Asperger’s Syndrome (AS)

Neurodiversity may be every bit as crucial for the human race as biodiversity is for life in general. Who can say what form of wiring will prove best at any given moment? Cybernetics and computer culture, for example, may favor a somewhat autistic cast of mind.

Harvey Blume, Atlantic, 1998

The term Autism Spectrum Disorder covers autism, High Function Autism (HFA) and Aspergers because there are no boundaries between the three.

Autism is ‘a diverse and mystifying condition’ (National Autism Society), where people live in their own world and communication is almost impossible. They experience difficulty with imagination, may be resistant to change, have sensory difficulties or may be hyperactive.

Aspergers people can speak and their spoken language may be normal. They cannot be diagnosed as having AS if their IQ is less than 70. HFA is a term often used interchangeably with AS, but the National Autism Society prefer to keep them separate: if an ASD person can speak, they are diagnosed with AS; if they cannot, they have HFA.

Both AS and HFA include difficulties with motor skills. The three main difficulties for AS students are: social communication, social interaction, social imagination. There is often an overlap between AS, dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD and epilepsy.

Many students with AS do not want to admit they have a disability.

Social communication

May have difficulty understanding or generating conversation; may be confused by jokes, metaphor and sarcasm.

Suggestion: Be clear and concise; give time to process information; give clear feedback.

Social interaction

May have difficulty with friendships and in understanding what is appropriate behaviour.

© Matthew Tizzard

Social imagination

May be imaginative in conventional sense, but difficulties may include:

  • imagining outcomes or predicting what will happen next in social situations;
  • understanding or interpreting people’s thoughts or feelings.

People with AS may also have a love of routines, special interests, sensory difficulties.

Love of routines

To make the world less confusing, people with AS may set up rules or rituals which they insist on following. They often prefer their day to be ordered to a set pattern. Unexpected changes to the timetable may create anxiety and distress.

Suggestion: give AS students advance notice of any change to timetable or deadlines; every change needs marking clearly on the intranet.

Special interests

People with AS may develop an intense, sometimes obsessive interest in a hobby or collecting.

Sensory difficulties

All senses may be affected. People with AS may be over or under sensitive to sensory stimulation, e.g. bright lights, strong smells, loud noises, touch may cause anxiety or pain.

There may also be reduced body awareness; people with AS may bump into objects, have difficulty with motor tasks, rock or spin to regain balance or deal with stress.

Further reading:

See the National Autistic Society website, http://www.autism.org.uk/asperger

Also see: http://www.autism-uni.org/bestpractice/
(guides include best practice for senior managers; for HE lecturers and tutors; for professionals supporting autistic students)