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What is Asperger Syndrome?

By Jen Birch

By Jen Birch who found she had Asperger Syndrome in her 40's. She has written a book about the condition and is a member of the Auckland Adult Autism Spectrum Social Group –


Autism is known to exist on a continuum from mild to severe.  High-Functioning Autism and Asperger Syndrome (ASD) have been commonly used terms for the milder forms of Autism.


Wherever on the Autism Spectrum an individual falls, they typically experience differences in sensory processing, thinking and learning style, emotional processing and expression, communication, social understanding, mental flexibility and focus on 1-2 favourite activities to the exclusion of all others.


A high anxiety level is also typical on all points of the spectrum, and deficits in motor skills and co-ordination may also be evident, particularly in the high-functioning forms of ASD.


Some of these features may remain with higher-functioning individuals for life, although they may become diluted, partially masked, or compensated for overtime.


Individuals can be affected by features to differing degrees, so that one person may find speaking their biggest challenge, whereas another may find organisational skills to be theirs.

The different ways of ASD thinking can be creative and innovative, ‘outside the square’, which can be a valuable and sought-after attribute in think-tanks and research. Many with ASD make rich contributions in the fields of IT, science, music and many other fields.


Because high functioning forms of ASD were generally not identified or recognised by doctors & psychiatrists until the late 1990s, there are now many adults with these conditions who remain undiagnosed, or who have been misdiagnosed as having an intellectual disability or psychiatric illness.


It can be life-changing and liberating to realise what the crucial difference is, and to be able to begin changing one’s life for the better with appropriate support.


While there is no specific ASD medication, many benefit from treatment for their anxiety or depression. There are now ASD-appropriate strategies which are helpful in reducing stress, thereby increasing a person’s functioning ability.


Medical professionals need to be aware of ASD features and to refer individuals for specialist assessment if necessary.

Diagnostic Criteria for Asperger Syndrome / High-Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Gillberg and Gillberg (1989).

1. Social Impairment – extreme egocentricity (at least two of the following):

(a) inability to interact with peers;

(b) lack of desire to interact with peers;

(c) lack of appreciation of social cues;

(d) socially and emotionally inappropriate behaviour.

2. Narrow Interest (in at least one):

(a) exclusion of other activities;

(b) repetitive;

(c) more rote than meaning.

3. Repetitive Routines (at least one):​

(a) on self, in aspects of life;

(b) on others.

4. Speech and Language Peculiarities (at least three):


(a) delayed development;

(b) superficially perfect expressive language;

(c) formal pedantic language;

(d) odd prosody, peculiar voice characteristics;

(e) impairment of comprehension, including misinterpretations of literal/implied meanings.

5. Non-Verbal Communication Problems (at least one):


(a) limited use of gestures;

(b) clumsy body language;

(c) limited facial expression;

(d) peculiar stiff gaze.

6. Motor Clumsiness:


(a) poor performance on neuro-developmental examination.

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