Aspergers is distinguished by a pattern of symptoms rather than a single symptom. It is characterized by qualitative impairment in social interaction, by stereotyped and restricted patterns of activities and interests, and by no clinically significant delay in cognitive development or general delay in language. Intense preoccupation with a narrow subject, one-sided verbosity, restricted prosody and intonation, and motor clumsiness are typical of the condition, but are not required for diagnosis.
Speech and language—
Although children with Aspergers acquire language skills without significant general delay, and the speech of those with Aspergers typically lacks significant abnormalities, language acquisition and use is often atypical. Abnormalities include verbosity; abrupt transitions; literal interpretations and miscomprehension of nuance; use of metaphor meaningful only to the speaker; auditory perception deficits; unusually pedantic, formal or idiosyncratic speech; and oddities in loudness, pitch, intonation, prosody, and rhythm.
Three aspects of communication patterns are of clinical interest: poor prosody, tangential and circumstantial speech, and marked verbosity. Although inflection and intonation may be less rigid or monotonic than in autism, children with Aspergers often have a limited range of intonation; speech may be unusually fast, jerky or loud. Speech may convey a sense of incoherence; the conversational style often includes monologues about topics that bore the listener, fails to provide context for comments, or fails to suppress internal thoughts. Children with Aspergers may fail to monitor whether the listener is interested or engaged in the conversation. The speaker's conclusion or point may never be made, and attempts by the listener to elaborate on the speech's content or logic, or to shift to related topics, are often unsuccessful.
Children with Aspergers may have an unusually sophisticated vocabulary at a young age and have been colloquially called "little professors", but have difficulty understanding figurative language and tend to use language literally. Children with Aspergers appear to have particular weaknesses in areas of nonliteral language that include humor, irony, and teasing. They usually understand the cognitive basis of humor but may not enjoy it due to lack of understanding of its intent.
Restricted and repetitive interests and behavior—
Those with Aspergers often display intense interests, such as this boy's fascination with molecular structure. Children with Aspergers display behavior, interests, and activities that are restricted and repetitive and are sometimes abnormally intense or focused. They may stick to inflexible routines or rituals, move in stereotyped and repetitive ways, or preoccupy themselves with parts of objects.
Pursuit of specific and narrow areas of interest is one of the most striking features of Aspergers. Children with Aspergers may collect volumes of detailed information on a relatively narrow topic such as dinosaurs or deep fat fryers, without necessarily having genuine understanding of the broader topic. For example, a kid might memorize camera model numbers while caring little about photography. This behavior is usually apparent by grade school, typically age 5 or 6 in the U.S. Although these special interests may change from time to time, they typically become more unusual and narrowly focused, and often dominate social interaction so much that the entire family may become immersed. Because topics such as dinosaurs often capture the interest of children, this symptom may go unrecognized.
Stereotyped and repetitive motor behaviors are a core part of the diagnosis of Aspergers and other AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDERS. They include hand movements such as flapping or twisting, and complex whole-body movements. These are typically repeated in longer bursts and look more voluntary or ritualistic than tics, which are usually faster, less rhythmical and less often symmetrical.
The lack of demonstrated empathy is possibly the most dysfunctional aspect of Aspergers. Children with Aspergers experience difficulties in basic elements of social interaction, which may include a failure to develop friendships or enjoy spontaneous interests or achievements with others, a lack of social or emotional reciprocity, and impaired nonverbal behaviors such as eye contact, facial expression, posture, and gesture.
Unlike those with autism, children with Aspergers are not usually withdrawn around others; they approach others, even if awkwardly, for example by engaging in a one-sided, long-winded speech about a favorite topic while being oblivious to the listener's feelings or reactions, such as signs of boredom or haste to leave. This social awkwardness has been called "active but odd". This failure to react appropriately to social interaction may appear as disregard for other children's feelings, and may come across as insensitive.
The cognitive ability of children with Aspergers often lets them articulate social norms in a laboratory context, where they may be able to show a theoretical understanding of other children’s emotions; they typically have difficulty acting on this knowledge in fluid, real-life situations, however. Children with Aspergers may analyze and distill their observation of social interaction into rigid behavioral guidelines and apply these rules in awkward ways—such as forced eye contact—resulting in demeanor that appears rigid or socially naïve. Childhood desires for companionship can be numbed through a history of failed social encounters.
The hypothesis that children with Aspergers are predisposed to violent or criminal behavior has been investigated and found to be unsupported by data. More evidence suggests children with Aspergers are victims rather than victimizers.
Children with Aspergers may have signs or symptoms that are independent of the diagnosis, but can affect the individual or the family. These include differences in perception and problems with motor skills, sleep, and emotions.
Children with Aspergers often have excellent auditory and visual perception. Children with AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDERS often demonstrate enhanced perception of small changes in patterns such as arrangements of objects or well-known images; typically this is domain-specific and involves processing of fine-grained features. Conversely, compared to children with HFA, children with Aspergers have deficits in some tasks involving visual-spatial perception, auditory perception, or visual memory. Many accounts of children with Aspergers and AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDERS report other unusual sensory and perceptual skills and experiences. They may be unusually sensitive or insensitive to sound, light, touch, texture, taste, smell, pain, temperature, and other stimuli, and they may exhibit synesthesia, for example, a smell may trigger perception of color; these sensory responses are found in other developmental disorders and are not specific to Aspergers or to AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDERS. There is little support for increased fight-or-flight response or failure of habituation in autism; there is more evidence of decreased responsiveness to sensory stimuli, although several studies show no differences.
Hans Asperger’s initial accounts and other diagnostic schemes include descriptions of motor clumsiness. Children with Aspergers may be delayed in acquiring motor skills that require motor dexterity, such as bicycle riding or opening a jar, and may appear awkward or "uncomfortable in their own skin". They may be poorly coordinated, or have an odd or bouncy gait or posture, poor handwriting, or problems with visual-motor integration, visual-perceptual skills, and conceptual learning They may show problems with proprioception (sensation of body position) on measures of apraxia (motor planning disorder), balance, tandem gait, and finger-thumb apposition. There is no evidence that these motor skills problems differentiate Aspergers from other high-functioning AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDERS.
Children with Aspergers are more likely to have sleep problems, including difficulty in falling asleep, frequent nocturnal awakenings, and early morning awakenings. Aspergers is also associated with high levels of alexithymia, which is difficulty in identifying and describing one's emotions. Although Aspergers, lower sleep quality, and alexithymia are associated, their causal relationship is unclear.
The Parenting Aspergers Resource Guide: A Complete Resource Guide For Parents Who Have Children Diagnosed With Aspergers Syndrome.