Asperger’s Syndrome in Young Children

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • We have written extensively on this site about Asperger’s syndrome (AS) in teens but this week I wanted to address AS in young children. What are the symptoms? What behaviors are typical in toddlers with AS? What are the warning signs? Because every child is different, and reaches developmental milestones at different times, it can be difficult to recognize and diagnose AS in younger children, but AS, like autism, is present from the time of birth.

    Most experts agree that early intervention is the key to future success, those who receive treatment and therapies help to give children the skills they need to succeed in school and in life. However, many children with AS are not diagnosed until after the age of 7, with the average age being from 7 to 9 years old according to the Help Group. Unfortunately, this means these children do not have the benefits of early intervention services.

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    Birth to One Year Old

    Babies with AS may seem fussy or colicky. They may be soothed by the sound of a fan running or the dishwasher. They may appear to be serious or thoughtful and show more interest in objects than in people. They may not reciprocate facial expressions, for example, when parent smiles at their baby, he or she may not smile back. They may seem as if they don’t need to be held or may fuss when touched.

    One of the major differences between autism and AS is the lack of speech delay. Children with AS start talking at around 12 months, just as children without AS do. Their first word, however, may be unusual - such as “shoe” “hammer” or “fish” rather than “Mommy” or “Daddy.”

    Some reports, according to The Help Group, show that young children with AS have extreme stranger anxiety, becoming anxious, fidgety and fussy whenever someone they did not know was present.

    Year Two

    Children at this age may be much more interested in objects than in people. They may have become attached to one or two toys and insist on playing with those, ignoring all other toys. Their interactions with other children and people are limited, preferring solitude or playing alone.

    Many children with AS have difficulty understanding and reciprocating facial expressions and tone of voice. They don’t understand your “mad” face or raising your voice means they should stop what they are doing. They may not wave “hi” or “bye.”

    Children with AS often don’t understand pretend play, many times play will revolve around repeating actions, at this age, play may be more imitation. Food choice may also be limited, with your child eating only one or two foods and wanting the same food, cooked the same way, every day.

    Sensory issues may begin to be an issue, with your child not liking hot or cold, becoming fussy if there are tags in his clothes or if clothes are tight or scratchy. He may not like bright lights or loud noises. Overstimulation of senses may send him into a meltdown.  

    Toddler and Pre-School Age

    Although language continues to develop, several noticeable signs emerge. Children may have a large vocabulary but speak as if they are lecturing, conversations are often one-sided and use of pronouns is often mixed up, for example, “You are hungry” instead of “I am hungry.”


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    Language is taken literally and your child may have a hard time understanding statements such as “eaten up by bugs” thinking you will literally be eaten up. Toddlers with AS often prefer to play alone and do not interact much with other children.


    Their play is imitation more so than pretend and they see objects with a singular purpose, they can’t use toys in different ways and do not engage in pretend play. Many times play will be imitation, such as using a character toy from a favorite show and reenacting a scene from the show. They may be more interested in taking apart toys than playing with them or may only play with certain toys, such as red trucks.


    During the toddler years, your child may begin to develop an intense interest and focus a great deal of time (and questions) on interacting with and learning about the interest. Many times interests are in things you, as parents, find odd, such as washing machines, buttons or pots and pans.


    If your child shows any of these signs, it does not necessarily mean he or she has Asperger’s syndrome, however, it might be beneficial to talk with your doctor about the signs and behaviors you are seeing.


    “Asperger Syndrome,” Date Unknown, Staff Writer, KidsHealth, Nemours Foundation

    “Asperger Syndrome Fact Sheet,” Updated 2012, May 4, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health


    The Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome,” Eileen Bailey and Robert Montgomery, 2012, Penguin Books

Published On: June 29, 2012