What Is Asperger’s Syndrome And How Does It Affect Adults?

Asperger’s syndrome is a development disorder related to the autistic spectrum, but at a much higher level of functioning. Unlike those with autism, those who have Asperger’s syndrome generally learn the same way average people do, learning to speak at a young age and eventually attending school in the same classes and at the same age of their peers. Like autism however, those with Asperger’s syndrome may have trouble understanding social or communication skills. This often results in being viewed as ‘weird’ by those around them who aren’t familiar with the disorder.

Asperger’s syndrome is typically diagnosed at an early age, but because those who have it are on the higher functioning end of the autism scale, it can go undiagnosed well into adulthood. This has been especially common in the past when the disorder wasn’t as well known and understood as it has become in recent years. Similar to autism, there is no cure and the exact cause of the disorder is unknown, however, it is possible to manage the symptoms, including clumsiness, obsessive routines, and sensitivity to environment changes. This is done with behavioral therapy, resulting in many adults with Asperger’s syndrome appearing mostly ‘normal’ with the exception of lack of social skills.

The lack of social skills doesn’t mean that all adults with Asperger’s appear rude, but rather they have trouble understanding social cues. For example, it’s not uncommon for those with Asperger’s syndrome to share a deep passion for something, whether it be horses or molecules. They may want to talk about this passion constantly, despite the listener growing visibly annoyed. This is because they don’t understand that sighing or looking at a watch means the listener is uninterested.

Due to this extreme passion, many adults with Asperger’s syndrome end up excelling in careers involving their interest. It’s not uncommon for adults with Asperger’s to become CEO’s or other high ranking positions, because unlike other employees, they don’t spend their time socializing with others, but rather learning as much as humanly possible about their passion.

What is the Asperger syndrome diagnostic scale?

The Asperger Syndrome Diagnostic Scale, also known as ASDS, is a tool used to screen for children who might meet criteria for Asperger’s Syndrome. This quickly administered standardized test only takes approximately 15 minutes to complete. It is appropriate for children ages five through 18 years old. Autism experts Brenda Smith Myles, Stacy Jones-Bock, and Richard L. Simpson first published the ASDS in 2000.

The screening tool is standardized and uses percentiles to give an AS Quotient. This score predicts the likelihood that a child or adolescent has Asperger’s Syndrome. The test covers behaviors across several domains, including cognitive, maladaptive, social, sensory, motor, and language. The behaviors addressed are those behaviors typically seen in children with Asperger’s, as well as behaviors that are seen in children without an Autistic Disorder. The test contains 50 questions, all which are answered with a yes or no to indicate whether the behavior occurs.

The Asperger Syndrome Diagnostic Scale has an administrative qualification level of B. This means that individuals who administer the ASDS must have a degree from an accredited four-year college. This degree must be completed in psychology, counseling, or speech and language pathology. The individual must also have completed coursework in test interpretation, psychometrics, educational statistics, or measurement theory or a license indicating appropriate training in the ethics and competency required for using psychological tests.

The respondent for the ASDS can be one of several individuals who are very familiar with the child or adolescent being tested. Parents and siblings are often the primary respondents. The child’s service providers, such as speech and language pathologists, therapists, and teachers can also act as respondents.

The Asperger Syndrome Diagnostic Scale cannot be used in isolation to provide a diagnosis of Asperger’s. The ASDS is a screening tool to indicate the likelihood of the individual having Asperger’s. The AS Quotient can be used to indicate whether a professional should further evaluate the child in order to receive an official formal diagnosis.

One concern with the ASDS is that it has not been shown to reliably differentiate between Asperger Syndrome and the other subtypes of Autism Spectrum Disorder. Since the symptoms of Asperger are also similar to the symptoms of PDD-NOS and Autistic Disorder, a qualified team of autism professionals must do further evaluation. This can help determine what subset of Autism Spectrum Disorder the individual has.

A benefit of the ASDS is that it not only provides an overall AS Quotient, but it also gives scores for each of the individual domains on the test. The individual results in the cognitive, language, social, maladaptive, and sensorimotor subscales can assist the professional in determining specific areas of deficit and difficulty in the child. These scores can be especially helpful in treatment planning and determining areas for further testing.

The results of the ADSD also have other non-clinical purposes. They can also be used to help draft goals for the child’s IEP or school intervention plan. The test can also be given annually as a way to measure growth and progress across the different domains in an individual already diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome.

What types of Asperger’s tests are available for adults?

Like previously stated, Asperger syndrome is a pervasive developmental disorder characterized by significant impairments in social interaction and stereotyped patterns of behavior. What distinguishes Asperger Syndrome from other Autism Spectrum Disorders is the lack of any significant delay in language or cognitive ability. Asperger Syndrome is not as easy to diagnose as other disorders of the Autism Spectrum, so it is quite common for a person with Asperger to receive the diagnosis as an adult, even though the problems began in childhood. There are several tests and assessments that are designed to determine whether an adult has Asperger Syndrome or one of the other Autism Spectrum Disorders.

The ADI (Autism Diagnostic Interview Revised) is an interview-based assessment that is used to ask questions of a parent, or if the parent is not available, some other person who knew the individual as a child. The questions are designed to determine whether the adult had problems with social interactions as a child, and to rule out other forms of autism. The ADI is effective, but it is limited since the parent may no longer be available, and it takes about three hours to administer.

The AQ (Autism Spectrum Quotient) is a much shorter screening device used to identify adults who may have Asperger Syndrome or Autism. This instrument contains 50 questions that relate to the areas of social skill, attention switching, attention to detail, communication and imagination. The subject responds to each question with “definitely agree,” “slightly agree,” “slightly disagree” and “definitely disagree.” The responses to these questions show the degree to which the subject has features typical of people with Autism or Asperger Syndrome.

Another Asperger screening instrument is the EQ (Empathy Quotient), a 15 item questionnaire used to determine the degree to which an individual cannot understand the feelings and thoughts of others. Though this is a really short assessment that focuses on only one area of development, it has a very strong correlation with the presence of Asperger Syndrome.

Where Can Adults With Autism or Asperger’s Find Friends?

OK, we all know that adults with autism or Asperger’s syndrome have trouble making friends – and if you are an adult with Asperger’s, this is probably sounding pretty familiar by now! But let’s now talk about ways to solve all of the problems of building friendships.

Yes, it is hard to make friends if you are an adult with Asperger’s syndrome. Yes, it’s lonely. But there ARE things that can help. There are organizations that can help; and tools and strategies that can help. Let’s talk about some of them.

Local Asperger’s Support Groups

The first line of defense, so to speak, for adults wanting to make friends should be Asperger’s groups and organizations dedicated to such things. This is because Aspies will tend to get along better with other Aspies as a general rule. It is wonderful to meet other people who think the same way you do, act the same way you do, talk the same way, and just generally understand you. Now, there is diversity in the Aspie population just like in the rest of the world. You won’t automatically get along with every Aspie in the world, but you do have a much, much better chance. You can find someone who shares your interests, someone who wants to “be” and interact in the same way that you want to.

Many of these organizations run support groups for adults with Asperger’s; some can put you in touch with others with Asperger’s syndrome.

Find a Group in Your City

Many cities have their own Asperger’s groups and meet­ings. These are definitely worth finding. Washington, DC, for example has a very large group called “Asperger Adults of Greater Washington,” or AAGW. It has almost forty people come to meetings every month. Most groups are not nearly that big. They meet in one corner of a tea cafe once a month. At the beginning, they have social time for their members to talk with each other-then they sometimes have a speaker or a discussion topic, and more free form social time at the end.

Every group for Aspies is run differently. Some focus on just free time for conversation, some are all speakers, some discussion based, some are more therapy oriented. Some only have as few as 4 members; others, like AAGW, could have as many as forty.

The wonderful thing about these groups is people are usu­ally very nonjudgmental. You can feel safe there, safe to be yourself. If you fidget a lot and can’t look anyone in the eyes, no one will care. If you talk about trains all day, they will understand. If you have too much anxiety to talk but just want to sit and listen, they will be glad to have you there. Whatever your level of functioning and way of being in the world, at an Aspie group you will be greeted sincerely. Most people are very friendly, although of course it depends on the person and group; and you will feel welcome. You will recognize yourself in others. You will feel less alone.

The OASIS website maintains a great list of local support groups in all fifty states. A lot of these are for parents but there are some for adults with Asperger’s syndrome too.

Also, try using Google to find local groups, or email a national Asperger’s email group to ask if anyone there knows of local groups (Examples are grasp.org groups, ASAN at autisticadvocacy.org, Autistic Daily living Yahoo group, etc.)

National Asperger’s Advocacy Groups

In addition to all the local groups, there are a few national or regional Asperger’s organizations that run support groups for adults with Asperger’s. These are all very useful groups to know about.

GRASP, or the Global and Regional Autistic Self Advocacy Network, runs support groups for adults in several dif­ferent states but focuses on the New York City region. Their current list of support groups include locations in California, Colorado, Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Virginia, New York and more. There are several based in the New York City area.

ASAN, or the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, runs groups in several different states as well. These are run by people on the autism spectrum and are often focused more on political issues (such as advocating for rights for people on the spectrum, and how to work to reduce the number of negative messages about people with autism in the media, how to educate people about autism spectrum disorders, etc.).

ASAN’s website talks more about the goals of the organization. It was started by two young men in their 20s, both with Asperger’s. One was just starting college, one in grad school; both with a vision to create an organization for people with autism spectrum disorders; An organization run by people who had the same disorder in order to create a welcoming place of support and also to create an organization that would fight for the rights of people on the spectrum.

A third organization is the Asperger’s Association of New England, or AANE. They provide support groups in most of the six New England states. They are based in Boston, and have several groups in that area. They have social ac­tivity groups, where members go to various places together (bowling, out to dinner, to see a lecture), as well as support groups and social skills groups. A full listing of groups can be found at aane.org.

A great website to find support organizations and support groups which lists groups broken down by U.S. state is: aspergersyndrome.org

The listing of support organizations here is extensive. While these listings are not necessarily all oriented for adults, with a little work, you can likely find a support group that will meet your needs.

How Else Can Adults with Asperger’s Find Friends?

It’s useful to meet other adults with Asperger’s, but sometimes you just want to be able to make friends with the people around you. How can you accomplish that? How can you develop more friendships in your life?

Work on your social skills

One option is always to get counseling to help work on your social skills. A good counselor can tell you where you’re going wrong and work with you to help change the weak areas. They can identify those areas in which you need help, and model proper social skills. They can role model with you what to do and say in social situations. By working with a skilled therapist, you can be more aware of the way you come across, and gain more friends with your new, improved skills.

Seek out people you are compatible with!

But you still need a place to meet the right people. All the social skills in the world aren’t going to help you get along with just anyone. People have very different personalities, interests, and communication styles. You need to meet people who are compatible with you.

But how do I do that, you ask? Well, look around you. Decide what you have an interest in. If you like to read, join a book club. In the process of discussing the Great Gatsby, you just might stumble upon a kindred soul. Like to swim? Join a swimming club. Many Aspies make friends much better when they are DOING something with a person instead of just talking to them. They need something constructive to do while being with a person; that way the focus is on the activity instead of the conversation.

If you like history and World War II, join a historical preservation group. Maybe you can get involved in Civil War reenactments.

If you’re into sports at all, join a sports club; non-competitive sports are probably more likely to spur friendships than competitive, but you never know. If you like to sing, join a choir. If you like to write, find a writing group. The list is endless. The important thing is to match your skills and interests to a group of like-minded people. You might still have social skill issues, but you’ll have a common interest with these people and be much more likely to develop friendships. Just be patient and know that developing friendships takes time; it doesn’t happen overnight. Go slow and try not to rush things. Trying to rush into things will put pressure on the other person and make them much more likely to end the burgeoning friendship prematurely. It is hard to wait, yes, but worth it in the end.

Eight Places to Find Potential Friends

1. Intellectual interest groups

Book clubs, political discussion groups, moral and ethical discussion groups such as Socrates Cafe, MENSA are all good places to look.

2. Athletic Pursuits

Look into local groups for soccer, basketball, swimming, or any sport that you have an interest in.

3. Creative Activities

Arts and crafts, photography, painting, writing, and other creative arts; people meet to share work, discuss technique, or engage in said art during group time with others.

4. Religious Organizations

Churches and synagogues can be great places to meet others. Often they hold their own discussion groups, choirs and activities.

5. University Groups

If you have a college or university near you, they may hold special interest groups that are open to the public that you could join.

6. Science and Technology

Do you like computers? Science fiction? Medicine? Find like-minded people in a group dedicated to these topics.

7. Your Workplace

Sometimes you can find like-minded people in your workplace, or at least people to go out to a baseball game with. A lot of times this doesn’t happen, but it can occasionally.

8. Activity Groups

People might meet to play board games, chess, Scrabble, go hiking, or do any manner of activity together.

While it may be difficult for an adult with autism or Asperger’s syndrome to easily make friends, it is possible with a little thought and energy.