The following information is from Autism SA (Autism Association of South Australia Inc.) …
Asperger’s syndrome is named after Hans Asperger, a Viennese psychiatrist who first described the syndrome in 1944. Although his writings were published around the same time as Leo Kanner described autism, the term Asperger’s syndrome were not widely used until the late 1980s, and internationally standardized diagnostic criteria was not published until 1994.
Individuals with Asperger’s syndrome have the same social deficits and restricted patterns of interest and activity as individuals with autism. However, in Asperger’s syndrome, the development of language and cognitive skills, at least in the first two years, appears to be normal. However, professional and practical experience indicates clearly that individuals with Asperger’s syndrome do have disordered language and specific learning difficulties.
The formal recognition and diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome usually occur later than that of autism. It is thought that this is probably related to the person’s social deficits not becoming more apparent until time is spent in social settings like kindergarten or school and someone recognizes the extent of the person’s social difficulties.
Although individuals with Asperger’s syndrome have seemingly intact or normal cognitive skills, their knowledge and awareness of aspects of the social world and appropriate social behaviour are limited. This mismatch of abilities can often lead other people to think that the person with Asperger ‘ssyndrome is being deliberately rude or difficult; if they are ‘bright’, they ’should know better’. People with Asperger ‘s syndrome may have little understanding of the rules governing social behaviour and difficulties reading social situations and social cues. They also have a limited capacity to use prior social knowledge or experience to respond suitably in social circumstances. This impairs their ability to develop peer relationships, and often makes people with Asperger’s syndrome seem aloof, rude and socially insensitive. They may appear self-centred as they may not be able to understand how their behaviour affects others. As interpreting and expressing emotions are difficult for people with Asperger’s syndrome, they are often thought of as unfeeling and unsympathetic.
Although people with Asperger’s syndrome do not have a delay in their language development, there are a number of common characteristics in their speech patterns. Features such as speaking in a pedantic and precise manner, unusual voice characteristics, a tendency to talk ‘at’ people and better expressive (what they say) than receptive (what they understand) language skills are typically seen. People with Asperger’s syndrome have difficulty initiating and maintaining two way, free flowing conversations; instead, they often engage in lengthy monologues about their interests. Often the expressive language abilities demonstrated in these situations can lead listeners to overestimate the actual level of functional communication of a person with Asperger’s syndrome. Jokes, irony, sarcasm and metaphor are difficult for people with Asperger’s syndrome to understand, and they often take language literally. For example, in response to the metaphor “pull up your socks or you’ll be late”, a person with Asperger’s syndrome may pull up their socks, or express confusion if they are not wearing any socks. The use and understanding of non-verbal communication, including eye contact, facial expression, and gesture, are also problematic for people with Asperger’s syndrome. They are often described as having a blank or bland face. However, they can also use over-exaggerated body language, without realising their gestures are inappropriate.
Restricted and Repetitive Patterns of Interest and Activity
Odd or eccentric preoccupations and a restricted range of interests are common in individuals with Asperger’s syndrome. They often accumulate large amounts of information and facts about their interests. This behaviour is often described as obsessive, as the interests tend to dominate the person’s life. Routines and rituals are typically seen in individuals with Asperger’s syndrome, and any changes to their daily routine can cause significant over-reactions or behavioural outbursts as the person with Asperger’s syndrome attempts to cope with their distress. People with Asperger’s syndrome may have over or under reactions to sensory input, and this can make it difficult for them to tune into their environment and understand what is going on around them. This uncertainty or confusion can result in anxiety and panic. Stereotypical motor mannerisms, such as body stiffening or hand flapping, are also seen in people with Asperger’s syndrome.