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As April is World Autism Awareness Month, we are taking a closer look at Asperger’s Syndrome – one of the many conditions that fall under the very broad spectrum that is Autism.
What is Asperger’s Syndrome?
Asperger’s is often referred to as high-functioning Autism, which basically means that people affected with this disorder do not experience some of the significant limitations and delays in cognitive development apparent in other forms of Autism. Asperger’s Syndrome can affect both adults and children, and it often manifests with a person having a hard time engaging in social situations, significantly restricted areas of interest, and exhibiting repetitive behaviours stemming from deep-rooted compulsions.
Often times, the existence of mental illness can be overlooked because of the person’s aptitude to function in society, with often high intelligence regarding specialized areas of interest. But there are clear signifiers to mental illness that can alert you to an underlying problem. As discussed in our article 'what is good mental health', we touched on factors like having a sense of control over life, the ability to adapt to change, and the mental capability to deal with everyday stresses.
With Asperger’s Syndrome, these aspects of mental health breaks down and significant limitations can be seen in these areas. A person with Asperger’s is prone to feelings of anxiety and depression as they struggle to adopt healthy coping mechanisms for dealing with life and its problems.
Symptoms of Asperger’s
There is a wide range of behaviours that are associated with Asperger’s, and one person can exhibit only a few, or all of them. The most notable symptoms of this syndrome involve social interactions and cognitive development. With regard to the social aspect, a person with Asperger’s will find it difficult to relate to people on various levels.
Social cues like sarcasm, facial expressions, and body language are often lost in communication. This means social interactions will be extremely limited. As a result, people with Asperger’s prefer to be by themselves and rarely succeed in making meaningful connections with others.
When they do interact with others, there is likely to be a marked lack of eye contact with one-sided conversation focusing exclusively on the self or an extremely narrow area of interest.
In terms of language, vocabulary is known to be quite extensive in their specialized knowledge field, but lacking in every other area. Speech can be repetitive and sometimes comes across as robotic. Communicating in a non-verbal way – body language and facial expressions – is virtually non-existent because of their inability to decipher this kind of language.
This also carries through to their own body movements and mannerisms, which often comes across as awkward. They lack the ability to read other people’s bodies and movements, and therefore struggle to express themselves in that same way.
In terms of cognitive development, people with Asperger’s often have problems controlling fine and gross motor movements, so things like walking, riding a bike, or writing will be problematic and make the person seem outwardly clumsy overall.
Living with Asperger’s Syndrome
Being diagnosed with Asperger’s doesn’t imply that you will not be able to go on and lead a full life. In fact, there are many celebrities who have this condition and have gone on to accomplish great things. From Abraham Lincoln, who went on to become an American president, to Albert Einstein, one of the world’s most noted physicists – history is filled with people who weren’t held back by their diagnosis.
Bobby Fischer used his obsession with chess to become one of the youngest champions in the history of the game. Jane Austen, Beethoven, Michelangelo, and Thomas Edison… These names need no introduction because of what they’ve accomplished, placing them firmly in the annals of history, and all while living with Asperger’s.
In her article about living with Autism, Mishka Wazar writes about the ways in which specialized support for people on the Autism spectrum can not only help seamless integration into society, but also play a primary role in assisting those affected to live full lives and achieve their potential.
What is the Diagnosis?
The current statistic for Autism Spectrum diagnoses puts boys in the higher percentage over girls. However, specialists are coming to realize that these numbers may not be true indicators because of the very different way in which conditions present in girls.
Using male standards of symptoms to diagnose, specialists often look for symptoms mentioned above – inability to decipher social cues, difficulty in interacting with peers, obsessive thoughts pertaining to one particular topic, repetitive speech and behaviours, withdrawing from social situations and exhibiting loner attributes… the list goes on.
When it comes to girls, however, they manage their symptoms on an intellectual level, by attempting to mirror the behaviour seen in other girls. They often take on behaviours they see as socially acceptable, and as a result, can go their whole lives without being diagnosed. Sometimes, the lack of attention to their Asperger’s could lead to other conditions developing, like anxiety and depression, which often leads to misdiagnosis.
It is therefore of vital importance that awareness and education around Asperger’s and the entire spectrum of Autism be adapted to look at the differences in manifestation between girls and boys. This will allow for early detection and intervention, which will lead to a more positive life experience.