About Asperger's syndrome

Asperger's syndrome (AS) is one of many autistic spectrum disorders - this is a spectrum of disorders that, funnily enough, includes autism. The autistic spectrum is so called because the disorders it encompasses all have features of autism, that thing people commonly associate with loud, selfish, unruly children who like to have their own way all the time. However, the fact that it is a spectrum means that not everyone is like this.

This loud and disobedient child could be described as having what you might call 'classic autism', which is at one end of the spectrum. At the other end of the spectrum is Asperger's syndrome - a lot of people call it a 'milder form' of autism because, a lot of the time, you wouldn't guess that a person was living with it from first glance. There were plans to get rid of all the different diagnoses and replace them with a new spectrum of autism, but I don't know what's happening with that.

Anyway, the Asperger's syndrome is characterised by a 'triad of impairment', or what I like to call the trifecta:

The stereotype is that people with AS sound like walking, talking dictionaries and that their vocabulary is not one to be reckoned with.  For me and a few other people I've met, this is far from the case, but I definitely haven't met everyone with AS so it could very well apply to them.  What I can relate to, however, is the other stereotype: people with AS are insensitive cunts who don't care about the feelings of others.  Because it is difficult to read a situation sometimes (something I will talk about in the section below), it is hard to gauge how appropriate a response is to a certain situation.

An example, from earlier today, in fact:
Your hair! It looks different.
This made for an awkward moment.

Other problems that fit under this category are literal interpretation of what is said and engaging in group discussions; someone might say that it is raining cats and dogs, and a child with AS might wonder where the cats and dogs are.  When I am at university, I sometimes have problems contributing in group discussions - picking good moments to speak and doing it without being talked over is a daily thing.

Social interaction
A lot of the non-verbal communication comes under this category, including eye contact, use of body language, facial expressions, or even touch.  When two people are talking, they have a sort of sixth sense, and they can use each other's faces to gauge interest in the conversation or emotion.  It is something that I'm sure they take for granted! It can go hand in hand with the apparent insensitivity issue, where a person with AS might say the wrong thing at the wrong time because they aren't sure what's going through someone's mind - even if it is written all over their face!

Imagination and rigidity of thought
I could talk about this for days, but the easiest way to describe this is with the analogy of an iPod with one song on it.  You want to listen to some music? Get the iPod out. There is only one song on it. But that's okay, because you love that song and you could listen to it all day long. In fact, you have done - many times. You know every measure inside out, the timing of every instrument and the nuance of every vocal.

That could just as easily be a person with AS, but the iPod doesn't have to just be an iPod. It could be a computer, a game, or something more technical such as quantum entanglement or that television show you have downloaded every episode of even though it was cancelled ten years ago.

Now, these things might sound pretty normal, but when you involve AS, it can become an obsession.  It is something that you want to do all day, every day.  It impacts on your daily routine and can often dominate it.  You might neglect other people, or even yourself - food is a thought of the past, and your topic of choice might even be enjoyed at the expense of personal hygiene on the odd day.

Sensory issues
I know, I said this was a triad, but this is the oft-neglected bit of AS.  Every-day things that you wouldn't give a second thought to can debilitate a person with AS.  Whispers in a lecture theatre might sound like the roar of a marketplace.  Fluorescent lighting might burn into your eyes like the sun.  Tinfoil on your sandwiches might taste like, well, tinfoil.

It just so happens that those three things are sensory issues I personally have. There are others, but it is important to realise that these are not specific to the condition.  Other people might have other sensory issues, such as the texture of their clothing on their skin or the sound of the television.  Some people might not have problems with this at all.

I tend to walk into walls and doors because it is easier than avoiding them.  If you see someone walking into walls or doors, they could be autistic.  But then again, they might not be.  A quote I have read many times on the Internet, but which stays with me, goes:

"Once you've met one person with autism, you've met one person with autism."

In other words, it is easy to shoebox everyone with autism or AS into the category of "loud, insensitive, aloof" or whatever your stereotype may be. But the truth is that we are all different. Sure, we have our similarities - if we didn't, we wouldn't all have the diagnosis of AS on our medical records! But we aren't all the same. If we were, I wouldn't be making my way through medical school, would I?


  1. This is the guy that spoke to you on the Aspergers chatroom the other night. Very nice information for people like me who are interested. Keep bloging :D

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  3. Cute blog, medicine man. Aspergertastic!