What is Asperger Syndrome?
Asperger Syndrome (AS) is an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and part of a unique group of neurodevelopmental disorders, all complex. Those affected by social impairment, difficulty with communications, and often restrictive, repetitive and stereotyped behavioral patterns. Persons with Asperger Syndrome are often referred to as ‘Aspergians’ and ‘Aspies’.
Autism is a spectrum disorder in that persons afflicted may fall into specific area within a wide field of affect. Aspergians are usually in the high functioning range, meaning they can generally care for themselves, and function normally within society. They can usually go through fairly normal education, even attaining advanced degrees. Most can drive a car without special consideration or accommodation (unless another physical condition interferes) and they can be incredibly productive people. Others with ASD are not so fortunate, and often require full-time caregiving.
Along with AS, other developmental disorders include autistic disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder and pervasive developmental disorder, commonly referred to as PDD-NOS. ASDs, generally, are considered neurodevelopmental disorders and are usually present from infancy to early childhood.
While ASDs may be diagnosed early in life, many, particularly Aspergians, are not detected until later in childhood and even early adulthood. Because of nurturing parents, locations where social demands are limited, and the nature of early education and caregiving, it’s possible for a child to develop without anyone performing an evaluation.
What are the common behavioral traits or conditions associated with Asperger Syndrome?
Asperger’s is often called the ‘genius gene‘, and many, if not most Aspergians are in fact geniuses. Noteworthy people with AS include George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, Albert Einstein, Robin Williams, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and many others we consider geniuses in modern society.
We can expect that most Aspergians will have a specific field of interest in which they excel from a young age, like Wolfgang A. Mozart, who from the age of 4 was composing classical music. Susan Boyle shocked everyone with her matronly appearance when she first appeared on television, and equally awed everyone with her angelic voice. Like many Aspergians, she wasn’t formally diagnosed with AS until full adulthood.
Speech difficulties, such as a lack of rhythm, an odd inflection or monotone pitch often affect children and adults with Asperger syndrome. Frequently they cannot modulate the volume of their voice according to their surroundings, so you’ll sometimes hear them being very loud in places like church or a library. Parents often have to remind them to speak quietly in places where quiet is expected as normal behavior.Children and adults with Asperger syndrome are usually isolated because of poor social skills and narrow fields of interest, unlike the severe withdrawal from the world that is characteristic of autism. Aspergians will gather enormous amounts of factual information about their favorite subject. They will talk incessantly about it, but the conversation may seem like a random collection of facts or statistics, with little or no point or conclusion. Aspergians may attempt to befriend or socialize with other people, but make normal conversation difficult by eccentric behaviors or by wanting only to talk about their singular interest. They enhance their isolation by a lack of interest in the thoughts, opinions or discussion from those they’ve befriended.
Whilst a large percentage of children with AS are highly active in early childhood, some may not reach milestones as early as other children. Typical among these are motor skills such as pedaling a bike, catching a ball, or climbing outdoor play equipment. Children with AS are often awkward, poorly coordinated and may walk in a manner that can appear either stilted or bouncy.
In young adulthood or post-puberty, some children with AS may develop anxiety or depression. Young Aspergians are more likely to be suicidal than most others their age (only homosexual teenagers have a higher suicide rate). Asperger syndrome often co-exists with other conditions, such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), tic disorders (such as Tourette syndrome), depression, anxiety disorders, and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
Unfortunately, one of the most negative sides of AS is the desire to self-inflict harm; a situation that often occurs when the Aspergian is harassed, questioned, ignored or they feel bullied. This can be very bad in many situations where the Aspergian feels they have no control, such as a witness stand, jail or in hand-cuffs.
What causes Asperger Syndrome?
A study published December 2013 in the journal Molecular Autism confirms previous research that people with AS are more likely to carry specific variations in a particular gene. Most interestingly, the study supports existing findings that the same gene is also linked to how much empathy is typically shown by individuals in the general population.
Empathy is an emotional sense that is both shown and felt. Thus a display of empathy to others and an empathic feeling are present in a person without AS. Failure to display empathy doesn’t preclude a feeling of empathy. Like other emotions, empathy can overwhelm. Imagine that you just heard that a close loved one has suddenly died. Your emotions, including empathy and sympathy would fill you with emotional response, causing you to cry.
The lack of empathy for others has been a suggested trait of Asperger syndrome for many years. We disagree, and believe another recently published study more accurately describes an overwhelming empathy; such that the Aspergian shuts down attempts to feel emotions of or towards others as a self-protection mechanism. Aspergians can carry on a complex conversation with someone citing incredible detail about their field of interest, but appear truly disinterested in the other person’s opinion. In fact, they’re likely to be angered or upset if the other person tries to express an opinion of their own, or even agree with the Aspergian’s perspective. Such interruptions force the senses of the Aspie to connect with the other person and cause an emotional or sensory overload, resulting in a negative reaction.
Asperger syndrome appears to run in families, but the inheritance pattern is unknown. There is a high concordance of AS among twins, which provides researchers with further evidence of a genetic condition.
Diagnosis of Asperger syndrome is complicated by the lack of a standardized test. Because there are several screening devices in current use, each with different criteria, the same child could receive different diagnoses, depending on the tool the doctor selects. Because of this and other factors, many persons with AS remain undiagnosed well into adulthood.
Are persons with Asperger Syndrome likely to commit a violent crime?
The percentage of Aspergians who commit violent crimes is no greater than the non-ASD population. D. Scott McLeod, PhD, a MassGeneral Hospital for Children psychologist and executive director of their Aspire Program, says persons with ASD are no more likely to commit a violent act than persons not on the autism spectrum. He’s not alone in his opinion.Unfortunately, when one Aspergian commits a crime, media coverage makes the general population foolishly believe all Aspergians must be violent criminals. That concept of one is guilt, so all must be guilty is preposterous. If a person with cancer committed a murder, could one say cancer creates murderers? Absolutely not. So let’s understand what ASD is, and what Aspergians think, and end our collective, media driven hysteria.
Because Aspergians are usually more functional in society, they are likely to be more exposed to crime. The more severe a case of autism is, the more likely parents and caregivers are to keep that person in a sheltered environment. Compare this with the more functional Aspergian who has a highly increased likelihood of being bullied, robbed or beaten simply because he or she is interacting with the general population at a far greater rate than the rest of those affected by ASD.
Since Aspergians are very likely to be incredibly smart, quick learners and unlikely to be popular in school, they’re more likely to be bullied than someone who experiences severe autism. They are more likely to be the victims of crimes as well, such as rape, child abuse, robbery, bullying and criminal violence. Equally, they are very likely to be taken advantage of, and used as a resource; ‘Joe, please do my homework for me‘ and asked to volunteer to do dangerous things.
How will a person with Asperger Syndrome react in court?
Some Aspergians can react pretty well to being in court, and some find it fascinating, however, under pressure-filled situations, such as being questioned as a witness, they can become agitated and react suddenly. Usually that reaction will be an increase in volume, and may lead to self-inflicted harm. In one case, a young man peppered by rapid-fire questions from a prosecutor felt he lost control of his ability to deliver thoughtful, deliberate replies. After about 20 minutes in which he was becoming visibly anxious, the young man began to hit his head on the wooden railing in front of him and gave himself a concussion, having to be examined for a fractured skull (which he indeed had).Under some conditions that others might consider mild, an Aspergian may burst out in tears, scream in a tirade of emotions, hit his or herself or have a general emotional meltdown. Courts are usually ill-equipped and unprepared to deal with such situations, and persons in the courtroom usually have insufficient knowledge or experience to deal with such behavior. Judges may misinterpret the situation as the witness being in contempt of court or presenting a clear and present danger to others. The Aspergian witness could be incarcerated or otherwise penalized, rather than being given time to calm down, reassured and their condition respected as a special need.
In many ways, Aspergians make ideal witnesses, if questioned properly. AS makes it very difficult for them to fabricate a lie, and they feel very uncomfortable trying so to do. An Aspergian is very likely to break out in a sweat or shake if they try to present a known falsehood to others. Attorneys on either side in a case are usually unfamiliar with this trait and may misinterpret such behavior.