What is Aspergers Syndrome
Asperger’s syndrome is a neurobiological, developmental disorder related to autism. People with Asperger’s syndrome tend to be higher functioning than other individuals on the autism spectrum. Aspergers in adults is typically seen as an individual with an above average intellectual ability paired with severely inadequate social skills and often an all-absorbing, obsessive interest in particular topics.
Aspergers in Adults
Asperger’s syndrome was one of several subtypes of autism that a mental health professional could use to diagnose an individual. The subtypes used to be separate diagnoses until the 2013 update to the DSM-5 diagnostic manual. Now, the subtypes are folded into one diagnosis known as autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Today, Asperger’s syndrome is technically not a diagnosis on its own. However, many people still use the term Asperger’s to classify a subtype of autism.
Recent research shows that Asperger’s syndrome is one of the most rapidly growing mental health conditions in the United States. In the last decade, there has been nearly a 100% increase of Aspergers Syndrome diagnosed. Many specialists agree that the numbers prove Asperger’s syndrome has reached an epidemic level. Approximately 2 million adults have been diagnosed with the condition.
High-Functioning Autism | Aspergers in Adults
You will likely hear doctors use the term “high-functioning” to refer to individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) who would have previously been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, but what does it really mean?
An individual with ASP who has high levels of functioning will be able to function well in some areas of the life, but not well in others.
Most people in our society correlate success with being successful in the workplace. An individual with high functioning ASD may be able to thrive in their workplace and mask the fact that they are struggling in the other areas of the life, such as maintaining friendships, being able to live independently, or speaking in front of strangers.
On the other hand, an individual who is high functioning may not be able to maintain a job but can have long, meaningful friendships, live alone, and create beautiful works of art.
There is an infinite number of combinations that all describe a high functioning individual with autism spectrum disorder.
(Again, prior to the 2013 update to the DSM-5 diagnostic manual, these individuals would likely have a diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome)
Symptoms of Aspergers typically begin to appear early in life. A parent may notice that their child avoids making eye contact. The child may also feel awkward in social settings and struggle to respond if someone speaks to them. The behavior differs from a child being shy in that there is also a lack an ability to pick up on social cues. For instance, another child may show anger by crossing their arms. A child with Aspergers would not connect the body language to the emotion of anger.
Another sign of a child with Aspergers is that they tend only to show a few different emotions. It is common for a child with Aspergers to speak in a flat, robotic way and not smile or laugh at a joke.
If a child with Aspergers (high functioning ASD) receives a diagnosis early on, treatment is often incredibly beneficial. Therapists will work with children to improve social skills, communication skills, and develop ways to manage their emotions and actions, all of which will help allow them to live successful lives as adults.
Aspergers Symptoms in Adults
There are a large amount of variables that cause the symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome (or high functioning autism spectrum disorder) to vary greatly.
The level of treatment and the commitment to the treatment program will also create variables within the range of possible symptoms.
Furthermore, it is very uncommon for all symptoms to be present in one individual. As you can see, it’s nearly impossible to pinpoint exact symptoms of Aspergers.
With all that in mind, common, broad symptoms of Aspergers in adults include:
Lack of Empathy
A symptom of Asperger’s in adults that most people are familiar with is a lack of empathy. However, there is a great deal of misinterpretation surrounding the symptom.
Lack of empathy in an individual with Asperger’s syndrome does not mean that the person is unable to have emotions. In fact, experts suggest that is far from the reality and people with Aspergers are able to have very strong feelings.
However, the challenge comes with the individual not being able to communicate or comprehend their feelings or the feelings of others. Therefore, this inevitably leads to emotional experiences being cut off and often completely nonexistent.
The difficulty or inability to comprehend feelings, be it their own or someone else’s, makes it incredibly hard for an individual with Asperger’s to relate to others.
An Interest in One or Two Narrow Topics
An individual having an intense interest (borderline obsession) with one or two specific topics is a common characteristic of Aspergers in adults.. Experts say that the ability to focus on facts is comforting for individuals with Aspergers.
Furthermore, many adults with Aspergers make substantial intellectual contributions to society. In fact, recent studies suggest that a high proportion of the incredibly successful individuals thriving in Silicon Valley have characteristics, traits, and mannerisms within the Aspergers range.
The fact that adults with Aspergers commonly live isolated, solitary lives is not to say that they do not desire social interaction. Mental health professionals have stated that in many cases, the individual craves company.
However, adults with Asperbergs tend to focus solely on the things that interest them personally. The sole interest comes without much regard for the needs or interests of others. This doesn’t come from a place of selfishness, but rather out of the difficulty that comes with communicating and socializing with others.
The constant challenges of basic interaction in social situations lead adults with Aspergers to often live isolated lives.
Physical and Sensory Challenges
The delays in physical and sensory development commonly present in children diagnosed with Asperbergs often persists into adulthood.
Repetitive behaviors such as rocking or clapping is another common sign of Aspergers in adults. Additionally, individuals with Aspergers may be sensitive to sounds, lights, smells, or touch. These are sensitivities that an individual who does not have Aspergers wouldn’t notice. For instance, someone with Aspergers may only want to wear clothing made of certain materials. People with Aspergers are often hypersensitive to the way certain fabrics feel.
Treating Aspergers in Adults
Mental health specialists have stated that adults diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome later in life often view the diagnosis as a relief. Knowing that there is an explanation behind why elements of their lives are the way that they are can often prove to be a weight lifted off their shoulders.
What an individual does an Asperger’s diagnosis will obviously vary from one person to the next.
Some individuals may choose not to explore treatment options at all.
However, many studies show that those who choose to focus on recognizing the underlying reasons for certain behavioral traits and work to understand the effects of their behaviors have seen incredibly beneficial and life-changing results.
Working with an Aspergers psychologist has shown to:
- Improve communication skills
- Aid in developing lasting relationships
- Alleviate the challenges and anxiety associated with the fear of not being able to relate to others
Furthermore, the FDA has not approved any drugs to specifically treat Aspergers or autism spectrum disorders. However, a doctor may prescribe certain medications in order to alleviate symptoms of anxiety or depression in patients. These medications include:
- Antipsychotic medications
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
- Stimulant drugs
Aspergers in Adults: Bottom Line
To reiterate, while many people still use the term, Aspergers is technically no longer an existing diagnosis. The appropriate, current term for the diagnosis is autism spectrum disorder.
Autism spectrum disorder is often greatly misunderstood. In more ways than one, the lack of knowledge that the general public has about ASD is troublesome. Think about it. Every day, whether you realize it or not, you probably have some form of interaction with someone with ASD. Yet, as a society, we know little about ASD other than the stereotypes associated with the condition.
Just imagine how many judgments we could avoid if there was a better understanding of the disorder.
If you believe you may have Aspergers, it makes sense to seek treatment from a mental health expert. Most adults with Aspergers have significant strengths in areas of their lives. Working with someone who can recognize these strengths and help develop the areas lacking can prove to make a remarkable difference for an individual with ASD.