What is Asperger syndrome?
Asperger syndrome is a form of autism. It is a lifelong disability that affects how a person makes sense of the world, processes information and relates to other people. People with Asperger syndrome have difficulties in three main areas:
While there are similarities with autism, people with Asperger syndrome have fewer problems with speaking and are often of average, or above average, intelligence. They do not usually have the accompanying learning disabilities associated with autism.
But the personal needs of individuals can differ vastly. Some require intensive support to build skills and overcome barriers to work, while others need little more than access to job opportunities. This spectrum of needs in society as a whole is mirrored – if not intensified – when it comes to adults with autism. At one end of the autistic spectrum, many adults are highly skilled and often highly qualified. The support they need is very different from those who have struggled to gain qualifications, or who have learning disabilities or mental ill-health.
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Characteristics: people with Asperger syndrome may need to have particular routines and any break of routine may cause upset or anxiety. Someone with Asperger syndrome may develop special interests which may become a focus for learning and which may progress into expertise in a particular field. This may help in their chosen occupation or career.
Cognitive functioning: people with Asperger syndrome have the symptoms of autism without the additional learning disabilities.
Motor function: like those with autism, people with Asperger syndrome experience poor coordination and difficulties with fine motor control.
High-functioning Asperger syndrome: people with high-functioning Asperger syndrome and autism are likely to be of average, or above average, intelligence.
Social communication and interaction: as with autism, people with Asperger syndrome may have difficulties with emotional expression and understanding social interaction – for example, gestures, facial expressions or tone of voice. They may also have difficulty knowing when to start or end a conversation.
Someone with Asperger syndrome will be likely to be very literal in their understanding and language, and therefore have difficulties understanding jokes, metaphor and sarcasm.
There may also be difficulties in making and maintaining friendships, and social relationships may cause them anxiety. Unwritten ‘social roles’ – for example, standing too close to someone, inappropriate conversations, or inappropriate behaviour – may not occur to people with Asperger syndrome. They are also more likely to find other people unpredictable and confusing, they may seem uninterested in other people and may also appear to be aloof.
Social imagination: people with Asperger syndrome find it difficult to imagine alternative outcomes to situations, and have difficulties predicting what will happen next, particularly when it comes to reading other people’s body language or interpreting their thoughts, feelings or actions. Nevertheless, they may have a highly developed imagination in the more conventional sense – for example, many are writers, artists and musicians.
Sensory difficulties: as with autism, people with Asperger syndrome may be intensely sensitive (hypersensitive) or under-sensitive (hyposensitive) to one or more of the senses – for example, sight, sound, smell, touch or taste.
If there is a sensory overload for someone with Asperger syndrome, this will cause them stress and anxiety and in order to deal with this, they may rock or spin.
Autism and Asperger syndrome in Parliament
The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Autism (APPGA) is a formal cross-party backbench group of MPs and peers who share an interest in autism and Asperger syndrome. It was set up in February 2000. Its role is to campaign in parliament for greater awareness of people with autism and Asperger syndrome, and their carers.
The official objective is:
“To raise awareness of issues affecting people with autism and Asperger syndrome, their families and carers; to raise parliamentary awareness of autism; to campaign for changes to government policy to benefit people with autism and Asperger syndrome and improve diagnosis or, support for all, people with autism and Asperger syndrome.”
Autism Act 2009
The Autism Act 2009 requires the government to produce a strategy to improve delivery of social care and health services for people with autism.
The Autism Act requires the implementation of a strategy which will lead to:
1. the provision of relevant services for the purposes of diagnosing autistic spectrum conditions in adults;
2. the identification of adults with autism;
3. the assessment of the needs of adults with autism for relevant services;
4. planning in relation to the provision of relevant services to people with autism as they move from being children to adults;
5. other planning in relation to the provision of relevant services to adults with autism;
6. the training of staff who provide relevant services to adults with autism;
7. local arrangements for leadership in relation to the provision of relevant services to adults with autism.
Fulfilling and rewarding lives – strategy for adults with autism in England 2010
In 2010, in response to the Autism Act 2009, the government published ‘Fulfilling and rewarding lives: The Strategy for adults with autism in England (2010)’. This sets out the government’s vision for autism services and five areas for action aimed at improving the lives of adults with autism:
1. increasing awareness and understanding of autism;
2. developing a clear, consistent pathway for diagnosis of autism;
3. improving access for adults with autism to services and support;
4. helping adults with autism into work;
5. enabling local partners to develop relevant services.
The purpose of the strategy is to make existing policies and public services work better for adults with autism. The government also produced statutory guidance to supplement the strategy. This says it is vital that local authorities ensure that adults diagnosed with autism who may have community care needs are offered an assessment.
Access To Work: https://www.gov.uk/access-to-work
All-Party Parliamentary Group on Autism (APPGA): http://www.appga.org.uk/
Autism Europe: http://www.autismeurope.org/
Autism Hub (list of autism blogs): http://autism-hub.com/:
National Autistic Society: http://www.autism.org.uk/
BBC Radio 4 One to One programme 17 February 2015: John Harris of The Guardian talks to autism specialist, Professor Simon Baron-Cohen.
BBC Radio 4 One to One programme 30 November 2015: John Harris from the Guardian talks to university researcher, Penny Andrews, who, after a difficult childhood and adolescence, was finally diagnosed as autistic in her early thirties.