Under extreme stress, AS adults can exhibit very
child-like manifestations. However, as individuals age, most develop a
wide variety of coping skills and discover ways to mask their behavioral
traits so that under many circumstances they can "pass for normal".
This section gives the reader a glimpse of telltale traits of Asperger
Syndrome commonly expressed at each stage of development. Readers must
remember that every AS individual is different and they may not manifest
all of the traits identified for each age.
In infancy and early childhood, this section will focus on additional
"surprising" traits rather than those most commonly discussed in the
vast literature on AS children. The reason for this emphasis is to make
the reader aware of some of the features of early AS expression that
prompt inexperienced professionals to conclude that the child is normal
or that they see nothing wrong. Parents' primary complaint about
diagnosticians they visit in order to understand their own children is
that diagnosticians, not prepared for "extraordinary phenomena" also
overlook the obvious signs of autism in children. If the "A" word is not
in the parent's vocabulary or isn't looked for by savvy professionals,
it is often not seen. Many of the signs of AS are so subtle and
mercurial in children that they are overlooked altogether, despite
caregivers' insistence that the child demonstrates the "missing"
behavior all the time under real life, rather than office-visit
Although the DSM criteria call for "normal" speech development, in the
preschool years an AS child may hesitate talking well beyond the age at
which their peers speak (delayed speech). From few words, an AS child
may suddenly speak in full sentences" rather than going through some of
the trial and error steps shown by other children. This development may
startle observers. There is a simplistic but surprisingly accurate
explanation: AS children are acutely observant of details and may
rehearse things in their heads long before they express their thoughts
in speech. Even at a very young age when a child is asked why he hasn't
spoken before, he may say something as disarmingly simple as, "I didn't
need to say anything before." Such a response may already reflect the
child's undisclosed fear of making mistakes or not being perfect "the
first time around".
An AS child may begin talking in complete sentences about complex issues
well beyond subject matter mastered by a child of that given age. These
sentences may appear to be memorized; indeed, many of them are, from
sources heard or read by the child, who may be a precocious reader (hyperlexic).
Listeners are often so bowled over by the length of the expression and
sophisticated words being used that they rarely determine whether the
child actually understands the meaning of the sentence or particular
words used. Mastery of language extends to skills way beyond word
recognition and memorization. It also involves understanding the
pragmatics or contextually proper use of language. If there is doubt,
further testing by a speech/language pathologist especially trained to
test for semantic-pragmatic disorders is warranted but rarely conducted
with linguistically precocious pre-school children.
Play patterns are a dead give-away and predictor of the child's current
and future difficulties with social communication. The AS child does not
know how to properly initiate contact with other children, or may have
done so with poor results often enough in the past and been rejected by
them that an early-established pattern of self-isolation may already be
in place. The child will play by himself, even with "with" children. The
child may be oblivious of the welcoming conduct of other children, or
totally confused about how to initiate conduct in the absence of adult
help in becoming included in the social world of other children.
The AS child may remain with a "mature" and serious demeanor in the
midst of other children's quickly changing moods. Such "model conduct"
is especially true for AS girls whose general temperament may move them
to being passive. What the AS child may be doing is observing or
studying the other children, trying to "get it right" before making a
first step to participate with others. At this very early age, they have
learned not to be risk-takers, and other children sense that about them.
They are "no fun".
AS children may rock, “fidget”, or even “flap” when concentrating. The
child may have unusual vocalizations (a certain word or words, hum,
click, grunt or the sound of a motor) that occur frequently when the
child is concentrating.
The child may scream and “meltdown” in a situation with many people
around (like the grocery store, or parades). He is unable to participate
in “imaginary” play, and on close observation seems to be acting out
entire behavioral and verbal scripts from memorized or favorite games,
stories or videos. He may spend hours at a time lining up object or
sorting them—not using them for the play purpose intended or commonly
accepted by other children.
AS children experience far more ear infections, digestive disorders,
"tummy aches" migraine headaches, and undiagnosed or late-diagnosed
sleep disorders. AS children often miss out on early social experiences
because of illness and the effects of illness on their temperaments. If
they aren't behind "before", once they've missed a certain critical mass
of days in certain settings they lose their chance to gain a place in
the social pecking order of very young children's social groups. Even
without health issues affecting attendance, AS children have substantial
separation issues. They are often responsible for a child not attending
pre-school groups. No amount of adult "repair" efforts can overcome the
effects of having missed certain bonding opportunities. Parents often
find themselves being asked to remove their child and to find other
child-care and pre-school arrangements, whether once the child arrives
he is a behavior problem or not.
Many parents of AS children report difficulties with their children's
toilet training. "Accidents” continue through much older age throughout
the elementary school years. The child may avoid eye contact with
children and adults, or be highly selective with his eye contact. He may
seem to have unusual difficulty in learning to dress himself. Problems
with eye-hand coordination, time management, avoiding distractions,
"getting lost in thought" and other disturbances to a smooth routine may
contribute to delayed self-care of all kinds.
In regular school, the child cannot carry on reciprocal conversations
and is more inclined to carry on monologues. He prefers the company of
older or younger individuals. Unless they really listen in to the
child's conversation, teachers and administrators incorrectly assume
that a child is “social” because he is seen talking to another child.
Even during structured events, and invariably during unstructured ones,
the child will be a “loner off to a corner or noticeably right at the
outside edge of group activities.
The child may be uncoordinated, and have difficulty with any activity
that requires bilateral coordination or two-handed coordination. They
may have difficulty swimming, sustaining an activity that requires good
balance or coordination of their body parts. They refer to themselves as
"klutzes and geeks". So do others. AS children are among the last ones
picked for team events, whether by the children themselves or by
teachers. (Teachers may reinforce the marginal nature of the child by
encouraging or even participating in the social exclusion conduct of
their students.) They are rarely shown leisure or fitness exercises that
are individualized enough to become a part of their adult life.
Predictably, many adults with AS have little interest in their own
Many AS children have deficient fine motor skills (rarely improved in
later life). Handwriting is often laborious and awkward. Papers are
messy. The child lacks self-organizing skills -- even if they complete
homework, they often lose it before it can be turned in. Extreme spikes
of educational interest appear with the first formal in-class
assignments. They are very obvious by the time homework is first
assigned. The AS child may take naturally to one or two subjects but has
absolutely no interest in others. Study habits are inefficient because
the student's memory or other learning abilities are deficient. An AS
child can study one subject forever during the week and "lose it all at
test time". One mother of an AS son writes: "My son would study all week
on his spelling words, writing them, orally saying them, looking at
them, but come Friday it would be like he had never heard of these words
ever—and week after week he would fail each spelling test."
The child may be hyperactive for any number of reasons, some of which
have nothing to do with ADHD. The child may simply be bored, or need
time to decompress in the midst of a stressful subject, or become
sensorially overloaded and needs to find relief. He finds it difficult
to stay in his seat for an extended period of time because it is
“uncomfortable”. The child may stand up every now and then, or walk
about the classroom, or walk out of the classroom in the middle of the
lesson, causing the teachers, administrators, and parents considerable
Unable to find words to describe tactile overload or tactile and other
preferences, a child may refuse to wear fashionable clothing or become
demanding a certain type of clothing -- a certain color, a certain
style, or a certain type of fabric. Before wearing anything, the child
may demand that the tags be cut out of every stitch of clothing. The
child may want to wear the same "uniform" day after day revealing
distressful personal hygiene and self-care issues that may remain
The child may adopt a loud, high, or monotone voice that is so
identifiable with AS. Many girls and some boys will retain child-like
"small voices" or be resistant to remediation of vocalization issues way
beyond puberty. The child's sleep disorders, not as much a problem prior
to the time when he is expected to manage his own time, become huge
problems by contributing to family stress or squabbling for shared
parental attention among siblings.
Food preferences and controlled diet, somewhat manageable at home,
become major challenges once the child eats away from home and starts
sharing food with classmates. Strong reactions to some foods and food
odors may cause him to refuse to eat with other children. His reactions
may be so severe that children avoid him because his behavior becomes
obnoxious or invasive as he openly criticizes other children's food
choices. The child may be so upset around food issues that he fails to
eat enough -- or at all -- at school meal times. Add food deprivation to
sensory stress and sleep deprivation, and you have an instant recipe for
a student so stressed that he is unable to learn.
The stress of holding it together while at school may cause the child to
“melt down” as he arrives home. He may disappear to his room or sit at a
computer or video game for hours trying to unwind. He may sleep for
hours, upsetting family life at a time it is likely to be the most
active. At this stage parents who do not understand AS may begin to put
additional pressure on the child to “conform” to their expectations
about the child's behavior and performance at school and at home. As
lessons and assignments become more complex in middle school, parents
with these reactions cause more stress, confusion, and frustration for
the child. If the pressure is severe enough and there is insufficient
relief and understanding at home, this is a time when the child openly
expresses thoughts of suicide.
From middle school into high school, the AS teenager's lack of
self-organization (executive function skills) and spikes of interest (as
well as troughs of disinterest) intensify. Ever more conscious of other
children (and often late in becoming so), the AS child becomes the brunt
of jokes and the victim of bullying. With delayed social and
communication skills, the child experiences the swirl of constantly
changing expectations of teachers, fellow students, and his parents. By
this time the AS child knows that he is different and not accepted by
others, but rarely has insight into "why". Out of depression and
anxiety, the child may start to withdraw from previous sources of
support not with the idea of being more accepted by his peers, but from
a desperate desire to be left alone. If the child has a special interest
that gains him acceptance by even a few persons, whether peers or adults
or any positive role model or mentor, he may "make it through" high
school scathed but as a survivor. Many AS children are not so lucky.
Parents try every thing they can to prevent their AS children from
becoming drop-outs. Nevertheless, many do drop out and seriously
compromise their chances for continued education, decent employment and
AS students rarely date in high school. Even though they may see others
“pairing off”; they have little idea how to initiate this kind of social
conversation or contact. They may approach others in very juvenile ways.
That doesn't work. They want to be “normal” like everyone else but have
no idea how to achieve it. By this point, AS adolescents have moved
beyond the capability of most social skills specialists to bring them up
to speed with such advanced skills. Social skills' training for AS
teenagers rarely includes "the graduate course" of how to date.
For most AS high school students, homework is a major challenge. The
student has not developed study skills that help them record
assignments; they forget texts and materials needed to complete lessons,
have a poor concept of priorities and little success with envisioning
efficient sequences to accomplish tasks. They do not know how to ask for
help. They manage their time poorly, and don't know how to initiate
projects. AS students put perfectionist demands on themselves that are
unrealistic, often as a result of having been repeatedly criticized.
Faced with an assignment they could otherwise complete if they took it
one step at a time, they engage in catastrophic and all-or-nothing
thinking, a process that often leads to no work being turned in. For
some "grind students", homework time at home may exceed the time the
student spends at school. Other students resist a repeat of the day's
struggles at school and routinely force pitched battles between
themselves and their parents over the issue of how much homework -- if
any -- they will do. In some cases, a parent will complete some or all
of the student's assignment, resulting in passing grades but no learning
by their child. Thus, what looks good to others on paper isn't what it
seems. Such parent action teaches the child learned helplessness and
supports the child's expectation that if they resist something long and
hard enough, they can wear others down to do it for them. Such notions
carry way into adulthood.
Some but not all AS students are unable to generalize from classroom or
homework lessons and apply them to everyday life issues. For students
with this type of specific learning disability, they fail assignments
demanding that a student analyze and "extend" a problem into a general
application. Complex problem solving of this kind is only partially
related to the student's executive function challenges. There are other
deficient cognitive processes also at play.
AS individuals categorically have difficulty with team assignments. This
holds true for graduate students and most adult AS employees as well as
kindergartners. They do not have the social or the cognitive skills
required to be sensitive to the kind of sharing, collaboration and
sensing others' needs, as well as the skills to delegate required for
completion of team projects. If forced into teamwork assignments, it is
likely that in elementary and secondary school they will be teamed with
"goof-offs and losers" because teachers rarely have time to build teams
composed of students with poor social skills to start with. Misplacement
with students having similar social and communication deficits means
that the AS student is robbed of the opportunity of learning essential
team skills from a balanced, heterogeneous group of students.
Asperger Syndrome and Telling the Truth
Most challenges of AS adult life have already been covered in the
writing above. However, one issue hasn't been addressed: the issue of AS
individuals and how they handle truthfulness.
AS individuals rely heavily on rules, most of which they understand to
be immutable. The one thing few of them understand and truly take to
heart is that nearly all rules allow for exceptions to be made. In some
cases, it may be possible to come up with clear guidelines governing
when a given rule doesn't apply. With their encyclopedic data bases and
given enough time to sift their view of a situation using those
guidelines, AS individuals can take an almost infinite number of
sub-rules and come up with the socially appropriate response.
The operative words in situations like this are "data base" and "given
AS children begin early to build their database for determining the
correct course of action in difficult situations. They are taught to
tell the truth, and they do so willingly and automatically. As noted
above, some AS children act as "truth enforcers" uncritically applying
their unsophisticated understanding of rules to anyone of any age or
The Good Side of Telling the Truth
Finding themselves in the midst of a situation that calls for fast
footwork -- lying -- AS children are, at first, notoriously poor liars.
If they are verbal and outgoing, they may go around acting as the "truth
police", correcting others on factual details and not even hesitating to
call someone -- anyone -- a liar for their not telling the truth.
It is safe to say, categorically, that the younger an AS child is, the
greater the likelihood that he is telling the absolute, unvarnished and
complete truth. One cannot say this for non-autistic children of the
Here is one mother's description of her son's "rules super cop" reaction
to a common rule being broken:
"My AS son thought it was a mortal sin for me to go through the express
check out line with more than the maximum number of items posted on the
sign above the cash register. I had eleven items; the sign said nine!
How dare I break the rules! He would have regular, dramatic meltdowns as
others in line ahead of me or behind me stared in amazement at his
An even younger child combined a number of no-nos with regard to telling
the truth, without regard to the consequences. The same mother describes
this "different behavior" this way:
"AS individuals can also be blunt and disarmingly honest. Observing
someone on the street or in a store, an AS child might blurt out, 'Look
at her. She is soooo fat! She should go on a diet!' That might be true
but it is socially inappropriate to say this in public because it hurts
the other person's feelings. AS children have difficulty understanding
their own feelings, and therefore they also have trouble understanding
the feelings of others: 'Why would it hurt their feelings as every one
can see that they are fat? I am only saying what ever one else knows to
be the truth.' Without careful, repetitive training, these children
simply do not understand the concept of 'socially unacceptable' public
observations. Some parents teach their children the "No's" without
teaching them how to express their concerns in socially appropriate
ways. Rather than saying the wrong thing, or teaching the child about
socially approved white lies or showing them how to express their true
feelings later, many parents adopt a very 'autistic-like' rigid response
to the social misbehavior of their children. At the point where it no
longer becomes possible for parents or care givers to watch every word
or behavior of the child, it is essential that our children understand
their own particular "flavor" of AS and start to deal with the world
from an accurate self-understanding of their unique perceptual
"Good Withholding; Bad Withholding"
Many childhood games and much of childhood social life is based upon
imagination, trickery, deceit, the dynamic of telling and keeping
secrets, and developing an increasingly sophisticated understanding of
the foibles of others while still building mutual trust with them. AS
children do not understand that the telling of secrets and lies and
keeping them hidden from others is the cornerstone of much early social
bonding. They do not understand that sometimes hiding the truth or
fudging it is what keeps a bond together.
Asperger Syndrome children generally dislike games where these skills
are developed. They prefer role-plays, games whose scripts and whose
characters' actions are predictable, even if they are bad actions.
They dislike being lied to directly. They dislike being told half the
truth rather than the whole truth especially if they feel something is
being held back from them. They are frank in their descriptions of
people and events, often brutally so.
The problem with AS children and many AS adults is that they have no
"escape valve" for working their way out of instant dilemmas, no way of
fudging or being indirect with more words when a few, direct words do
perfectly well. Those words hurt, and their words often land them into
serious trouble. Such words blow away potential friends. They violate
confidences. They erode trust. More than anything, they make the person
uttering them an unsafe person to be around.
No one except an AS person relishes absolute and stunning honesty all
the time. Almost from the time we are placed next to another child, with
or without language, certain things are best not done or not said. AS
individuals have to learn this idea through rough and painful lessons.
The above description applies to the very young and the very naïve.
While many AS adults remain naïve and gullible, they aren't stupid.
Rather than lie, they may remain silent about a situation. If they
aren't particularly talkative, that's where things remain with them.
But some AS children -- an increasing number of them thanks to early
social skills training -- learn the difference, and start their practice
somewhat late, but practice they will, and as with most practice, the
more they do something, the more comfortable they are telling good
social lies. Still, doing so still involves a lot of deliberation and
mental effort. They will often do so out of their perception that a lie
is what a person they respect "wants to hear". They can easily be led to
lying, especially by persons with ulterior motives, such as criminals,
people who abuse others but upon whom the AS person depends, and by
unscrupulous law enforcement professionals unaware of how naïve and
vulnerable a person they have in interrogation.
There is another category of AS children who also learn how to lie, and
lie convincingly: children whose upbringing is physically and
psychologically traumatic and full of unrelieved chaos. For them the
telling of lies isn't only good practice. In the past, it has helped
them survive life-threatening situations. If they've become involved in
the child welfare system for any length of time, they also learn to lie
to protect themselves from their "protectors".
They get good at it. They get pathologically good at it. And, these
individuals grow up and become adults.
There aren't many such inveterate liars among adults, but it would be
unfair in describing individuals whose individual manifestations of AS
are so unique, one from another, were this fact not known.
There is one other bit of unpleasantness common to many adults with AS.
Many adults who have reached a modicum of independence and control over
their own lives may have done so through periods of self-medication and
substance abuse. In instances where they have been able to stabilize
their support systems to include marriage and employment, the reasons
for drug and alcohol abuse often fall away. Except for individuals
coming from families with a genetic proclivity towards substance abuse,
they are able to live their lives fairly clean and sober, sometimes to
the point of becoming teetotalers and swearing off all medication as
harmful and un-natural. It is important for the reader to remember that
despite their past abuse of drugs or alcohol, they are Asperger Syndrome
first and foremost, subject to all-or-nothing thinking.
As with the non-autistic population, there is a small core of autistic
individuals who become truly addicted to drugs and alcohol. While the
reasons for turning to self-medication -- to dull the pain of rejection
and misunderstanding by others -- are understandable, successful
treatment and rehabilitation of this small core of individuals is about
as likely as it is for their non-autistic counterparts. Depending upon
the length of time of their addiction, it may be more humane to consider
mental health attention for "wet" addicted persons than no treatment at
all. Clearly, traditional 12-step programs and non-traditional
anti-abuse programs are not for everyone. Depression is a constant
companion to autistic individuals. There is a good but sad chance that
in a few instances, dramatic behavior associated with a severe
depressive episode or deterioration of their physical health may well
"end" others' efforts to help such persons
Entire Article: AS
Grows Up -
Recognizing Adults Today with AS
For More Information Contact:
Roger N. Meyer at firstname.lastname@example.org
AS Grows Up;
Recognizing Adults in Today's Challenging World
Traits by Age
AS " in" the Family
Adult Diagnosis and the