What Is Aspergers?

“I see people with Asperger’s syndrome as a bright thread in the rich tapestry of life.”  Tony Attwood

what is aspergersWhat Is Aspergers?

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Dr. Hans Aspergers, an Austrian pediatrician, named this form of mild autism when he studied a group of children in the 1940′s.

Aspergers describes a type of autism spectrum both similar and different to classic autism.

Aspergers is different from classic autism in that there are no clinically significant delays in cognitive development, language, adaptive self-help skills, and curiosity about the environment.  In classic autism these delays are often present.

Aspergers Statistics

According to Wikipedia, a 2003 study the ratio of people with Aspegers to the general population is .03 to 4.84 per 1000 .  It has been estimated that the ratio of classic autism to Aspergers is ratio of autism to Aspergers 1.5:1 to 16: 1.

A Different Way of Thinking

The professional community has called Aspergers a disease or disorder.  I prefer to look at Aspergers as a different way of thinking.  Here’s another way to look at it.  I wake up one day with amnesia.  I am American, I speak English.  But let’s pretend a Turkish family abducted me.  I have no memory of being American, but as I come to, I realize I can’t speak Turkish!  I don’t understand the different cultural nuances, and I’m often embarrassing myself.   Over time, I study the Turkish language, and I learn Turkish customs, but I feel like I don’t quite belong.  Years later, I come across an English teacher who tells me I’m American!  Who knew?!  Suddenly a lot of things make more sense.


My analogy can’t ever quite express the full extent of having Aspergers in a world where most other people think differently.

Aspergers Strengths

Here’s what Australian psychologist, Tony Attwood, says about Aspergers Syndrome.

From my clinical experience I consider that children and adults with Aspergers Syndrome have a different, not defective, way of thinking.

The person usually has a strong desire to seek knowledge, truth and perfection with a different set of priorities than would be expected with other people.

There is also a different perception of situations and sensory experiences.

The overriding priority may be to solve a problem rather than satisfy the social or emotional needs of others.

The person values being creative rather than co-operative.

The person with Aspergers syndrome may perceive errors that are not apparent to others, giving considerable attention to detail, rather than noticing the “big picture”.

The person is usually renowned for being direct, speaking their mind and being honest and determined and having a strong sense of social justice.The person may actively seek and enjoy solitude, be a loyal friend and have a distinct sense of humour.

Mark Hutten outlines 50 positive Aspergers characterstics at his blog, My Aspergers Child.  It’s important to understand the strengths of the autism spectrum.

People with Aspergers often have special areas of talent

Aspergers Signs and Symptoms

Aspergers also presents challenges.  Here are some of the key signs and symptoms, summarized at WebMd.

Problems with Social Skills.    People with Aspergers often have difficulties understanding small talk, non-verbal expressions.  It’s hard to start and keep up conversations.  These challenges make friendship, dating, and marriage difficult.

Communication Difficulties.  Understanding social nuances of language and communicating effectively can be challenging.

Eccentric or Repetitive Behaviors – Hand wringing, finger twisting, hand flapping often accompany Aspergers.

Unusual Preoccupations or Behaviors – such as having a set routine way for eating or getting dressed.

Limited Range of Interests – Brian King says Aspies have specialized brains versus generalized brains. So, to the neurotypical person, Aspies appear to have very limited interests. This could be the weather, sports statistics, types of animals. An Aspie often only wants to talk about those interests, and doesn’t see the point of talking about other things.

Coordination Problems – People with Aspergers often have sensory issues that get in the way of coordinating their bodies, leading to clumsiness.

This article answers the question, “What is Aspergers?”  But a larger question remains: “Who am I?”  Aspergers is part of what a person is, but it is not the person.  You and I are each a wonder of creation.  I hope this article helps you understand you or your loved one a bit better.

Infographic courtesy of Asperger’s Dude.


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