Asperger’s syndrome is a type of autism spectrum disorder — an umbrella term used to describe conditions that affect how a person talks, communicates, and socializes.
Asperger’s symptoms vary a lot, but typically, a person with Asperger’s performs repetitive behaviors, speaks in a robotic tone, has difficulty communicating, and displays other abnormal mannerisms.
People with Asperger’s struggle in social situations but may have a normal or high IQ.
Asperger’s used to be its own distinct condition, noted a March 2014 article in The Atlantic, but now most doctors consider it a type of autism. Many describe it as a less severe or high-functioning form of autism.
Kids and adults with Asperger’s are usually able to function on their own and may not have trouble with speech or cognitive tasks, notes the Cleveland Clinic. (1)
Signs and Symptoms of Asperger’s
Symptoms of Asperger’s vary, but most kids and adults know they have the disorder because they have trouble communicating in social situations. Some will struggle to maintain eye contact, while others might find it difficult to interpret gestures or figures of speech.
Another sign of the disorder is a distinct pattern of speech. Individuals with Asperger’s may talk in a loud, robotic tone. They might also lack inflection when they speak and repeat themselves often.
Awkward movements and trouble with coordination are physical signs that someone with Asperger’s might have.
While experts refer to some traits as symptoms, many individuals with Asperger’s view their abilities as gifts. Positive qualities that people with the disorder might have include an incredible rote memory, a high IQ, and a distinctive sense of humor, notes the Asperger-Autism Network.
It’s important to remember that no two people with Asperger’s experience the same symptoms. Each individual is different and unique.
Learn More About Signs and Symptoms of Asperger’s
Asperger’s or Autism?
An Austrian pediatrician named Hans Asperger first described Asperger’s syndrome in the 1940s, notes the Asperger's Society. (2) The doctor had observed behaviors similar to autism in children who otherwise had normal intelligence and language skills.
Still, many experts believed that Asperger’s was just a milder form of autism and preferred the term “high-functioning autism,” as opposed to recognizing Asperger’s as an entirely new condition.
In 1994, Asperger’s was added to the American Psychiatric Association’s fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) as a separate disorder from autism. (2)
But in 2013, the fifth edition, the DSM-5, grouped Asperger’s, along with other developmental disorders, under the broad diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. This distinction essentially combined autism and Asperger’s into a single category. (2)
This new classification has caused debate in the medical community. Many experts still consider Asperger’s a separate disorder, with symptoms that are different from other forms of autism. Others believe Asperger’s is merely a less severe form of autism. (2)
Causes and Risk Factors of Asperger’s
The exact cause of Asperger’s is a mystery. But researchers do have some clues and theories as to what may raise someone’s risk.
Genes are one factor that probably play a role. Asperger’s seems to run in families, and certain genetic diseases are linked to the disorder. Boys are much more likely to develop Asperger’s than girls.
Some experts believe that exposures during pregnancy could contribute to Asperger’s. These might include being in contact with certain chemicals, pollutants, or drugs. Also, having a virus or other complications during pregnancy may up the risk of giving birth to a child with Asperger’s.
One thing that doesn’t cause Asperger’s: vaccines.
Asperger’s is probably caused by many factors, not just one. Researchers are working hard to provide the public with more answers and insights.
How Do People Get Asperger’s Syndrome?
Experts don’t know exactly why Asperger’s happens to some people. Asperger’s is considered a neurobiological disorder. This means it’s a condition that affects the nervous system and is caused by biological factors. Research shows that genes and brain abnormalities probably play a role.
Asperger’s is not caused by bad parenting. Some people incorrectly jump to this conclusion because the symptoms are often revealed through odd, eccentric, or rude behaviors. (3)
Learn More About Causes of Asperger’s: Common Risk Factors, Genetics and More
How Is Asperger’s Diagnosed?
Finding out if you have Asperger’s syndrome isn’t a one-step process. In fact, diagnosing the disorder typically involves using several tools, evaluations, and tests.
Various assessment tests are available. Most are used to help doctors gauge behavior, language skills, mental health, and personality. Some tests are designed for children, while others are specifically created for adults.
Genetic testing is another tool that might help clinicians figure out if a person’s symptoms are caused by gene mutations or other genetic disorders.
Evaluations — such as hearing, speech, language, physical, and neurological tests — are also used to assess a person with Asperger’s. Additionally, most primary care physicians and pediatricians screen children for autism spectrum disorders at infant and toddler well-check visits.
Making a formal diagnosis usually involves combining the results of several different tests and referring to the DSM.
Learn More About Diagnosing Asperger’s: Tests and Screenings, Early Diagnosis, and Your Doctors
When Should You Consult With a Doctor?
Parents are usually the first to notice that something is different about their child. Unfortunately, Asperger’s syndrome often goes undiagnosed until a child starts having difficulties in school or with other social activities, according to Autism Speaks. (4)
It’s a good idea to talk with your doctor if you think your son or daughter has any problems with social interactions. Parents should always seek the help of a medical professional if a child experiences social or communication delays. Asperger’s syndrome won’t improve on its own without therapy, so medical intervention is essential for a good outcome, notes the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP). (5)
Experts may be able to diagnose Asperger’s in children as young as 18 months old. (5) An earlier diagnosis may help your child cope better and start effective treatments sooner.
Your pediatrician or family doctor is a good place to start. Once you receive a diagnosis, you may see a team of specialists, which might include the following:
- Developmental pediatrician
- Pediatric neurologist
- Child psychologist or psychiatrist
- Speech therapist
- Vision specialist
- Physical therapist
- Social worker
Receiving an Asperger’s diagnosis can be scary and overwhelming. It’s important to find a physician you trust. Autism Speaks offers a list of doctors, therapists, and other experts in your area.
What Questions Should You Ask Your Doctor?
If your child receives an Asperger’s diagnosis, you’ll probably have a lot of questions for your doctor. Here are some you might want to ask: (5,6)
- Why do you think my child has Asperger’s syndrome?
- Is there an accurate way to confirm this diagnosis?
- Can you tell me how severe my child’s specific condition is?
- Should I tell my child that they have Asperger’s or wait until he or she is older?
- What kind of changes and behaviors can I expect from my child?
- Is Asperger’s associated with violent behavior?
- What kind of therapies are available?
- How can I learn more about Asperger’s syndrome?
- How can I cope with raising a child with Asperger’s?
- What kind of support is available for families?
Prognosis of Asperger’s
Asperger’s can affect everyone differently. Some people experience severe symptoms, while others face only minor struggles.
Many children and teens with Asperger’s attend conventional schools and can manage well academically and socially. But some may require special facilities for kids with autism or learning disabilities, notes KidsHealth. (7)
Living with Asperger’s or having a child with the disorder can be challenging. But it’s important to know that you can live a happy, fulfilled life with Asperger’s. Many people celebrate their unique gifts and special abilities. A good support system can be key to helping someone with Asperger’s live independently.
Duration of Asperger’s
Asperger’s is a lifelong disorder that doesn’t just go away. But, symptoms may improve over time. (8)
Adults with Asperger’s tend to learn how to understand their own strengths and weaknesses, which can help them improve their social skills.
Additionally, there are a lot of strategies, therapies, and medications that can help a person with Asperger’s effectively cope with any challenges they face.
Treatment and Medication Options for Asperger’s
There’s no cure, but the good news is that proper treatment can help someone with Asperger’s live a productive and successful life. The key is to start a regimen as soon as you can.
Various types of therapy are used to help people with Asperger’s. Some are designed to reward positive behaviors, while others help a person change their thoughts and perceptions.
Every child and adult with Asperger’s is unique and might respond differently to certain regimens. Sometimes the most-effective treatments involve combining several different methods.
Medications are sometimes an option if a person with Asperger’s struggles with symptoms of anxiety, depression, hyperactivity, or inattention. Options include antipsychotics, antidepressants, and stimulants.
Alternative and Complementary Therapies
Between 30 and 95 percent of kids with an autism spectrum disorder receive some type of complementary or alternative treatment. While some parents report these therapies are beneficial, they often lack scientific support. Approaches such as acupuncture, yoga, chelation therapy, and dietary changes are popular.
Learn More About Treatment for Asperger’s: Medication, Alternative and Complementary Therapies, Surgery Options and More
Prevention of Asperger’s
Unfortunately, there’s no known way to prevent Asperger’s syndrome. The cause of autism spectrum disorders is unknown at this point, according to the AAFP. (9)
Complications of Asperger’s
Asperger’s can lead to certain social and physical complications, including: (10)
- The inability to live independently
- Problems with learning and in school
- Difficulty getting or keeping a job
- Sensory issues
- Stress, anxiety, or depression
Research and Statistics: Who Has Asperger’s?
It’s difficult to say just how many kids and adults are living with Asperger’s syndrome, especially since it’s now lumped into a diagnostic category that includes other forms of autism.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 1 in every 68 children has an autism spectrum disorder. (11) But there aren’t many studies to determine how many of these kids would fall under the Asperger’s category.
Some experts estimate that at least 1 in every 250 people has a form of Asperger’s and that as many as 50 percent of people with Asperger’s are undiagnosed, according to the Asperger-Autism Network. (12)
BIPOC Communities and Asperger’s
Some research has shown that minorities may face challenges when it comes to autism spectrum disorders, like Asperger’s.
Black and Hispanic Americans and Asperger’s
A 2017 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found racial disparities may exist when it comes to autism. Results showed white children were about 19 percent more likely than Black children and 65 percent more likely than Hispanic children to receive an autism diagnosis. (13)
A different study, published in the Journal of Autism Development, found parents of minority toddlers were more likely to dismiss autism symptoms, such as communication delays. (14)
Experts say more resources need to be utilized to help Black Americans get better access to diagnosis and treatment options, per a February 2016 interview on NPR. (15)
Related Conditions and Causes of Asperger’s
Certain disorders may look like Asperger’s or occur along with it.
According to Autism-Help.org, some conditions closely related to Asperger’s include: (16)
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Tic disorders, such as Tourette syndrome
- Anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), or other mental health disorders
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Seizures and epilepsy
- Fragile X syndrome
Social Pragmatic Communication Disorder
In May 2013, the DSM-5 added a condition called social (pragmatic) communication disorder (SCD) to describe people who have trouble with social communication but have normal intelligence. Many of the symptoms overlap with Asperger’s, notes Autism Speaks. (17)
SCD isn’t included under the autism spectrum disorder category in the manual. It’s instead considered a communication disorder. (18)
Some people who were previously diagnosed with Asperger’s are now being identified as having SCD. Your doctor can help give you an accurate diagnosis.
You might wonder how Asperger’s is different from classic autism. While current guidelines suggest it’s merely a form of an autism spectrum disorder, many experts believe that people with Asperger’s have distinct symptoms that set them apart.
First, they don’t experience a speech delay. They usually have a normal or high IQ and might also have less-severe symptoms than someone with autism. And research shows that even the brains of people with Asperger’s are different.
Still, people with either Asperger’s or autism benefit from similar treatments and early intervention, so it’s important to see your doctor if you think you or your child has either condition.
Learn More About Asperger’s vs. Autism
Resources We Love
If you or your child has Asperger’s syndrome, you’re not alone. Certain resources can help provide support, financial assistance, and useful information.
Organizations such as Autism Speaks, the National Autism Association, the Autism Society, and the American Psychiatric Association are good places to start.
Several websites host blogs that can also be helpful for people with Asperger’s, parents, and caregivers alike. Others provide useful information about financial assistance programs for families who are impacted by Asperger’s and other autism spectrum disorders.
If you’d like to participate in a clinical trial, several resources, including ClinicalTrials.gov and CenterWatch, can help you locate a research study in your area.
Taking advantage of valuable resources can greatly impact your Asperger’s journey. Staying informed and connected can help you cope with the physical, emotional, and financial burdens that often accompany autism spectrum disorders.
Favorite Organizations for Essential Asperger’s Info
American Psychiatric Association (APA)
The APA is a trusted source for information on Asperger’s syndrome. We love their blog page, which highlights some of the latest news about autism and related disorders. You’ll also want to check out the “Expert Q + A” section, where leading psychiatrists answer your top questions.
We love that this organization has an Autism Response Team (ART) that answers your questions, connects you with resources, and helps you find services in your area. You can call during business hours or send members of the team an email.
Autism Society offers an online course, Autism 101, that helps users increase their knowledge about the disorder. It takes about 30 minutes to complete, and you can download a certificate when you finish. Also, sign up for their free newsletter.
Asperger-Autism Network (AANE)
The AANE works with families to help people with Asperger’s and other autism spectrum disorders build meaningful, connected lives. They provide education, support, and advocacy. We love their parent coaching resource, which offers one-on-one sessions designed to help parents of children, teens, and adults who are on the spectrum. The experts will even review your child’s individualized education program (IEP), if needed.
This nonprofit organization offers education, support, and solutions for families dealing with an autism diagnosis. The U.S. Autism Association, through the U.S. College Autism Project (USCAP) initiative, has created a program for individuals on the autism spectrum to achieve a successful college and post-collegiate experience. Learn more about the curriculum on their website.
Favorite Online Support Networks
Global and Regional Asperger Syndrome Partnership (GRASP)
Sometimes, you just need to talk to someone. GRASP offers a list of support groups in your area. If you can’t find one that’s close, they’ll connect you with services in your region.
Favorite Apps, Products, and Gadgets
Understanding Mental Health Disorders: Your Guide to DSM-5
The APA’s Understanding Mental Health Disorders book is chock-full of information about how autism is recognized and diagnosed, based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5). You can see excerpts from the book and purchase it for $24.95 from the APA.
We love this app because it helps parents and caregivers keep track of a child’s behavior, nutrition, medication, therapy sessions, and more. Among other features, you can track your kid’s diet and sleep cycles.
Favorite Annual Meetings
Asperger-Autism Spectrum Education Network (ASPEN)
ASPEN hosts an annual fall conference with keynote speakers and relevant topics for people with Asperger’s and other autism spectrum disorders.
International Conference on Autism
Medical professionals from around the world attend this conference to share about the latest autism research.
Favorite Resource for Becoming an Advocate
Autistic Self-Advocacy Network (ASAN)
Looking to get involved? The ASAN advocates, so the voices of people with autism are heard. You can volunteer, join an affiliate group, or find other ways to support the cause here.
Favorite Asperger’s Blog
In his personal blog, Gavin Bollard writes about his family’s autism journey. Gavin’s older son was diagnosed with Asperger’s, and his younger son is on the autism spectrum. Gavin, himself, was diagnosed with Asperger’s after learning about the symptoms. He covers topics like bullying and misconceptions about autism.
Learn More About Additional Resources and Support for Asperger’s