Asperger’s Syndrome? What’s That? Installment 1
I know that when my doc mentioned the words “Asperger’s Syndrome” to me, I really didn’t have a good sense of what they meant. I had run across the words once before, but I didn’t really remember what they were about.
Asperger’s Syndrome is a high-functioning form of autism that is defined largely by social difficulties and sensory oddities. There’s more of course to it than that, but that works as a basic definition for those new to this world.
Social difficulty examples: Not being able to gauge other peoples’ reactions during conversations to what you’re saying. This results in people saying that you talk too much and are ignoring the social clues to when it’s time to stop talking. In the case of people with Asperger’s Syndrome, you don’t ignore the social clues; you just don’t notice them to begin with.
Asperger’s Syndrome (also known as “AS”) can also be described as a form of social immaturity. People with AS tend to get stuck on topics and will talk to them to death. It doesn’t even matter if someone changes the subject. People with AS will often just bring up the same topic later on in the conversation, after everyone has seemingly forgotten about it.
People with AS almost always have special interests that they research with a specialized sort of hyperfocus that is rarely seen in other parts of their lives. They learn everything that there is to know about these subjects and can, at times, sound like university professors–or in the case of children, they are often referred to as “little professors.”
My middle brother, who is not officially on the spectrum (although I believe he probably is and this next story is one of the reasons why), was once in a museum with our family (before I was born) and got separated from them somehow. When they finally found him, he was leading a tour and telling the history of all of the dinosaurs in that part of the museum. “And from this era, we have the . . .” kind of stuff. Oh, did I mention that he was only five at the time???
These special interests tend to change over time. Also, usually, people with AS don’t have just one special interest, but rather they have several; some they drop as they get older for new things and some that stay with them forever. For example, I’ve been obsessed with Batman for as long as I can remember. On the other hand, I was also seriously obsessed with the X-Files from about 6th grade through 9th. I must say though, that that is no longer one of my main interests. I still like the show, but I don’t dream about the characters or write papers on them anymore. *laughs* One good thing about these special interests is that frequently people with AS can turn a special interest (or two) into a career. Like me. I’ve been obsessed with psychology since I was in my early teens (I’m 24 now), and I’ve loved music and have been involved with it ever since I could cry. 🙂 So it makes sense for me to obtain a master’s in Music Therapy, no?
AS is currently diagnosed more in boys than in girls. It’s believed by many of those on the spectrum (the autism spectrum) that this is incorrect, and that there are probably just far more undiagnosed girls out there.
This article talks a bit about women on the spectrum. Here’s a good quote from it:
Some women talked about the resentment they felt toward people, who for many years had been trying to teach them “socially appropriate” ways of acting. “Enough already!” was a common response.
Both autism and AS are housed under the same category, which is called “Autism Spectrum Disorders” or ASDs. It is referred to as a spectrum because of the many wide and diverse levels of functioning found all over the continuum of ASDs. For example, a person might be a brilliant teacher, but then not be able to balance a checkbook to save their life.
People with AS also tend to call themselves “aspies” for short. Speaking as an aspie, I can tell you that I actually prefer that term. Also, while person-first language dictates that one must refer to the person as being separate from the diagnosis (as in saying “people with autism” instead of autistic person), there are plenty of people on the spectrum who disagree with that. They believe that they don’t have a disorder necessarily, but rather being an aspie is just part of who they are, and is not something to be separate from (Ex. Jim Sinclair, Phil Schwarz, lastcrazyhorn).
People have the misconception that ASDs are something only in kids. I don’t know what they believe happens when these kids turn 21. That they just stop being autistic??? Hmm. On the realistic side, however, people with ASDs are not static in their growth as people, but rather they continue to develop socially/emotionally/mentally/physically. For instance, motor coordination is another area that aspies tend to have difficulties in. My coordination as a 24 year old is at least ten times as good as it was when I was a child or teen. There was a period in the 8th grade where I tripped going up the stairs almost every day.
People with Asperger’s Syndrome tend also to have a lot of comorbidities, or co-existing diagnoses. For example here are a few possible ones:
SPD/SID – Sensory Processing Disorder/Sensory Integration Disorder (it’s the same thing, but one is the old name and the other is the new – not that I remember which is which of course).
ADD/ADHD – A lot of people get diagnosed with this when they should get diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. They might only show some of the traits of ADD/ADHD, but yet they still get the dx. People with AS, as mentioned before, are highly focused on their own pursuits. However, when having to learn something else, they often will get bored and zone out–especially if the teacher’s format is entirely aural.
OCD – Before getting diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, I got diagnosed with atypical OCD. This was because while I had plenty of obsessions, I pretty much lacked the compulsion part of the dx. I did have a few, but none particularly life shattering.
GAD – I can’t say that I agree with every point of this article, but it does mention a few good things. One of the things I don’t agree about is that it says aspies don’t like meeting new people. That’s a crock. Some people with AS don’t like meeting new people, true, but there are a lot of others (myself included) that really like interacting with other people. We’re just not as good at it as perhaps we should be, developmentally speaking.
APD – Auditory Processing Disorder. I do some of this (even though I’m not diagnosed with this per se). I misunderstand words that sound alike. Aspies tend to have heightened senses, and more often than not they will pick up the background sounds around them more so than the words being spoken by another person.
People with AS tend to be very concrete. They tend to be (not always, but predominantly) visual learners. This means that in order for them to truly understand something, they really need to be able to see it.
So why get diagnosed? For me, being diagnosed was one of the best things that ever happened to me. When you have AS, people are constantly harping on you to “act your age” and to “grow up.” They seem to think that you’re being oversensitive just to piss them off or something. Plus, when I got dxed, I could stop worrying about my mental status. I felt like I was going crazy for so long. I mean, I like who I am. I like how AS allows me to think outside the box and experience the world in unique ways. But socially and stress-wise, I just wasn’t doing so great. Now, with my diagnosis, I know what things to watch out for that make me nutty or overstimulated (leading to shut down on my part – a point where I just can’t take any more input).
Acronyms can be wonderful, time-saving devices. On the other hand, they can be annoying as hell. Here’s a list that might help a bit.
More next time. 🙂
~ by lastcrazyhorn on May 7, 2008.
Posted in anxiety, aspies, autism, Autistic Spectrum Particulars, Batman, children with disabilities, communication, concentration, disabilities, education, Guide to being an aspie, research, senses, special interests
Tags: add, ADHD, apd, As, Asperger's Syndrome, Aspie, attention deficit disorder, auditory processing disorders, GAD, generalized anxiety disorder, Guide to being an aspie, obsessive compulsive disorder, OCD, person-first language, sensory processing disorder, social difficulties, spd, spectrum disorders