Asperger’s Syndrome is an Autism spectrum condition. Autism is a life-long neurological developmental condition that impacts individuals in several key areas

What is Aspergers?

Asperger’s Syndrome is an Autism spectrum condition. Autism is a life-long neurological developmental condition that impacts individuals in several key areas:

  • Social communication
  • Social interaction
  • Social imagination
  • Sensory and information processing

Asperger’s is not a mental health condition, but it is not uncommon for people with Autism to experience emotional health difficulties, especially anxiety.

Around 1 in 100 people have Autism or Asperger’s Syndrome. Individuals are now more likely to be diagnosed in childhood, but there is an unknown number of undiagnosed adults living with the condition and it is still difficult for adults to access appropriate diagnostic services. Historically the diagnostic process was male-biased. This resulted in low numbers of girls and women receiving diagnosis due to differences in their presentation, and also because girls tend to be better at mimicking social skills and disguising their difficulties.

People with Asperger’s Syndrome often have average or above average IQ. Their difficulties with social skills may appear to be ‘at odds’ with their general intelligence levels.

They may have what are sometimes called ‘special interests’, whereby the individual has an intense interest in and may be extremely knowledgeable about one or more subjects. People with Asperger’s often make loyal and valued employees due to their high accuracy levels, attention to detail, and organisational skills; but without appropriate support and understanding may struggle with the social and sensory aspects of the work environment.

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Some common challenges

  • Difficulty reading and interpreting non-verbal communication (e.g. facial expressions, gestures, emotions and body language) can result in lack of confidence, confusion around what may or may not be going on, and difficulties in understanding what other people expect or want
  • Difficulty dealing with social interactions and group situations can mean that people with Asperger’s Syndrome become isolated and unable to access or join in with activities and events
  • Difficulty understanding the subtleties of social interaction and ‘putting yourself in someone else’s shoes’ can be interpreted as a lack of empathy, but it is hard for people with Asperger’s to respond appropriately or within the normal timescale as they need time to process all the information and work out what might be required of them
  • Sensory sensitivities (including sound, lighting, touch, taste and smell) – a simple visit to a shop can be an overwhelming experience
  • Eye contact can be extremely uncomfortable, even painful. Many people with Asperger’s find it easier to listen and concentrate if they do not make eye contact.
  • People with Asperger’s can be very literal in what they say and how they understand things, so may not appreciate metaphor or sarcasm
  • Rigid, ‘black and white’ thinking style, which makes it difficult to cope with sudden changes to plans or routine
  • A tendency to talk at length about their special interest and not be able to recognise the signs that others may be bored or not have time to listen
  • Lack of flexibility around their understanding of time (i.e. if an appointment is scheduled for a specific time, they may become anxious if things are delayed even though they understand intellectually that this may happen)
  • Some individuals have highly developed language skills, but may not always fully understand the meaning of some of the vocabulary they use.

Common coping mechanisms

  • Ear defenders to help soften sounds (which can be very uncomfortable or painful), and reduce stress
  • Specialist tinted spectacles to help ease the discomfort caused by artificial lighting
  • Use of fidget toys as a means of easing stress and anxiety
  • Weighted blankets or cushions – deep pressure tends to be calming (light touch tends to be stimulating and stressful)
  • Movements such as ‘hand flapping’ or rocking are a means of easing stress
  • Choosing quieter times to do shopping or visit public places
  • Taking ‘time out’ when experiencing sensory overload

Top Tips

Top tips for the community interacting with someone with Asperger’s.

  • A person with Asperger’s Syndrome may not always pick up on non-verbal cues, so you may need to explain what is going on to enable them to understand the full picture.
  • Give clear instructions, and allow the person time to process information and to respond. Written instructions can be helpful as the person can look at these later when they feel less overwhelmed by a situation.
  • Remember that if you tell someone with Asperger’s that something is going to happen at a specific time or place, they will tend to expect this to happen. Try to avoid making promises you may not be able to keep.
  • One-to-one interactions are often easier than group situations.
  • Do not force eye contact as this may make the person extremely uncomfortable and possibly impact on their ability to listen and concentrate.
  • If possible try to limit sensory and environmental challenges by switching off lighting, adjusting the volume of music, etc., or perhaps taking the person to a quieter area.
  • An individual may not realise if they are talking too much or focusing on a subject that is not of interest to the other person, so you may need to gently guide the conversation back to ‘topic’ or remind them about ‘turn taking’.
  • Some people on the spectrum carry Autism/Asperger’s Awareness Cardswhich provide brief information about the condition and contact details should further help and support be required.

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