It's very important to remember that Asperger's is not merely a term for someone who is "odd," "eccentric," or "socially awkward." This is a serious and very real medical condition that does not currently have an identified biomarker that would allow for blood testing, etc. In the meantime, we need to provide readers with accurate and complete information. Current diagnosis requires a match with a set of criteria, not merely one characteristic. There are many professionals out there who can pretty accurately diagnose someone through several sessions of in-person assessment and an interview with family members. The following are some of the things that one might look for in diagnosing AS, keeping in mind that the more of these one finds, and the more they interfere with someone's daily function, the more severely they would score on the spectrum (these are certainly not all true of all AS sufferers, but are a good guideline):
- difficulty reading and interpreting others' emotions
- lack of "theory of mind" (inability to comprehend another's emotions as separate from their own)
- difficulty expressing a variety of emotions
- OCD-like behavior, including repetition, checking, ticks, and obsession over one or a few areas which may dominate career, free-time, and social exchange
- strong aversion to change, break in routine
- ADHD-like behavior (difficulty with concentration in the face of outside stimuli)
- hyper sensitivity to stimuli (noise, lights, tastes, touch, etc.)
- Tendency towards exceptionally loud or soft speech without evidence of hearing damage
- lack of intonation, monotone, or robotic-sounding speech
- lack of facial expression corresponding to mood or speech
- difficulty maintaining close intimate relationships, lack of friends in childhood or adulthood, history of bullying and/or being bullied, difficulty in maintaining employment for social or hypersensitivity reasons
- literal interpretation of expressions
- tendency toward overload of anxiety, leading to angry and sometimes violent outbursts or a total emotional shut-down involving walking away or avoiding confrontation
- evidence of blood relations with similar characteristics
- physical awkwardness, clumsiness, lack of accurate sense of spatial relation in environment, personal space
*lack of ability to adjust to societal norms for behavior, dress, speech (including no ability to moderate self for different social surroundings: i.e. work, friends, school, romantic partner, formal, informal)
- poor ability to adapt to changes in routine (difficulty in response to emergencies, memory for birthdays or special events, difficulty in adapting to unexpected situations, managing stress with respect to change)
- extreme directness and succinctness
- avoidance of social situations due to stress of conforming, bullying
- often accompanied by depression, panic attacks, generalized anxiety, gastrointestinal disorders, eating disorders
- tendency toward analytical, dispassionate thinking
- "book smart" but not "street smart"
- tendency towards honesty to a fault, innocent personality which may lead to being taken advantage of (attempts to lie or hide truths may be very obvious)
Any person can have one or several of these traits, and that by no means indicates that they have AS. However, when one considers the life of a person with all or many of these characteristics at the same time, it is easy to see how completely debilitating and excruciating AS can be. On the other hand, under the right conditions AS can be a huge asset to both career and managing crisis situations. In some cases this can even be helpful in relationships with others who may be prone to illness or emotional drama, where dispassionate thinking and ordered speech can be helpful. Some AS characteristics are very attractive to prospective partners, who see them as creating stability and predictability, and providing an intellectual partner who is not as likely to cheat or lie. The tendency towards uncontrollable anxiety, lack of empathy, and lack of spatial sense however, can also lead to an abusive and seemingly unpredictable environment once the partner has moved in. AS is not purely bad or purely good - it is simply a different way of being that is managed best when everyone involved is educated. Many people with AS lead fulfilling and happy lives, just like persons with any other medical disorder. It is the interaction with so-called NT (neuro-typical) people that can cause problems on both sides, particularly when neither side is aware of why differences in perception exist.
It is not by any means true that AS is only found in traditional math or science-related fields, but certainly these fields tend to support analytical thinking in an individualized environment with less direct social contact. Remember, there is no stereotype that is true of all AS people, and it is considered a spectrum disorder because some people are highly functional while some are highly impaired. It does not help families for us to contribute to the misinformation out there. As a side note, the difficulties that persons with AS may suffer with authority figures including the law are not yet much spoken of. It can be very hard for people with AS to relate to authority figures in an appropriate way without seeming disrespectful or condescending. They may interpret rules or the law far too literally, leading to infractions. Because of their seeming coldness and calculation, they may appear to have no conscience or to have committed a wrong intentionally, making it difficult to garner sympathy and understanding from judge, jury, boss, or peers. More education of these difficulties is important in the mainstream, particularly among companies and regions where AS and autism are more common.
It may be helpful to know that some medications and behavioral therapies (including couples techniques) have proven effective for some people with AS to help them adapt to their environment and manage medical issues, although there is no "cure," and they may not work for everybody. There is much to be learned in this area, but the more we talk about it openly, the better. I myself do not write in as an expert, but as an NT woman married to man with AS (who yes, is a computer programmer). I took the time out because I am just tired of reading so many ill-informed blogs while I research for our own family.