What is Asperger's syndrome?

Asperger's syndrome, sometimes called Asperger's Disorder, is a type of developmental disorder characterized by having trouble with social interactions and communication, having specific behavioral patterns and strict adherence to routine, and having intense obsessive interests.

Despite these characteristics, people with Asperger's usually don't have any language impairment. More often than not, those with this syndrome typically have above-average language development. It's just specific aspects of communication they have difficulty with (e.g., they don't recognize social cues, have trouble understanding context, and have reciprocal conversations). They usually have above-average intelligence, too.

The syndrome was named after Hans Asperger, an Austrian pediatrician who, in 1944, described children in his practice who lacked nonverbal communication skills, failed to demonstrate empathy with their peers, and were physically clumsy. His observations went largely unnoticed until the late 20th century when the American Psychiatric Association revisited them and introduced them into the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in 1994.

However, in the DSM-5, published in 2013, Asperger's syndrome was subsumed under the umbrella category of autism spectrum disorder, reflecting a move towards a more nuanced understanding of autism as a spectrum of conditions.

Printable Asperger Traits Checklist

Download this Asperger Traits Checklist to properly assess patients suspected of having the syndrome

What is the difference between Asperger's syndrome and autism spectrum disorder (ASD)?

Before 2013, Asperger's syndrome and autism were considered separate. Back then, the following factors were considered to be the characteristics that separated Asperger's syndrome from autism:

  • Those with autism have developmental delays in their language capabilities as opposed to those with Asperger's, who have normal to above-average language development and may have advanced vocabulary.
  • Those with autism can have an intellectual disability or have above-average intelligence, while those with Asperger's usually have above-average intelligence.
  • Those with Asperger's syndrome were believed to be able to engage in social interaction and communicate better than those with autism.

When the DSM-5 was published, Asperger's syndrome, autistic disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder - not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), were consolidated under the umbrella of autism spectrum disorders.

The symptom categories of social impairment, language/communication impairment, and repetitive/restrictive behaviors, which are shared by various developmental disorders, were consolidated into two categories: persistent deficits in social communication/interaction and restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior.

Those who were diagnosed with Asperger's before the publication of the DSM-5 were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.

What are the signs and symptoms of Asperger's syndrome in adults?

Adults diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, whether before the publication of the DSM-5 or with ASD after its publication, will likely have several or all of the listed signs and symptoms below:

Language and speech issues

Adults with Asperger's syndrome often exhibit unique patterns in their language use and speech. Here are some examples:

  • They tend to sound formal when speaking and may even sound pedantic.
  • They use uncommon vocabulary or vocabulary related to their specific interests.
  • They are too literal and have difficulty interpreting metaphors, sarcasm, and other figures of speech.
  • They tend to dominate conversations if they're discussing something they like.

Behavioral patterns

Asperger's syndrome typically causes several difficulties among adults, especially in social interactions and adherence to routines. Here are some signs:

  • They have great difficulty interpreting certain social situations, social cues, social context, and non-verbal communication.
  • They make limited eye contact when conversing with others.
  • They have difficulty making friends and maintaining friendships.
  • They have trouble recognizing and understanding the emotions of others.
  • They have trouble expressing appropriate emotional reactions to specific situations.
  • They might tend to isolate themselves since they have trouble with social interaction and communication.
  • They tend to repeat specific phrases or words.
  • They have a strict adherence to routines.
  • They get upset and distressed when there are changes to their routines, no matter how small.
  • They have an intense obsession with specific hobbies and topics or any other thing that interests them.
  • They have extreme emotions when reacting to certain things because they have trouble managing them.
  • They might have verbal or behavioral outbursts from time to time, throw tantrums, and enact self-harming behaviors.

Physical symptoms

Asperger's syndrome also includes difficulties with motor skills and coordination. Here are the physical symptoms to look out for:

  • They might exhibit awkward or clumsy movements.
  • They have difficulties with fine motor skills.
  • They have difficulties with gross motor skills.
  • They have a limited range of facial expressions.
  • They have a limited range of gestures.
  • They have weak coordination.

Other signs of Asperger's syndrome in adults include a strong ability to memorize information and facts, particularly about topics of personal interest. They may also experience heightened sensitivity to light, specific sounds, and certain textures. Additionally, they can struggle with planning, organizing, and initiating tasks.

How is Asperger's syndrome diagnosed?

Ever since the publication of the DSM-5, the symptoms of Asperger's have been lumped with symptoms of other disorders that are now part of the autism spectrum disorder criteria. At this point, a diagnosis of Asperger's is a diagnosis of autism, and as mentioned earlier, people diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome using the criteria of the DSM-IV are no longer diagnosed with it. Instead, they're diagnosed with ASD.

What steps must one take to make a correct diagnosis?

There are no specific tests for assessing patients for signs of Asperger's, but here are the steps to make a diagnosis.

  1. Conduct a comprehensive examination: Start with a thorough clinical interview with the patient. Interview the people closest to the patient and observe the patient during the interview.
  2. Utilize observation tools: Have close associates of the patient observe them over a specific period using tools like the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS).
  3. Assess various skills and behaviors: Evaluate the patient's intellectual or language impairments, movement skills, social skills, and communication skills. Observe repetitive behaviors, body language, powerful interests, and mood disorders.
  4. Conduct additional examinations: Perform brain scans to check for potential brain abnormalities or other neurodevelopmental disorders, such as cerebral palsy.
  5. Cross-check findings: Compare the gathered information with the criteria set by the DSM-5 to ensure accuracy.
  6. Make an official diagnosis: Confirm if the findings fit the DSM-5 criteria, ensuring a correct and comprehensive assessment.

Asperger Traits Checklist example (sample)

If you like what you see and believe this will help you gather information about your patient easily, please download our free sample Asperger Traits Checklist PDF template! We also added a Notes box at the very bottom so you can detail any observations about the patient being evaluated for potential Asperger's syndrome/ASD.

Download this free traits checklist example here:

Asperger Traits Checklist example (sample)

If you like what you see and believe this will help you gather information about your patient easily, then feel free to download our free Asperger Traits Checklist PDF template!

Why use Carepatron as your practice management software?

If you are a medical professional who is committed to provide the best patient care, you may want to  check more of the Carepatron platform if you haven't already done so. We have a lot of nifty features, and we're confident that we are the number one clinical documentation and practice management software. We won't get into detail about these features here, but we'd like to highlight one related to this guide: our resource library.

Our resource library is a treasure trove of clinical resources. It covers numerous healthcare fields, topics, and practices, especially psychology, mental health, and developmental disorders. Another resource similar to this traits checklist is the Asperger's Syndrome Test. Unlike the traits checklist, this resource is a self-report questionnaire that you can hand to a patient who potentially has Asperger's/ASD. We also have other assessments like depression scales, anxiety scales, and other similar resources that can help you assess patients for symptoms of mental health issues and measure their severity.

What's great about all these resources is they're free, so read as many guides as you want and download as many templates as you need. Discover the other features of Carepatron today and sign up for free!

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Does Asperger's syndrome have a cure?
Does Asperger's syndrome have a cure?

Commonly asked questions

Does Asperger's syndrome have a cure?

No. It can only be managed. If it's detected early (during childhood), professionals can plan interventions and therapy plans and provide support services to the child to help them manage the syndrome and develop coping strategies. This gives them a better chance of living typically without the syndrome becoming a significant hindrance.

What causes Asperger's syndrome to emerge?

Currently, the cause of Asperger's syndrome is unknown. Scientists believe that genetics and brain abnormalities are contributing factors, but they're not fully proven.

Does everyone with Asperger's syndrome have the same signs and symptoms?

No. Asperger's syndrome is now part of autism spectrum disorder. Some people will have traits that others won't necessarily have. There will be similarities, of course, but each person is different. Some people with Asperger's might be better at communicating than others. Some might not have hypersensitivity to noise or light compared to others.

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