What is Asperger’s Syndrome?
Asperger’s Syndrome is a form of autism. Autism is defined by the National Autistic Society as a “lifelong disability which affects how people communicate and interact with the world.”
They estimate there are around 700,000 autistic children and adults in the United Kingdom. Autism is a spectrum condition, which means that although all forms of autism share certain common traits, those with autism are affected in different ways. Asperger’s Syndrome (hereafter referred to as AS) affects people in different ways too, as some with the condition also suffer from other mental health issues such as depression.
The exact cause of autism remains unknown. Research indicates that a combination of factors, including genetic and environmental, are a possible cause.
In years gone by, the so-called “refrigerator mother” theory suggested that upbringing and a lack of love on the part of parents was to the cause. This harmful theory has long since been comprehensively debunked.
AS differs from other forms of autism in that people with it do not possess the same learning disabilities that categorize other forms of autism. Nonetheless they may experience other difficulties in understanding and processing language.
AS is a hidden condition and it does not have any specific physical symptoms. Its primary impact is on how the person perceives and interacts with the world around them. Common traits of AS are as follows:
1) Difficulty making and maintaining friendships. The person with AS may struggle with facial and other bodily cues, thereby making one-to-one interaction very challenging.
2) One-sided-ness. If a person with Asperger’s is capable of holding a prolonged conversation, they may speak at length without taking breaks. They may also fail to notice if the listener is engaged, growing bored or attempting to change the direction of the conversation.
3) As previously mentioned, the person with AS may struggle to deduce emotion based on facial and other physical signs. They may also display a dearth of such nonverbal communication themselves. They may not make eye contact or may adopt unusual body postures and gestures.
4) People with AS are often accused of being unfeeling, insensitive or incapable of empathy. This is a misnomer. People with AS can be highly emotional. They may, however, struggle to understand why people feel the way they do at given times. “Reading” other people is a constant challenge for the person with AS.
5) The person with Asperger’s may speak in a voice which is alternatively monotone, rigid or unnaturally fast.
6) People with AS may be extremely literal in their outlook on life and may find metaphors such as “it’s raining cats and dogs” difficult to comprehend.
In addition to troubles relating to communication and social situations, another key trait of Asperger’s is an obsessive nature. This may manifest itself in any or a combination of the following ways:
1) An intense interest, bordering on obsession, with one or several key interests.
2) As a general rule, the person with AS functions best when they follow a strict and rigid routine. Any sudden changes to this routine can prove to be a deeply distressing and uncomfortable experience.
3) The person with AS can be adept at memorising vast swathes of information, particularly when it relates to one of their passions as outlined in point 1.
4) One of the most common phrases used in relation to any form of autism is “meltdown”. This is where the autistic person becomes emotionally overwhelmed, usually in a challenging social surrounding, resulting in a tantrum or a violent outburst. This is also true of AS.
5) AS may make a person hypersensitive to light, sound and touch.
Some people view a diagnosis as a double-edged sword, as knowing one has autism means that they will be more conscious of the fact that they are different. It may also create the impression they are living with a label. Nonetheless, a diagnosis is important because it helps people with AS to understand why they think, feel and behave in the way they do and what they can do to come to terms with them.
Additionally, a diagnosis will open the door to a whole network of specialist support services that help children and families become more acquainted with their condition, what it is and how to handle the various traits.
As part of their training, new teachers receive instruction in autism awareness and schools often feature specialist centres where children with autism can receive the help and support which they need in order to be successful.
Although life with AS is often challenging, the positives of the condition are being more widely promoting. Commentators point to prominent historical figures who seemingly displayed traits of autism.
These include the mathematician Alan Turing, the physicist Albert Einstein and the composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Contemporary figures who may or may not be on the spectrum include Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, and the film director Tim Burton. Whatever the truth of these musings, the fact remains that people with AS on average have high IQs and are capable of reaching the top of their chosen professions.
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