World Autism Awareness Week 2019: What is Asperger syndrome and how many people does it affect?

Sabrina Barr
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World Autism Awareness Week 2019: What is Asperger syndrome and how many people does it affect?

Asperger syndrome is a developmental disorder that can make it harder for those affected to interact with others in a social environment.

The condition is an autism spectrum disorder, meaning that those with Asperger syndrome may exhibit different levels of symptoms.

This year, World Autism Awareness Week is taking place from Monday 1 April until Sunday 7 April.

The aim of the week is to raise awareness of autism and to break down the stigmas that continue to surround the condition.

Last year, The Chase star Anne Hegerty and Love Island's Niall Aslam both received praise for speaking openly about their Asperger syndrome diagnoses.

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While appearing on I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!, Hegerty explained that she "responds well to structure", and that being surrounded by a large group of people who talk all the time "can be a source of stress".

So what is Asperger syndrome, what are the symptoms and how many people does it affect? Here's everything you need to know.

What is Asperger syndrome?

Asperger syndrome falls within the autism spectrum, Autism NI explains.

Those who have been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome may not have the same learning disabilities that some people who have autism sometimes experience, such as difficulties or delays with speech.

However, some people with Asperger syndrome may still have some learning difficulties and can find it hard to comprehend or process language at times, the National Autistic Society (NAS) outlines.

The charity also points out that Asperger syndrome shouldn’t be perceived as an illness that can be “cured”, but as a condition that forms an integral component of an individual’s identity.

Those who have been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome are thought to have average or above average levels of intelligence.

Where does the term come from?

The term was named after an Austrian paediatrician called Hans Asperger, who wrote about children who exhibited signs of the condition in 1944.

However, some have argued that the name should be changed in light of the doctor’s recently reported affiliation with the Nazis during the Second World War.

What are the symptoms?

As Asperger syndrome is an autism spectrum disorder, diagnosing it can be tricky as symptoms can vary between individuals.

According to Autism Initiatives, a company that connects autism networks around the UK and Ireland, symptoms of Asperger syndrome may include finding it difficult to read body language, lacking signs of empathy, developing motor skills later than usual and being very sensitive.

These symptoms can often be recognised in childhood when children with the condition enter social situations that they haven’t experienced before.

Diagnosing Asperger’s can take a team of health experts, the NAS states.

These professionals can include a speech and language therapist, a psychiatrist and a paediatrician.

The NHS recommends visiting your GP if you believe that your child is exhibiting signs of autism spectrum disorder.

You’ll then be referred to a health professional who can diagnose the condition if needs be.

How many people are affected?

Around one in every 100 people in the world has autism.

Jane Harris, director of external affairs at NAS, explains that many with autism still face stigma with regards to the condition.

“There are around 700,000 autistic people like Niall in the UK, but too many of their lives are limited by the public not understanding the challenges they face,” Harris says.

Harris adds that Aslam played an "important role" in raising awareness about autism when he spoke candidly about his diagnosis following his appearance on the show.

In 2015, a report funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation stated that approximately 37.2 million people across the globe are affected by Asperger syndrome.

Why are diagnoses of autism more common among boys than girls?

The fact that diagnoses of autism are currently more common among boys than they are among girls is a topic that’s been researched on multiple occasions over the years.

In 2015, a study conducted by the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore explored why girls are often diagnosed with autism later than boys by investigating an online registry of 50,000 people.

They came to the conclusion that the way girls behave sometimes makes it harder to recognise symptoms of autism until later on in childhood or adolescence.

Harris is hopeful that Aslam's decision to speak openly about his Asperger syndrome diagnosis following his appearance on Love Island will inspire more people to learn about autism.

“We really hope that Love Island contestant Niall Aslam’s revelation that he is autistic will encourage fans of the show to find out more about autism,” she says.

You can find more information about autism on the National Autistic Society's website.