Do you find yourself confused in social situations? Are you passionately interested in a single topic? Is it tough for you to make and maintain eye contact? Then you, like many talented and intelligent adults, may have a disorder which, up until 2013, was called Asperger syndrome. Today, while many still use that term, Asperger syndrome no longer exists as a discrete diagnosis. A person with the symptoms that were called Asperger syndrome will now be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.
What Does High Functioning Autism Look Like in the Real World?
Asperger syndrome is (or was!) different from other disorders on the autism spectrum, in part, because it was often diagnosed in older children and adults as opposed to very young children. That’s because many children with very high functioning autism pass their earliest milestone with flying colors. Then they reach an age when they are expected to manage complex social relationships, conversations, or sensory challenges (often around grade three, but sometimes much later).Most people with very high functioning autism have no problem with basic speech, and they may be very intelligent and capable. They may do well in school (or in specific classes), and they may have very real talents. But to qualify for an autism diagnosis, an individual must have challenges that are significant enough to create problems in daily life. The issues that emerge for people diagnosed with Aspergers (or, now, “Level 1 Autism”) usually include:
- Difficulty with social and communication skills (the ability to “read” body language, understand sarcasm, etc.),
- Sensitivity to loud noise, bright lights, and other sensory input
- Difficulty with changes in routines
- Desire to talk and think about only a few topics of special interest
- Challenges with empathy (imagining what other people are thinking or feeling)
It’s important to note that people with high functioning autism are not lacking in emotions, and can be very kind. In some cases, they may be creative and innovative (though in other cases they may have a tough time thinking outside of the box).Difficulties arise, however, when folks at the high end of the autism spectrum run up against social conventions or expectations that are complex and require a high level of “social thinking skills.” Many people with autism also suffer from hypersensitivity to sensory “assaults,” making it tough to be in a loud, bright space or function well in an open office, convention hall, or large restaurant.
Could I Be Autistic If I’m Intelligent and Successful?
Many people with autism are intelligent, articulate, and capable of holding down a responsible job. Quite a few people with high functioning autism are married and have children. But all people with autism (at any level) struggle with social communication.
Social communication is defined as the ability to, for example, accurately read body language, guess what another person is thinking, or show appropriate emotional responses at the right time.
Of course, plenty of people are socially awkward without being diagnosable on the autism spectrum. The difference between “awkward” and “autistic” really lies in the degree to which those delays, disorders, and difficulties impede your ability to live a normal life. If you have many of the qualities that suggest autism, but you don’t find yourself limited in your ability to live a full life (build relationships, keep a job, get through school, etc.), you are probably not autistic. In addition, if your symptoms developed after the age of three, you will not receive an autism diagnosis.It’s important to note that autism is just one of the many disorders that relate to social functioning. So while your symptoms may not quite meet the criteria for autism, they may, however, be part of a constellation of symptoms that would lead to a diagnosis of another disorder such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, social anxiety disorder, or social communication disorder.
The History of Asperger Syndrome
Hans Asperger was a Viennese child psychologist who worked with a group of boys all of whom had similar developmental differences. While they were all intelligent and had normal language skills, they also had a set of autism-like symptoms.As a result of World War II, Asperger’s work disappeared for a number of years. When it reappeared in the late 1980’s, it garnered a good deal of interest. Today, Asperger’s syndrome (despite the fact that is no longer an official diagnostic category) is in the news virtually every day.
What Does It Mean to Have Asperger Syndrome?
Many successful people are diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. Dan Ackroyd and Darryl Hannah, for example, both made their diagnoses public. This suggests that Asperger syndrome is not a disability in the classic sense. In fact, some historians suggest that Einstein, Mozart, and Alan Turing (the inventor of the first electronic computer) may all have been diagnosable with Asperger’s.What people with Asperger syndrome do have in common is a set of characteristics that may make social interaction particularly difficult. Many “aspies” (a term that teens and adults with Asperger syndrome sometimes use to refer to themselves) have been bullied or teased as children. They may be awkward with the opposite sex. And they may have a tough time maneuvering through complex social cues at school, at work, or elsewhere.
Could I Have Asperger Syndrome? The Online Quiz
The Cambridge Lifespan Asperger Syndrome Service (CLASS), an organization in the United Kingdom that works with adults with Asperger’s, has developed a simple 10-question checklist to help with a preliminary self-diagnosis. If you answered “yes” to some or most of these questions, you may decide to find out more.
- I find social situations confusing.
- I find it hard to make small talk.
- I did not enjoy imaginative story-writing at school.
- I am good at picking up details and facts.
- I find it hard to work out what other people are thinking and feeling.
- I can focus on certain things for very long periods.
- People often say I was rude even when this was not intended.
- I have unusually strong, narrow interests.
- I do certain things in an inflexible, repetitive way.
- I have always had difficulty making friends.
If you do answer “yes” to many of these questions relative to yourself or a loved one, you may have uncovered an undiagnosed case of Asperger syndrome (or, officially, “Level 1 Autism Spectrum Disorder”). Still curious? Consider taking more of the online tests available on the site to learn more about the likelihood of your being mildly autistic.
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How Asperger Syndrome (Level 1 Autism) Is Diagnosed
If you decide to seek a diagnosis, start by seeking out individual therapists, neurologists, and autism centers that are familiar with tests for high functioning adults. You will most likely go through a series of tests with a team of clinicians; tests will focus on intelligence, “adaptive” social and communication skills, and personal developmental history. As a result of these tests, an experienced clinician will be able to tell you whether are really diagnosable with autism—or whether your symptoms are more in line with other disorders which have some of the same or similar symptoms (social phobias, anxiety, etc.).If your symptoms are actually reflective of autism spectrum disorder, you will also be assigned a level (probably Level 1, meaning that you need relatively little support for day to day activities) with certain modifiers to describe your specific symptoms. Your doctor may actually tell you that you have Asperger syndrome, you may choose to describe yourself as having AS, and most people will know what you mean, but “Asperger syndrome” is no longer a medically accepted term.
A Word From Verywell
If you think you (or someone in your life) is autistic, it may be worthwhile seeking an evaluation. You will need to do some online research to find a psychologist or psychiatrist nearby with experience in diagnosing adults.
If you do receive an autism spectrum diagnosis, you’ll need to decide how to handle the news. For some teens and adults, this is a tremendous relief: it puts a name on a set of issues that have troubled them throughout their lives. And it also opens the door to support, treatment, and a community of self-advocates whose insights and friendship may be very helpful.
But there is no obligation to do anything at all about Asperger’s syndrome. In fact, many adults feel that being an “aspie” is a point of pride. They are unique, often successful individuals who are simply … themselves!