• Understanding Autism from the Inside

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Asperger’s Syndrome / Autism Traits – How Can I Tell if Someone Has Asperger’s?

Asperger trailsAsperger’s Syndrome is a high-functioning form of Autism, and is one of the developmental disorders considered to be a part of the Autism Spectrum. It is called a “spectrum disorder” because there are a wide array of signs, symptoms, and autistic traits that affect each person differently. Not every person diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome will have all of the following traits, or be affected to the same degree. However, there are many traits that are commonly seen in those with Asperger’s Syndrome.

Personal/Intellectual/Social Traits

People with Asperger’s Syndrome may appear “odd” or “weird” at times or be considered to have an eccentric personality. They can usually engage in tasks, sometimes mundane ones, for hours and hours, appear to be “in their own world”, preoccupied with their own agendas, or have unusual preoccupations. They may display an idiosyncratic attachment to inanimate objects, and/or collect things. Autistic individuals can be extremely literal-minded, taking what you say completely literally, and have difficulty understanding and applying metaphoric language and idioms. They can be single-minded with limited interests—intensely focusing on one or two subjects, and having very rigid likes and dislikes.A higher than average I.Q. is commonly seen in people with Asperger’s Syndrome who tend to be highly gifted in one or more areas (e.g. math, music. etc.). They can spend hours in the library researching, have excellent rote memories, and love learning and collecting new information. Despite a high level of intelligence, they may have difficulty staying in college.

Physical Traits

There is no way to know if someone has Autism or Asperger’s Syndrome by simply looking at them. However, upon prolonged and careful observation there may be physical traits or indicators that are present. The autistic individual will tend to have repetitive routines or rituals that may even appear obsessive in nature, and may display clumsiness and uncoordinated motor movements. You might notice speech and language peculiarities present such as hyperlexia (little professors), a speech impediment early in life, or display word repetition where they frequently repeat what you’ve just said. Speech delays, however, are not common in those with Asperger’s Syndrome—but are present in other Autism Spectrum Disorders. Someone with Asperger’s Syndrome may appear to have a flat, or blank expression much of the time, but this is more common in males with autism than it is in females. There may be non-verbal communication problems like difficulty reading/interpreting body language, tones of speech, and facial expressions. In fact, two-thirds of autistic individuals have difficulty recognizing faces right way due to facial agnosia or “face blindness.”

Sensory Processing / Sensitivities

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is extremely common to those on the autism spectrum, and the presence of these sensitivities has been added to the new diagnostic criteria found in the DSM-V for identifying Autism Spectrum Disorders. These individuals will likely have strong sensitivities to sound, touch, taste, sight, and smell, and may be very sensitive to the textures of foods. These sensitivities can result in difficulties wearing certain fabrics, or tearing tags out of all their clothing. They can be bothered by fluorescent lighting, are extremely picky eaters, and may even wear ear plugs of noise cancelling headphones to help limit the amount of noise they are exposed to. They may display hyper or hypo-sensitivities to pain, cold, or heat (having temperature regulation issues.)

Every person with an Autism Spectrum Disorder such as Asperger’s Syndrome is unique. They may not display all of the traits discussed here, and each person that does will have them to varying degrees. It is impossible to tell if someone is autistic by looking at them; however, careful observation and evaluation by a psychologist, pediatrician, psychiatrist, or other doctor experienced with Autism will be able to accurately diagnose the condition.

Jeannie Davide-Rivera

Jeannie is an award-winning author, the Answers.com Autism Category Expert, contributes to Autism Parenting Magazine, and the Thinking Person's Guide to Autism. She lives in New York with her husband and four sons, on the autism spectrum.