Asperger Profiles: The Big Picture-Challenges

AANE Staff

While respecting the abilities and humanity of people with Asperger profiles, one should not underestimate their struggles and suffering they might endure. A society designed for and dominated by the neurotypical majority can feel uncongenial and even overwhelming for a person with an Asperger profile. In particular, living in the United States in the modern information age — in a crowded, complex, industrial society — can pose real challenges for people with Asperger profiles. American children are generally expected to “play well with others” and grow up fast. Adults are expected to work 40-60 hour weeks under fluorescent lights, to attend meetings, work on teams, rapidly absorb oceans of information, and multi-task. Solitary pursuits such as hunting, farming, or tending a lighthouse are less available today. On the other hand, some people with the Asperger profile have found employment (and sometimes mates) in areas related to their specific interests.

As we look in detail at some strengths and challenges you might see in a person with an Asperger profile, keep in mind individuals with these profiles are not all alike; they may differ from one another even more in respect to their areas of strength than in their areas of challenge.

People with an Asperger profiles usually have difficulty with:

Sensory Regulation

  • Aversion to or craving for certain types/intensities of sensory input. Extreme sensitivity — or relative insensitivity — to sights, sounds, smells, tastes, or textures. Many people outgrow these sensory issues at least to some extent as they mature.
  • Integrating multiple sensations and responding appropriately.
  • Knowing where one’s body is in space; avoiding bumping into people or objects.
  • Motor planning (using the body to accomplish a task).
  • Auditory, visual, or intellectual processing, which can contribute to difficulties keeping up in a range of social settings.

Regulation of Emotions and Anxiety

  • Recognizing what emotions feel like and look like in self and others.
  • Understanding gradations of emotion; matching emotional response to people, activities and settings.

Regulation of Attention and Impulses

  • Controlling flight or fight response when anxious.
  • Filtering out extraneous stimuli.
  • Analyzing relevant vs. irrelevant information.
  • Sustaining attention to relevant information.
  • Switching attention from one thing to another.
  • Intense, narrow, time-consuming personal interest(s) — sometimes eccentric in nature — that may result in social isolation, or interfere with the completion of everyday tasks.
  • Vulnerability to stress, sometimes escalating to psychological or emotional problems including low self-esteem, depression, anxiety or obsessive-compulsive behaviors.

Flexible Thinking

  • Coping with changes in familiar routines.
  • Seeing more than one way to accomplish a task/solve a problem.
  • Realizing there are exceptions to rules; tolerating when other people bend rules.
  • Accepting feedback, advice, suggestions or help from others.
  • Change may trigger anxiety, while familiar objects, settings, and routines offer reassurance. One result is difficulty transitioning from one activity to another: from one class to another, from work-time to lunch or from talking to listening.

Central Coherence/Generalization/Main Idea

  • Seeing “the forest for the trees.” Seeing the big picture due to a tendency to focus on the details of a given situation.
  • Abstracting the main idea from text or conversation.
  • Recognizing and categorizing information.
  • Understanding complex or abstract concepts.
  • Generalizing skills from one setting to another.

Executive Functioning/Problem-Solving:

  • Organizing thoughts and materials.
  • Written expression.
  • Time management
  • Prioritizing, initiating, and completing tasks.
  • Generating novel or alternative solutions.

Theory of Mind/Perspective Taking:

  • Recognizing and understanding other people’s thoughts, feelings, and intentions due to a tendency to ignore or misinterpret such cues as facial expression, body language  and vocal intonation.
  • Processing social information quickly and efficiently.
  • Being tactful; being able to tell “white lies.”

Hidden Curriculum:

  • Understanding the unwritten or implied social rules.
  • Knowing what to do or say in various social situations.

Social Pragmatics:

  • Appearing awkward or rude, and unintentionally upset others.
  • Noticing and correctly interpreting other people’s nonverbal communication (gestures, body position, facial expression and tone of voice).
  • Modulating one’s own nonverbal communication.
  • Initiating, joining, and maintaining conversation.
  • Using humor and sarcasm appropriately; understanding other people’s use of sarcasm and humor.
  • Feeling somehow different and disconnected from the rest of the world and not “fitting in” — sometimes called “Wrong Planet” Syndrome.


  • Perceiving and expressing one’s own feelings.
  • Understanding/accepting one’s own strengths and weaknesses.
  • Developing strategies to offset weaknesses and build on strengths.
  • Knowing when one needs help; asking for help.
  • Recognizing and protecting oneself from bullies.

Chronic Fatigue:

  • Difficulties with sleep patterns.
  • Fatigue due to sensory stimulation in certain environments.
  • Fatigue due to conscious mental processing of information that others might process intuitively.
  • Exhaustion due to easily-triggered nervous system (active “Fight or Flight” response).