Understanding Asperger’s Symptoms in Adults
What is Asperger’s syndrome?
Asperger’s syndrome is a form of autism.
Asperger’s syndrome was a unique diagnosis listed in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnosis and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) until 2013, when all forms of autism were combined under one umbrella diagnosis, autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
People with Asperger’s syndrome may have high intelligence and better than average verbal skills. Asperger’s is considered a high-functioning form of autism.
What are the main Asperger’s symptoms in adults?
Most adults with AS have few cognitive or language skill delays. In fact, you may have above-average intelligence. However, adults with AS may experience other symptoms. Many of these can significantly affect daily life.
No two people experience AS in quite the same way. You may have only a few of these symptoms, or you may experience all of them at different times.
Symptoms of high-functioning ASD in adults can be divided into three areas:
Emotional and behavioral symptoms
- Repetitive behaviors. Engaging in repetitive behavior is a common symptom of ASD. This may include doing the same thing every morning before work, spinning something a certain number of times, or opening a door a certain way. Just because you engage in this type of behavior does not mean that you have AS — other disorders can result in these behaviors, as well.
- Inability to understand emotional issues. People with AS may have difficulties when asked to interpret social or emotional issues, such as grief or frustration. Nonliteral problems — that is, things that cannot be seen — may evade your logical ways of thinking.
- First-person focus. Adults with AS may struggle to see the world from another person’s perspective. You may have a hard time reacting to actions, words, and behaviors with empathy or concern.
- Exaggerated emotional response. While not always intentional, adults with AS may struggle to cope with emotional situations, feelings of frustration, or changes in the pattern. This may lead to emotional outbursts.
- Abnormal response to sensory stimuli. This can be hypersensitivity (over-sensitivity) or hyposensitivity (under-sensitivity) to sensations. Examples include excessively touching people or objects, preferring to be in the dark, or deliberately smelling objects.
- Social difficulties. People with AS may struggle with social interactions. You may not be able to carry on “small talk” conversations.
- Speech difficulties. It’s not unusual for adults with AS to have “stiff” (sometimes referred to as “robotic”) or repetitive speech. You may also have difficulties moderating your voice for environments. For example, you may not lower your voice in a church or library.
- Exceptional verbal skills. Adults with AS may have typical to strong verbal skills. This may translate to greater vocabulary skills, especially in areas of interest.
- Below-average nonverbal skills. Adults with AS may not pick up on nonverbal cues from others, such as hand gestures, facial expressions, or body language.
- Lack of eye contact. When talking to another person, you may not make eye contact.
- Clumsiness. Motor coordination difficulties are significantly more common in adults with ASD. These motor skill issues may show up as difficulty performing tasks like sitting or walking correctly. Fine motor skills, like tying shoes or opening an envelope, may also be affected.
- Obsession. It’s not uncommon for people to have hyperfocus as a symptom of AS. It’s usually toward a specific topic. They may have a deep understanding and vast vocabulary related to this topic. They may also insist on talking about it when engaging with others.
Individuals with AS may also experience symptoms that can be considered beneficial or helpful.
For example, as noted above, adults with AS often have a remarkable ability to focus. You may be able to concentrate on an issue or problem, especially if it interests you, for long periods of time.
Likewise, your attention to detail may make you incredibly successful at problem-solving.
How is Asperger’s diagnosed in adults?
Currently, there’s no specific test that can diagnose Asperger’s syndrome in adults. There are no current diagnostic criteria for Asperger’s syndrome in adults either.
Autism spectrum disorders are usually diagnosed in early childhood. It’s becoming less common for you to reach adulthood without an autism diagnosis if you show signs or symptoms. However, it’s not impossible.
If you believe you have autism spectrum disorder, discuss your symptoms with your healthcare provider. You may be referred to a specialist, such as a psychologist or a psychiatrist, who can assess your behaviors and symptoms, and help determine if you have AS or another ASD.
Criteria your healthcare provider may consider include:
- Social observations. Your healthcare provider may ask you about your social life. They want to assess your social skills and your interactions with others. This can help them gauge how significantly your symptoms affect this area of your life.
- Physical issues. Your healthcare provider will want to rule out possible underlying health conditions that could account for your symptoms.
- Other conditions. People with AS frequently experience anxiety, depression, and hyperactivity. In fact, AS may be misdiagnosed as one of these conditions. When a trained specialist is able to examine you, however, it’s more likely you’ll receive a proper diagnosis.
IS ASPERGER’S STILL A DIAGNOSIS?Asperger’s syndrome is no longer included in the new edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). If you have Asperger’s syndrome, your healthcare provider may still use the term Asperger syndrome or Asperger’s. However, your diagnosis will be autism spectrum disorder.
How is Asperger’s treated in adults?
There’s no cure for Asperger’s syndrome. However, these treatments may help adults with autism cope with symptoms and difficulties.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy. A therapist can help you cope with some of the emotional effects of autism, such as social isolation and anxiety. They can also help you learn new social skills so engaging with others feels easier and less frustrating.
- Speech therapy. A speech pathologist can work with you to learn voice control and modulation.
- Vocational therapy. Most adults with autism can and do maintain full-time, successful jobs. However, some people may face career-related difficulties. A vocational therapist can help you find solutions for the issues you face at work so that you can continue to be successful.
- Medications. In adulthood, prescription drugs may be used to treat individual symptoms, such as anxiety or hyperactivity. Some healthcare providers may also prescribe medications to try to reduce symptoms of AS. These medications include stimulants, antipsychotics, and serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
Adults with Asperger’s syndrome may experience symptoms such as:
- awkward social interactions
- difficulty talking with others
- an inability to interpret nonverbal behaviors in others
You may also practice repetitive behaviors and develop hyperfocus on routines and rules.
However, adults with AS often have strong intellectual abilities and vocabulary skills. You pay great attention to detail and can focus for extended periods of time.
While most individuals with Asperger’s syndrome or an autism spectrum disorder will be diagnosed as children, some adults will not find a solution to their symptoms until adulthood.
With a diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome, you can find therapies and treatments to help you cope with any challenges you face and live a healthy, productive life that’s fulfilling and happy.