Unlike symptoms of classic autism, which appear at approximately age two, symptoms of Asperger Syndrome become most apparent when a child begins school, at age five or six. This is a time when a child’s social skills are tested, as they are interacting with a larger peer group. Also unlike children with classic autism, children with Aspergers typically don’t have language delays; however, they have difficulty in holding a conversation with give-and-take. They tend to talk at length, without pausing to allow a response.
Pediatrician Hans Asperger, the doctor for whom the syndrome is named, began describing the syndrome during a 1944 study. He focused on children who seemed disconnected from others, lacking in empathy, and a distinct lack of motor skills and coordination. Most of the children he studied were male, and a greater percentage of those diagnosed with Aspergers and autism are male.
Aspergers Symptoms include, but are not limited to:
- difficulty or reluctance in making eye contact
- tendency toward one-sided conversations
- lack of variation in vocal pitch and tone
- focus and fixation on a particular subject or object; may become expert on obscure subject(s)
- poor coordination; difficulty in learning physical tasks, such as penmanship
- tendency toward facial expressions that do not correspond to emotion or context
- obsessive desire for routines, sameness
- high degree of sensitivity to external stimuli (loud sounds, bright lights, etc)
- challenges in understanding others’ subtleties of conversation; grasping certain kinds of humor
Note the high degree of overlap between the symptoms listed above and the symptoms described in Signs Of Autism In Infants and Signs Of Autism In Toddlers. The Autism Spectrum Quotient test is a good starting point for those who suspect their child may have Aspergers Syndrome. However, as with any Autism Spectrum Disorder, it’s important to receive an assessment from a qualified pediatrician or other medical professional. A formal assessment (first by one’s pediatrician, then by a specialist team if necessary) will aid in receiving correct treatment and directed therapy.
Finally, it’s vital to remember that children with Aspergers Symptoms (or symptoms of a disorder on the autism spectrum) will likely exhibit instances of ‘problem behavior’ as they begin school and interact with peer groups. They will feel a high degree of overwhelm. As such, they require someone to assist them in developing coping strategies, someone who will intervene on their behalf.
Tony Attwood, a doctor and writer who specializes in Aspergers, quotes Geraldine Robertson, a woman with Asperger Syndrome. This is her illuminating description of a school playground, and what it looks like for an individual with Aspergers.
“They told me I would have friends but the playground was a nightmare of noise and fighting, lying, and cheating and people going fast, all knowing what to do but me. It was like a flock of birds, wheeling, surging, changing direction at a whim, all knowing what to do, and all in unison except for one at the back. Me. I had to watch and anticipate and follow so I was never quite in harmony. Sometimes I got left behind and there are hawks out there. I didn’t know how to tell who was a friend.”