- Difficulty knowing what to say or how to behave in social situations. Many have a tendency to say the “wrong thing.” They may appear awkward or rude, and unintentionally upset others.
- Trouble with “theory of mind,” that is, trouble perceiving the intentions or emotions of other people, due to a tendency to ignore or misinterpret such cues as facial expression, body language, and vocal intonation.
- Slower than average auditory, visual, or intellectual processing, which can contribute to difficulties keeping up in a range of social settings—a class, a soccer game, a party.
- Challenges with “executive functioning,” that is, organizing, initiating, analyzing, prioritizing, and completing tasks.
- A tendency to focus on the details of a given situation and miss the big picture.
- Intense, narrow, time-consuming personal interest(s) — sometimes eccentric in nature — that may result in social isolation, or interfere with the completion of everyday tasks. (On the other hand, some interests can lead to social connection and even careers. For example, there are children and adults with an encyclopedic knowledge of vacuum cleaners.)
- Inflexibility and resistance to change. Change may trigger anxiety, while familiar objects, settings, and routines offer reassurance. One result is difficulty transitioning from one activity to another: from one class to another, from work time to lunch, from talking to listening. Moving to a new school, new town, or new social role can be an enormous challenge.
- Feeling somehow different and disconnected from the rest of the world and not “fitting in”—sometimes called “wrong planet” syndrome.
- Extreme sensitivity—or relative insensitivity—to sights, sounds, smells, tastes, or textures. Many people outgrow these sensory issues at least to some extent as they mature.
- Vulnerability to stress, sometimes escalating to psychological or emotional problems including low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive behaviors.
AS affects people lifelong, but many can use their cognitive and intellectual abilities to compensate for some of the challenges they face, so as people grow, AS can be managed. At AANE, we have seen countless people with AS who, given the proper supports, have used their AS traits to their advantage to accomplish feats beyond what the “typical” mind could muster. Traits and talents from which individuals with AS often benefit include:
- Normal to very high intelligence
- Good verbal skills, including rich vocabularies
- Originality and creativity including a propensity for “thinking outside the box”
- Honesty and ingenuity
- Careful attention to details
- Strong work ethic, with particular attention to accuracy and quality of work
- Special interests that can be tailored toward productive work or hobbies; individuals with AS who have intensive knowledge in one or more specific areas can channel their expertise toward new discoveries and creations in their chosen field
- Keen senses allow some people with AS to see, hear or feel subtle changes in the environment that others do not, resulting in phenomenal powers of observation
The gap between intellectual ability and functional presentation complicates the AS experience. Friends and family members often see a highly intelligent, talented individual, and cannot comprehend why the person with AS struggles during routine social or organizational experiences.
One of the frustrations of an Asperger diagnosis is that because people with AS are often extremely bright, with excellent rote memories and verbal skills, overall expectations for these individuals are high. Those around them may be surprised to see how deeply people with AS struggle in certain areas, such as the social realm, and may not understand that such difficulties are valid and real. Many times, people with AS are blamed for behaviors they cannot control.
Dr. Stephen M. Shore says, “When you meet one person with AS—you’ve met one person with AS.” That is, it is very important to remember that people with AS can differ greatly from one other. Everyone with AS is affected by a common cluster of traits, but the intensity of each trait lies along a continuum. As a result, the extent to which AS shapes an individual’s life course and experiences is highly variable.
We hope this information helps your awareness of Asperger Syndrome. Knowledge is the first step toward positive change in the lives of you and your loved ones. Good luck on your journey to understanding the role AS has played in your life.