What is Asperger Syndrome?

by Andrea Blundell
Reviewed by Dr Sheri Jacobson

Does your new partner seem devoid of emotion at times? Or has someone told you that your need for organisation means that you are Asperger’s? Are these things even Asperger's at all, or just myths?

What is Asperger syndrome, and what are the implications of being ‘on the spectrum’?

What is Asperger syndrome?

Asperger syndrome, also just called ‘Asperger's’, is no longer an official diagnosis. Instead is is now grouped under ‘autism spectrum disorder’ (ASD).

Autism spectrum disorder is a condition which affects social communication and interaction.

As implied by the word ‘spectrum’, autism is not a one size fits all. Symptoms can vary in severity and can affect each person differently.

In some cases, autism develops alongside learning difficulties and can severely affect a person’s capacity to cope on a daily basis.

Others with average to above average intelligence manage to cope with or even excel in their lives despite symptoms of autism. They are often still referred to as having Asperger's.

Because those with Asperger's generally lead a normal life, they can sometimes not receive a diagnosis until adolescence, or even until well into adulthood.

Autism and Asperger’s symptoms

You will have different ways of communicating. This can look like:

  • struggling to understand what others think and feel
  • not quite knowing what the fuss about ‘feelings’ is, or how to say what you feel
  • finding social situations overwhelming or not interesting (so maybe choosing to be alone)
  • being called rude when you are just stating what to you seems obvious and true
  • taking things literally and finding it strange that others like to be confusing
  • knowing exactly what you think and finding others too indecisive or inconsistent
  • not liking direct eye contact.

Other typical signs of autism are around your interests and your way of sensing the world. These can look like:

  • knowing what your interests are and being very committed to them
  • needing to have the same routine every day and feeling upset if it’s changed
  • liking everything planned in advance
  • being very detail orientated and organised
  • not liking physical contact, especially from strangers
  • finding some environments overwhelming - too noisy, bright, colourful.

Myths about Asperger’s

1. It’s an illness.

Autism and apserger’s are not ‘illnesses’. It just means your brain is different than the norm. So you have a different way of perceiving and seeing yourself, others, and the world.

2. You can catch Asperger’s as an adult.

You are born on the autism spectrum, you don't just acquire it. Symptoms are usually present even before aged three, but an official diagnosis can’t be made until then. And again, Asperger’s is a kind of autism that can be overlooked until later in life.

3. Everyone with Asperger’s is the same.

Not at all. Recent research, for example, points to the fact that women can manifest signs differently than men. The NHS pages about autism share that, “Autistic women may be quieter, may hide their feelings, and may appear to cope better with social situations.This means it can be harder to tell you’re autistic if you’re a woman.”

4. If someone doesn’t understand you, they have Asperger’s.

You can struggle to understand emotions and others and not be on the autism spectrum. For example, alexithymia means you don’t understand emotions, but can still understand social cues. And some people are just raised in families that don’t talk, or don’t develop a big interest in understanding others.

5. Asperger’s people can never change.

Asperger’s can’t be ‘cured’ or made to go away. But if you do have Asperger’s, you can learn to cope in different ways, which can improve relationships and the way you navigate work and daily life.

6. People with Asperger’s lack empathy.

It's a common idea, that people with Asperger's lack empathy. But not necessarily true, and quite offensive to many who identify as 'Aspie'. Another theory here is called 'intense world syndrome'. In other words, it's not about lack of empathy but more that those with autism experience things as so overwhelming that they withdraw entirely from processing further.

7. You can tell someone has Asperger's right away.

Some people who have Asperger's are very successful in their chosen career, cope well, and have a life that looks like anyone's. It's only when you get to know them better you start to see their differences.

Can therapy help me with Asperger syndrome?

Therapy can't 'heal' your Asperger's. But it can definitely help you find new ways of coping and relating that mean you can understand others better, and be understood better.

Ready to talk to someone about Asperger's? Book a therapist now and be talking this week.

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