Asperger’s syndrome: does it still exist?

February 19, 2024

In this article we will explore Asperger’s syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder, seeking to understand the nuances of behavior, personal characteristics, differences from other spectrum disorders, and aspects of adult, sexual, and perceptual life.

Is Asperger’s no longer a diagnosis?

Since the adoption of DSM-5 in 2013, Asperger’s Syndrome has been classified as part of Autism Spectrum Disorders. Despite this, the definition of “Asperger’s Syndrome” remains of relevant use in determining the degree of functionality and extent of difficulties associated with autism spectrum and neurodivergence.

From five years of age, a time when increasingly elaborate social skills are expected to evolve in children, the clinician has the opportunity to recognize the presence of features attributable to Asperger’s Syndrome within the broader context of autism spectrum diagnosis.

This allows for targeting more specific and effective therapeutic approaches. In collective thinking, the figure of the individual with Asperger’s Syndrome is often mistakenly stereotyped, describing him or her as an emotionally detached person or as an eccentric, misunderstood genius. It is vital to recognize that those diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, including Asperger’s Syndrome, exhibit a wide variety of intelligence levels, skills, strengths, and vulnerabilities, just like any other person.

How does a person with Asperger’s Syndrome behave?

Asperger’s Syndrome indicates a particular way of perceiving the world, learning, relating, and experiencing emotions, representing an intrinsic aspect of the individual that should not be reduced to simple limiting clich├ęs. The real challenge is to overcome these stereotypes deeply embedded in our culture, as often the pain does not stem from the condition itself, but rather from a social context that shows a lack of understanding and adequate support.

In addition, people with Asperger’s may show very intense interest in specific topics, devoting a great deal of time and attention to them. This behavior, often referred to as a ‘fixation,’ can lead to in-depth knowledge in narrow areas. However, this characteristic can make it difficult for them to move from one activity or topic to another and can result in behavioral rigidity.

What characteristics does an Asperger have?

The characteristics of a person with Asperger’s syndrome may be as unique as those of any individual, but there are common traits that tend to stand out. Often, these people demonstrate an ability to focus and attention to detail that exceeds the norm; they may excel in fields that require precision and specialization. At the same time, they may exhibit difficulties with motor skills, being less coordinated in sports or manual activities.

Communicatively, although verbal language may be correct and formally rich, pragmatic communication may be impaired. This means that understanding context, irony, or double entendre can be complicated for those with Asperger’s. At times, their speech may appear monotonous or lacking in emotional variation. These traits may be misconstrued as a lack of empathy, but in reality, it is the difficulty in expressing and understanding others’ emotions that lies at the root.

What is the difference between autism and Asperger’s syndrome?

Asperger’s syndrome lies within the autism spectrum, which means it shares many traits with autism. However, there are significant differences. Historically, Asperger’s syndrome has been distinguished from classic autism primarily by level of functioning, particularly language and cognitive intelligence. People with Asperger’s do not have a significant delay in language development and often have average or above-average intelligence.

Despite these differences, in 2013, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), removed Asperger’s syndrome as a distinct diagnosis, classifying it as part of the autism spectrum. This change reflects a more nuanced understanding of the disorder, emphasizing the continuity and variety of autistic traits rather than rigid categorical boundaries.

What do adult Aspergers look like?

Asperger’s syndrome in adults can manifest with unique challenges and successes. Many adults with Asperger’s can find careers and pastimes that align with their strengths, such as areas that require attention to detail or a logical, systematic approach. However, they may continue to experience difficulties in social relationships and managing emotions, which can affect both their professional and personal lives.

Some adults with Asperger’s may experience anxiety or depression, often as a result of social challenges or feeling “different.” There must be appropriate support and understanding from family, friends, and co-workers. With the right strategies and an environment that values their strengths, adults with Asperger’s can fully realize themselves and live rich and fulfilling lives.

How does an Asperger’s experience sexuality?

Sexuality in individuals with Asperger’s syndrome can be a complex and variable terrain. Like all aspects of life, sexuality is influenced by personal characteristics and individual experiences. Some people with Asperger’s may find it challenging to interpret courtship or social norms regarding sexuality, while others may experience their sexuality without particular difficulty.

Sex education for people with Asperger’s must be clear, explicit, and tailored to their understanding of the world. Difficulties in communication and understanding nonverbal cues can be confusing in intimate relationships, but with the proper support and education, people with Asperger’s can establish fulfilling emotional and sexual relationships.

How does an Asperger’s see the world?

The perception of the world by an individual with Asperger’s syndrome can be significantly different from that of a neurotypical person. Often, details that elude others are keenly perceived by those with Asperger’s, and this can lead to both a greater appreciation of certain aspects of life and greater sensitivity to stimuli that may be sensory overload, such as loud sounds or bright lights.

Their unique worldview can be a source of creativity and innovation. The ability to observe and analyze systems and patterns can lead to remarkable discoveries and original ideas. However, it can also be a source of frustration when the world does not follow the logic or clear rules that people with Asperger’s often appreciate and expect.

Early signs to note.

Early signs of Asperger’s Syndrome in children can vary greatly from one individual to another, but some common indicators can manifest early on.

  • Difficulty with social interactions: Children with Asperger’s Syndrome may show disinterest in social interactions, have difficulty establishing friendships, or not know how to play with other children. They may prefer to play alone or find it difficult to interpret the facial expressions and nonverbal signals of others.
  • Repetitive behaviors or rigid routines: They may insist on very specific daily routines and show great discomfort or anger if these are interrupted. They may also continually repeat certain words, phrases or actions.
  • Intense and limited interests: Children with Asperger’s often develop very intense interests in particular topics. These interests may be extremely focused, and the child may only want to talk about these topics to the exclusion of almost everything else.
  • Difficulties in verbal and nonverbal communication: Although many children with Asperger’s begin speaking at the same age as their peers, they may have difficulty using language socially, such as understanding jokes, metaphors, or figurative language.
  • Uncoordinated motor behaviors: They may appear clumsy in their movements or have difficulty with tasks that require fine motor coordination, such as writing or buttoning their shirts.
  • Sensory sensitivity: Some children with Asperger’s may show sensitivity to sensory stimuli such as bright lights, loud sounds, peculiar smells, or the feel of certain fabrics on the skin.

It is critical to emphasize that each child with Asperger’s Syndrome is unique, and so will his or her needs and characteristics. If you suspect that your child may have Asperger’s Syndrome, consult a pediatrician or an autism spectrum disorder specialist, who will be able to support you best.

We are with you.

We at Parentalife are committed to providing resources and support to help you navigate and celebrate these differences. Please feel free to explore our classes and consultations on how to approach parenting in a calm and prepared manner. We are with you.

SOURCES

Motlani V, Motlani G, Thool A. Asperger Syndrome (AS): A Review Article. Cureus. 2022 Nov 11;14(11):e31395. doi: 10.7759/cureus.31395. PMID: 36514569; PMCID: PMC9742637.

About the Author

Severino Cirillo

Health, Wellness and Education Expert. With a degree in Community Health, he is the CEO of Informed Parent and is responsible for validating the blog's scientific information and coordinating the editorial team of experts, consisting of gynecologists, midwives, psychotherapists, and others in pregnancy, perinatal, and parenting wellness and health.