WHAT IS ASPERGER SYNDROME?
WHAT IS AUTISM?
WHAT IS AUTISTIC SPECTRUM DISORDER?
Autism and Asperger Syndrome are examples of Developmental Disorders, that
is, affecting a person’s development, making it delayed and/or uneven. Autism
and Asperger Syndrome are also in the category of Neurological Disorders. Autism
and Asperger Syndrome are present from birth, or, in some cases, seem to appear
at a very young age, within the first three years of life. Although the exact
genes have not yet been identified, it is now known that Autism and Asperger
Syndrome have a genetic basis, as they often run in families.
It is nowadays recognised that Autism consists of a group of related
disorders which vary in severity. At one extreme is the very withdrawn
individual who can not communicate at all, and whose own private world seems
unable to be penetrated by others.
At the other end of the range are individuals who may be high functioning in
some areas of life, and may even have areas of exceptional talent, but who also
have some of the features of Autism which affect their functioning. The people
at this end of the scale have either High-Functioning Autism or Asperger’s
Syndrome, (also called Asperger Syndrome, or Asperger’s Disorder).
In order to be able to discuss and describe all of the people who have types
of Autism, (including Asperger Syndrome), the term Autistic Spectrum Disorder (A.S.D.)
has been created. This term is now commonly used by such organisations as Autism
New Zealand Inc., for instance. The use of the term “Autistic Spectrum
Disorder”, or “A.S.D.”, saves one from having to say, each time, “People who
have Autism and Asperger Syndrome”.
Both “classical” Autism and Asperger Syndrome were researched and described
in 1944. There are a lot of commonalities between “classical” Autism (as first
described by Dr. Leo Kanner), and Asperger Syndrome (as first described by Dr.
Hans Asperger), which is why it is useful to think of them as being on the same
spectrum of disorders. Some children may display a lot of “classical Autistic”
features, but, as they grow into adults, their maturation process may lead them
further up the scale into what seems more like Asperger Syndrome. Also, the
symptoms of both conditions do overlap considerably. The two sets of symptoms
(in simplified versions) are given below.
SIGNS of AUTISM: as noticeable in young children with Autism.
The following are common characteristics of “classical” autism (Kanner’s
Autism). Watch for a cluster of symptoms, (not just one or two):
- No pointing by the age of one year.
- Delay in babbling or spoken language.
- Any loss of language or play skills.
- Instead of pretend play, the child may stack, line up or collect objects.
- Little interest in making friends.
- Extremely short attention span.
- No response when called by name.
- Acts as if deaf.
- Little or no eye contact.
- Repetitive body movements, e.g. hand flapping, rocking, spinning.
- Intense tantrums.
- Fixations on a single object, e.g. a spinning fan, wheels on a toy, light
- Unusually strong resistance to changes in routine.
- Over-sensitivity to certain sounds, textures or smells.
SIGNS OF ASPERGER SYNDROME.
Every person in the world will have a few of these signs. It is when a person
has a lot of them, and also when the intensity of the symptoms is more extreme
than in the average person, that there may be cause for concern. Each person who
has Asperger Syndrome is also an individual, and may not have exactly the same
profile of characteristics as another. Every possible symptom of Asperger
Syndrome is not listed here. A more precise check-list is provided under the
heading “Diagnostic Criteria”, also on this website.
- Difficulty making friends and in general social interaction.
- Difficulty understanding non-verbal social cues such as facial expressions
and body language.
- Communication difficulties, e.g. not understanding the mechanics of a
- May be either withdrawn, or makes over-eager, inappropriate approaches to
- Difficulty understanding that others may have thoughts or feelings
different from one’s own.
- Obsessive focus on narrow interests, e.g. train timetables, or obsessively
- Awkward or clumsy motor skills, co-ordination or balance difficulties.
- Over-sensitivity to sudden noises, and/or other sensory inputs, e.g.
- Eye contact may be lacking or unusual, e.g. staring.
- Inflexibility about routine, especially when changes occur spontaneously.
- Odd quality to voice, e.g. monotone.
- Problems with understanding idiomatic expressions, i.e. taking things
- Difficulty with multi-tasking, or in coping with more than one significant
- Difficulty in thinking or performing under pressure.
- Tendency to be able to deal with only one sensory channel at once, e.g.
seeing OR hearing, not both.
- Tendency to be overly sensitive to criticism, failure, and humiliation.
- Easily bullied, manipulated, tricked or taken advantage of by others.
- May be highly intelligent, but lacking in “common sense.”
- Intelligence tends to be very uneven, with one or two areas of talent, and
other areas of marked inability.
- High anxiety levels may be an almost constant feature for some
OTHER CONDITIONS WHICH ARE ON THE AUTISTIC SPECTRUM OF DISORDERS include:
Tourette’s Syndrome (featuring involuntary movements and/or utterances);
Fragile X (a chromosomal disorder which produces symptoms similar to autism;
this can be tested for via laboratory tests, as the exact chromosome is known).
Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) is another diagnosis which is
sometimes given, meaning that the person’s development is recognised to be
delayed and/or uneven, but the diagnostician has not decided upon the exact term
of “Autism”, “Asperger Syndrome”, etc.
GILLBERG and GILLBERG DIAGNOSTIC CRITERIA for ASPERGER SYNDROME (1989).
[This checklist is also given in my book, page
In order to be diagnosable as having Asperger Syndrome, the person needs to
have sufficient points from each numbered category, as explained:
- Social impairment – extreme egocentricity (at least in two of the
- inability to interact with peers
- lack of desire to interact with peers
- lack of appreciation of social cues
- socially and emotionally inappropriate behaviour.
- Narrow interest (at least one of the following):
- xclusion of other activities
- repetitive adherence
- more rote than meaning.
- Repetitive routines (at least one of the following):
- on self, on aspects of life
- on others.
- Speech and language peculiarities (at least three of the following):
- delayed development
- superficially perfect expressive language
- formal pedantic language
- odd prosody, peculiar voice characteristics
- impairment of comprehension, including misinterpretations of literal /
- Non-verbal communication problems (at least one of the following):
- limited use of gestures
- clumsy body language
- limited facial expression
- inappropriate expression
- peculiar stiff gaze.
- Motor clumsiness [movement skills]
- poor performance on neuro-developmental examination.
Please Note: There are other checklists (Diagnostic Criteria) available also.
I have provided the Gillberg and Gillberg diagnostic criteria because I – as a
person who has Asperger Syndrome – feel that the Gillberg and Gillberg criteria
are more correct than some other ones.
In fact, at least one other set of diagnostic criteria is partially
incorrect, according to my own experience of living with Asperger Syndrome. One
category of the DSM – 4 criteria (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 4th
edition) states that individuals with Asperger Syndrome have no deficits in the
area of self-care skills. In my own case, (and in many other cases of A.S. of
which I have heard), there has been a marked deficit in learning how to dress
oneself, tie one’s shoelaces, tie up one’s hair, and a number of other self-care
skills, which can also include keeping oneself and one’s clothing clean. As
these types of tasks are often problematic for individuals with Asperger
Syndrome, this section of the DSM – 4 (in which self-care is stated as not being
a problem) is incorrect.
Therefore, if the person in your life is having problems which suggest
Asperger Syndrome or Autism but he or she does not fit the doctor’s checklist,
you can try a different set of diagnostic criteria, e.g. Gillberg and Gillberg,
DSM – 4, or a different set from the Internet.
By the way – I have NO interest at all in trying to increase the statistics,
merely for their own sake, for Asperger Syndrome. I wish to see people
diagnosed, and correctly diagnosed, if they are having problems, and would
therefore be helped by obtaining the correct diagnosis. It is always easier to
deal with known facts than with a mystery in one’s life; as Jesus said, “The
truth will set you free.”
The specialist who is conducting the assessment needs to be aware of the full
range of possible medical conditions, INCLUDING Autistic Spectrum Disorders, in
order for a person to receive the correct diagnosis, (whatever the correct
diagnosis may turn out to be).
OTHER conditions which a person may have, (INSTEAD of Asperger Syndrome or
Autism; or, in some cases, AS WELL AS Asperger Syndrome or Autism) include:
- ADD / ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder);
- Anxiety Disorder;
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder;
- Tourette’s Syndrome (featuring involuntary body movements and/or
- Social Phobia;
- Bipolar Disorder (formerly called “Manic Depression”);
- Borderline Personality Disorder;
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder;
- Epilepsy (perhaps a variety of epilepsy in which the person has mild, less
noticeable seizures, but which still affect the person’s ability to function);
- [and I know there will be other possibilities also].