Symptoms of Asperger’s Syndrome: How to Recognize It

While in recent years the amount of Asperger’s Syndrome diagnosis has increased, many people still don’t know what it is. If anything, we know that Albert Einstein was an “aspie” (although he was never officially diagnosed), or that having Asperger’s is similar to autism, but with an inability to feel emotions. In this article, we’ll try to explain the symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome and what it is so that we can recognize and understand it better.

Symptoms of Asperger's Syndrome
Symptoms of Asperger’s Syndrome

What is Asperger’s Syndrome?

Asperger’s syndrome is a neurobiological disorder that is classified as an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). ASD encompass a large range of cerebral developmental disorders that appear during childhood, among of which is autism, Rett autism and Savant syndrome. Autism disorders usually cause social and communication deficits, strong dependence on daily routines and habits, and a high intolerance for frustration. Asperger’s syndrome was proposed in 1944 by Hans Asperger, who observed that some of his patients showed differences in social, communication, and motor skills, even though they had average intelligence and language development.

However, having a normal, or even above average, IQ doesn’t guarantee an independent and satisfactory life. Today, it is widely believed that in order to thrive personally, academically, and professionally, we have to develop our emotional intelligence. This includes some aspects like empathy, social justice, common sense, persuasion… characteristics that a child with an Asperger diagnosis lacks to some extent.

Aspies usually have normal lives until about 3 or 4, when social interaction becomes more important, so diagnosing Asperger’s in young children can be difficult. After this age we can start to see if our children have characteristics or peculiarities that are different from the other kids. For example, children with Asperger’s usually obsess about a certain topic (it may be dinosaurs, math, maps, astronomy, trains…). Whatever the topic, it becomes their favorite and they won’t talk about anything else. Eventually, the other kids get bored or lose interest. Aspies tend to also use rich language and a wide vocabulary, which may sometimes seem pedantic or inappropriate for the age. At school (and in adult years) they are often classified as awkward or eccentric because of this peculiar behavior. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for them to become the butt of jokes and bullied by their classmates.

What are the symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome?

Children start to develop their social skills at about 2 or 3. Their social relations until this point are generally focused around family and adult environments, but around this time they start to be interested in other people, playing games with other kids and making new friends. This is where aspies start to see their difficulties for the first time. We’ll see which are the main characteristics and symptoms of Asperger’s.

Symptoms of Asperger’s related to difficulties in social skills and emotional disconnection

Children with Asperger’s tend to have a hard time with social relationships and they have difficulties understanding feelings and emotions, both their own and others’.

  • They don’t like social contact. They prefer to be alone or with adults.
  • They don’t like to play with other kids. They prefer to play alone. They’re not interested in sports or sports teams.
  • They hate going to school. They tend to have conflicts with classmates.
  • They have a hard time understanding people or predicting others’ actions. For example, they’ll have trouble understanding the implied rules of a game. They’re very literal.
  • They have trouble identifying feelings, both their own and other people’s. This makes it hard for them to have social relationships with others.
  • They lack empathy: the ability to intuitively understand someone else’s feelings.
  • They’re naive. The have a hard time understanding people’s intentions. They don’t lie well and tend to be gullible.
  • They are easy to pick on because their peers see them as “weirdos”.

Symptoms of Asperger’s related to communication and comprehension skills

Children with Asperger’s have a very good understanding of language, but have a hard time communicating and understanding what the other person wants to say.

  • They have good grammar and a wide vocabulary
  • They usually learn to read on their own and at a very young age.
  • They speak fluidly, but literally and pedantic. Their language is too formal for them, and their intonation is monotone.
  • They don’t understand sarcasm. They believe everything you say and take everything literally.
  • Sometimes they don’t understand why you yell at them or why they’re being punished.
  • They have a hard time understanding complex questions or long questions, so they don’t respond right away. You may sometimes need to explain things in parts.
  • When they don’t understand something or are confused, they’ll change the conversation to a topic they’re comfortable with.
  • Conversations tend to be about them or their interests, never about others.

Symptoms of Asperger’s related to executive skills deficits

Executive abilities include behaviors that imply intentionality, impulse control, and decision making. They are related to the ability to plan, control impulses and inhibition, cognitive flexibility, motivation, attention…

  • Children with Asperger’s have trouble organizing and sequencing. They have a hard time making plans and following through.
  • They have trouble finishing what they’ve started.
  • They don’t manage their time well.
  • They have attention problems: they may get distracted easily and get lost in their thoughts.
  • They don’t understand why they have to behave a certain way in social situations.
  • They lack common sense.
  • They have an odd sense of humor
  • They are original when they focus on a problem or suggest a solution. They are creative.
  • They have a hard time controlling their impulses. They cry easily and about insignificant things. If they are happy, they jump, yell, run…they express their happiness exaggeratedly.
  • They have specific interests
  • The are interested in a concrete topic and they dedicate a large part of their time talking about it. It may be math, astronomy, trains, or dinosaurs. Their interests may change over time or even turn into a profession.
  • They talk constantly about their topic without thinking if the other person is interested.
  • They compulsively repeat actions or ideas. They feel safer this way.
  • They like routine, it makes them feel safe. They don’t like when things change and there are certain daily routines that must be done.

Symptoms of Asperger’s related to psychomotor difficulties.

  • They may have problems with fine motor skills.
  • Difficulties writing.
  • Poor motor skills.
  • They are clumsy.
  • They run awkwardly.
  • They have problems dressing themselves. They have a hard time with buttons or shoes.

Sometimes, movies can help us understand some disorders. Mary and Max (2009) is cartoon directed by Adam Elliot that talks about the relationship between a girl, Mary, and her penpal Max, who has Asperger’s syndrome. In this scene, you’ll clearly see some of the symptoms of Asperger’s: