What are the Signs and Symptoms of Asperger’s Syndrome in Children?
In 1944, Austrian psychiatrist Hans Asperger described a group of children who shared many, but not all, of the characteristics common to autistic children. Subsequent studies confirmed Asperger’s description and a new classification was formed: Asperger’s Syndrome.
The following is a listing of typical signs and symptoms of Asperger’s Syndrome in children. Having known many children in my work as an Aspergers psychologist, I caution everyone to remember that variations occur from person to person, and it is rare to find all the symptoms listed below in any one child.
Children with Aspergers usually begin to speak at the expected age, but the content of their speech is unusual. It tends to sound artificial and consists of rambling about favorite subjects and repeating words or phrases over and over again.
These children may invent some words. They don’t understand subtle verbal jokes, making it appear that they fail to understand what a speaker intends to convey.
While their speech may be comprehensible, there may be little facial expression when they are talking. Vocal intonations tend to be monotonous and droning or exaggerated. Gestures are limited or clumsy and inappropriate, making it difficult to understand what children with Aspergers are trying to say.
Children with Asperger’s have a hard time comprehending other people’s expressions and gestures, often misinterpreting or ignoring these non-verbal signs.
The most telling characteristic of Asperger’s Syndrome is that two-way social interaction is impaired. Children with Aspergers lack the ability to understand and use the typical rules of social interactions. They may care about relating to others, but because they don’t comprehend the rules and cues that form social interactions, their interactions are often awkward, clumsy and insensitive.
Children with Aspergers do not have the intuitive understanding of how to adapt their approaches to fit with the needs and personalities of others. In many cases, this creates a heightened sensitivity to criticism and a suspiciousness of other people.
Those with Aspergers usually are aware of the difficulties they have in relating to others. They may try hard to overcome these difficulties, but their attempts are ineffective, leading to little success.
Children with Aspegers often enjoy spinning objects and watching them until the movement ceases. They tend to become intensely attached to particular objects and are very unhappy when they are away from familiar places.
Gross motor movements are clumsy and coordination is limited. Posture and gait appear odd. Most children with Aspergers are poor at games involving motor skills, along with writing and drawing.
Skills and Interests
Children with Asperger’s Syndrome typically have excellent rote memories. They become intensely interested in one or two subjects, such as astronomy, trains, bus schedules, minerals, or characters in TV shows, to the exclusion of all else.
They absorb every fact about their interest and talk about it at length, whether or not the listener is interested, yet they have little grasp of the meaning of the facts they have learned.
Experiences at School
Because of their communication impairments, repetitive preoccupations, and narrow skills and interests, children with Aspergers appear odd and eccentric. They are frequently the targets of bullying at school, becoming anxious and afraid as a result.
Often, academic success is difficult for these children because they follow their own interests regardless of the teacher’s instructions. Many eventually become aware of their differences, especially as they approach adolescence.
As an Aspergers psychologist, I have worked with many children who, recognizing they are different, see that difference as a sign of inadequacy. Feeling inadequate, they isolate themselves, which then reinforces their feeling different, and the cycle completes itself.
The Positive Traits of Aspergers
My experience as an Aspergers psychologist makes me want to encourage those involved in these children’s lives to seek out and tend to the many positive traits that typify Aspergers.
Children with Aspergers are often dependable and loyal. They have a degree of honesty that makes them less interested in “playing games” with others or demanding that others live up to their expectations.
They have few hidden agendas or interest in harming others or taking advantage of their weaknesses. They are more susceptible to being bullied than bullying themselves.
Children with Aspergers are less prone to social manipulation. They stick to their positions, even in the face of intense social pressure.
Generally, those with Aspergers have above-average intelligence and often they develop unique, sought-after talents. Because they are good with details, have well developed memories, and unique interests, they bring a highly original perspective to problem solving.
Like everyone, children with Aspergers are a mix of strengths and weaknesses. They may be different but they are not defective.
Our job as parents, teachers, friends, even an Aspergers psychologist, is to encourage children with Aspergers to grow and to provide the love and nurturance that makes that growth possible. With this, children with Aspergers will enjoy the successes they deserve.
Dr. Kenneth Roberson is an Aspergers psychologist in San Francisco with over 25 years of experience. To schedule a free initial consultation, please call 415-922-1122.