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Autism Spectrum Disorder - Asperger syndrome

Asperger; syndrome; ;

Asperger syndrome - now called Autism Spectrum Disorder- is not a disease or illness. A person does not 'catch' it or 'recover' from it. It affects people all of their lives. People with Asperger syndrome have problems with social skills, communicating with others and with behaviour.

Children, young people and adults with Asperger syndrome can think well and learn about lots of things as easily as other people, but they have problems:

  • when they try to communicate with others
  • with social skills
  • with behaviour.

As they get older, they may find they are better able to manage their behaviour, and become more skillful at communicating with others.

This topic focuses on what it is like for young people to live with an ASD.

Contents of this topic 

Asperger syndrome has now been defined as Autism Spectrum Disorder. The name Asperger syndrome is still used in this topic as this is what many people still think of it as.

Asperger syndrome and other Autism Spectrum Disorders are not diseases or illnesses. A person does not 'catch' them or 'recover' from them. They affect people all of their lives. People with Asperger syndrome have problems with social skills, communicating with others and with behaviour. 

What is Asperger syndrome like?

  • People with Asperger syndrome find it hard to relate to other people.
  • They may talk a lot about their own interests, but may not notice that other people are not as interested in what they are talking about.
  • They have trouble understanding the feelings of other people and they do not seem able to read body language. For example, a person with Asperger syndrome may not realise when they have hurt someone's feelings, or realise when someone doesn't want to listen to them.
  • They like everything to be the same, and everything to be in the right place. They can get very upset if something is done 'the wrong way'.

The effects of Asperger syndrome can lead to slightly unusual behaviour or even to quite aggressive and anti-social behaviour.

  • Some people who are said to be eccentric loners may have Asperger syndrome.
  • Many great scientists, writers and artists are thought to have had Asperger syndrome, including many Nobel Prize winners.

It affects people all of their lives but as people get older they get better at social and coping skills, and the difficulties that they are having may not be noticed by other people.

People with Asperger syndrome can do well when others understand the effects of the syndrome on their behaviour and learning, and provide a supportive environment. 

Secondary school

  • Secondary school can be very stressful for students with Asperger syndrome because they have a different timetable each day, several different teachers, and have to move between classrooms. These changes can be really stressful for someone who likes everything to be the same.
  • Other students get better at interpersonal relationships as they grow older, but it can become more difficult for a student with Asperger syndrome to be involved in friendship groups. However, they may enjoy groups which follow their special interest (eg computing clubs).
  • It can seem as though they are really bright because they know a huge amount about something they are interested in, but they might have trouble keeping up with other subjects.

Teenagers with Asperger Syndrome are usually able to manage stressors better than when they were younger, and the troubles they get into at school may be less of an issue at secondary school. However a teenager with Asperger syndrome may be so worn out after 'holding it together' all day at school that he or she may 'fall apart' at home and their behaviour may be hard for other family members.

  • Feeling tired after school is often a problem, and facing up to homework at the end of the day can be very stressful for someone who has already had a stressful day.
  • It may be possible to negotiate with teachers to reduce the amount of homework or extend tasks over a longer time.

A school counsellor can help to work out ways for dealing with problems, which might include a place to work alone if things get too hard sometimes.

Adult life

People with Asperger syndrome can form strong bonds with a few friends, marry and have children.

  • Their anxieties and difficulties with the subtleties of relationships can be confusing and upsetting to partners and their children.
  • If partners and children are able to learn more about Asperger syndrome, they are often more able to understand the behaviour and live more comfortably with the person who has Asperger syndrome.
  • People with Asperger syndrome also need to understand relationships better and learn more about how their behaviour and emotions can affect others.
  • Many people with Asperger Syndrome need a lot of time alone. They usually are 'loners' rather than lonely. They often find times that they spend with groups of other people exhausting. When they and other people can accept that a brief appearance at a party is the best they can enjoy, criticism of their 'loner' behaviour may be less.

Reading Tony Attwood's book on Asperger syndrome can be a useful start for this.

  • Peer support groups can also be helpful for partners and children. Check on the internet to see if there are support groups in your area.

Problems for brothers and sisters

It can be difficult if you have a brother or sister with Asperger syndrome.

  • Their behaviour can be difficult to live with because they don't relate to others well.
  • They may have frequent tantrums when things don't go their way, and this can be embarrassing to you, especially if your friends are around.
  • Parents often have to spend a lot more time with the child who has Asperger syndrome, so that you can feel you are missing out.
  • You may have to watch out more for your brother or sister to protect them from others, such as protecting them from being bullied.

Understanding more about Asperger syndrome may help you interact more successfully with your brother or sister. The links in the topic Disability - living with someone who has a disabilty may also be helpful.

The books by Tony Attwood and Kate Strohm listed below may also be useful.


To find out more about Asperger syndrome have a look at:

Raising Children Network 

Better Health Channel (Victorian Government)

Autism SA (South Australia)


More to read

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (USA) 'Autism Spectrum Disorders'

Strohm K, 'Siblings: brothers and sisters of children with special needs', Wakefield Press 2012. 

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor or other health professional.
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