February 18th is International Asperger’s Awareness Day. In light of that, we’re turning the spotlight on Asperger’s this month, so that you can better understand what it is, how it manifests, and how you can support a person living with Asperger’s.
One of the first things many people note when talking about Asperger’s is that every case is different. Each individual has different capabilities, different levels of struggle and different needs. It is an umbrella term but if you encounter someone with Asperger’s, it’s best not to make assumptions and rather get to know the person to understand their condition.
In this article, you will learn:
- What is Asperger’s?
- What challenges do people with Asperger’s face?
- What causes Asperger’s?
- What is the history of Asperger’s?
- How is Asperger’s diagnosed?
- What are the positives of Asperger’s?
- How can I support someone living with Asperger’s?
What is Asperger’s?
So, let’s take a look at what this syndrome actually is.
While it used to be seen as a separate condition, Asperger’s is now considered to be part of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). People with ASD have a developmental disability that affects how they interpret the world around them and how they interact with others. They often struggle with social situations, communicating, building and maintaining relationships, and practising self-regulation.
The keyword here is ‘spectrum’. Each individual with ASD will fall somewhere on the spectrum of disability, from mild to severe. Asperger’s is on the mild end of the spectrum and is considered as Level 1 Autism. The differentiating factor is that people with Asperger’s usually don’t have a delay in language development, as opposed to other levels on the ASD spectrum.
What challenges do people with Asperger’s face?
People with Asperger’s will often have trouble reading social cues, communicating, they tend to have repetitive behaviours, are reactive to sensory input, and can become fixated on certain topics that interest them.
Some potential challenges people with Asperger’s face:
- Missing or not understanding social rules, facial expressions, body language or sarcasm, and discomfort with direct eye contact
- Having an unusual way of speaking – either too loud, high-pitched, monotone or lacking inflexion, or using overly formal language
- Becoming very attached to routine and quite distressed when it is interrupted
- Developing repetitive behaviours
- Becoming fixated on certain topics of interest to the point of obsession and being unable to engage about other topics
- Sensitivity to loud noises or bright lights
- Not understanding abstract thinking
These challenges can lead a person with Asperger’s to feel frustrated, isolated and confused, and social situations can become very stressful. This is especially true because they often have above-average intelligence and a lot to offer in a conversation but have trouble expressing it.
People with Asperger’s usually want to connect with others and take part in things but struggle to do so because of these difficulties.
What causes Asperger’s?
The quick answer is that we don’t really know. It can be genetic. It is also possible that the environment of the child plays a part in terms of safety, nutrition and exposure to toxins.
We do know that it is not caused by upbringing, nor is it caused by vaccines. The study continues, however, to try to ascertain the causes of ASD.
The history of Asperger’s
The Viennese paediatrician Hans Asperger first coined the term in the 1940s when he noted autism-like behaviour in children who had a ‘normal’ level of intelligence, and no language development issues.
Originally, it was considered a separate disorder, but in 2013, it was included under the umbrella term of autism spectrum disorder.
How is Asperger’s diagnosed?
Because there are rarely language development problems present in children with Asperger’s, it can be harder to diagnose. There is no scan or blood test that can be done. Often, a team of specialists in the field will observe a child over time and compare their development with milestones for their age group.
If you think your child may have Asperger’s, here are some things to look out for:
- They prefer to play on their own.
- They have a tendency to talk but not listen.
- They take things literally and don’t understand abstract ideas.
- They struggle with the rules of social behaviour.
- They may come across as unempathetic.
- They are very attached to routine and don’t like change.
- They struggle to make friends.
- They struggle to communicate.
- They don’t like to be touched or hugged.
- They avoid eye contact.
The positives of Asperger’s
When people have a disability, the immediate response from many people is often pity for them and their families, but people living with Asperger’s have some beautiful and unique qualities that the rest of us could learn from.
Asperger’s Victoria has put together a comprehensive list of the positives of Asperger’s.
Here are just a few examples:
- People with Asperger’s often pick up on details that other people miss.
- People with Asperger’s can offer advice and a fresh perspective that is not affected by the expected societal norms, meaning you can get a real and honest opinion from them.
- People with Asperger’s have a strong sense of integrity, rules, and values.
- People with Asperger’s have above-average intelligence and the ability to focus and research a subject thoroughly.
- People with Asperger’s tend not to discriminate against anyone and are usually free of prejudice.
There are also many notable people who have achieved incredible things despite, or perhaps thanks to, their Asperger’s syndrome, including:
- Sir Anthony Hopkins – actor
- Stephen Fry – actor
- Marie Curie – scientist
- Sir Isaac Newton – scientist
- Daryl Hannah – actress
- Lewis Carroll – author
- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – composer
How can you support someone living with Asperger’s?
First and foremost, as we mentioned at the start, don’t make assumptions. Every person is different and has different strengths and weaknesses.
If you are unsure what a person with Asperger’s needs, ask them and repeat it back to them so that it’s clear.
Use positive reinforcement
Express immediate gratitude or show appreciation for tasks they have done.
Use schedules and routines
People with Asperger’s thrive on routine and understanding the expectations others have of them will help to reduce anxiety.
Because people with Asperger’s tend to take things literally and struggle with abstract concepts, try to avoid language that is loaded with implied and figurative meanings. Rather, use clear and concise language.
Ask about sensory sensitivity
People with Asperger’s may be sensitive to lights, sounds, tastes, smells and settings. Ask them about this so that you can avoid places where this will be a problem. If they experience sensory overwhelm, escort them somewhere quiet and give them time to recover.
Asperger’s syndrome is a mild form of ASD that presents challenges to the individual but does not stop them from living a full and successful life. We believe one of the most important things to remember is that people are people first. Their disability is just an aspect of the whole, unique individual who has goals, fears, hopes, and dreams, just like everyone else.
There are a whole lot of resources you can find online for navigating life with Asperger’s syndrome. Our Day Programs are great for people with Asperger’s as they are aimed at encouraging friendships and social interaction, and are very routine based, which will make a person with Asperger’s feel safe and in control.