In the U.S. April is set aside as Autism Awareness month but in Australia we focus on Autism in May. Regardless of the month of the year, Autism touches the lives of all sorts of people, including witches and pagans, so I thought I’d post some information about it here, in the hope that it may help somebody, somewhere, if only in a small way. Even if you don’t think this information could benefit you or anyone you know, please read it anyway – you might be surprised, and you might learn something new …and that’s always a good thing.
What is autism?
Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects the way a person communicates and relates to people around them. Children and adults with autism have difficulties with everyday social interaction. Their ability to develop friendships is generally limited as is their capacity to understand other people’s emotional expression. People with autism can often have accompanying learning disabilities but everyone with the condition shares a difficulty in making sense of the world.
People with autism are not physically disabled in the same way that a person with cerebral palsy may be; they do not require wheelchairs and they ‘look’ just like anybody without the disability. Due to this invisible nature it can be much harder to create awareness and understanding of the condition. Because an autistic child looks ‘normal’ others assume they are naughty or the parents are not controlling the child. Strangers frequently comment on this ‘failing’.
There is also a condition called Asperger’s Syndrome, which is a form of autism used to describe people who are usually at the higher functioning end of the autistic spectrum, and it is in this form that autism has touched my life. My two youngest sons have both been formally diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, and my two older sons have many traits of Asperger’s Syndrome as do I.
What is Asperger syndrome?
Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) is a form of autism. Autism, in all of its forms, is what is called a pervasive developmental disorder (PDD). In essence, it is a slight difference in the construction of the brain, probably present since birth, which affects the way the child develops. It’s not a mental condition or a behavioural issue… it is a neurological difference. Asperger’s Syndrome is also sometimes referred to as a neurobiological disorder – which means the nervous system has developed slightly differently to “normal” due to genetic, metabolic, or other biological factors. Many people are of the opinion that the terms that describe it (syndrome, disorder, etc) have onerous connotations and that it’s more accurate to simply say that so affected individuals are different.
A number of traits of autism are common to Asperger syndrome including difficulty in social relationships, difficulty in communicating, limitations in imagination and creative play.
However, people with Asperger syndrome usually have fewer problems with language than those with autism, often speaking fluently, though their words can sometimes sound formal or stilted. People with Asperger syndrome do not usually have the accompanying learning disabilities associated with autism; in fact, people with Asperger syndrome are often of average or above average intelligence. Because of this many children with Asperger syndrome enter mainstream school and, with the right support and encouragement, can make good progress and go on to further education and employment.
Because their disability is often less obvious than that of someone with autism, a person with Asperger syndrome is, in a sense, more vulnerable. They can, sadly, be an easy target for teasing or bullying at school. As they get older, they may realise that they are different from other people and feel isolated and depressed. People with Asperger syndrome often want to be sociable and are upset by the fact that they find it hard to make friends.
There are many possible symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome. Your child may have mild to severe symptoms or have a few or many of these symptoms. Because of the wide variety of symptoms, no two children (or adults) with Asperger’s are alike.
Symptoms during childhood
Parents often first notice the symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome when their child starts preschool and begins to interact with other children. Children with Asperger’s syndrome may:
- Not pick up on social cues and lack inborn social skills, such as being able to read others’ body language, start or maintain a conversation, and take turns talking.
- Dislike any changes in routines.
- May appear to lack empathy.
- Be unable to recognize subtle differences in speech tone, pitch, and accent that alter the meaning of others’ speech. Thus, your child may not understand a joke or may take a sarcastic comment literally. Likewise, his or her speech may be flat and difficult to understand because it lacks tone, pitch, and accent.
- Have a formal style of speaking that is advanced for his or her age. For example, the child may use the term “beckon” instead of “call,” or “return” instead of “come back.”
- Avoid eye contact.
- Have unusual facial expressions or postures.
- Be preoccupied with one or only few interests, which he or she may be very knowledgeable about. Many children with Asperger’s syndrome are overly interested in parts of a whole or in unusual activities, such as doing intricate jigsaw puzzles, designing houses, drawing highly detailed scenes, or astronomy.
- Talk a lot, usually about a favorite subject. One-sided conversations are common. Internal thoughts are often verbalized.
- Have delayed motor development. Your child may be late in learning to use a fork or spoon, ride a bike, or catch a ball. He or she may have an awkward walk. Handwriting is often poor.
- May have heightened sensitivity and get overstimulated by loud noises, lights, or strong tastes or textures. For more information about these symptoms, see Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD).
- Have advanced rote memorization and math skills. Your child may be able to memorize dates, formulas, and phone numbers in unusually accurate detail.
Though the condition is in some ways similar to autism, a child with Asperger’s syndrome typically has normal to advanced language and intellectual development. Also, those with Asperger’s syndrome typically make more of an effort to make friends and engage in activities with others.
Symptoms during adolescent and teen years
Most symptoms persist through the teen years, and while teens with Asperger’s can begin to learn those social skills they lack, communication often remains difficult. They will probably continue to have difficulty “reading” others’ behavior.
Your teen with Asperger’s syndrome (like other teens) will want friends but may feel shy or intimidated when approaching other teens. He or she may feel “different” from others. While most teens place emphasis on being and looking “cool,” trying to fit in may be frustrating and emotionally draining for teens with Asperger’s. They may be immature for their age and be naive and too trusting, which can lead to teasing and bullying.
All of these difficulties can cause teens with Asperger’s to become withdrawn and socially isolated and to suffer from depression or anxiety.
However, some teens with Asperger’s syndrome are able to make and keep a few close friends through the school years. Some of the classic Asperger’s traits may also work to the benefit of your teen. Teens with Asperger’s are typically uninterested in following social norms, fads, or conventional thinking, allowing creative thinking and the pursuit of original interests and goals. Their preference for rules and honesty may lead them to excel in the classroom and as citizens.
Symptoms in adulthood
Asperger’s syndrome is a lifelong condition, although it tends to stabilize over time, and improvements are often seen. Adults usually obtain a better understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses. They are able to learn social skills and how to read others’ social cues. Many people with Asperger’s syndrome marry and have children.
Some traits that are typical of Asperger’s syndrome, such as excellent memories and focused interests, can increase chances of university and career success. Many people with Asperger’s seem to be fascinated with technology, and a common career choice is engineering. However, scientific careers are by no means the only areas where people with Asperger’s excel. Indeed, many respected historical figures have had symptoms of Asperger’s, including Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, and Thomas Jefferson.
So much attention is focused on children with autism – but of course, adults are autistic too. As with all other forms of autism, Asperger syndrome has no actual cure. But there are options for treatment, and resources for improving quality of life overall. In addition, there are medications appropriate for symptoms that often go along with Asperger syndrome, such as anxiety, depression, and compulsive behavior.
Top Ten Reasons for Adults to Seek an Asperger Syndrome Diagnosis
You (or someone you love) have always been a little different. Friendships and romantic relationships have been harder to forge. Employers have passed you over for promotion, despite your excellent performance. You’ve always wondered whether you were doing something wrong. You sometimes feel like you’re on the wrong planet! Then you started reading and hearing about Asperger syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism. You learned that it included many of the issues you’ve dealt with all your life. Could you have Asperger syndrome? Then, perhaps, you wondered – what difference does it make? I’ve made it this many years without a diagnosis, and there’s no cure. I don’t feel like doing all the work involved in getting diagnosed. Besides, I’m not sure I want a label slapped on my back.
These are all good concerns. But the truth is, if you DO have Asperger syndrome, a diagnosis can be an important step toward improving your life. So…why bother seeking a diagnosis? Here are the Top Ten Reasons for Adults to Seek an Asperger syndrome diagnosis!
1. Asperger Syndrome May Be Getting in the Way of Your Career
You never seem to get a job that reflects your abilities, even though all your credentials are terrific on paper. Or you’re passed over for promotions regularly because you just don’t get office politics. The problem could be AS.
2. Asperger Syndrome May Be Getting in the Way of Friendships
You have a tough time making and/or keeping friends, and don’t know why. Or your friends are only interested in you when you’re engaged in an activity you share but you haven’t built a personal relationship. The problem could be AS.
3. Asperger Syndrome May Be the Reason You “Obsess” on Certain Topics
You’ve been called “obsessive” or “fanatical” but you feel you’re just very interested in one incredibly fascinating topic. You’d like to figure out whether you’re right or wrong, and make a good decision about whether to try to expand your interests. It would help to know whether you have AS.
4. Asperger Syndrome May Be Cramping Your Social Style
Parties and social events are a great way to meet people and they can be essential for business, dating, and even a happy marriage. But if you don’t know where to stand, how to break into a conversation, what to wear or whether you’re talking too loudly, you may need help and support to take part and have fun. And the problem may be AS.
5. Asperger Syndrome May Be Standing in the Way of Romance
You met someone special. You’re interested in making a move. Now what? Dating is tough for anyone, but if you have AS it can be downright baffling. Need help? You might need to start with an AS diagnosis.
6. Asperger Syndrome Could Be the Reason You’re “Mall-Phobic”
You get easily overwhelmed anytime there’s too much sensory input – even at the mall, the grocery store, or at a sporting event. And you’d very much like to be comfortable taking part in those ordinary activities. The problem could be AS, and part of the solution could be getting that diagnosis.
7. Asperger Syndrome May Be Making it Harder to Get Through School
If you have Asperger Syndrome, you may be a visual thinker in a verbal world. With an AS diagnosis, you can get the help and accommodations you need to complete courses, tests and interviews to get the work you want.
8. Asperger Syndrome May Be a Problem in an Important Relationship
Someone you care about has suggested that you may have Asperger Syndrome, and they’ve pointed to certain behaviors that drive them crazy. They’d like you to get a professional opinion and, ideally, some help. Could they be right? Only an experienced professional can tell you if you have AS.
9. A Diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome May Be the Key to Getting Services You Need
If you do have Asperger Syndrome, you may have encountered problems throughout your life. You may be isolated, low on funds, or even in need of better housing. A diagnosis of AS can qualify you for a variety of federal services, accommodations and supports.
10. A Diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome Can Open New Doors to Friendships and Community
You’ve been feeling “different” your whole life. Now, you’re hoping to find a community of people who get who you are, how you think, and even how you feel. A diagnosis of AS may give you the push you need to get in touch with autism support groups and connect with that community.
If you’d like to find out more about Asperger’s Syndrome a good starting point is the website of Dr Tony Attwood – http://www.tonyattwood.com.au
If you’d like to listen to an ABC radio interview with Dr Tony Attwood go here – http://www.abc.net.au/queensland/conversations/stories/s1904502.htm?queensland
“From my clinical experience I consider that children and adults with Asperger’s Syndrome have a different, not defective, way of thinking.”