Asperger syndrome: What is it and how many people does it affect?

Sabrina Barr
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I’m A Celebrity’s Anne Hegerty has been praised online for opening up about living with Asperger’s on the TV show.

She said: “I do respond well to structure. I think it will be quite structured in there. I will understand, ‘at this time I have to fetch wood and water’, doing that will make sense.

“But being surrounded by people I can’t get away from, or those who talk all the time, can be a source of stress.”

Earlier this year, Love Island's Niall Aslam also revealed on Instagram that he was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome as a child.

Many people expressed their support for the student and construction worker, praising him for speaking openly about the condition on social media.

Asperger’s is an autism spectrum disorder that can make it harder for those affected to interact with others in a social environment.

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 World War II.

There are thousands of people in the UK who have autism, as Jane Harris, director of external affairs at the National Autistic Society (NAS), explains.

“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,” she says.

“By talking so openly about his diagnosis and the reasons he left Love Island, Niall has played an important role in bringing autism to the public’s attention.”

Here’s everything that you need to know about Asperger syndrome:

What is it?

Asperger syndrome falls within the autism spectrum, as explained by Autism NI.

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, as NAS explains, some people with Asperger syndrome may still have some learning difficulties and can find it hard to comprehend or process language at times.

The charity also points out that Asperger’s 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’s are thought to have average or above average levels of intelligence.

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, as outlined by NAS.

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?

NAS states that 700,000 people in the UK are autistic, which equates to around one in 100 people.

Diagnoses of autism are currently more common among boys than they are among girls, 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.

Ms Harris of NAS is hopeful that Niall’s announcement 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.

“The National Autistic Society wishes this ‘Rainbow Fish’ lots of success on his journey.”