What are the signs and symptoms of Asperger’s in adults?
Asperger’s syndrome is a developmental disorder characterized by difficu¿lties in communication and social interaction. Not every adult who experiences Asperger’s has received a diagnosis, as many grew up before the diagnosis existed.
People with Asperger’s typically have average or above average intelligence, but they may experience challenges in some areas of their lives.
What is Asperger’s?
An adult with Asperger’s may have difficulty with verbal and nonverbal communication.
In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association classified Asperger’s syndrome under the umbrella of autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Autism is a developmental disability characterized by difficulties in communication and social interaction and characteristic patterns of behavior.
Experts typically consider Asperger’s to be at the mild end of the autism spectrum.
A 2019 literature review notes that the estimated prevalence of Asperger’s in childhood is between 0.02-0.03%. Boys are three to four times more likely to have Asperger’s than girls.
Signs and symptoms in adults
In adults, Asperger’s may cause difficulties in the following areas:
emotion regulation and interpretation
verbal and nonverbal communication
Some people may experience only a few symptoms while others will have several.
People who have Asperger’s often learn to adapt to the world around them. Many adults learn to hide their symptoms to the extent that they may appear neurologically typical.
Some potential symptoms of Asperger’s in adulthood are outlined below.
Adults who experience Asperger’s may find it challenging to deal with their emotional responses to situations or events. This can cause the person to react inappropriately or have emotional outbursts.
People may also have difficulty understanding the emotional experiences of others. As a result, an adult with Asperger’s may have difficulty showing empathy.
Asperger’s may cause difficulties with the following aspects of communication:
People with Asperger’s may have difficulty noticing or interpreting nonverbal cues, such as:
Some people with Asperger’s find it hard to make eye contact with others. This can make nonverbal communication even more challenging.
People with Asperger’s may have difficulties understanding and processing language. They may also show differences in language production. Specifically, they may produce repetitive speech or robotic speech that lacks inflection.
Because people with ASD typically have difficulties with verbal and nonverbal communication, they may find social situations challenging. They may particularly struggle to make conversation or small talk.
People with ASD typically crave routine and respond negatively to change. They may engage in repetitive behaviors as part of their routine.
People with ASD may also behave differently in response to sensory stimuli. They may display under sensitivity or over sensitivity to sensations such as light, sound, or touch.
For example, a person may intensely dislike bright lights or become irritated by a sound that does not appear to bother other people.
Other signs and symptoms
Some people who have Asperger’s may experience additional signs and symptoms. Some examples are outlined below.
People with ASD often focus intently on a specific topic of interest and may engage in frequent monologues on the subject. Some people describe this type of focus as obsession.
However, the intense focus can be beneficial, especially in a school or workplace setting. Intense focus allows people to concentrate on an issue or problem for prolonged periods, which may lead to greater problem solving skills.
A 2016 study found that issues with motor coordination are more common among adults with ASD. These issues can cause differences in a person’s gait, or difficulties with fine motor skills, such as when writing or buttoning clothing.
Lack of close friendships
Some people who have Asperger’s have trouble making or maintaining close friendships. This may be due to difficulties in communicating with others or processing others’ emotions.
Some adults with Asperger’s also show a preference for solitary activities over team ones. This preference can make it more difficult for the person to form close connections.
Treatment for adults
The treatment for Asperger’s syndrome and other forms of autism involves helping the person to cope with symptoms and challenges.
Treatment options include the following:
Cognitive behavioral therapy
People with Asperger’s may experience the following issues as a result of the increased challenges they face in their daily lives:
stress and anxiety
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy that can help a person to work through these challenges. CBT involves changing patterns of thinking in order to change feelings and behaviors.
A 2018 review found that CBT can also help to alleviate anxiety symptoms in people with both ASD and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
A speech therapist can help people with Asperger’s to address issues with robotic or repetitive speech. The therapist can teach people how to speak with inflection and how to moderate their pitch.
It can be helpful for people who have Asperger’s to connect with others who also have ASD. Peer support can take place online or in person at support meetings.
Prescription medications may help to alleviate co-occurring conditions, such as:
Some people with ASD may benefit from vocational therapy. This type of therapy helps a person to secure or maintain employment or work on other career-related challenges. It also allows them to explore their options in relation to further education and volunteering.
There is no single known cause of ASD. It is likely that there are many causes, including genetics and environmental factors.
Factors that may increase a person’s risk of having Asperger’s or other forms of autism include:
having a family history of ASD
being born extremely prematurely
Some potential complications of Asperger’s in adults include:
difficulties in romantic and family relationships
difficulties at school or work
In comparison to the general population, people with ASD also tend to have higher rates of co-occurring conditions, such as:
attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
Research indicates that depression is one of the most significant co-occurring disorders in people who have ASD. Depression may occur as a result of difficulties in a person’s personal or professional life.
Getting a diagnosis of Asperger’s or ASD as an adult can be challenging.
Because Asperger’s tends to be at the milder end of the autism spectrum, the symptoms can be difficult to recognize.
Also, many adults have been living with Asperger’s syndrome their entire lives, meaning they may be competent at hiding the signs and symptoms from others.
There is currently no specific test or diagnostic criteria for diagnosing Asperger’s syndrome in adults.
Some people may wish to take a self-assessment test for adults. Although this is not a diagnosis, it may provide important insights that a person can discuss with their doctor. Some people may prefer to skip the test and go straight to their doctor.
A doctor may arrange a referral to a psychologist or psychiatrist. These health specialists will:
ask about symptoms, both in adulthood and childhood
observe and interact with the person
speak to family members, with permission
When to see a doctor
People should see a doctor if they believe that they may have Asperger’s syndrome or autism.
Getting a diagnosis as an adult can be challenging. However, a diagnosis can increase access to treatments, such as therapy and medication.
Asperger’s in adults typically causes issues with communication, emotion regulation and interpretation, social interactions, and behavior. People who have Asperger’s may also experience other conditions, such as depression, anxiety, or OCD.
Nonetheless, many people with Asperger’s do very well in academic and workplace settings. They tend to have average or above average intelligence, strong verbal skills, and superior problem solving skills.
Adults who believe they may have Asperger’s syndrome should speak to their doctor.