Asperger’s syndrome was the name given to a lifelong developmental disability that affects how people perceive the world and interact with others.
Since 2013, people who used to be described as having Asperger's syndrome have been described as having autism spectrum. There is no separate diagnosis for Asperger's any more.
What is Asperger's syndrome?
All people with autism spectrum disorder have difficulties with social communication, fixated interests and repetitive behaviours.
Autism is diagnosed depending on how severe it is, with a ranking of 1, 2 or 3. Asperger's, as it used to be known, describes people with "high-functioning" types of autism. Their symptoms may not be as severe as in some other kinds of autism spectrum disorders.
People previously diagnosed with Asperger's disorder have an IQ in the normal range and often good language skills, but despite this had communication difficulties.
Symptoms of Asperger's syndrome
It seems that the brains of people with this type of autism do not deal with information in the same way as the brains of others do.
People with this diagnosis often have average or above average intelligence, and can be quite creative, but they often find life hard. In particular, they find it hard to communicate and interact with other people.
For example, they often:
- struggle to express themselves
- find it hard to understand others
- find it hard to make friends
- find it hard to work out what others might be thinking
- find it hard to use their imagination
People with this type of autism often:
- stick rigidly to a routine or repeat certain behaviours
- focus intense interest on one particular topic
- are sensitive to bright light or loud sounds
You can't tell whether someone has the diagnosis simply from how they look.
Causes of Asperger’s syndrome
It’s not clear what causes autism spectrum disorders. 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.
How is Asperger’s syndrome diagnosed?
This type of autism is usually diagnosed in childhood, when the child is 6 or older, but some people don’t recognise the condition until they are adults.
If you think your child may have autism, you may want to talk to your doctor or to your child health nurse. They may refer you to a specialist in diagnosing autism spectrum disorders, or to a team of health professionals who work together in assessing children.
The specialists or team will talk to you and your child, and others in your family, and will observe your child.
They will use several types of assessment tests to work out if your child has an autism spectrum disorder. The assessment will usually include questions about social and emotional abilities, communication skills, learning abilities, movement skills and special interests.
When autism spectrum disorder is diagnosed in adulthood, people may find it helps them to recognise that their behaviour, communication and relationship problems may be related to autism. A diagnosis can help them to understand what they’ve felt or the difficulties they’ve experienced, and help them to make suitable study or career choices.
Living with Asperger’s syndrome
With support and encouragement, people with autism can often lead a full and independent life.
You may find it helps your child to cope if they spend some time alone, or get some exercise. Your child may 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.
Where to go for help
The Raising Children Network has an online 'Autism Services Pathfinder' that can help you understand the process and find help and resources along the way.
Adults may want to seek support from a support group or services. A number of organisations provide services for adults with autism spectrum disorders. Find the autism spectrum disorder association in your state or territory here.
Last reviewed: November 2018