Asperger’s syndrome is the former name of a developmental disability that affects how people behave, see and understand the world and interact with others. People with this developmental disability may have special interests, repetitive behaviours and under or overreact to sensory input.
People who previously were diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome have since 2013 been diagnosed as having a high-functioning form of autism spectrum disorder. There is no longer a separate diagnosis for Asperger's syndrome, although some people may prefer to keep using this term.
What is Asperger's syndrome?
People with Asperger’s syndrome, now diagnosed as a high-functioning form of autism spectrum disorder, are considered to have good cognitive and language skills. However, they still experience difficulties with communication and social interaction, and show repetitive behaviours.
It’s important to understand that every person with Asperger’s syndrome — and autism spectrum disorder more generally — is different, which is why people with this condition are now referred to as being on a spectrum.
What are the symptoms of Asperger's syndrome?
While people with Asperger’s syndrome often have average or above average intelligence, good language skills and can be quite creative, they can often find life hard. In particular, they can find it hard to communicate and interact with other people.
For example, they often:
- do not understand social rules or cues
- speak in an unusual way, such as by using formal language, being too loud or using a monotone voice
- find it hard to make friends
- find it hard to work out what others might be thinking
These difficulties can lead someone with Asperger’s syndrome to feel anxiety, confusion and frustration. Sometimes their family and friends can experience these emotions, too.
Additionally, people with Asperger’s syndrome often:
- have a rigid routine or repeat certain behaviours
- focus intense interest on particular topics and become bored when other topics are discussed
- are sensitive to bright light or loud sounds
However, you can't tell whether someone has the diagnosis simply from how they look.
What are the causes of Asperger’s syndrome?
It is not clear what causes Asperger’s syndrome. It’s likely that genes and the environment play a part. It is not caused by upbringing or social circumstances. Vaccines do not cause autism spectrum disorders, including Asperger’s syndrome.
How is Asperger’s syndrome diagnosed?
Asperger’s syndrome is usually diagnosed in childhood. However, some people don’t recognise the condition until they are adults.
If you think your child may have Asperger’s syndrome, you may want to talk to your doctor or child health nurse. Because Asperger’s syndrome is now diagnosed as a form of autism spectrum disorder, they may refer you to a medical specialist in diagnosing an autism spectrum disorder, or to a team of health professionals who work together in assessing children.
There are no specific tests to diagnose Asperger’s syndrome. A medical specialist or team will talk to you and your child, and others in your family, and will observe your child to see if they meet certain criteria for Asperger’s syndrome.
The assessment will usually include questions about social and emotional abilities, communication skills, learning abilities, movement skills and special interests.
People may find that being diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome in adulthood helps them to recognise that their behaviour, communication and relationship problems result from this condition. A diagnosis can help them to understand what they feel or the difficulties they experience. It can also help them to make suitable study or career choices.
How can I help my child manage Asperger’s syndrome?
With support and encouragement, children with Asperger’s syndrome can often lead a full and independent life.
You may find your child copes better if they spend some time alone or exercises. Your child may also be comforted by breathing techniques or relaxing music.
Treatments and therapies for autism spectrum disorder include:
- therapies such as occupational therapy, physiotherapy and speech pathology
- psychological therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which may reduce anxiety
- the Social Stories program, which explains social situations
- programs that provide skills for parents and children
- medicines for specific symptoms, such as hyperactivity, anxiety, aggression and tics
These therapies can help in very practical ways. For example, occupational therapy can help your child learn how to get dressed, talk to friends and complete work or school tasks.
Your child may need support at school, especially at secondary school when there is more movement between classes and teachers. Regular discussions with your child's teacher or principal can help identify the right support and coping mechanisms.
How can I access support?
The Raising Children Network has an online Disability Services Guide that can help you understand the process to manage Asperger’s syndrome and find help and resources along the way.
Adults may want to seek assistance from a support group or service. Several organisations provide services for adults with Asperger’s syndrome. You can also visit your state or territory’s autism spectrum disorder association.
How can carers obtain support?
If you are caring for someone with Asperger’s syndrome, you can find practical information and useful resources for carers on Carer Gateway. You can also learn more about carer support and services in your state or territory through Carers Australia.
Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.
Last reviewed: November 2020