When I was diagnosed after my testing, my neuropsychologist said I had textbook Asperger’s. She pointed out the following traits as examples.
- Extreme social awkwardness. I take things literally & at face value unless I consciously focus on observing for signs of subtext. For example, yesterday my dog’s vet asked if my blue hair was natural. Without thinking I responded no, but my dark roots were… of course, 1 nanosecond later I realized he HAD to have been joking- cue the wave of embarrassment!! I avoid unstructured social situations whenever possible and have serious difficulty making friends or relating to people in person. I do not spontaneously share my interests with my coworkers and prefer to be left alone to my own devices as much as possible while working. I also sometimes have trouble with auditory processing and hear English sentences as mere sounds; movies are best watched with subtitles for this reason.
- A love of knowledge, facts, lists (hehe), & objective data. I’ve collected binders of information since I was a child, and I recall once spending my hard-earned class points on an enormous complete, unabridged English dictionary in 3rd grade. I would read encyclopedias and product labels for fun, especially when my parents grounded me from reading books as punishment for my frequent rebellion.
- Narrow, obsessive interests. For me this is genetics, animals and their behavior/psychology, human sexuality, speed & efficiency/time management, and matters of social justice. If I contract a disease or medical condition, I pore over all of the credible information I can possibly find on it. And before I purchased one of my first house bunnies, a mini lop named Pixie, I read 7 or 8 books and a plethora of websites on raising house rabbits to ensure I could give her the best life possible. I can also spend several hours on a single task I find interesting without a break; some Aspies are known to get so highly absorbed in their projects they need to be reminded to eat!
- Enjoyment of routine. I take the exact same route to and from work, and clock in/out at the exact same time. (If traffic delays me a minute or two, I feel far more stressed than is logical.) I also plan ahead my workday and break up time into chunks assigned to completing certain tasks. If my time allotment is intruded upon by a chatty stranger, I have to stifle very strong feelings of anger and annoyance.
- Penchant for self-soothing, repetitive behavior. This one’s one of weirdest quirks, but I have satin-lined baby blankets from my childhood that I physically manipulate to calm myself down. This could include scratching the satin, tying knots in its strings and rubbing them against my fingers or upper lip, or spraying it with good smells and covering my face with it. I also jiggle my right foot constantly and have mild restless legs syndrome at night.
- Over-sensitivity . If someone suddenly yells loudly right behind me, as is wont to happen at a pep rally for example, it literally feels like someone jabbed a needle of sound into my eardrum. It HURTS, and I have to suppress a disturbingly violent urge to retaliate to the perceived attack. On some days when I feel especially drained, voices are so stimulating and exhausting to process that even the sound of fiancé’s voice irks me. (To prevent damaging our relationship, I warn him to leave me alone in advance when I start feeling like this. Zoloft helps somewhat.)
- Sensory cross-wiring. Some ASD people experience forms of synesthesia, so they might read numbers as colors, “see” music, or have words provoke entirely unrelated mental images. I have a mild degree of this. I enjoy repeating certain words I read outloud quietly to myself because I can almost “taste” them and like the way they feel in my mouth. In childhood, a friend once caught me softly repeating the word “cake” and when I couldn’t explain myself I felt very embarrassed. I also involuntarily associate certain words with images completely unrelated to their meaning. I theorize this is due to the fact that autistic brains have more neural connections (and often in inappropriate places) than neurotypical folks.
- Generalized lack of coordination & strange posture/gaits. I have very little proprioception, so I have a hard time telling where my body is in 3D space. Learning dance moves is extremely hard, which is a shame because I find dancing beautiful and a great stress outlet. My fiancé has had a difficult time teaching me correct postural form at the gym too. I also speed-walk everywhere I go while keeping my eyes tunnel-visioned directly towards my goal, a mannerism I know baffles my coworkers. (The doctors sure do appreciate my speed, though!)
- Extreme stubbornness and insistence on routine. I’m not comfortable eating in public, and I employ various rituals at meals to ensure a maximally satisfying culinary experience. I can be illogically inflexible sometimes since control and routine make me feel safe, but since I am lower on the spectrum, I am self-aware of this and can consciously work to combat it after the initial rush of “NO!!” feelings subside. I am also very, very strong-willed and persistent once I decide something is worth my time, with an obsessive, single-minded focus on my goal.
EDIT: I’ve thought of a few more stereotypical personality traits, although not all of them apply to every aspie of course :]
- Indifference toward authority. My teachers both loved and hated me since I was simultaneously studious and subversive. I relished correcting errors with (cringeworthy) characteristic Aspie bluntness, fulfilled in the knowledge I was objectively improving the accuracy of our notes; the trifling detail of the speaker’s status was irrelevant to the pursuit of objective truth, obviously the greater issue at hand! If I judged the status quo deserving of correction, I used to boldly say so immediately no matter who my audience. (I did eventually learn to discern when self-preservation mandated holding my tongue.) My authoritarian father frequently grounded me from reading and electronics for “insolence” and “disrespect,” so I dabbled in light hacking to disable his imposed time-limiting/monitoring software. I developed a strong rebellious streak, especially against perceived tyranny or abuse of power, which leads me to →
- A strong sense of justice, penchant for honesty, and unwavering loyalty. I’ve stood up for the “underdog” since the first day of kindergarten recess and am easily incensed by needless pain at the hands of others. After multiple liberal arts and social justice classes in college, I became passionately socially liberal, at odds with my Fundamentalist Christian family (but what else is new?)! The way this Aspie sees it, I could have just as easily have been born in anyone else’s place on this planet, so doesn’t it just make sense to at least attempt to understand others whilst advocating for their fair treatment as much as my own? I abhor the “might makes right” mentality as particularly odious and have even gone so far as to remove such subscribers from my life if possible. (I’m sure you can estimate my level of antipathy for such brash, bullying types as Trump!)
- Tendency for anxiety. I have social phobia during most face-to-face interactions with anyone not in my inner circle. (I will say Zoloft makes it noticeably easier to cope, but I still do not seek new interactions out often.) And due to the aforementioned hyper-sensitivities combined with this social anxiety, many Aspies live their public lives perpetually uncomfortable due to the combination of unpleasant stimuli, interpersonal fears, and the expectation to “act normal.” Unfortunately, this can influence some people on the spectrum to “snap” at others or develop a reputation for getting easily frustrated; I was particularly notorious for this during childhood, but learned coping skills with age and education.
- A deep love for animals. From my earliest memory, I have held an intense fascination with our fellow multicellular lifeforms. I became known as the “animal expert” among classmates, and even today randomly resort to reciting zoological facts during conversational lulls. It’s been suggested Aspies prefer the company of animals because they are easier to understand, and it’s certainly possible. There are few things more fulfilling in my life than understanding an animal’s mind, bringing it joy, and witnessing the manifestation of their reciprocated love in their native “language!”
- Constant mental preoccupation and over-analysis of recent ideas and actions . My thoughts are numerous, abstract, and lightening-quick since they don’t have to be in words/“spoken internally” as some NTs prefer, so while I am verbally consulting a coworker I may also be flipping between actively monitoring my body language/expressions to ensure they fall within the expected range, extracting lessons from a previously committed faux pas, and listening to a song on repeat in the “background”, so to speak. As such I am often told I tend to “live in my head,” and it’s true the majority of my energy is directed internally. Being 100% present in the physical world takes willful effort, although I now know when it’s most appropriate to try hardest. For me, this preoccupation arises from a compulsive desire to understand as much about my interests as possible— ranging all the way from myopic details to the broader perspective— so I am constantly chewing on some interesting idea or another and analyzing it from new angles. I have heard it said many Aspies demonstrate advanced mental maturity despite relative emotional immaturity, and this habit seems a possible contributor.
Of course, people with Asperger’s technically fall along the Autism Spectrum*, so the degree with which ASD people exhibit these symptoms is highly varied! Many have learned coping mechanisms with age as well that mask or alleviate the severity of their internal discomfort, such that some people can’t even tell they’re on the spectrum.
Neurotypicals may also experience a sprinkling of these personality traits without necessarily qualifying for spectrum placement. I believe it is the intensity with which you express the aforementioned qualities that is most definitive, and I recommend consulting a licensed professional neuropsychologist for testing and possible diagnosis if you think you may qualify.
*Please note the original difference between Asperger’s and Autism was that Autism is associated with language delay and potential mental retardation while high functioning Asperger’s usually isn’t. Quite the opposite; many Aspies are recognized as “gifted/talented” in school and tend to (although not always) score highly on IQ & standardized tests. A large percentage of Aspies are verbosely loquacious while others such as myself voracious readers, and unlike those with severe Autism, the basic desire for human connection remains despite a considerable handicap in expressing it.