Asperger syndrome is a form of autism. Autism is a developmental disability where individuals have a different way of communicating and interacting with other people. Autistic people may have interests or behaviours that seem to be very focused or repetitive, for example, a highly intense and focused interest on a particular topic or activity, or repetitive ways of moving their bodies or saying certain words or phrases. They may also have a need for insisting that things are done in the same or similar manner and routines can be very important for some. Some autistic people may have sensory needs, for example some sounds, smells or textures may be difficult or of particular interest. People with Asperger syndrome have autism but they have good language skills and do not have a learning disability. Other autistic individuals may have had difficulties with the development of language and they may also have a learning disability.
Every autistic person is an individual. Many have unique and focused interests which can remain and lead to exceptional lifelong knowledge and skill in a particular area. However, these interests might also change and/or be channelled in a different direction, for example, love and knowledge of computers might lead to skills in technology, art from component parts, or teaching about and designing websites. Every autistic person wants to follow their interests which are important to them as individuals in the same way as everyone else.
The formal diagnostic criteria used to diagnosis Asperger syndrome have changed in the United States, and Asperger syndrome is no longer diagnosed. Similar changes are expected to the diagnostic criteria used in the United Kingdom, and instead, autism spectrum disorder will be used. However, Asperger syndrome remains in use by professionals, and by those who have been given this diagnosis in the past, and by all those who will continue to use the term as part of their identity going forward.
Routines and predictability
Routines can help people with Asperger syndrome feel safe and they benefit from knowing in advance what is expected of them and what is going to happen next. The same food, the same route, the same rule and the same appearance in others are a few examples of areas that need to be consistent and predictable. This is actually called an insistence on sameness. However, as change is an inevitable part of life, it is vital that those with Asperger syndrome be given the opportunity to learn about how they can cope in challenging circumstances. The present pandemic is an example of how life can change quickly and with help from charities such as AEA, new rules, new environments and new ways of living can be established, for example, meeting online in a group to chat and exchange information.
Social understanding and interaction
Recognising and expressing emotions is sometimes hard for people with Asperger syndrome. This means that they may prefer to be alone within a social gathering as the situation may be overwhelming with both information and sensory input which can cause anxiety. Others might mistakenly see this as being rude or detached, but this is not the case, and it certainly does not mean that they do not have emotions, just like everyone else. Sometimes, they may appear odd or unconventional within social situations and some may rehearse what they are going to say or copy the behaviour of others.
Verbal and non-verbal language might be different for those with Asperger syndrome. Often jokes and sarcasm might be taken literally. Someone’s facial expression, which communicates how they are feeling, or what they are thinking might be missed or misunderstood. Often, the more literal, logical and clear an argument is, the better. Even someone’s voice or the context in which someone is speaking is of vital importance to whether communication can take place effectively. It is often the case that those with Asperger syndrome have a highly developed vocabulary and an ability to talk about their interests for a long time without awareness of the conventions of conversation and social interaction with others. When we communicate with each other, there are often breaks and pauses, and these are part of turn taking. Some people with Asperger syndrome may find it hard to navigate the back-and-forth nature of conversation.
Learning Difficulties, mental health and support
Some people with Asperger syndrome may have other specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia. They do not have an intellectual disability. Many, whose needs are not met in society, experience mental health issues but Asperger syndrome is not a mental health condition. Therefore, the right support is vital in order to fully include individuals in society and empower them to lead a full and rewarding life just like anyone else.
Gender fluidity and sexuality
There is a growing awareness of gender fluidity in society and those with Asperger syndrome may find it difficult to work out what and who they want to be. Help is often needed with understanding these aspects of being human.
Diagnosis and its benefits
Because those with Asperger syndrome are often bright, articulate and skilled individuals, diagnosis may come later on in life, particularly girls and women as they are thought to be more adept at hiding or masking their difficulties. Whenever the diagnosis is made, it is helpful as it can lead to greater understanding in those involved, be it teachers, friends or whoever. Also, support can be accessed and tailor-made to an individual’s interest and circumstances.
Global understanding of difference and strengths
Asperger syndrome is indicative of a different way of thinking and a different approach to life, characterised by numerous strengths that must be celebrated. This can include an ability to focus and work with details in an admirable manner, seeing the world differently, and offering different and valuable perspectives that require respect. Worldwide there is growing understanding of an increasing prevalence of autism and it is important to recognise that all social, religious, cultural, gender and national backgrounds make up the population of those with Asperger syndrome.