Useful articles, videos, books:

Autism and Asperger syndrome

 

Asperger's syndrome is a diagnosis within the autism spectrum, which can cause major problems in everyday life, and which is often misunderstood. There are many benefits to getting a diagnosis, as it can cause a number of other diagnoses that people make to fall away, and that you can learn the skills you need to survive "on the wrong plane".

People with Asperger's syndrome have a range of talents and can develop successful strategies to master their challenges in everyday life.



The British organization Asperger's Association of New England (AANE) has for over a decade worked closely and talked a lot with over 400 adults with Asperger's syndrome, as well as their relatives. Among other things, they have developed an Asperger's information package, which will help people with Asperger's to function better in everyday life.

In this article, we reproduce some of the advice that AANE has prepared, and which is generally about living with Asperger's syndrome.

 

What is Asperger's Syndrome? 

Asperger's syndrome is a disorder within the autism spectrum, and causes difficulties in relation to social skills, communication, and in terms of rigidity / stereotyped behavior. The following features may be typical: 





  1. Difficulty knowing what to say or how to behave in social situations. Many people tend to say "wrong things." They may be perceived as difficult or rude, and may inadvertently upset others.
  2. Problems with "theory of mind", which are problems with perceiving the intentions or feelings of other people due to a tendency to ignore or misinterpret signals such as facial expressions, body language, and vocal intonation (the way something is said). 
  3. Problems with working well in a number of social contexts, such as a class, a football match, a party.
  4. Difficulties in relation to executive function, which can be in relation to organizing, starting up, analyzing, prioritizing and completing tasks.
  5. A tendency to focus on the details of a given situation so that it goes at the expense of the big picture.
  6. Intense, narrow, time-consuming personal interest (special interests) - which can sometimes be eccentric in nature - and which can lead to social isolation, or interfere with the performance of everyday tasks. On the other hand, special interests can lead to social attachment and careers. For example, where the special interest becomes part of the work or the social setting.
  7. Little flexibility and resistance to change. Change can trigger anxiety, while familiar objects and routines provide security. One result is that transitions can be enormous challenges: for example, from one activity to another, from one class to another, from working hours to lunch, from talking to listening, when moving from one school to another, or to step into a new social role.
  8. The feeling of being different and disconnected from the rest of the world and not "fitting in" - is called by some "wrong globe" syndrome.
  9. Extreme sensitivity - or hypersensitivity - to sensory impressions, such as sounds, smells, tastes, or textures. Many people grow these sensory problems to at least a certain degree of themselves.
  10. Vulnerability to stress, which can sometimes escalate into mental or emotional problems, including low self-esteem, depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

 

High-performing, but what does that mean in real life?

Asperger's syndrome is often referred to as high-functioning autism. It also turns out that many adults with Asperger's syndrome work well in some areas of life. But ... high performance: What does it really mean in practice? Roughly speaking, this means that the person can function well in some arenas and extremely poorly in others.

Asperger's in working life

Some people with Asperger's syndrome do quite well at work because he / she is very intelligent and well suited for the job. For example, an employee with Asperger's may be successful because the work environment does not overload the person's senses or require too much multi-tasking. He / she can succeed because the social contact at work is minimal or very structured, with clear expectations of what the social interaction should entail, or because people at work are supportive, accommodating, or have similar / compatible personalities.





Asperger's in love

This same person can have extensive problems creating a satisfying life outside of work, not least related to functioning within an ordinary family life and romantic relationships.

Asperger in friendship

The person with Asperger's may have one or a few good friendships, but will have more difficulty than others in making new friendships. In addition, the interest in finding new friendships can also be small or absent, as long as the few friendships you have are good.

Asperger's and creative / artistic abilities

The person with Asperger's is not quite A4, which in some areas can be a strength. Such persons may therefore like to be a successful public speaker, entertainer, or possess special artistic abilities, whether visual art, written or musical.

 

Asperger's syndrome causes large gaps in the level of function 

There are endless combinations in relation to how good or bad the level of function the person with Asperger's syndrome has in the various settings of daily life, but it is nevertheless common that the ability to function is clearly impaired in some areas - while it may be good in other areas.

Therefore, the difficulties can often be "hidden", not least in cases where the person with Asperger's syndrome succeeds in working life. This is about us in our society being largely measured by how successful we are in working life. Such success at work can mask the fact that the person is also struggling in some basic ways that can be explained with Asperger's syndrome. 

 

Aspergers and neurotypicals 

People with Asperger's syndrome have a brain that works differently than other people. In the USA, they have come a long way in highlighting some of the strengths that this entails, and they use slang terms such as "Aspies" about people with Asperger's syndrome. This is in contrast to "neurotypicals", which are used to denote people with a more typical brain (neurology) than what characterizes Aspergers. 

It is a crossroads that Asperger's syndrome as a diagnosis first appeared in the DSM-IV in 1994, and one can ask the question of how these people "managed" before gaining better knowledge of what the condition entails. Then, as now, it was about to find ways to try to survive.

Then, as now, people with Asperger's - without much help from their neurology - had to find ways to learn social behavior, and many adults spent their time observing the environment and the people around them, to find strategies and skills. This is because people with Asperger's have difficulty learning social skills automatically (as other people do in the natural interaction with others). Aspergers must learn the skills from scratch - which of course will also make even correct social behavior somewhat awkward and mechanical.

 

You're so smart, why can you not just ...

With a lack of social skills and a weakened intuition for what is correct social behavior, it becomes the fate of the Aspergers to have to try to imitate their peers. Nevertheless, situations constantly arise which the person with Asperger's does not master very well, and which are often perceived as stubbornness, reluctance and bad behavior from the outsiders. 

A typical comment is therefore: "You are so smart, why can you not just ...

  • behave normally (... but it is difficult due to problems with family functioning)
  • do not worry about the small sounds, smells, etc (... but it is difficult due to hypersensitivity to some sensory impressions) 
  • complete this work assignment (... but it is difficult due to problems in the executive functions)
  • just do what I asked you to do (... but it is difficult due to illogical drawing, weak "theory of mind" ability, ie ability to understand other people's intentions)
  • Tell a therapist how you feel (... but it is difficult because the person is more concerned with thoughts than with emotions).

 

You eventually grow up ... in a way

Through observation and trial and error (a lot of failure!), The Aspergers get through childhood and adolescence, and enter adulthood. Some adults with Asperger's even develop a very good understanding of the world around them, manage to create a framework for how and where they fit in and do not fit in, learn to apply skills and strategies to use in special situations, and can to a greater extent anticipate and maintain a certain control over disturbing sensory impressions / anxiety.

When the person with Asperger's actually succeeds in developing these skills and strategies, he / she as an adult can look quite well functioning. Maybe you become so well-functioning that you can almost consider yourself a "neurotypical" - that is, a person with a normally functioning brain. But just think for a moment about how exhausting it is to do all these things based on thinking, not intuition. It is tiring and laborious! It may seem easy, but it is tiring for the person with Asperger's syndrome.

 

Exhausted and with great vulnerability to depression

No matter how well the person with Asperger's succeeds in developing the skills other people take for granted, there is always a long way to go. You work so hard to fit in, to understand or hide your neurological abnormalities, and it all has a high price tag.

In addition to fatigue, there is therefore often a great deal of overlap with depression and anxiety - on top of the whole basic failure of how the brain works. It's depressing when there is no obvious place in the world where you belong, when everyone else seems to know the rules by heart, and you have never received the same learning manually. A term that many Aspergers use is therefore that they feel they have arrived on the wrong plane.

After a long life of repeated trial and error, both in terms of making friends, and taking care of them, mastering work, living independently, managing one's own affairs and things, as well as the constant reminders of being "inadequate", should It should come as no surprise that these experiences often lead to depression or anxiety. Moreover, the world becomes so unknown, unpredictable, full of people who may want to talk to you when you are least ready for it, sensory abuse (sounds, smells, visual impressions), and a myriad of things that are not within your control.

With a lack of intuitive ability to generalize, every time you walk out the door can be a new challenge. Many adults with Asperger's syndrome therefore have a basic state of anxiety, by simply existing in this world. The vulnerability to stress can therefore be overwhelming, and the Asperger's can go from a reasonably good state of mind to falling completely apart in the next moment. This can be called "mergers", and it can be expressed in the form of anxiety, rage and despair.

 

The many diagnoses on the way to one

People with Asperger's Syndrome can get a number of other (incorrect or inadequate) diagnoses on the way to Asperger's Syndrome. This can include anything from: ADHD, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), major depression, generalized anxiety disorder, social phobia, narcissistic personality disorder, or oppositional behavior disorder. There may be a real comorbidity (double or multiple diagnoses at the same time), but many symptoms can be explained as by-products of Asperger's syndrome. 

When people with Asperger's Syndrome learn to know their own condition, begin to learn skills, learn what is expected in the world of "neurotypicals", and develop a naturally increased understanding of themselves, they can actually change their behavior, become more externally focused, become aware of and interested in other people. For many, therefore, the discovery of Asperger's syndrome will make the myriad of diagnoses disappear, as the symptoms can be overcome by getting help in the areas where the failure actually lies - not least with a view to learning new skills / strategies.

 

Diagnosis = better functioning = diagnosis disappears?

There are many dilemmas associated with diagnosis in relation to Asperger's syndrome. An important question is to what extent a high-functioning adult due to his good functioning will lose (or never get) the diagnosis that for so many may prove useful. 

Given the diagnostic criteria for Asperger's syndrome, many adults with clear characteristics of the difficulties will not necessarily fit the diagnosis. Most adults with Asperger's manage to maintain fairly good eye contact (not because it comes naturally to them, but because they compensate and do so through exertion). Almost all of them have a good sense of humor which can be quite sophisticated! Some have had successful careers, even careers that require multitasking, but the ability to juggle multiple tasks stops on the way home to your home life (Multitasking at work was often driven by an intense interest and a clear roadmap - a very structured work environment, which missing at home).

Many adults can take part in conversations, they both talk and listen. They show the ability to "theory of mind" (to understand other people's thoughts / intentions) in a number of ways. Some have had intense personal relationships (positive and lasting or not). Some have good gross motor skills. Not everyone is good at math and computers! Some are able to lie (but generally because it is a "logical" thing to do in the situation). Some avoid certain loud noises but panic by others.

It is especially difficult to diagnose Asperger's syndrome based on a conversation / examination in a therapy office, since this is a setting that is comfortable for many adults with Asperger's syndrome, and where they can thus show off their best side. It is a "one-on-one" situation (with little disturbing impression), the person is allowed to talk about themselves (which naturally engages the person), and the level of anxiety will be so low that most Asperger's symptoms become invisible.

 

The diagnosis can provide a deep self-insight

One of the advantages of getting a diagnosis is that it is a matter of completely real problems, which are pervasive, and which can have an intensity that only the person in question understands. Many such people sincerely seek to find answers to the basic feeling of being "from another planet." So when someone is diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome as an adult, he / she can begin to look back on his or her life and understand it all in a new light.

The diagnosis can explain some of the successes in life, as well as many of the challenges. It is often, but not always, a relief. The self-blame ("How can I be so smart and so stupid at the same time") can diminish, adults can often forgive themselves for something that went wrong. They can sometimes forgive their caregivers (... as many have thought it was the care there was something wrong with ...). They can forgive parents and teachers, who so often met them without realizing their needs.

Going forward, they can use the new knowledge to avoid previous pitfalls. The difference it makes in someone's life to have this understanding is therefore deep and must not be underestimated.

 

On two different planets, but is it possible to bridge the gap?

People with Asperger's Syndrome are in the impossible range between being well-functioning and having significant weaknesses. They can externally work so well in some settings, that it becomes almost impossible for others to understand why they should work so poorly in other settings. In the worst case, this leads to other people showing contempt and a total lack of understanding for such people. At best, one will be met with respect, but other people will still never fully understand. The feeling of hopelessness is always close to people with Asperger's - you feel after all from another planet.

We must therefore strive to see and learn how the individual person daily fights his invisible battle to survive. We need to encourage adults with Asperger's to better understand themselves, to become their own advocate, who dare to ask what they need. We must offer solutions that can alleviate their challenges and help them take advantage of their strengths. We also need highly competent professional environments in the area, which can be a resource, a support, and a community along the way.

 

Sources

Quote this article

 

Feel free to use information from this article on your website, but remember to add a link.

Written by

ove heradstveit

Ove Heradstveit

Psychologist, specialist in clinical community psychology. PhD.
 Facebook -  Twitter
- Hjelptilhjelp.no

Read more about autism