Signs, Symptoms, & Causes of Asperger’s Syndrome

The first step to getting help is recognizing the problem. If you’re concerned your child or teenager may be suffering from Asperger’s syndrome, learn more about the signs and symptoms to watch for.

Understanding Asperger's Syndrome

Learn about Asperger’s syndrome

Asperger’s syndrome (AS) is a neurobiological disorder that is included on the autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), which encompass a number of developmental disabilities. These complex neurodevelopmental disorders are characterized by communication difficulties, social impairment, and restrictive, repetitive patterns of behaviors. ASDs occur along a continuum of severity and the symptoms of the disorder can appear in a number of different combinations in each child or teen with the disorder. Two children with the same diagnosis may share certain behavioral patterns, but may display a different range of abilities and skills. Some people who have ASDs are severely disabled and require substantial support for activities of daily living. Asperger’s syndrome, however, is considered to be the mildest form ASD and those who have it are considered to be “high functioning.”

While early diagnosis using standardized screening by the age of two is the goal, the nonspecific pattern of symptoms associated with Asperger’s syndrome may delay proper diagnosis and treatment. After a diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome is given, a treatment plan that coordinates multiple therapeutic modalities (such as speech therapy to reinforce proper communication techniques, physical therapy to overcome fine and gross motor delays, and occupational therapy to reduce overstimulation from sensory stimuli) should begin as early as possible. A treatment plan for AS should build upon the child’s interests, follow a predictable schedule, and actively engage the child’s attention in structured activities, while providing regular reinforcement of positive behaviors. Some children with AS benefit from social skills training to teach appropriate peer interactions, cognitive behavioral therapy to teach emotional regulation, and medication on an as-needed basis to ease symptoms of comorbid, co-occurring disorders. With effective, prompt treatment and support, most children with Asperger’s syndrome are able to overcome the many challenges associated with the disorder.


Asperger’s syndrome statistics

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that approximately 1 in every 88 children has been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. It is estimated that about 1% of the population of children ages 3 to 17 in the United States has an ASD. However, the precise number of people with Asperger’s syndrome in particular is currently unknown.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for Asperger’s syndrome in children and teens

The exact cause for Asperger’s syndrome remains a frustrating mystery; researchers generally believe that a variety of genetic, environmental, and physical risk factors may lead to the development of this disorder. Commonly cited causes and risk factors for Asperger’s syndrome include:

Genetic: Children and teens who have a first-degree relative such as a parent or sibling with Asperger’s syndrome are at higher risks for developing the disorder than those without a similar family history. However, not all people with Asperger’s syndrome have a family history of the disorder.

Physical: Brain imaging studies, such as MRIs and CT scans, have shown that there are structural and functional differences in specific areas of the brain of those affected by Asperger’s syndrome.

Environmental: Current research focuses upon the role of viral infections, prenatal complications, and air pollutants in the development of autism spectrum disorders like Asperger’s syndrome. It is known that there exists no link between immunizations and autism.

Risk Factors:

  • Being male
  • Co-occurring mental health disorder, such as depression or anxiety
  • Having another medical condition, such as Fragile X syndrome, tuberous sclerosis, epilepsy, and Tourette syndrome
  • Being born to older parents

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome in children and teens

The symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome are generally apparent after the time a child turns age 3, but may be diagnosed at a later age. Symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome vary from person to person; no two symptom presentations are the same. Some of the most common symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome include:

Behavioral Symptoms:

  • Children may seek out, but have a difficult time, interacting with peers
  • Excessive talking, especially about a specific topic
  • Frequent one-sided conversations
  • Lack of interpersonal relationship skills and instincts
  • Inability to express their own feelings
  • Often verbalizes internal thoughts
  • Atonal, flat, lacking pitch and accent speaking style which can create challenges in understanding these children when they speak
  • Appearing to lack empathy
  • Inability to understand societal norms
  • May not make eye contact or, conversely, may stare at others
  • May not understand the concept of personal space

Physical Symptoms:

  • Poor fine motor skills
  • Poor handwriting skills
  • Heightened sensitivity and overstimulation in relation to loud noises, bright lights, unusual textures, or strong tastes
  • Poor coordination
  • Clumsiness
  • Unusual body postures and gestures
  • Difficulties using gross motor skills, such as those needed for riding a bike

Cognitive Symptoms:

  • Tremendous difficulties with changes or upsets in routine
  • May have one or a few very select interests that they are extremely knowledgeable about
  • Difficulties picking up on the subtle changes in tone, pitch, and voice that accompany regular conversation
  • May be unable to understand sarcasm or jokes
  • Lack of inborn social skills such as reading body language, taking turns talking, or having a conversation with others
  • Poor organizational skills

Psychosocial Symptoms:

  • Lowered self-esteem
  • Tendency toward shyness
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Moodiness
  • Loneliness and social isolation
  • Feelings of being “unlike” his or her peers


Effects of Asperger’s syndrome in children and teens

Most children and teens diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome who engage in therapy to improve social and motor skills are able to go on to live happy lives. Most adults who have Asperger’s syndrome are able to hold steady, mainstream jobs but may require a bit of social support and encouragement from loved ones. Generally speaking, the earlier Asperger’s syndrome is treated, the more positive the outcomes. Some of the effects of unaddressed or untreated Asperger’s syndrome may include:

  • Social isolation
  • Difficulty making and keeping friends
  • Challenges in finding and maintaining steady employment
  • Troubled romantic relationships
  • Lowered self-confidence
  • Difficulties with social interactions
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

Co-Occurring Disorders

Asperger’s syndrome and co-occurring disorders

There are a variety of mental and behavioral health conditions that occur with Asperger’s syndrome. The most common co-occurring disorders, comorbid include:

  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Tic disorders
  • Tourette’s syndrome
  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorders
  • Social anxiety disorder