Speech and Language Peculiarities

People with Asperger syndrome often have little patience for things outside these areas of interest. During the school years, many are perceived as highly intelligent underachievers or overachievers, clearly capable of outperforming their peers in their field of interest yet persistently unmotivated to do regular homework assignments (sometimes even in their areas of interest). Others, in contrast, may be hyper motivated to outperform peers in school. This adds to the difficulties of diagnosing the syndrome. In more serious cases, the combination of social problems and intense interests can lead to unusual behavior, such as greeting a stranger by launching into a lengthy monologue about a special interest rather than introducing oneself in the socially-accepted way. However, in many cases adults can outgrow this impatience and lack of motivation and develop more tolerance to new activities and meeting new people.

People with Asperger syndrome often are noted for having a highly pedantic way of speaking, using language far more formal and structured than the situation normally would be thought to call for. A five-year-old child with this condition may regularly speak in language that could easily have come from a university textbook, especially on her or his special area of interest.

Literal interpretation is another common but not universal hallmark of this condition. Attwood gives the example of a girl with Asperger syndrome who answered the telephone one day and was asked "Is Paul there?". Although the Paul in question was in the house, he was not in the room with her, so after looking around to ascertain this, she simply said "no" and hung up. The person on the other end had to call back and explain to her that he meant for her to find him and get him to pick up the telephone.

Many people with Asperger syndrome also make idiosyncratic use of words, including new coinages and unusual juxtapositions. This can develop into a rare gift for humor (especially puns, wordplay, doggerel, satire) or writing. Another potential source of humor is the eventual realization that their literal interpretations can be used to amuse others. Some are so proficient with written language as to qualify as hyperlexic. Tony Attwood refers to a particular child's skill at inventing expressions, e.g. "tidying down" (the opposite of tidying up) or "broken" (when referring to a baby brother who cannot walk or talk)