What Are the Main Characteristics of Asperger’s Syndrome in Adults?

Aspergers psychologist: Main characteristics of Aspergers

An Aspergers psychologist describes the characteristics of Aspergers in adults

Studies show that Asperger’s Syndrome is one of the fastest growing mental health conditions in the United States. Upwards of 2,000,000 adults are likely to have been diagnosed with this condition, close to a 100% increase in the last decade. Some say Aspergers has reached epidemic proportions in this country.

Asperger’s Syndrome is similar to autism with one primary difference: autism causes delays in language development whereas Asperger’s does not. People with Aspergers may have unusual speech patterns or may speak without inflection, as though the emotional content is missing, but their language skills are normal. In most other respects, autism and Aspergers share similar features.

In my work as an Aspergers psychologist, I’ve been asked many times to describe what Aspergers is like in adults. Here are the main characteristics:

Poor Empathy

Adults with Aspergers have difficulty comprehending or communicating feelings. It’s not that they are incapable of emotions; in fact, Hans Asperger, the Austrian pediatrician who first studied this condition, believed those with Aspergers were capable of very strong feelings. It is more a problem of being cut off from emotional experiences.

Adults with Aspergers have trouble distinguishing feelings from thoughts, and because they find it hard to recognize their own feelings, they focus on what they do recognize: reasoning.

This difficulty with identifying feelings makes it hard for someone with Aspergers to relate to others. The ability to recognize what other people mean to say by their gestures is either absent or poorly developed, making it easy for someone with Aspergers to misunderstand others.

Social Isolation

People with Aspergers tend to focus on their own personal interests, without seeing the needs and wishes of others. This often causes them to lead isolated lives.

Others see this behavior as self-centered or insensitive, but what causes people with Aspergers to focus on themselves are their difficulties with reading body language and facial expressions as well as the challenges they experience in picking up the rules of conversation.

This is not to imply that people with Aspergers don’t desire social contact. In many cases, they crave company and stick close to others.


Because adults with Aspergers tend to be cut off from their feelings, they acquire facts and information without understanding how those facts can be applied to real-world situations.

They are detail oriented, often missing the overall picture, and they apply the same level of detail to every situation whether appropriate or not.

Individuals with Aspergers often have an intense interest in one or two narrow topics, bordering on obsession. Stamp collecting, song lyrics, and computer puzzles can become focal points in their need to collect and organize facts, which is comforting to people with Aspergers.

Because of their focus on reasoning and intellect, many adults with Aspergers make great intellectual contributions. Recent reports of highly successful professionals in Silicon Valley suggest that a high proportion of them have tendencies that lie within the Aspergers range.

Physical and Sensory Difficulties

Children diagnosed with Aspergers are often delayed in their physical and sensory development. These difficulties persist into adulthood. Coordination that is required for actions such as walking, swimming, and riding a bike develops later for people with Aspergers. Fine motor skills like handwriting or tying shoes can be difficult for adults with Aspergers.

Sometimes, individuals with Aspergers demonstrate repetitive behaviors, such as rocking back and forth or flapping their hands. Some are sensitive to sounds, smells, bright lights or the sensation of clothing against their skin.

Treatment for Adults with Aspergers

Adults with Aspergers who are willing to work at it can benefit from treatment. As an Aspergers psychologist, I have seen many adults with Aspergers who lead successful, fulfilling lives.

Those who have a good understanding of their strengths and weaknesses can develop helpful coping skills. Their ability to reason and focus provides a model through which they can learn to relate to others, adopt appropriate social behaviors and develop close friendships and intimacy.

Many more people would seek professional help if they knew that Aspergers can be treated successfully. Working with an Aspergers psychologist is a key component to the successful alleviation of the struggles that cause so much distress for so many people. Help is really not that far away.

If you believe you have Aspergers or know someone who does, it makes sense to seek help from someone with extensive experience in treating Aspergers.

Dr. Kenneth Roberson is an Asperger’s psychologist in San Francisco with over 30 years of experience. To ask a question, or schedule an appointment,
please click here

22 responses to “What Are the Main Characteristics of Asperger’s Syndrome in Adults?”

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  3. Stephanie says:

    There are times that sounds and lights seem too bright
    And hurt my eyes even though they aren’t too loud
    Or are the usual setting for ex the tv or the lights
    In a store the sun etc.

    Anyway to cope with this is this normal.
    I always seem ok do sometimes
    When people are talking at once
    It hurts my ears and have hard time
    Following. Noticed that I have
    Auditory processing problems
    Does that happen to anyone
    Besides me? I am an

  4. Julie Armstrong says:

    I was married to a man for 20 years who I now believe has asbergers. I am so badly damaged by his lack of intimacy and empathy, but I’m still not sure if that’s what he has. He is now getting remarried and I can’t help but be hurt wondering what she is giving him that I tried to for so many years. I don’t think he is at all aware there’s anything wrong. Is there anything I can read to help me feel better and that I really couldn’t have done anything to help him more than I did. I was so lonely. Please help me find some peace.
    Julie Armstrong

    • Dear Ms. Armstrong:

      I’m sorry to hear of your situation. My advice is to speak with a professional to get help moving on from your past marriage.

      I know it is painful, but you must realize that in time things will be better.

      Best of luck to you.
      Dr. Kenneth Roberson

  5. Kim O'Brien says:

    Hi Doctor,
    I have a 36yr brother that has aspergers. My family and I are struggling with him and to give him a positive

    • Kim O'Brien says:

      a positive home structure. He is apart of the Alta reginal programs and turning point program. I can’t but wonder if there issomething in place to help the family members? I also, wander if what we are doing as a group is correct? What can I read or meet or take him to get help?

      Thank you Kim

      • Dear Kim:

        Please look for a therapist in your area who specializes in, or at least has experience with, Aspergers. Your brother and your family needs help with this problem. If you would like help locating someone who could work with you, let me know and I will do some research.

        Good luck with this.
        Dr. Roberson

  6. Jo says:

    Hi Kenneth,
    A very easy way to pop it doen into paper. My son has many of the characteristics of Aspegers, we always knew something just wasn’t right but never really knew, at nursery school he wouldn’t do anything but sit and play with trains, then one of his teachers in primary school mentioned Aspergers and i read an overview and it was like reading a character assessment of my child (well almost). I never really know how to explain it to other people, he comes across as an intelligent young man (he is now 15) but he says things back to front sometimes when i hug him he doesn’t respond, he is still, he can oversmile at you which can feel odd. He is clumbsy at all sports. He constantly needs to know where i am going and what time and will go on and on about it. He didn’t learn to ride a bike until he was 12, he couldn’t toe his shoe laces until he was 12, he couldn’t open jars and packets and has no strength when shaking hands or when grasping. He would easily pick up a tiny shirt, put in on and would be unaware of his mistake and that it clearly didin’t fit. He has this pure innocence about the world. He is a gently child, he can’t organise at all. He has a short term memory for tasks. He isn’t as bad now he is older but one area is his handwritng, it is still barely legible and this intelligent kid is going to end up losing out in his exams but i fel now he is older all the other aspects are hard to detect, especially when he attends a school which has many highly educated people from all nationalites, his quirkiness is not as apparent. One of his teachers would liek a diagnosis to allow me to use a computer so he can complete his examinations. My question is do you think at this late age we could get a diagnosis, even ehrn he comes across as just a quicrky intelligent kid ?

    • Dear Jo:

      Yes, your son could be diagnosed. It’s not too late. In fact, there are many advantages of receiving confirmation of Aspergers from an expert. As you mentioned, getting compensatory services at school is one of them.

      Depending on where you live, I might be able to help you find a specialist in Aspergers who could assist you with a diagnosis.

      Thank you for contacting me.

      Dr. Ken Roberson

  7. Isaac says:

    I do understand that Asperger syndrome is genetic and normally, kids who grew up having such syndrome may display many characteristics as described. However, what I need to understand is “can this syndrome being acquired due to environmental factor / influence?”

    I noticed that I have gradually changed from a normal guy who normally feels, laughs, talks, do crazy things, etc….any normal person would do to become a more “asperger person” although I can still cope up with the negaitve side of it. I also suspect that this might be due to the control mechanism set.

    Kindly advise if this is actually possible. Thank you.

    • Britt says:

      Isaac, there is only evidence to suggest what causes AS and Autism disorders. There is not completely found links to it being genetic nor to environmental factors, however, one thing is certain, you are only born with AS and it develops as a child. Normal functioning adults do not develop AS. It is NOT a “disease” that can be caught NOR a “genetic mutation” that can develop from exposure to chemicals, UV/X-ray/Gamma rays, STDs and the like. I recommend looking into basic information on various Asperger’s Syndrome websites. 🙂

      • Britt says:

        P.S. There are many things that can cause SOME AS-related behaviours. Depression can cause issues, you may have AS that is not diagnosed, but, if you never had any AS behaviors as a younger person it is extremely unlikely you would be diagnosed with it today. I recommend seeing an AS knowledgeable therapist like Dr. Roberson for more info and potential diagnosis.

  8. Zac says:

    Hi again,

    After reading Jo’s email, I realized that I work in an environment whereby a few of my colleagues and even my good friend have begun to displayed asperger syndrome. This syndrome somehow also affected me emotionally. Yes, Jo was right. They are extremely intelligent and excel in their line of work. Again, would all these affect a normal person?


    • Zac:

      Aspergers cannot be acquired through one’s environment. It is a biologically based condition that must be present early in one’s life in order to qualify as Aspergers. It’s possible, as you point out, for one to take on the characteristics of others who have Aspergers, but in that case it wouldn’t be considered true Aspergers.

      Perhaps what you’re describing are reactions that appear to be Aspergers. You might consider seeking a consultation with a professional who is experienced with Aspergers who can help you understand what it going on.

      Let me know if you have further questions or need any assistance.
      Ken Roberson, Ph.D.

  9. Definitely. Therapy, preferably with a professional who is knowledgeable with Aspergers, can be very beneficial. I recommend you seek someone out in your area who can provide the type of therapy you need.

    Good luck and feel free to contact me if you have further questions.

    Dr. Roberson

  10. Jan van Voren says:

    Poor empathy… ?! DEEP EMPATHY! There is a difference between the social symptoms, and the experience of empathy. I feel insulted. ~ An Aspie..

    ps: The official descriptions really need some more (spiritual?) deep insights.. perhaps from patients.

    • Britt says:

      Jan, did you read the paragraph? It was arguing against the idea that people with AS have poor empathy skills. It was saying exactly what you said. It may be socially perceived as such but in reality people with AS feel empathy and deeply so, along with every other emotion. 🙂

  11. greg hayward says:

    Greg says best thing to have happened to me focus on the positives try to minimize disadvantages I’m happy to be different I have more to offer and more time for people love you all

  12. Samantha says:

    Epidemic?!!!!… Mental health condition?!!.. Are you implying that Aspergers is not healthy and that its a mental disease..Is having aspergers that bad? I have Aspergers and yes, it is difficult but it’s not like I have a mental illness, it’s just the way I am and although it is hard at times, I’m actually okay with the way I turned out.

    • Dr. Kenneth Roberson says:

      Asperger’s is often portrayed as becoming an epidemic but I don’t agree. The numbers have risen but not to a level that compares with an epidemic.
      I’m not saying Asperger’s is a mental disease. It is a difference, not a disease.
      Thank you for your intereste and your comments.

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