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Signs a Friend May Have Asperger's, Say Experts

According to experts, here's how to tell if someone has Asperger’s.

Asperger's Syndrome is a developmental disorder that affects 1 in 54 children according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2013, Asperger's became identified as an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and earlier this year, Tesla founder Elon Musk revealed he has Asperger's Syndrome when he hosted Saturday Night Live back in May. "I don't always have a lot of intonation or variation in how I speak … which I'm told makes for great comedy. I'm actually making history tonight as the first person with Asperger's to host SNL … So, I won't make a lot of eye contact with the cast tonight. But don't worry, I'm pretty good at running 'human' in emulation mode." Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with medical experts who explained the signs of Asperger's and other important information about the disorder. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Signs of Asperger's

Man is yawning getting bored listening to excited woman talking while sitting on couch at home.

Dr. Santoshi Billakota, MD, an Adult Neurologist Epileptologist and Clinical Assistant Professor within the Department of Neurology at NYU Grossman School of Medicine explains, "Asperger's is a disorder affecting the ability to communicate and socialize. Most people with Asperger's have normal intelligence, they just have some issues with emotional regulation and communication. 

Signs Include:

  • Lack of eye contact
  • Showing limited emotions (speaking in a flat manner)
  • Repetitive behaviors
  • Perseveration on a single topic
  • People with Asperger's are also awkward in social situations and have trouble with social cues. 
  • Hypersensitive to sensory stimuli
  • Difficulty with changes in routine 
  • Challenges with empathy
  • Self stimulatory behaviors—including inappropriate giggling/laughing/talking to one's self

Dr. Sam Zand, chief medical officer at Better U adds:

  • "Social awareness may not be their strength. The hallmark of Asperger's is that they are usually consumed by their inward thinking. This may cause them to lack awareness of others perspectives, feelings, and intentions. 
  • They excel in a very specific activity. Because of their propensity to hyper focus, many with Asperger's develop specialized skills that have been obsessively developed over time. This ability can be commonly harnessed as a strength.
  • Routine is important to them. A desire for certainty is very normal for Asperger's cases. Uncertainty brings anxiety and fear that can present as anger. Sticking to a structured routine can help curb this anxiety.
  • They may be excessively irritable. Because of the heightened state of inner focus, external triggers may disrupt their thought patterns and cause an exaggerated response. Bright lights, loud noises, or mild confrontation may elicit emotional reactivity.
  • They have very rigid thinking. What we're learning more about the brain is that our routine behaviors, thoughts, and feelings, become strengthened into our neurocircuitry. This leads to rigid thought patterns and an uphill battle when trying to see things from a new perspective."

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Risk Factors

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Dr. Billakota says, "There is not one single cause of Asperger's Syndrome, but it is multifactorial. We know the risk is higher for males, who are born to older parents and have a family history of autism. In some, it can co-occur with other genetic disorders such as Fragile X syndrome or Rett Syndrome."

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Female psychologist testing young girl with Asperger's syndrome symptoms

Dr. Billakota explains, "Diagnosis is usually made in childhood by a pediatrician or a developmental neurologist. However a psychiatrist, psychologist or a neurologist can also make the diagnosis later on in life. Treatment is based on a team approach. Generally, speech therapy and social skills therapy is recommended. Oftentimes cognitive behavioral therapy is also utilized. On occasion medications such as anti-depressants and stimulants are used for mood regulation."

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Mother and her autistic son sitting on the sofa

"Symptoms start early in life," Dr. Billakota says. "A parent might notice that their child cannot make eye contact or is awkward/doesn't speak in social situations or at home. They might miss social cues. The child might show few emotions and speak in a flat manner. They might also perseverate over a common behavior and engage in stereotyped behaviors. They dislike change and like to have a routine."

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woman Doctor in green uniform wear eyeglasses and surgical mask talking, consulting and giving advice to Elderly female patient at the hospital

According to Dr. Zand, "Asperger's has been a difficult to understand and treat syndrome for decades. Modern science has taught us more about the brain and how we perceive mental health. If we perceive Asperger's as a syndrome associated with rigid neural pathways, we better understand ways to treat it. Traditionally, we utilize social skills training and cognitive behavioral therapy to help improve flexible thought patterns. 

Recently, there have been many studies linking the medication ketamine to improved thought patterns and behaviors in Asperger's patients. Ketamine has been shown to decrease negative thought loops and improve neuroplasticity, the brain's ability to create new neural pathways.

Ketamine therapy has shown great promise for Asperger's syndrome to help break free from negative thought patterns, reboot the brain, and create more psychological flexibility. If treated with the proper clinical team, Asperger's patients may be able to maintain the strengths of hyper-focus while improving the associated weaknesses  of rigid thinking and social disconnect." And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather