Children and adults with Asperger’s syndrome experience a wide variety of symptoms, and no two cases are exactly the same.
Some individuals will face minor issues that don’t interfere with their everyday lives, while others will struggle to function in academic, social, and workplace environments.
For many years, Asperger’s syndrome was considered a distinct diagnosis, but in 2013 the American Psychiatric Association reclassified Asperger’s under the broader umbrella diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders (ASD). However, many clinicians continue to reference Asperger’s syndrome as part of discussions with patients and families when looking at a potential ASD diagnosis. (1)
Knowing the symptoms of Asperger’s can help parents, and patients themselves, get an accurate diagnosis.
Common Signs and Symptoms of Asperger’s
There are many signs and symptoms of Asperger’s. Your child might display just a few, several, or all the signature behaviors.
One telltale sign of Asperger’s syndrome is having difficulty in social situations.
Common symptoms of Asperger’s that may impact social interaction or communication include:
- Problems making or maintaining friendships
- Isolation or minimal interaction in social situations
- Poor eye contact or the tendency to stare at others
- Trouble interpreting gestures
- Inability to recognize humor, irony, and sarcasm
- Inappropriate behaviors or odd mannerisms
- Problems expressing empathy, controlling emotions, or communicating feelings
- An apparent lack of common sense
- Tendency to engage in one-sided conversations (about oneself)
- Fixation with certain topics
- Interpretation of information as literal
- The preference for a strict schedule or routine (1,2)
An adult or child with Asperger’s may not show all these signs, but in general, tends to struggle in social situations.
Some people might interpret a child’s symptoms as simply rude behavior. For instance, individuals with Asperger’s might talk exclusively about themselves. They may not recognize when someone is uncomfortable, uninterested, or offended. Because they don’t always recognize social cues, they may speak loudly at inappropriate times, such as during a church service.
A person with Asperger’s might talk obsessively about one particular subject. For example, he or she might be able to recite different types of flowers or sports statistics at a level that goes beyond what might be considered avid interest. (2)
Language and Speech Issues
Unlike other autism spectrum disorders, a person with Asperger’s typically doesn’t experience a speech delay. But, they do have specific language behaviors that set them apart.
A child or adult with Asperger’s may exhibit the following:
- A scripted, formal, or “robotic” type of speaking
- Lack of inflection when talking
- Repetitive speech
- Trouble using language in a social context
- Loud or high-pitched speech
Individuals with Asperger’s typically have an advanced vocabulary and good grammar skills, but they might not be able to use language appropriately in social situations. (3)
To an outsider, the speech pattern of a child with Asperger’s may sound unusual. They may speak in a very monotone or rhythmic manner, with a loud voice.
Typically, kids and adults with Asperger’s have normal to above-average intelligence. While some excel academically, others might struggle.
Some common cognitive traits in people with Asperger’s include:
- A superior rote memory
- Ability to understand technical or factual information
- Trouble absorbing abstract information
- Tendency to focus on details, which may result in missing “the bigger picture”
Children with Asperger’s might experience trouble focusing or have a nonverbal associated learning disability that can affect their reading, writing, or math skills. Still, many don’t have any cognitive issues. (3)
Kids with Asperger’s might experience physical symptoms, such as:
- Delay in motor skills
- Awkward movements
- Problems with coordination
- Sensitivity to loud noises, odors, clothing, or food textures
Children with Asperger’s may appear clumsy or awkward. They might have trouble with simple activities, such as catching a ball or swinging on monkey bars at a playground. But some kids don’t have any motor skill problems. (2)
Does Asperger’s Cause Violent Behavior?
Many parents wonder if Asperger’s syndrome is associated with violent behavior. The answer doesn’t seem to be clear-cut.
Several high-profile mass murder incidents, including the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, the 2012 Newtown, Connecticut, massacre, and the 2018 Parkland, Florida, tragedy, were allegedly committed by men with an autism spectrum disorder. (5,6)
But while Asperger’s may provoke some aggressive behaviors, most research shows no specific association between violent crime and autism alone. Some studies have suggested that other, accompanying psychiatric disorders may explain violent behaviors in people with autism. (5,6)
Scientists continue to study the link and hope to provide more insight about whether certain psychiatric conditions, including Asperger’s, may at times play a role in violent crimes.
Common Diagnoses That Go With Asperger’s
Some conditions, which have their own set of signs and symptoms, are more common in kids and adults with Asperger’s. These may include:
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Tourette’s syndrome
These coexisting conditions can cause other symptoms that aren’t necessarily characteristic of Asperger’s. (3)
Asperger’s Sometimes Comes With Special Talents
Many people with Asperger’s syndrome view their symptoms as gifts. Some positive attributes that set apart some people with Asperger’s may include:
- A high IQ
- The ability to focus on something intensely
- A remarkable rote memory
- A unique sense of humor
- A high esteem for fairness and honesty
Many people with Asperger’s have special talents and abilities. There are plenty of adults with the diagnosis who are successful lawyers, physicians, artists, authors, professors, and educators.
In fact, some individuals with Asperger’s are offended by the notion that their symptoms need to be “treated” or “cured.” (7)
Asperger’s: Not a One-Size-Fits-All Disorder
No two people with Asperger’s are exactly alike. The disorder manifests itself in various ways, and many people experience different symptoms than others do. Some have only mild issues, while some face major challenges.
Also, because Asperger’s is now categorized under the broader ASD diagnosis, some of the symptoms are no longer recognized as being exclusively Asperger’s but rather “on the spectrum.”
The main takeaway for parents is to see a professional if your child experiences any unusual signs or symptoms that may indicate he or she has an autism spectrum disorder. This can ensure an accurate and swift diagnosis.
The sooner children are diagnosed, the sooner they can start on effective treatments that could help them live as fully as possible, despite whatever limits their unique experience with the condition may bring.