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Asperger Syndrome
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General Description - Asperger Syndrome (AS) is a condition affecting between 1 in 400 to 500 people, though this number doesn’t reflect the numbers of undiagnosed cases. It was previously thought to affect males more than females, however, this is being challenged as it can look different in the female and may not be diagnosed. It often runs in the family. Most people with AS can look through their immediate and extended family members and see a parent or aunt or uncle who has similar traits.

Though not every person with Asperger Syndrome will look alike, they will have most of these general characteristics:

  • 1) poor social skills
  • 2) intense interest in a limited number of subjects (monomania)
  • 3) rigidity of behavior
  • 4) pronounced anxiety
  • 5) a tendency to overact to certain stimuli.

Children with AS will look different than adults with AS because the adults have frequently learned to adapt their behavior.

How this translates into daily life is that the child or adult with AS will be socially isolated with few if any friends. They will appear naïve and serious, have difficulty understanding when people are joking with them, and will take comments literally. They are not adept at small talk and tend to follow the dictum "say what you mean and mean what you say". In a child this might be interpreted as extreme rudeness. For example, if a grandmother wearing strong perfume asks an AS child to "give her a hug", the child may respond by saying "no, you smell really badly." People with AS cannot "read" others and therefore will frequently act or talk inappropriately as they don't seem to pick up standard social clues. For example, they may continue to talk to a person who is giving signs such as looking at their watch or trying to interject to indicate they have to leave. Often they will have poor eye contact. For someone with AS, eye contact can be very distracting and uncomfortable.

In addition, the child with AS will often have involuntary
gestures such as hand flapping, tics, finger twisting or snapping of fingers when excited or upset. This is seen less often in adults as they have often been trained out of this behavior. Or, in some cases, these mannerisms are less obvious. Another common attribute is poor handwriting. Fortunately, this becomes less of an issue as computers are welcomed in younger and younger grades.

There are frequently sensory issues with those with AS. That means that they can have a heightened sense of smell, taste, or sound. Their senses are often hyper-acute resulting in an overreaction to ordinary sounds such as fluorescent lights, fans, and other electrical appliances. Thus, things that might be annoying to the average person, can be amplified and uncomfortable to the person with AS. For example, the child/adult with AS can be often very uncomfortable in places such as malls/airports/supermarkets in which tend to be noisy and crowded with large numbers of people coming and going. They can experience severe anxiety and either withdraw or become very loud in these situations.

Another common characteristic of people with AS is perseveration. The person will talk about the same problem or topic over and over without resolve.

Overreaction to situations is another common characteristic in AS. The person may perceive danger when there isn't any. For example, a child witnessing an auto accident may translate the occurrence into "he, the person with AS, was almost killed" and develop a subsequent fear of being in the location where the accident took place.

In children and young adults with AS, there is an additional concern of violence. If provoked, they may overreact in a violent way, or they may use violent language to the person who has provoked them. This is not to suggest that people with AS are the aggressors. Much to the contrary, they tend to be victims of bullying. Though they often prefer less social contact, their unusual mannerisms and speech make them targets of bullies. This can lead to depression - an unfortunately somewhat common problem among those with AS. If this is the case, you may see the AS person as extremely withdrawn and quiet. “Time-out” is a necessary part of life for both children and adults with AS. They will need more time by themselves than people without AS.

Despite characteristics which the average person may deem negative, the person with Asperger Syndrome has many positive attributes. Their intelligence levels are average and above. They tend to be extremely conscientious once a task is undertaken. They are loyal and steadfast. They like rules and routines. If their profession coincides with one of their special interests, they will work much harder than their coworkers.

Some of those with AS can be found among the ranks of college professors and NASA scientists. It has been suggested that there are more Nobel prize winners with AS characteristics than without. In fact, if nurtured and allowed to be different, people with AS can lead happy and productive, though not quite normal lives.


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Dr. Juniper Martin
11825 SW Greenburg Road, Suite A2
Tigard, OR 97223 503-443-2332