very difficult for people who suffer from Asperger's syndrome due to a lack of coordination.
Asperger's syndrome in children
As mentioned above, children affected by Asperger's syndrome mainly have one point of interest that they find fascinating, which is why they usually bring it up in most of the conversations they have with other children or adults. Symptoms listed above regarding certain activities, movements, and coordination apply as well.
However, a child suffering from this neurological disorder may as well show other signs, such as not wanting or enjoying being touched and manifesting abnormal responses to different stimulants (for example, certain noises, smells, or tastes). These aspects might be easily noticeable to any adults surrounding the child, including relatives, doctors, or the teachers at school. When a child's social and communicative skills tend not to evolve accordingly, it is recommended to consult a developmental specialist.
An interesting fact regarding Asperger's is that little boys are more prone to develop this syndrome than girls, according to studies.
Asperger's syndrome in adults
Even though adults experiencing Asperger's syndrome are less likely to face challenges regarding cognitive and language skills, they do manifest other specific symptoms, divided into three sections:
- Behavioral and emotional symptoms
An adult suffering from Asperger's syndrome is very likely to occupy themselves by engaging in repetitive actions or general behavior. For example, they may do certain things the same way repetitively, such as having the same unchangeable routine every morning.
Similar to children, adults also show signs linked to being incapable of truly understanding any type of emotional issues, finding it difficult to interpret feelings such as grief, frustration, and others. Considering this, being empathic is not one of their qualities, as they only see the world from their own perspective. However, not being able to express their emotions while dealing with certain situations may increase the chances of having emotional outbursts, as an overly exaggerated response.
Different stimulants may trigger unusual responses as well due to developing hypersensitivity (also known as over-sensitivity) or hyposensitivity (under-sensitivity) to certain sensations. For instance, they might prefer darkness over light or the other way around. Depending on the case, they may find it unpleasant to be touched or excessively touch things and people surrounding them.
- Communication symptoms
Typically, adults facing Asperger's syndrome show signs of an above-average intelligence accompanied by amazing vocabulary skills and knowledge, especially regarding their preferred topics, as their points of interest are very few. In addition to that, they have an incredible ability to concentrate, even for longer amounts of time, as well as focusing on details. Unfortunately, this does not help them maintain good social skills, as they find interacting with other people extremely difficult.
Discussions with adults suffering from this disorder may be challenging, considering that they are less likely to entertain a "small-talk" conversation. Recurring speeches and not being able to moderate voice tones in certain places are also signs of Asperger's syndrome, even though their verbal skills are very good.
On the contrary, non-verbal skills are a lot less developed, as they face difficulties in recognizing typical body languages such as facial expressions and different types of gestures.
- Other symptoms
On the one hand, marking the general symptoms listed above, it is not uncommon for adults suffering from Asperger's syndrome to be clumsy, having difficulties while executing different movements and activities. For instance, other than typical coordination issues sensed while walking or riding a bike, other activities may also be affected by this clumsiness – tying shoes or opening an envelope in the correct way.
On the other hand, having obsessive fascinations for particular topics is also a very common symptom of Asperger's syndrome.
It is important to remember that Asperger's syndrome may be experienced differently by different people, as the symptoms affecting their daily lives may vary from one person to another. For example, an individual diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome may only show signs regarding lack of communication skills, while another one may experience multiple symptoms, even all of the ones listed above in some cases.
How is Asperger's syndrome diagnosed?
As it is a neurological disorder that can be very complex, there is no single test that can accurately diagnose Asperger's syndrome. Blood tests or other medical imaging scans are not useful at all. However, using a complete analysis of one's behavior, experienced symptoms, development, and other specific characteristics, a mental health professional is able to diagnose it even in children as young as eighteen months old by comparing these aspects to individuals that are the same age.
Professionals that can help regarding these situations are licensed psychologists (trained to treat emotional and behavioral issues) and psychiatrists (general experts in mental health disorders and treatments). When it comes to children, the options also include developmental pediatricians (mostly targeting communication issues, speech and language problems, and other developmental delays as well) and pediatric neurologists that specialize in treating brain-related medical conditions.
Professionals approach giving a diagnosis by observing multiple key aspects, such as facial expressions and body language while having a conversation, as well as language skills and ability to socially interact freely; feelings triggered while thinking of changing the usual routines and last but not least, motor and coordination skills.
Diagnosing a child may not only take consulting one specialist, as seeing more than one doctor is highly recommended. As a parent, it is important to accurately communicate the already-noticed details regarding the child's developmental issues, such as the symptoms they observed and the age they started experiencing them, the child's main points of interest, and aspects regarding communication (when they first learned how to speak and their abilities while socially interacting).
As mentioned before, neurological conditions can be extremely complex, which is why sometimes they are misdiagnosed even by experts. Therefore, the best option is to consult multiple mental health professionals in order to receive an accurate diagnosis. Sometimes, people that suffer from autism spectrum disease may originally be diagnosed with other neurodevelopmental conditions, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, abbreviated and known as ADHD, due to their similar symptoms. The process of receiving a diagnosis might take some time since professionals need to examine a person in different situations and surroundings for the best results.
However, specialists do no longer diagnose Asperger's syndrome, concentrating on autism spectrum disorder (ASD) instead.
Treatment of Asperger's disorder
In most cases, it is not considered a disease that can be cured using specific treatment, but there are a few possible approaches for therapy that may improve the under-developed skills.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) - a form of psychotherapy designed to modify negative thoughts and unhelpful recurring behaviors, used to control intense emotions and handle outbursts and meltdowns more easily. It also helps reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, or other psychological disorders.
- Physical therapy (PT) and occupational therapy (OT) - these may help improve coordination issues and motor skills, as people affected by Asperger's syndrome typically experience symptoms concerning difficulties in executing certain types of movements. In addition to that, occupational therapy might also be useful in the process of reducing the intensity of sensory issues.
- Social skills training - referring to symptoms making it difficult for people suffering from this syndrome to interact with people around them, its role is to help reduce the challenges faced in social situations. These pieces of training may be one-on-one or group sessions, depending on the needs of the patient and their evolution in therapy. They are meant to help people learn how to express themselves in proper ways and understand gestures and non-verbal language better.
- Speech and language therapy - it works by evaluating communication issues: controlling voice tones and learning how to maintain a two-sided conversation. Similar to social skills training, it may help with understanding social cues such as body language and eye contact.
- Parent education and training can help parents of children diagnosed with ASD learn various techniques in order to confer the best family environment for them, working on communication and social skills directly at home in an attempt to make improvements in the child's behavior.
- Applied behavior analysis is another method professionals may use, consisting in encouraging positive social skills, as well as communicational ones.
- Some studies show that music and art therapy are great techniques that help reduce challenges linked to Asperger's syndrome, mainly the ones regarding communication and social problems, as well as emotional ones.
- Medicine - even though there aren't any medications that specifically help cure Asperger's syndrome, some FDA-approved drugs may at least reduce the symptoms of other linked mental health disorders (anxiety, depression, and others). These include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), antidepressants, stimulants, and antipsychotic medications. In addition to that, sleep disorders and disturbances are commonly found in people with Asperger's syndrome. These may lead to serious complications, worsening irritability along with anxiety and depression. So, melatonin can be extremely beneficial, though it is recommended to consult a professional before starting to administrate it.
- Support groups consisting of people of different ages affected by Asperger's syndrome may be a great option to connect with others, considering the fact that they all share similar difficulties in life.
Since people experience this neurological disorder in different ways, there is no general treatment, and a mental health professional may try multiple therapy methods in order to discover the most effective one for each individual. Autistic people might need more support while dealing with everyday activities such as going to school or work.
Asperger syndrome vs. autistic
As mentioned before, Asperger's syndrome is no longer a professional diagnosis, as it is not a part of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (abbreviated DSM-5). Instead, mental health specialists focus on autism spectrum disorder, as the symptoms generally fall under this category. People that received a diagnosis before this modification in the diagnosing system might prefer the original term instead.
The main differences that tell Asperger's syndrome apart from autism spectrum disorder consist in milder autism symptoms and lack of language delays in cases of Asperger's. Since it isn't as noticeable as classic autism, people affected by this disorder may need very little support in everyday life.
Possible complications of Asperger's syndrome
Even though there are no physical health complications, one's daily life may be strongly affected by a lack of "treatment", especially when they completely ignore the experienced symptoms. Issues regarding social interactions and communicational behavior may lead to a decrease in the quality of life, causing problems in school and employment, unusual stress levels, social isolation due to being bullied and victimized, as well as difficulties in living independently.
However, autism spectrum disorder may be linked to several physical and mental health conditions. These can be gastrointestinal issues (GI such as chronic constipation, bowel inflammation, and abdominal pain) accompanied by dietary disorders, epilepsy, anxiety, and other mental health disorders such as depression, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), bipolar disorder, or attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Prevention of Asperger's syndrome
As it is part of the autism spectrum disorder, there is no known way to prevent Asperger's syndrome from developing, but it is recommended to consult a professional as soon as symptoms are observed in order to get an early diagnosis and early intervention. This can help reduce the intensity of the symptoms and improve skills that are underdeveloped.
Famous people suffering from Asperger's syndrome
Despite the difficulties in completing multiple types of tasks, living a successful life while being affected by Asperger's syndrome is not impossible. There are many famous people in multiple specializations who are well known on account of their great accomplishments in life that suffered from this neurological disorder. Some of these are:
- Hans Christian Andresen – children's author, wrote about 160 stories that were later translated into more than 120 languages.
- Steve Jobs - being a former CEO of Apple, he converted the company into a world leader in technology and telecommunications.
- Susan Boyle – a well-known Scottish singer who became internationally famous after her appearance at Britain's Got Talent in 2009.
- Bill Gates – computer programmer and entrepreneur, co-founder of Microsoft Corporation. He is now a billionaire due to his great impact on the world's largest software company.
- Dan Aykroyd - comedian, writer, and actor, best recognized for Saturday Night Live (SNL), The Blues Brothers (1980), and Ghostbusters (1984).
- Lewis Carroll - well-known English logician, mathematician, photographer, and novelist, author of "Alice in Wonderland".
- Thomas Jefferson – American politician, the third president of the United States (1801-1809) and the main author of the Declaration of Independence (1776).
- Elon Musk – co-founder of PayPal (PYPL) and Tesla (TSLA) and founder of SpaceX, Neuralink, and The Boring Company, he is considered to be the richest person in the world, being worth $223 billion as in February 28th, 2022.
Asperger's syndrome, part of the autism spectrum disorder, is a neurological condition affecting the brain's activity and causing irregularities in communication and general social skills, as well as in the abilities regarding certain movements and coordination. With the right therapy, people suffering from this disorder may be very successful in life despite the challenges they face due to their medical condition.