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In-Depth: Asperger’s Disorder

Restrictive, Repetitive, and Stereotyped Patterns of Behavior, Interests, and Activities

Although in the DSM-IV definition the criteria for Asperger’s Disorder and autism are identical, requiring the presence of at least one of the symptoms in the list provided (see table above), it appears that the most commonly observed symptom in this cluster refers to an encompassing preoccupation with restricted patterns of interest.

In contrast to autism, where other symptoms in this area may be very pronounced, individuals with AS are not commonly reported to exhibit them with the exception of the all-absorbing preoccupation with an unusual and circumscribed topic, about which vast amounts of factual knowledge are acquired and all too readily demonstrated at the first opportunity in social interaction. although the actual topic may change from time to time (e.g., every year or two years), it may dominate the content of social interchange as well as the activities of individuals with AS, often immersing the whole family in the subject for long periods of time. Even though this symptom may not be easily recognized in childhood (because strong interests in dinosaurs or fashionable fictional characters are so ubiquitous among young children), it may become more salient later on as interests shift to unusual and narrow topics. This behavior is peculiar in the sense that often times extraordinary amounts of factual information are learned about very circumscribed topics (e.g., snakes, names of stars, maps, TV guides, or railway schedules).

Motor Clumsiness

In addition to the required criteria specified above, an additional symptom is given as an associated feature though not a required criterion for the diagnosis of Asperger’s Disorder, namely delayed motor milestones and presence of “motor clumsiness”. Individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome may have a history of delayed acquisition of motor skills such as pedaling a bike, catching a ball, opening jars, climbing “monkey-bars”, and so on.

They are often visibly awkward, exhibiting rigid gait patterns, odd posture, poor manipulative skills, and significant deficits in visual-motor coordination. Although this presentation contrasts with the pattern of motor development in autistic children, for whom the area of motor skills is often a relative strength, it is similar in some respects to what is observed in older autistic individuals. Nevertheless, the commonality in later life may result from different underlying factors, for example, psychomotor deficits in the case of AS, and poor body image and sense of self in the case of autism. This highlight the importance of describing this symptom in developmental terms.

This article by Ami Klin, Ph.D., and Fred R. Volkmar, M.D., Yale Child Study Center, New Haven, Connecticut and was originally published by the Learning Disabilities Association of America, June 1995. To learn more about Asperger’s Syndrome and Autism, please visit the Yale Developmental Disabilities Clinic website.

In-Depth: Asperger’s Disorder

Ami Klin, Ph.D and Fred R. Volkmar, M.D.

APA Reference
Fred R. Volkmar, A. (2020). In-Depth: Asperger’s Disorder. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 25, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 29 Jul 2020 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 29 Jul 2020
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