Asperger Syndrome

asperger's syndrome

What is Asperger Syndrome?

Asperger’s Syndrome (AS), commonly referred to as Asperger Disorder, is a lifelong, incurable developmental disorder. AS is characterised by the level of impairment of these neurological conditions:

  • Language
  • Social and Communication Skills
  • Repetitive Patterns of Behaviours and Thoughts

Asperger Syndrome History

The first known description of AS was written by a Viennese child psychologist, Hans Asperger, in 1944. The pattern of behaviours defined by Asperger included a lack of empathy, clumsy movements, difficulties in forming friendships, self-centered conversation and an intense obsession of a special interest. Later it was related to Leo Kanner’s description of Autism, and considered a higher functioning form.  Only by the 1990’s were Asperger’s and Autism considered significant developmental disorders requiring support and intervention. Awareness and understanding has been continually growing since then.

Asperger Syndrome and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

The Autism Spectrum is a group of neurological, developmental disorders once considered unrelated. The recent DSM-5[4], released in 2013, declared each disorder part of one category of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), sometimes called Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD)[1].

  • Autism, Autistic Disorder
  • Asperger’s Syndrome
  • Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD)
  • Rett’s Disorder
  • Childhood Disintegrative Disorder

The term spectrum is used because each individual’s symptoms are unique. No two individuals have the same behaviours or levels of neurological impairment. Each impairment varies greatly from person to person as do their coping strategies.Take a look at this image which visualises the difference in processing of information seen and heard by an ‘Asperger brain’ versus a ‘normal brain’.

Asperger brain v normal brain

Compared to other ASDs, individuals with AS rarely have an intellectual disability, and have an average or higher IQ and language abilities than peers of the same age. It is considered a high functioning form of ASD, with symptoms that have less of an impact on daily life.


Asperger’s Symptoms in Children and Teenagers

Children and teenagers with AS show most of the following behaviours[2]:

  • Restrictive and obsessive interests, with a thorough knowledge of the topic
  • Dependent on routines and rules
  • Struggles with transitioning and change
  • Has increased verbal skill development at an early age
  • Use a flat or unchanging and monotonic voice
  • Initiates communication with others about their own interests
  • Rarely initiates communication about others’ interests
  • Interacts easier with adults than with peers their own age
  • Emotions often swap between extremes in short periods of time; hyperactive when excited, aggressive when angry, defensive and closed off when sad
  • Facial expressions seem forced and uncomfortable for the child
  • Unexpected and inappropriate emotional reactions to situations; laughter when in trouble or upset
  • Struggles to maintain an appropriate amount of eye contact
  • Wants to interact with others but has trouble sustaining it once initiated

Asperger Syndrome Symptoms in Adults

Adults with AS show most of the following traits[3]:

  • Average or above average intelligence
  • Challenges with high level verbal communication; verbal reasoning, problem solving, making inferences and predictions
  • Struggles with anxiety and/or depression
  • Difficulties empathising with others and understanding their point of view
  • Struggles with maintaining small talk and engaging social routines
  • Problems with controlling emotions of anger and sadness
  • Prefers routines and schedules, and feels out of control when disrupted
  • Specialised fields of interests or hobbies

Aspergers Syndrome and Gender Differences

Currently, males are more likely to be diagnosed with an ASD than females, at a rate of 5 to 1, due to the presentation of their behaviours.  Females with AS have an increased ability to copy and mimic peers their own age, and disguise their unknown AS traits behind learned behaviours.  Many adolescent females will be misdiagnosed or receive support for other mental illnesses before realising they have Asperger’s. Often, females with AS don’t receive a professional diagnosis until late adolescence or well into adulthood.  The ratio of males to females with AS is decreasing as awareness grows and more females are understanding the differences between genders.

Asperger’s Syndrome Testing

The testing and diagnosis of AS can be conducted by various professionals in accordance with the DSM-5[4].
The following qualified professions work together to conduct the assessment:

  • Psychiatrists and Psychologists
  • Paediatricians
  • Speech Therapists
  • Occupational Therapists

The assessment process is best conducted during adolescence but can be done at any age[5]. It covers a range of screening tools to assess particular behaviours associated with AS, including:

  • Norm-referenced parent and teacher report measures
  • Competency-based tools, such as interviews and observations
  • Hearing screening to rule out hearing loss as a contributing factor to communication and behaviour difficulties
  • Eye gaze
  • Orienting to one’s name
  • Pointing to or showing objects of interest
  • Imaginative play
  • Imitation
  • Nonverbal communication
  • Language development

Aspergers Syndrome Treatments

There is no cure for Asperger’s Syndrome, it’s a lifelong disorder, but there are many proven ways to assist a person with AS to adapt and integrate into the community independently[6]. Social stories, visual supports and regular counselling from a professional, who has experience working with clients with AS, are common approaches. Any support strategies will involve dedication and hard work on the part of the individual and those closest to them. Regular communication about emotions and experiences relating to situations help the individual with AS to understand the actions of themselves and others in social settings.
Popular programs and strategies include:

  • SPELL; Structure, Positive, Empathy, Low arousal, Links[7]
  • TEACCH[8]
  • ABA Therapy; Applied Behavioural Analysis[9]
  • ABC; Antecedent, Behaviour, Consequence[10]
  • Social Stories[11]
  • Visual Supports[12]
  • Counselling[13]

Facts about Asperger Syndrome

There’s no cure for Asperger’s Syndrome (AS), but there are many available, proven and effective support programs.
Both males and females can have Asperger’s Syndrome.
AS is mostly undetected in females prior to adulthood.
Individuals with AS can be fully functional and valuable in the workplace.
Very few AS individuals have a high IQ or gift with numbers, most are average, just like their peers.




  1. I didn’t know what this was until I watched the show Parenthood. The one son on this show has aspergers and later reveal that there is an adult who has it as well. He is actually a successful photographer and owns his own business. I think many people view this mental “issue” as a dead end when it really isn’t, not if the child is given what they need to grow mentally and socially.


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