Are You an Adult with Asperger Syndrome (High Functioning Autism?)

How to Find Out Whether You're Autistic

Adult Aspergers
Peter Glass Collection/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Officially, as of May 2013 and the publication of new diagnostic criteria, Asperger syndrome no longer exists.  It's just part of the autism spectrum.  But most people  have ignored the change in criteria, mostly because the term Asperger syndrome has come to be so useful to so many people.  So what is—or was—Asperger syndrome?

What Does Asperger Syndrome (High Functioning Autism) Look Like?

 Asperger syndrome (AS) was the label for a pervasive developmental disorder at the highest end of the autism spectrum.  People with AS diagnoses develop language normally, but often have difficulty with social interactions, fine and gross motor coordination, and eye contact. They may be extremely passionate about just one or two topics, with little patience for small talk. They are almost certain to struggle with such challenges as changes in routine or schedule, managing conflict, and facing the sensory overload presented by malls and grocery stores.

Adults with AS may appear painfully shy or they may be extremely outgoing, sometimes to the point of being "in your face." That's because people with AS often misinterpret social interaction. Questions they may ask themselves might include: How far away do I stand from another person? How long can I talk about my favorite subject? What's the right answer to "how are you?" Will my behavior be interpreted as friendly interest or stalking?

If these are the types of questions that puzzle you on a regular basis, you may already have considered the possibility that you have AS. And "if you think you have Asperger syndrome, you probably do," says Michael John Carley, Executive Director of Global and Regional Partnership for Asperger Syndrome (GRASP).

I Think I DO Have Asperger Syndrome—What Do I Do Now?

AS is in no way life or health-threatening, and while there are therapies available to alleviate symptoms and build new skills, there is no treatment which will cure it. That means you are under no obligation to seek a professional diagnosis or to act on a diagnosis once you have it. There are, however, good reasons to consider seeking a diagnosis, particularly if you feel that Asperger syndrome may be causing problems or distress. Just a few such reasons include:

  • Finding help with specific issues that trouble you;
  • Receiving accommodations at work or in the community;
  • Becoming eligible (in some cases) for Social Security or other benefits;
  • Better understanding why and how certain challenges arise and how to address those challenges;
  • Discovering a community of others with similar issues (and some solutions.

If you do decide to seek a diagnosis, Carley recommends seeking out individual therapists, neurologists, and autism centers that are familiar with tests for AS. The most critical point is that you choose a therapist, neurologist, or center with significant experience in diagnosing adults with AS.

Appropriate diagnosis will involve a variety of tests that focus on intelligence, "adaptive" social and communication skills, and personal developmental history. An experienced professional can help distinguish between true Autism Spectrum Disorder and other disorders which have some of the same or similar symptoms (social phobias, anxiety, etc.).

Bear in mind, however, that a person being diagnosed with AS today will receive an official diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder with certain modifiers to describe your specific symptoms. Your doctor may actually tell you you have Asperger Syndrome, you may choose to describe yourself as having AS, and most people will know what you mean, but "Asperger Syndrome" is no longer a medically accepted term.

I Have a Diagnosis. Now What?

Again, the decision is yours. The information may simply be interesting to you alone, and you may choose to keep it that way. Knowing that you have AS can help you plan for and manage potentially difficult settings or situations, and behavioral therapy geared to helping you build social/communications skills may be helpful. If your medical practitioner feels that you have other, related disorders (such as anxiety, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder), medication may be appropriate. Carley also recommends seeking out books and websites about life as an adult with Asperger syndrome.

On the other hand, you may choose to share your AS diagnosis with friends and family. If you grew up with undiagnosed AS, your unusual social interactions may have created friction and even bad feelings. By sharing your diagnosis, you may open the door to better understanding and closer relationships.

Are There Others Out There Like Me?

Absolutely! GRASP is only one of several large organizations dedicated to supporting teens and adults with AS. Others include the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, Asperger Foundation International, Wrong Planet and more. The purpose of these organizations is to provide adults with AS with support, social contacts, resources, treatment, and a sense of community. If you're interesting in learning more about these groups, click around the sites, join in the forums, and, if you can, attend a local group meeting.


Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
  • Sources:
  • Asperger's Syndrome Fact Sheet, National Institutes of Neurological Disorders. Prepared by: Office of Communications and Public Liaison National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke National Institutes of Health. Web. 2017.
  • Interview with Michael John Carley, Executive Director of the Global and Regional Asperger Syndrome Partnership. April 2007.