We describe Asperger syndrome as a different cognitive style and way of processing information and avoid using negative terms such as 'suffering', 'disorder' or 'affliction'. The condition is characterised by:
• difficulties with small talk, banter, sarcasm and recognition of, and instinctive reactions to, subtle social cues and nonverbal signals such as gazes and body language. Some individuals have little or no eye contact.
• difficulties with understanding one's own feeling and what other people are feeling. This varies from individual to individual. Though there is empathy, some individuals may display limited expression and appear emotionless.
• tendency to interpret language in a literal, sometimes pedantic way.
• tendency to be honest, fair, loyal and hard working.
• tendency to be anxious or fearful, particularly in social or sensory overload situations such as trying to follow a conversation when many people are talking at once with loud noise in the background.
• vulnerability to information and sensory overload. Some people with Asperger's are sensitive to bright lights, textures, smells or temperature. Sensitivity levels vary from individual to individual, while some can be very sensitive, others can be under-sensitive.
• tendency to have difficulties with making quick decisions, prioritising and undertaking several tasks simultaneously.
• tendency to prefer repetitive behaviour and become focused on a narrow range of interests or thoughts. This trait can be source of strength and development for the individual.
In the UK 1981, Lorna Wing created the term Asperger syndrome and introduced the idea of an autistic spectrum. She named the condition after Hans Asperger, the Austrian pediatrician who in 1944 had studied and described children who lacked nonverbal communication skills and showed limited empathy with their peers. Meanwhile in in the USA 1943, Leo Kanner had described a condition which came to be known as a classic autism. Asperger's writings were largely unknown in English-speaking countries until Uta Frith's translation 1991. The influential American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) recognised the condition 1994 by including it in their fourth edition and called it Asperger's Disorder.
The Autism Spectrum
Asperger's and classic autism are the main autisms or subgroups on the autism spectrum. AS differs from classic autism in two respects. Firstly, a diagnosis of AS means an average IQ or in some individuals a higher IQ than average and aspies tend to have good verbal communication and some awareness of their social environment. Secondly, in contrast with classic autism, aspies are more likely to seek social acceptance but may find it hard to interact socially in the way expected by non-autistic people (often called neurotypicals or NTs). Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) are often seen as closely related conditions on the autism spectrum. The main difference between the 2 conditions was thought to be in early language development: people with Asperger's will not have had delayed language development when younger, HFA people will. Otherwise, there's little difference in adults with the conditions and some autism professionals such as Tony Attwood argue that they are the same condition. Diagnostic distinction between them has been abolished.
There are many routes to getting a diagnosis. Some are diagnosed in childhood, others in later life. The routes vary with the individual, their geographic location and the autism resources available to them. In many cases, the first step is a discussion with a doctor, psychiatrist or health professional, who you are confident of not getting high-handedness from, then a referral to a qualified diagnostician. Diagnosis is less daunting, and less susceptible to be derailed by old-fashioned underinformed doctors, if you have already joined up with the Asperger scene first.
Prevalence and outcomes
The prevalence of Autism in the general population is currently thought to be 1 in 100, though some researchers think the figure is higher. Though the ratio of male to female aspies varies among researchers, it was long believed that there are much more males than females, 5 to 1 according to Happe and Frith, and there is a gender imbalance in numbers diagnosed. The condition's cause is unknown.
We can learn more about our condition, develop better coping strategies, work to educate the general population in autism awareness and seek to build happier and more self-fulfilling lives around our skills and abilities, if we cooperate reliably uncorruptly including in times of crisis.