A Mind-Body Look at the Concept of Asperger's Syndrome

Michael Samsel, LMHC

In medicine or psychology, the term 'syndrome' is used to describe a collection of recognizable features that often occur together, where the nature of their relationship is unproven and not defined. Asperger's Syndrome (or just Asperger's) refers to such a collection of specific interpersonal traits that in turn cause a recognizable pattern of difficulty in relationships. It is by no means the only pattern of difficulty in relationships, but it is a distinctive one. Later I describe very specifically many defining traits and behaviors, but first I want to, one, briefly place the syndrome in the larger context of human functioning, and two, introduce some relevant fundamental concepts of communication and social relations. (If the reader is less familiar with the pattern, or knowledgeable but curious how I define it, he or she may jump to the second half first, and read the traits in bold.) The descriptions of traits include or imply to some extent ways to lessen the conflict they cause. But it is at the end of the article that I describe what I believe is a way to remedy some of the underlying dynamics.

Asperger's Syndrome is a pattern particularly of interest because, 1) In contrast with most socially difficult behavior, the base traits seem not to have the function of protecting the ego, 2) the traits appear very early in life, 3) the traits seem fairly discontinuous with average social behaviors, that is, they seem more than just 'towards one end of the scale,' 4) the traits are fairly provocative to the sensibilities of others, though never intended to be provocation, 5) the traits exist alongside obvious goodwill and intensely expressed pro-social ideals, 6) the traits usually exist alongside excellent abilities otherwise, 7) the traits have proven difficult to change even when the problem is recognized and intentions to change it are strong, and 8) the traits seem to have a compounding effect, in which the social difficulties caused by the base traits lead to compounding secondary maladaptive attempts at compensation.

Asperger's Syndrome is sometimes referred to as 'high functioning autism,' but I consider that somewhat misleading for the present discussion. Though the prevalence of autism is hotly debated these days, autism is by any rate a fairly rare situation, even if the prevalence is rising somewhat. The strictest definitions of Asperger's Syndrome clearly are intended to link Asperger's to autism, and will describe a small group, about one person in 250, with a very strong preponderance of males. However, popularly, the criteria for Asperger's Syndrome have been loosened somewhat, because to do so has seemed to be immensely beneficial in understanding the social experience and situation of a larger group of people, still with a large preponderance of males. Under these expanded criteria, the term Asperger's Syndrome reflects a rather larger group, perhaps two to three percent of the population. It is this loosened, 'lay-person's' definition that is used in this article. In this article, no effort is made to tie Asperger's Syndrome to classic autism. It is my view that a few similarities notwithstanding, there are more differences than commonalities. Moreover, life-improvement strategies for classic autism, (based on behavioral conditioning) are of no use, or even inappropriate with Asperger's Syndrome.

Hans Asperger was a German pediatrician who in 1944 described four children he had seen in his practice who had difficulty in integrating themselves socially. The children lacked non-verbal communication skills, failed to demonstrate empathy with their peers, and were physically clumsy. Asperger wrote very precise descriptions but not 'diagnostic criteria' Perhaps this was because he knew recognition of anything human always has a 'feel' to it and cannot be made mechanical. Later, a Dr Gillberg put down Asperger's formulation in criteria form, because that is what the present medical world demands. Gillberg's criteria (perhaps, as suggested above, slightly loosened in practice) are what underpin the lay definition of Asperger's Syndrome. They are presented below to give a reference point. I will just briefly point out, that the term 'inappropriate' is relied upon heavily. Dr Gillberg takes it for granted that the user of his criteria knows 'what' is 'proper.' It has been my intention in the rest of this article to define social norms and social expectations very specifically, describing how they fit into the context of human attachment and enjoyment, and avoiding reference to the concept of 'propriety'.


Gillberg's Criteria For Asperger's Syndrome

Severe impairment in reciprocal social interaction (at least two of the following)

All-absorbing narrow interest (at least one of the following)

Imposition of routines and interests (at least one of the following)

Speech and language problems (at least three of the following)

Non-verbal communication problems (at least one of the following)

Motor clumsiness: poor performance on neurodevelopmental examination

It is clear to me that the concept of Asperger's Syndrome is the outsider point-of-view. That is, it is the point-of-view of men and women who do not have this syndrome (collection of traits.) I say this not to contest the accuracy of the descriptions, or the implication that these traits represent a problem in living. Rather I say it to set the stage for a rapprochement between the 'inside' and 'outside' points of view. I have struggled with these traits from the inside personally, and from the outside as a therapist. I view the situation as changeable but not on a casual basis. I am not attempting to present a comprehensive inside point of view either, that would be lengthy, less concrete, and likely to lose the interest of 'outsiders.'

From a mind-body point-of-view, it is essential to recognize the physical clumsiness that accompanies the social effects of this syndrome. The balance, fine motor, and coordination difficulties are not co-incidental. This was an essential component of Dr. Asperger's formulation, and as one can see from the list above, Dr Gillberg has retained it. The American Psychiatric Association, (in DSM-TR IV) has dropped it, not because data and observation don't support it, but rather because from that organization's above-the-neck point of view, the relevance is not appreciable.

It is my opinion, that all the observed features of Asperger's Syndrome derive, at bottom, from having distinctly less access than average to one's sensation, feelings, emotions, and desires. This dominates the psychology of the person, of course, but at base it is a neuro-muscular situation. The neurological contribution is generally recognized by mainstream investigators, but the muscular aspect much less so. The body that carries Asperger's Syndrome usually has a great many tight muscular spasticities, and opposing great muscular laxities, especially in the small muscles around the joints, and in the face. Males, having greater muscle mass, exhibit these effects more strongly. Male and female brain differences (essentially testosterone-bathed and non-testosterone-bathed brain differences) are being sorted out at this time, but the brain, as always, is both the map and the territory. By the way, upset, agitation, unease, shame and anxiety, while they are motivations for action at times, are not feelings and desires in the sense meant above.

As mentioned above, I will first discuss some ideas about communication, social norms, empathy, mental processing, and behavioral rigidity, where the difficulties are said to lie. Then I will discuss many 'real-life' traits that flesh out the picture, but not to aid labeling, but to place these traits in a context of goodwill and striving for good relationships.

On the internet and in the literature, men and women who demonstrate Asperger traits are often called 'aspies' (abbreviated 'AS') and men and women without these traits (outsiders) are called 'neuro-typicals' (abbreviated as 'NT'). I have had reservations about adopting these terms, labeling having the drawbacks that it does. However, it has become clear that, especially in giving examples of the traits in question, clarity is greatly improved, and so from this point on, I do sometimes use those terms.

Relevant Aspects of Communication

Communication is often said to consist of two parts or channels, verbal (word-choice) and non-verbal (body language). I believe this is incomplete. Body language, just like word-choice, can be ambiguous, and needs something else to place its 'register.' Sometimes that something else is word-choice, but not uncommonly body-language and word-choice together are still ambiguous, and understanding requires a third channel. That third channel is direct sensing, of both the feeling of others, and one's own feelings. Now it may quickly be countered that what seems to be direct sensing is just subliminal perception of body-language. But if this is the case, why is body-language never clear with Asperger's Syndrome, even when Asperger's is known to provide a giftedness in noticing detail? Now direct sensing will be very general, but it seems to 'turn on' the perception of many nuances in body language and word choice.

Moreover, communication conveys two distinctly different types of things, feeling and information. Feeling can be 'informationalized', and while something is thereby gained, something is also lost. Communication varies in the relative proportions of feeling and information. Small-talk is mostly feeling and little information; a phone directory is all information and no feeling. Informational exchange depends more on word choice. Feeling exchange depends more on body language and direct-sensing. Word choice can be wrangled to convey more feeling. This is called poetry. Written poetry is notoriously ambiguous however, because direct sensing and body language are not available. For this reason, live poetry readings are popular (at least among poetry lovers.)

Another important distinction of communication is between three things, 1) the literal, 2) a code and 3) symbolism. For instance, everyone living far enough away from the equator knows what an actual. snowball is. This is the literal, and there is almost never a misunderstanding. If I have a project going on that I want to disguise, I might call it 'Operation Snowball.' and that is a code. Again real codes are unknown to most people, but when known, they rarely provide room for misunderstanding. But if I am getting overwhelmed at my job, I might say, “My workload is snowballing” This is symbolism. The literal and a code are mostly just information, but symbolism depends on feeling. That is, it is the manner in which a snowball becomes larger when rolled which makes the symbolism compelling. This depends on feeling. Now a symbolic phrase like that is often common enough that it has become a cliche, that is, a symbol has become a code. But usually symbolism varies subtly from situation to situation, and is not a true code. That is, the meaning actually changes slightly, and to accurately discern the meaning a contextual 'key' is needed.

In body language, it is more the manner of movement than exact positioning of any body part. American Sign Language is a code using the body, wherein the manner of movement is not strictly required, just the final position. In body-language the opposite is the case. For instance, waving the arm over the head can mean <Hello> or <This is the Spot> or <Help me I'm drowning!> What is relevant is whether the arm movement was made in an easy, matter-of-fact, or frantic manner. Manner is basically a felt thing, even if, in its extremes, it can become an observable thing. (Of course, in practice, sign language blends the code with body language, and many signs derive from body language.)

Another important distinction within the realm of word choice is between denotation and connotation. Denotation is about information, connotation about feeling and nuance . There are some words for instance , that are considered formal or archaic, and are not used in most situations (by neuro-typicals), even though the denotation would be spot on, because they would feel wrong in the context. However, standard dictionaries only handle denotation because connotation varies slightly from person-to-person and place to place.

Finally, few words are meant to be the final words on anything. When excited, or in casual contexts people often say one thing and then quickly modify it, take it back, contradict themselves, change their minds, change their positions, use impressionistic speech, or use ironic speech. Words are used like a paintbrush where different strokes overlap, blend, or cover previous strokes, this in the service of building up an image or picture. This works by affecting the listener. That is, it is an affective or emotional process, not an informational one. It is quite an inexact process, but considered quite legitimate, at least among neuro-typicals. It has nothing to do with dishonesty.

Relevant Aspects of Social Norms

Social norms are informal limits on behavior that help the group feel comfortable and relaxed. Violating a social norm may not constitute a violation of another's rights, but it is disturbing. While there may at times be good reason to violate a social norm, frequent accidental violation of social norms is clearly in no one's interest.

However, social norms are far from fixed, even in the same social group. That is, they are very context-specific. For instance hugging a stranger in English class violates a social norm, but hugging may in fact be the norm with the same stranger when a late campfire at the beach is breaking up. The difference is how people feel in those situations generally. Of course what a person feels specifically in a situation is a bottom line on appropriateness, but someone following a social norm is 'given a pass' even when the specific gesture is unwanted, if in the situation generally it would be wanted. In that way, social norms are sometimes considered 'safe havens,' but they cannot be mechanically applied. When a behavior is both violating a social norm and unwanted, and the doer is of an age to 'know better', bad motives are attributed to that person.

Also, social dominance affects the application of social norms, as higher dominance individuals are allowed more liberties. But dominance is another felt, nebulous thing. Moreover, there is a social norm (at least in the United States) that dominance should not be talked about explicitly, which compounds the mystery for the aspie.

The Issue of Empathy

Empathy means many things including goodwill and concern for others. Goodwill and good intentions are rarely in doubt with Asperger's Syndrome. Vigilance and striving for the well-being of others is usually very strong, not only naturally, but also in compensation for the difficulties that will be discussed below.

However, empathy also means synchronizing one's feelings to another's or directly knowing the feelings of the other. It is well understood that empathy varies greatly from person to person. Women in general will have more empathy than men in general. Remember, empathy in this sense is not good-will or pro-social beliefs, it is an automatic propensity toward the entrainment of one's own feelings with the feelings of another.

Variability between persons in empathy can be partly explained by defining two elements: 1) feeling or knowing the feelings of another, and 2) the tendency to have one's own feelings and impulses changed towards concern and helping because of this. Knowing how to comfort others flows naturally out of the latter. Even if the first part is strongly present, the second part can vary considerably, from a tendency to help the other, to indifference, to perhaps the tendency to exploit the other (this is the way of a psychopath). Of course, if the first part is not present, the second part is irrelevant, and functionally, if not absolutely, this is the case in Asperger's Syndrome. Yes, there is perhaps 'cognitive empathy' based on experience and understanding, but this only comes into play when people obviously need help, and is too slow for most relationship matters.


Systematizing is defining the relationships between things by their differences, their similarities, and how they interact. Consistency is assumed. The taxonomy of all species in nature is an example of a system, understanding the battles of the civil war is also a system. But also how one is usually promoted in a particular company (relationship of actions to promotion) or cooking an omelet is also a system.

But humans are related not so much by differences and similarities, but by bonding, attachment, desire, personal history, and mood. None of this is consistent. How people will interact cannot be truly systematized (the system of psychology notwithstanding!) because it is not predictable. It cannot be set to rules, it can only be 'felt along the way'. Human life is an 'open' system, meaning no amount of observations can lead to rules that fully predict the future. Among other reasons, such rules themselves will influence the social situation, thereby invalidating themselves. This is the dilemma of anyone who tries to navigate social situations strictly by rules, their own or anyone else's.

Empathizing is somewhat inversely related to systematizing because they are not just different ways of thinking but different ways of perceiving. With empathy, one is 'inside' what is happening. Systematizing is taking a position 'outside' what is happening in order to observe. A preoccupation with systems can be an asset except in personal relationships. There it seems cold and off-putting. To systematize one's own relationship is to detach oneself from it. Clarity is gained, empathy is lost.

Interest in systems seems to be in two types: 1) Active--entering and participating in a system to influence what happens (ie join a fantasy baseball league, run for office). This will have a competitive feel and is a basis for relating to others. 2) Understanding-- more passively, staying outside the system, and just learning everything about a system (knowing the middle names of all US Vice Presidents). The average male brain may not be more capable than the female brain in systematizing, but it is certainly more inclined to. Women of course participate and master systems in the first (active) sense because that is where the power and rewards of our culture are distributed. Everyday observation (and research) will confirm that women, in general, are much less inclined to systematize for the sake of systematizing. Most individuals with Asperger's are male, very probably because lower feeling and impulse exposes the systematizing tendency.

But systematizing is not just a hobby to an aspie. It is how life and happiness is pursued. Because systematizing is built from information, information becomes paramount.

In the 'lay' literature, there are reports of an 'aspie' aggressively trying to get others to do what he or she wants.' However, this is not competitive in the sense of entering a system to participate, but rather, controlling, in the sense of trying to control a system from the outside. It is likely a secondary effect born of frustration at not having the influence that seems rightful in a relationship.

Synchrony versus Reciprocity

Synchrony is a prompt and relevant response by others to what we do and say. Reciprocity is a balance between give and take over the course of the relationship. Most people actually try to give somewhat more than they take, that is also part of reciprocity. For adults, attention comes through both synchrony and reciprocity. To illustrate the difference, it might be useful to describe an experimental study on attachment between infants and mothers.

Mothers and babies were placed in separate rooms but both facing large screens with real-time video feeds of the other. When the mothers responded to what the babies were doing, the babies were delighted, and when the mothers were flat and unresponsive, the babies were upset, both cases just as in face-to-face situations. But here is the point--when 2 minutes of the mother being adoring and responsive were played back on video, the infants were extremely upset! The mother was giving plenty of positive attention (more than adequate reciprocity), but it wasn't synchronous.

In a conversation, an aspie with be concerned with quality and solidness of response as a way of ensuring they provide half, if not more of the contributions in the relationship. To attend to this concern, he or she often does two things: One, they often don't answer right away, maybe not for minutes, maybe not for days. Two, when they are ready to respond, it may be a different conversation or different day, but he or she may just drop it in out of context. Besides the minor confusing-ness of this, the real problem is that this breaks the synchrony. But it is intended to enhance reciprocity.

Aspies understand reciprocity, but not synchrony. When neuro-typicals ask for attention the aspie usually gives it in an asynchronous or non-interactive manner. For instance, when 'accused' of being uncaring by a partner, the aspie may silently resolve to complete a difficult chore the next day to benefit the neuro-typical. If the neuro-typical was basically checking attachment, he or she will generally be unsatisfied and ask for more attention. The aspie may then feel unappreciated and exploited because they are contributing perhaps well more than half in terms of effort. Most neuro-typicals desire synchrony more than reciprocity, at least face-to-face. This is why cocktail parties are popular--nothing much is exchanged except synchrony, which can become the basis to start a relationship. Charming moochers often get away with no reciprocity for quite sometime because they offer synchrony on demand.

Explicit versus Implicit Mental Processing

Cognition has two very different areas, the conscious or explicit, and the unconscious or implicit. A great deal of research is going into this area now, but it has always been recognized in folk wisdom. Explicit processing is slower, but has the advantage of including all relevant data, more precision, and avoiding contradiction. Implicit processing is faster but may rely on partial data, be vague on details, and be contradictory. Importantly, implicit processing has better access to sensory memory. All people have both types, and they can complement each other well. But here's the rub--implicit processing makes itself known to the mind of the person via feeling! That is why people at times say, “I just have a feeling about this.” or “my gut tells me.” Implicit processing is sometimes called 'body-processing.' Of course illogical or biased explicit cognitive processing can masquerade as implicit processing-- it is not fail-safe. For scientific study or careful analysis, implicit processing may get in the way, or bring a certain laziness to the process. However for personal matters, it is enriching, and, can provide much quicker and better answers.

Rigidity, A Misplaced Confidence in Consistency

How we feel affects what we believe at the moment. Because feelings change throughout the day, so does one's point of view, not permanently, but in a line with the state, and then often back again. Some people recognize this in themselves easily, and some people to a much lesser extent. However, when emotion varies very little, consistency can become a false marker of sincerity and truth. The trap of mental consistency is the belief that there is one correct position based on adequate information and reflection. Enjoyment requires some variety, but variety has no place in the concept of correctness.

The belief that 'what is right to do' is based on information, drives people with Asperger's Syndrome to think very long and hard about things. This produces many deep thoughtful positions, but they tend to be applied dogmatically. Others disagree, and assert their right to disagree, but the aspie, usually accurately, concludes that he or she has thought the most about a position, and then inaccurately concludes that they must be closest to the truth.

For an aspie, it is taken as a point of personal principle not to yield. To others this rigidity is viewed as a not-so-nice determination to win at all costs, but it is usually not so nefarious. After all, most people are driven to compromise not by any demonstrable proof that the offered compromise is the best way, but rather are driven by the desire “to just get on with it, the matter is too small to spend any more time wrangling.” But an aspie may really feel that his or her personal integrity is at stake. After all, if one cannot decide what is correct and then pursue it consistently, how is one to live? The answer of course, is that one feels one's way along in life, with help from the brain to keep it realistic. This is the ultimate resolution for Asperger's Syndrome.


Physical awkwardness is a sensitive topic. It is considered rude or even cruel to bring attention to it. Those who have borne or still bear physical awkwardness (the author is one) often feel shame when evidence of it arises. But as is well-known, self-consciousness intensifies clumsiness. Also effort intensifies clumsiness, especially effort not to be clumsy. Hurry brings on clumsiness in everyone. The common thread in all this is that full contraction of a muscle that ruins sensitivity, balance, and on-the-fly adjustments. Eventually, a mixture of chronically tight over-shortened and chronically lax over-lengthened muscles develops, accompanied by many misaligned joints. Though there may be a few rare disease states that produce clumsiness, overwhelmingly it is not genetic but either developmental, or later in life, ensues from disuse or auto-immune conditions.

Though the following statement may at first seem implausible, the reader is asked to observe the people around him for a time through this lens. Physical awkwardness is accompanied by social awkwardness, physical grace by social grace. This may not be fair but observation will show it to be true. Keep in mind that awkwardness can be disguised by avoidance, clever routines, and extensively rehearsing repetitious movements like dance steps or a golf-swing. It is spontaneous movement that is of interest here. Fidgeting is also usually seen with clumsiness because of the common root of muscle tension.. Muscle tension problems are not unique to Asperger's, but the overall pattern is a strong indication.

Clumsiness is very hard to change but not impossible. Some bodywork traditions aim at just that, and true studio Pilates is an excellent example that I recommend unreservedly.

To Summarize

In Asperger's Syndrome, several elements combine to interfere with connection and understanding: a tight musculature that renders the body a poor internal and external 'antenna,' an overvaluation of the role of information in well-being, low emotional context in which to place information, a strong drive to place information in a non-emotional context (over-systematizing), missing contextual clues in communication, low attunement, loss of synchrony, and an overvaluation of consistency. Perhaps secondary to this, a history of misunderstanding and being judged leads to bitterness and suspicion and hostility which causes further rifts which the aspie is at a loss to know how to repair. A vicious circle is maintained. This is not a morally culpable situation, but a biological and social one, that while it is persistent, can be altered.

Generally conflict arises because aspies expect neuro-typicals to do and interpret things the way they do, (and of course vice-versa.) This is a universal human tendency. There is no hypocrisy or double standard involved.

Asperger's is a Syndrome that gives rise to bitter conflict at times because 'what is missing' is missing in real-time interaction, but may be available for analysis. Every part of human interaction, including the feeling part can be 'informationalized' and given as feedback. With Asperger's Syndrome, the person can intellectually understand what other people are telling him or her is the 'problem', perhaps even refining and clarifying the concept! But this knowledge cannot be implemented 'on the fly' The fundamental deficit is not a deficit of understanding. Very few good communicators understand what they are doing, they just do it! In fact, trying to communicate entirely consciously would be a detriment

The aspie is often mistakenly accused of ill-will or insincerity because they can state the problem, but he or she ' doesn't do anything about it'! But the efforts to do something 'about it' are usually immense. The problem is that these efforts are usually along the lines of 'systematizing' the feedback, which creates a vicious circle. At some point, the aspie will come to view the intolerance of neuro-typicals as the problem, and there is some basis in this position. However, it is clear to me that there is immense benefit for the aspie in gaining capacity in feeling, desire, and emotional attunement.

Using intellect and explicit processing to manage social situations requires constant alertness and anxiety which is exhausting. It also interferes with prompt synchronous responses, which can give the false impression that there is no intention to respond.

Interpersonal Traits Placed in Context

Uncommunicative Eye Contact: In humans, eye contact is the center of the attachment system. In Asperger's Syndrome there is either an avoidance of eye contact (most common) or an unvarying, relative unblinking, staring, constant eye contact (less common). Avoidant eye contact gives an impression of 'having something to hide', and also eliminates a big channel of communication and trust. Staring eye contact, because of its unchanging nature, is also uncommunicative, and is generally experienced as disturbing on the receiving end.

Difficulty Using Body Language. This comes from lack of contact with the body, and lack of embodied emotion. Body language at best is spontaneous and unconscious. When it is consciously undertaken, it tends to be 'flung', hurried, exaggerated and stereotyped, more in line with a code like hand signals than a demonstration of feeling. Muscular spasticities also contribute, since the manner in which he or she moves is less under the person's control.

Difficulty Interpreting Body Language: While body-language often is simplistically considered a code, when most instances are broken down, very few clear consistent correspondences are found between meaning and static position. That is why books on body-language quickly draw interest but fail to satisfy. The truth is, most body language works by producing a feeling in the receiver's own body.

Not Recognizing 'Yellow Light' Conditions: For instance, if you bore me for five minutes at a party, I may listen politely and make small hints and gestures towards the end of that period that I want to do or talk about something else. If you miss this and continue to bore me for 30 minutes, I may erupt in anger and castigate you. To the aspie, this is dumbfounding: It seems I have suddenly changed on a dime because something I was polite about before suddenly I am not polite about. This is not only failing to understand the hints and non-verbal indications. It is lack of understanding tolerance. Many things are tolerated for a short time—loudness, disruptiveness, distractingness, bad jokes, etc.-- because of empathy. Aspies often mistake tolerance for acceptance or approval, because of the belief that something is either 'right' and not criticizable or 'wrong' and should not be permitted at all.

Mistaking Friendliness for Friendship Many people are sincerely friendly, even with, or especially with, people they do not know well. The depth of the feeling is not always proportional to the friendliness which is just an expression of general goodwill. Women especially will act solicitous toward a disruptive person because they take that person to be in distress. This solicitousness can be mistaken for approval of or request for more of the disruptive behavior. A spiral into trouble is easy to foresee.

Mistaking Friendliness for Sexual Interest. This is especially difficult for aspie men, who like men generally must make the first unambiguous 'move'. As mentioned in the paragraph above, a woman will tend to show interest in a man that is annoying, with an instinct to soothe. Likewise she will tend to show interest in a man she is sexually attracted to. Many an aspie man has been humiliated making a pass that was completely unwanted.

Only Honor Logically-Pure Rules: Some boundaries or standards are really felt things hard to quite pin down in words, and so when committed to rules, they are inconsistent or incompletely described. Implementing these rules requires understanding of what is really bothersome. Aspies tend to dismiss what is not clear or logical.

Discomfort When Being Served: With Asperger's, it is hard to know what is expected of one in a service situation, because what is expected is knowing what one wants, which is very hard with this Syndrome. Most social occasions involve being served, however, because emotional bonds develop when pleasure is shared.

Seems Insufficiently Moved Emotionally. Where empathy is at the forefront, communication is about impact. Where systematizing is at the forefront, communication is about implication. Both are needed to address real problems responsibly; neither is morally superior. A common transaction is one person telling another person their problems, not to get a solution, but to feel better by the impact on the other. This is a difficult transaction for the aspie (and men in general, and many women) who look for implications of things to do to fix it..

Doesn't Let Others 'Save Face'. It is embarrassing (that is, it feels bad) to end up on the losing side of a question or conflict. 'Saving face' is a softening of the blow, and has two aspects: 1) All parties know not to refer to the 'loss' explicitly, and 2) the 'loser' is allowed to revise history a bit to make it appear they were not actually opposed to what eventually happened. This is a small dishonesty that is allowed in polite company. Empathy (and pragmatism!) allows face-saving, but from an informational point-of-view, it contaminates the database and aspies are more dedicated to keeping the record clear and accurate.

Tactlessness: Tact is truth with empathy. Saying nothing at times may be best, but it is avoidance and not tact. Tact is an art which varies from person to person. With Asperger's Syndrome, there is usually no avoidance, but also no tact. Where empathy is lacking, some truths sound harsh and jarring, and this impact engenders extra resistance in the listener whatever the accuracy of the observation. Frequently it is believed that the person with Asperger's meant to hurt, but this is untrue. He or she is actually speaking the way they wish to be spoken to—directly and straightforwardly.

Saying Directly to Someone What Others Say Out of Earshot: The underlying belief is that the greatest good comes from the most people having the most information. The feelings of the person seem inadequate reason to leave him or her in the dark. Very occasionally, this can be the right thing to do, but often, to the aspies dismay, the informed person is more angry at him or her than the person originally generating the statements. This is because it is the knowledge that brings the pain. Among neuro-typicals this is a deliberate way to hurt someone, but for an aspie, it is innocent.

Not Respecting Hierarchy: This is often badly mistaken for arrogance or a 'god-complex' A person lower on a hierarchy (younger, less seniority, subordinate position, or lower rank) can at times have better information than someone higher on the hierarchy. If information is all that matters, then indeed that person should be telling others what to do. People with Asperger's rarely become boss, and end up resenting bosses that work less hard, are less intelligent, or less knowledgeable than they are (that is most bosses), because it is illogical.

Extreme Black and White Positions: In an informational world, if something is logically right, it should be permitted without restraint, and if it is logically wrong it should be eliminated entirely. It is using reason as 'razor' By contrast, a gray area is a partial allowing of something as long as it doesn't get out of hand. This arises often out of the understanding that one feels different about a matter when directly affected than when viewing it from the outside.

Disputes the Preference or Likes of Others: Preferences are both feelings and judgments about the fitness of an option. If one misses the feeling part and recognizes only the judgment, then it is logical to think there are single 'best' preferences based on knowledge and understanding. What is missed is that preferences are about pleasure, sensation, emotion, and personal history, which of course vary from person to person. Some people don't mind debating their judgments (this can't be assumed) but no one likes to have to debate his or her feelings.

Literal Standard of Honesty: An aspie may frequently accuse others of lying. Exaggeration, teasing, impressionistic speech, saying one thing and then saying something different in order to 'box in' a meaning from both sides---these may be experienced as 'lies' by the aspie. Language of course is not just about conveying objective information, but also about producing feeling in the other. “Saying something one doesn't mean,” or at least mean literally, has to do with conveying frustration, or urgency, etc.. to the listener. Aspies understand correction or revision of course, but in those cases people said exactly what they thought was correct at the time. To quickly and casually overturn what one has said recently is taken as evidence of original insincerity, but that is not usually the case.

Literal View of Agreements: Some agreements are meant to be solemn promises but most agreements are temporary works in progress. For example a neuro-typical says “lets eat at the Mexican restaurant” and the aspie agrees. Then on the way, the neuro-typical sees a teriyaki restaurant he or she had forgot about and says “oh let's eat here”. The aspie may get disturbed, believing an agreement has been cast aside. This is likely equally true if the aspie prefers teriyaki! The allegiance is to the agreement, not the mutual enjoyment. There is no understanding of a 'whim' A whim is sincere but not meant to be durable. A whim does not become a lie or betrayal by changing.

Social Faux Pas: The typical faux pas is saying something that's true, but 'should' remain unspoken. Aspies are never certain if something is real unless it is explicit. It is hard to stay quiet if there is something that has not been said, and hard to speak and leave something out.

Not Modifying Style for the Situation Again this arises from not understanding how context and relationship affect the impact of an interaction. An aspie may be quite argumentative or contentious about views they have had to defend, even when among well-wishers.

Over-Inclusion of Detail Information is in details, and since an aspie seeks connection through mutual comprehension of information. The greater the hope of connection, the more detail is provided. But to a neuro-typical, detail, especially non-human detail, is seen as pushing away connection. (with some non-aspie speakers, excess detail it does have this intention) Moreover, because of a literal conception of honesty and an over-valuation of information, aspies may feel that they are lying if they leave any information out, even through lack of time, or forgetting, or lack of interest on he part of the listener.

Doesn't Recognize Hints: Hints consist of saying something uncontroversial, but the meaning is actually something controversial that might arise in the mind of the hearer based on feeling implications. For instance a person wanting to end a social evening might say to the guest, “I bet you have a busy day tomorrow!” The hinting implication works by causing the hearer to go from busy -> to doing lots of things -> to effort -> to needing energy -> to people needing sleep -> to thinking the host needs sleep. When Asperger's is involved however, the statement will tend to be taking literally, the answer may be “no, not at all, I have no plans for tomorrow.” with the hint completely missed. Eventually the host will speak plainly, but because it seems hints have been ignored, the host will speak with rancor, which the aspie guest will experience as coming out of nowhere. Also hints are a dominance-sensitive, that is high-status people are not expected to heed hints but lower status people are. Aspies are often mistaken for arrogant when they don't heed hints.

Inability to Make Smalltalk Smalltalk is bonding behavior. It is about sharing feeling, not information. Information is deliberately kept low to avoid triggering defenses. Gossip contains somewhat more information but but on highly charged topics so that the effect on the hearer is still the purpose.

Not Getting Jokes: As is well known jokes cannot be understood intellectually. Most humor is based on the tension between the punchline being illogical and unexpected on one hand, but on the other hand, fitting and agreeable on a impressionistic basis. When an Asperger's person make's a joke, it sometimes is just an arbitrary contradiction, because this is what jokes seem to be.

Face-blindness (prosopagnosia) We recognize familiar faces by how they make us feel. That is, implicit processing is used. The more important a person is to us, the stronger the feeling and so the easier the recognition. That is why not being recognized is taken as an insult--it is seen as a judgment of non-importance. Someone relying on explicit processing, however, only recognizes stronger through familiarity or repetition. The problem usually arises with a new potential friend or person to whom the aspie has been specifically introduced. Because of the importance, recognition should be easy, but to the aspie, because of the newness, recognition is elusive.

Delayed Response Explicit processing is slower than both implicit processing or spontaneous expression. Self-doubt and secondary 'walking on eggshells' only adds to the delay.

Walking Away in the 'Middle' This can be two things: 1) being overwhelmed (and perhaps not recognizing it), 2) not recognizing social transitions, which are about attachment and not information.

Prefers Non-Fiction and Avoids Fiction: Probably two prongs 1) Since aspies are trying to complete understanding of the world, fiction is seen as a waste of time since it is potentially (if not practically) limitless, a true open ended system. 2) Fiction is made up, that is, it is not true! A non-fiction book that is made up is considered unethical. Fiction has no restriction and so may not be reliable. Those who like fiction of course do so because the ability to alter reality is used to intensify the interpersonal drama and increase the emotional effect on the reader more strongly, which 'brings the truth home.' A possible exception is some science fiction which is an imaginative reshuffling of systems, or horror, which deals with existential, not interpersonal worries.

Turns Conversations into Monologues: Neuro-typical speakers tend to let topics wander, because when this happens, the two speakers find out about each other and 'feel each other out.' Aspies though try to make contact through information. They know that staying on a topic exhaustively makes for the best information exchange. The aspie will usually have a greater depth of factual knowledge about many topic (often by an order of magnitude). Also he or she is reluctant to enter topics about which they know little. Aspies are often willing to listen to lectures about interesting topics, and so see little problem in giving lectures. These can be rambling or technically excellent lectures, but are not based on the interests or effect on the other person.

Stilted or Overly Formal Manner: This is an attempted safe haven from violating social norms. The formal manner is deemed the most considerate or careful by the aspie. But to the neuro-typical it feels out of place and is received by others as either odd, cold or arrogant.

Starts a Discussion Out of Context: This has several possible causes, 1) The aspie does not like to restate what has been stated sometime in the past (because this calls into question the whole truth-defining nature of explicit statements.) But this fails to set the context for the other person, 2) A naive belief that others are thinking about what one is thinking, or 3) the aspie has been processing something for a long-time and is answering where he or she left off.

Doesn't Apologize Readily: Aspies understand the confessional function of apologies but not the empathic one. That is, one can apologize because one has done something wrong and hurt another, but one can also apologize when one has done nothing wrong, or intended no harm, but someone else is nonetheless hurt. In practice of course the distinction is blurred with great benefit-- that is, people apologize in case they have done wrong. This makes unnecessary a dispute over whether someone has done wrong. Relying only on the confessional aspect, aspies only apologize when they are certain they have done wrong, which is a rare event for anybody, human nature being what it is.

Not a Team Player: The allegiance is to the truth, not the group. This can have great advantages in ethics and justice but it defeats bonding and closeness.

Doesn't Give and Doesn't Acknowledge Compliments. A true compliment is an expression of pleasure, not information. To compliment someone or something is to indicate it has been a source of pleasure. Without this understanding, compliments seems manipulative (as indeed they sometimes are) and aspies abhor manipulation.

Exaggerated Vigilance About Being Manipulated: Manipulation is getting someone to do what they do not want to do, by using their beliefs against them. Aspies always want to act consistent to beliefs regardless of desire. Whereas a neuro-typical, finding him- or herself doing something they do not want to do might just quit, an aspie will have a difficult time not carrying on even when realizing they are being misused! Hence the automatic wariness about the requests of others.

Doesn't Heed Unexplained Warnings or Recommendations: An aspie definitely wants to learn from the experience of others, but can only do so through the information developed. Especially when it comes to warnings, neuro-typicals tend to remember what not to do, but drop the reasons, or don't even ask, because to the neuro-typical they are especially unneeded. For recommendations of what to do, neuro-typicals may do a little better but often still drop the reasons. But the aspie needs reasons to act. The communicated fear or anticipation of others are not motivating forces. This can lead to a lot of re-inventing the wheel, which to neuro-typicals seems bizarrely unsocial or untrusting.

Doesn't Recognize His- or Herself Boring Others: Quite simply, aspies are never bored!. If information is not available in the immediate environment, it can be brought up in memory. Neuro-typicals only find certain information interesting. Motor restlessness in the listener is not recognized as a clue to boredom (or other distress) because aspies often have the same motor restlessness for other reasons.

Gets 'Captured' by Problems: Anything broken can be thought of as a system with something out of place. With Asperger's, putting systems right is a joy when it happens, and a huge distraction when it doesn't. Hours may be spent fixing something that only provides a minute's convenience. Others may just want to get on with life. But if one feels life is about putting things in order, how can one proceed when something is 'out of order?'

Difficulty Merging Interests with Others: Generally it is understood that we all have different interests. To connect, people often try to find common interests, which may include some adaptation to make a fit. But aspies tend to not try to adapt to the interests of others but stick their own interests. The interests of others simply are not motivating factors for the aspie. This has the important implication that aspies prefer parallel play, that is, two people doing their own thing next to each other. Most neuro-typical adults are bored with this and think the aspie wants to be left alone, but this is often not the case. Aspies are known for 'solo' play partly because it is difficult to find 'parallel play' partners.

Laughing or Smiling Inappropriate to Context For the aspie this is a sign of discomfort (which is situation appropriate) but is taken naturally as a sign of derision or contempt. The mechanism for this is unclear, but relates to facial control in some way.

Strange Faces or Facial Expression This comes from stiffness in the facial muscles and disconnection of the face from emotional centers. Strange faces are usually spontaneous maneuvers to stretch facial muscles.

Fails to Recognize Tact or Kindness in Others This applies when another person is confronting or complaining to the aspie. If this is done with tact, graciousness, or restraint, it implies goodwill and an intention to work together.. If the restraint or moderation is missed however, the intent is experienced as hostile and so great defensiveness and hostility may arise in the aspie. The gracious person will feel insulted, but the aspie will feel that the other person 'started it.' An opportunity to resolve the issue and strengthen the relationship is lost.

Clothing Poorly Coordinated. Aspies tend not to consider the effect of their appearance on others, and clothing is often chosen for very different reasons than how it looks: frugality, low-cost or free, associations with prior good events, etc...'Mismatched' combinations are common, because each piece is chosen more for itself than any overall look. Often very worn-out items are still treasured, kept and worn frequently Because of sensory hypersensitivity, worn items may be the most comfortable.

Seems to Value Inanimate Objects More than People For instance after re-modeling a room, an aspie might resent the marks or wear and tear that others leave once they commence living in the room. Aspies often look to inanimate objects or abstract concepts to bring about security because both categories, unlike humans, are predictable, reliable, and reliably shape-able. If the tendency is for the abstract, the aspie may seem dreamy. If the tendency is for the inanimate, the aspie may seem 'obsessive-compulsive,' and conflict with others is heightened quite a bit. It is not about greed or hating. The comfort of others is not seen as a plentiful counterbalance to the mess of others because the aspie usually does not value his or her physical comfort.

General distrust This is a secondary effect of having been hurt early in life, during a 'naive phase' Aspies are incapable of insincerity and so have trouble recognizing it in others. Aspies have the strength of seeing through razzle-dazzle and perceiving problems about which neuro-typicals are temporarily blinded. Aspies however, may have trouble sizing up character quickly. (This never a foolproof process but it is how most people make friends.) After a certain amount of experience, the default position is taken that others are unreliable, insincere, and badly-intentioned, and of course selective attention is able to pull out small details that seem to confirm this.

Will Correct Small Errors Even if Disruptive An inaccuracy is something 'out of place' and very annoying to the aspie, even if the general gist is understood. On the other hand, the annoyance to the speaker of being continually interrupted is great.

Literal Interpretation of Language: Symbolic meaning, as discussed in the first section, are based on body feeling. True, common metaphors are like codes, but literal thinking can be a habit (but also literal thinking tends to be disciplined and avoids sophistry.)

Difficulty Mingling: In a get-to-know-you setting, the aspie either passive or disruptive. It is hard to attune his or her mood to the moods of others, and difficult to adapt interests.

Hates Expediency: Expediency, which is the quality of an action, in which a rule or principle is temporarily suspended (but not modified for the future) in order to get to a acceptable result quickly. If two people have a disagreement, and one sees that the other feels much more strongly about it, or is more powerful, that person may yield without changing his or her mind at all, because the discomfort of a struggle is not worth the potential benefit. This is expediency. To an aspie, expediency is wrong because comfort and ease can't be weighed against what is right. Sometimes, an aspie will not be happy with getting his or her way if they believe the other person yielded out of expediency! He or she may insist on arguing the point until the other person comes to agree. Neuro-typicals often view the aspie as bizarrely argumentative.

The Basic Bad Loop

Aspies are not good at recognizing discomfort in others but they are affected by it. The effect tends to be 1) the aspie becomes less comfortable him- or herself without recognizing it, and 2) the aspie responds by trying harder to bring across what they have been attempting. The problem is easy to foresee; these redoubled efforts distress the neuro-typical further, which increases the discomfort of the aspie, which increase his or effort etc... For instance an aspie that is boring someone with a lecturing manner will broaden the scope of the topic and extend the discourse, and aspie that is putting someone off by an authoritative manner will respond to the listener's discomfort with more dogmatism, an aspie that is confusing a listener with an esoteric line of argument will employ even more arcane references, an aspie that has committed a faux pas will start to beat the sensitive topic to death etc... This has to end some way, and usually exasperation and unkind words are involved. In cybernetics (or systems theory) this is known as a positive feedback loop, which is inherently unstable. Social attunement of course happens by negative feedback loops, wherein what is not working is dropped.

Social Assets Accompanying Asperger's Syndrome

Genius at Systematizing. Our present material standard of living is based on seeing and harnessing systems. Most aspies are capable of producing 'great 'value-added in their work-function, problems with 'office politics' aside.

Moral Sharpness: Accepting gray areas and being loyal to friends over time can lead one into murk and turbidity. Aspies moral understanding is not confused by attachment.

Great Naturalistic Observation: There is always a strong tendency to try to figure out how things work. Mere 'agreeableness' does not monopolize the attention

Excellent Factual Memory: Recall is prompted by the drive to make sense of the present situation, external or internal. It is well-understood that in most recall facts are altered to fit present mood and emotion (internal state) and cognitive schema. In Asperger's cognitive schemas may have a role in distortion, but there is much less interference from emotion. Also, during the storing of memory, facts, being part of systems, are given more importance.

Staying the Course: Generally, something proving difficult to accomplish doesn't discourage the aspie if the goal is deemed correct or useful.

Less Vulnerable to Peer Pressure Aspies are immune to group think, and are often the ones who point out that the emperor has no cloths.

How to Address Asperger Traits

Social Training

'Social training' is what is what is usually recommended. This may have a real role with children where just a basic command of social expectations can decrease ostracism and unwanted attention. Social training is information about what is expected and what to do in social situations. The best social training programs also coax participants to come up with their own social thinking. Keep in mind that Asperger's is not a cognitive problem however.

To the extent this works and makes things easier, of course it is a good idea. I realize there is an irony in the following position, in that the previous sections of this article read like anthropology, trying to apprise two different cultures of each others customs. But overwhelmingly, however, adult aspies have been trying to learn 'the social system' themselves, their whole lives. without much success. The problem is that so much of the meaning of even non-verbal communication is context-related—interpretation really pivots on feel. Hence the suggestion below.

Neuro-muscular Training and Expressive Bodywork

This is where I think the real potential gains lie. Of course, this is a long process with an uncertain outcome, but so is life. It is not possible to briefly describe this process in this article. Instead, I refer the reader to my website www.reichandlowentherapy.org, or the works of Alexander Lowen, MD. The brevity of this paragraph is no measure of the promise that this approach holds!

Tips for Neuro-Typicals

Say What You Want Directly and Plainly Don't hint, don't understate. Spell out expectations.

Allow and Accept Asynchrony in Communication. For instance, let an exchange play out in email, even if you both live in the same house. In this case any delay does not take over as the subject of discussion, as it tends to in attempts at synchronous (face-to-face) discussion. After all, people tolerate asynchrony in internet shopping or judicial proceedings, in the interest of getting a better product.

Make Social Occasions Fairly Short and Fix Upon a Duration Open-ended social situations tend to provoke shutdown in the aspie for self-protection. A time limited foray is a manageable task.

Smirking, Sniggering, Rolling Eyes, and 'Knowing Glances' to Other Neuro-typicals are Demeaning and Not Helpful. If you think something is inappropriate, in intensity or content, or that the point is being missed, simply say so.

Weave Concrete Tasks Into Socializing This will provide some interest and orientation for the aspie. It can be agreed ahead of time that the concrete task cannot dominate the experience, if that is a concern. On the other hand, think of an Amish barn raising.

Touch the Aspie the way they want to be touched, which is usually firm pressure and not friction or light touch. In turn the aspie will come to understand touching you the way way you want to be touched.

Don't Force Immediate Choices: Rather describe what is available, how it may be accessed, and allow the aspies to unobtrusively take what they will. For instance, instead of saying, “Do you want x, or y, or both?” say “X is available, and Y is available too, and this is where they are.” The former forces the aspie to speak definitively to as to his or her desire. This is often a stopper. The latter just provides options. In AS, having options is well-understood whereas desire is not. Buffet settings are ideal for this. By all means, avoid an open-ended “What would you like” which usually precipitates a crisis in the aspie who does not want to risk asking for something not available.

Wait Through What Seems Like Long Pauses or Gaps: There is usually a very high quality response at the end of it. If the response really needs to be immediate, ask someone else, or don't ask