Why is it important to identify Asperger’s Syndrome in adults?
Growing up with undiagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome can be traumatic for many individuals. For many, the diagnosis and education that follows an assessment can be an extremely helpful and healing experience.
Proper diagnosis can help adults put their difficulties into perspective and also to understand the underlying reasons for their lifelong struggles. Adults with Asperger’s Syndrome have often
developed negative perceptions of themselves and may regard themselves as “weird”, “crazy,” or “broken.”
Correct diagnosis and effective treatment can help improve self-esteem, work performance and skills, educational attainment and social competencies.
What are the behaviors associates with AS?
Asperger’s Syndrome affects individuals uniquely. Those with moderate to mild traits are most likely to fly “under the radar”. They are most likely to have partners and children, and also are often able to hide their difficulties from people outside of the close family.
Other individuals with AS may have greater social and communication difficulties, which can even make living independently a challenge. Without support from families and guidance from professionals who are familiar with AS, these individuals are susceptible to isolation and chronic employment problems.
An individual with AS may display varying degrees of several or many of the following characteristics:
Deficiencies in social skills, such as inappropriate social approaches
Difficulty realizing when others are in trouble and need help
Difficulty recognizing the emotions, feelings and thoughts of others
An inability to consider others' viewpoints
Limited interest in friendships
Difficulty with all aspects of communication
Difficulty in comprehension of meaning and social reasoning
Difficulty with transitions and changes
Rigid resistance to novelty, and a strong need for routines
Narrow range of interests or idiosyncratic special interests
Overly sensitive to sounds, tastes, smells and sights
Motor coordination difficulties
Normal or above normal IQ
Difficulty managing their own negative feelings, especially anxiety, anger and depression
Adults with AS are also susceptible to having various psychological difficulties. Often these challenges are a result of the individual’s difficulty coping with their AS, as well as the stress, anger, frustration, confusion, anxiety and fear that they feel.
These additional difficulties are often misinterpreted, misdiagnosed, misunderstood and mistreated, especially if the underlying AS is undiagnosed or is not adequately understood.
Some of the most common additional difficulties include:
Anger outbursts (physical or verbal aggression, verbally threatening behavior)
Agitation and restlessness
Increase in obsessional or repetitive activities, thoughts, or speech
Low mood or depression
Apathy and inactivity
Onset of uncharacteristic, bizarre behavior or thoughts
It is also common for adults with AS to experience chronic struggles in major life activities such as family, friendships, finances, health, and the workplace. Examples of these struggles include:
Difficulty maintaining serious or romantic relationships
Partners or spouses complaining of lack of intimacy
Children feeling distant from AS parents
Friendships end due to lack of attention or invitations
Not understanding why friends or partners become frustrated
Lack of proactive attention to finances and health, resulting in dangerous neglect
Chronically being “underemployed” or unemployed
Frequent job changes due to “boredom”, lack of challenge, or interpersonal problems
It is unfortunate, but professionals who are unfamiliar with AS often focus on the surface symptoms and behaviors and thus arrive at an incorrect diagnosis. Among other, these can include:
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
How should Asperger’s Syndrome be managed?
The solutions for each individual with AS are different and will depend on personality, interests, circumstances and experiences. In order to find useful approaches to difficulties, it is imperative to understand what contributes to them.
Most of the time, the challenges someone with AS faces result from a complex interaction between the individual’s internal characteristics relating to having Asperger's Syndrome, and external factors relating to life events and experiences, adulthood, independence and expectations.
The external factors which contribute to the difficulties include:
not having a diagnosis, or explanation
not having access to information about AS
not having access to others with AS
loss of routine, structure, occupation and or life plan
increase in independence
accumulation of experiences of failure
little or limited support networks
increased need for internal motivation and drive as the person gets older
increased self-awareness of limitations and differences
increased gaps between intellectual, cognitive skills and social, self-help skills.
Internal factors which make individuals with AS vulnerable to significant psychological distress and the development of additional difficulties include:
decreasing internal motivation
rigid ways of thinking
limited distractions from negative/obsessional thoughts
limited insight into own difficulties or reasons
poor coping strategies
low threshold for tolerance of stress, frustration and nger
poor self-identity, understanding and esteem.
To reduce and prevent further difficulties it is important to focus on
underlying causes which will be different for different individuals. The aim is to provide:
diagnosis and explanation
support with understanding of Asperger’s Syndrome
explanation and education of significant others (professionals, employers, etc.)
relevant daily occupation and routine
plans and goals
concrete strategies for preventing and reducing anxiety
support and advice for increasing tolerance and developing coping strategies
opportunities and experiences to increase self-esteem
Increase or encourage:
daily routine and structure
goal-planning and achieving
regular physical exercise
stimulating occupations and activity
participation in structured social group activity
In order to reduce:
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