An estimated 68 million people are known to have Asperger’s syndrome, which was more recently folded under the umbrella heading of Autism Spectrum Disorder in the U.S. However, numerous researchers believe that this number is actually probably much higher because many adults with this condition have never been diagnosed. If you know, or suspect, that someone in your life has Asperger’s, it is important to be aware that their lives are filled with many challenges and strengths, regardless of how functional they appear to be.
1. Every Person with Asperger’s is Impacted by Their Symptoms Differently
There is a saying in the autistic community: “If you’ve met one person with Asperger’s, you’ve met one person with Asperger’s.” This is a reflection of the fact that a wide variety of symptoms and traits can be attributed to Asperger’s and autism in general, and everyone reacts to them differently.
For example, some individuals with Asperger’s have such a high pain tolerance that it can be dangerous, while others feel pain much more intensely than people who are neurotypical. In other words, it is important to be cognizant of the fact that each person with Asperger’s will be challenged in different ways by having a neurodiverse brain.
2. Movie and TV Representations Are Often Over the Top
Some people with autism are similar to depictions found in movies such as “Rain Man” and “Jane Wants a Boyfriend,” but it would be erroneous to believe that these representations are accurate for everyone. Asperger’s symptoms are often hidden by people and may only be easily observed by those who know them very well. In fact, girls and women with Asperger’s are especially adept at blending in, and this can cause them to go undiagnosed for several decades. When you combine this with a flawed methodology that looks primarily at boys and more extreme cases, it becomes easy to understand why movies show over the top examples, but this is not truly indicative of the lives that most individuals with Asperger’s actually have.
3. A Sensory Diet Doesn’t Involve Food
One of the biggest challenges about Asperger’s is regulating sensory input in order to avoid becoming overloaded. A sensory diet is meant to help the individual down and upcycle as needed. For example, being out in public causes someone with Asperger’s to experience a lot of incoming information, ranging from noises to lights.
Some people choose to wear noise-cancelling headphones in public to block out some of this sensory input. It is also common to reduce time spent socializing, exercise daily and engage senses in positive ways such as burning certain types of incense or blowing off steam via martial arts. As an added bonus, some of these activities can help improve motor skills and coordination, which are often less developed. In many cases, a sensory diet can make the difference between a good and a bad day.
4. Meltdowns Are Embarrassing but Often Unavoidable
Everyone loses their temper or cries sometimes, but this is not what is meant by a meltdown. Adults with Asperger’s typically have a more difficult time with emotional regulation, and they also need to pay close attention to sensory overload. When they become overloaded or fail to have their emotional and sensory needs met for an extended period of time, a meltdown can occur. This is an often embarrassing reaction to struggling to fit in to the neurotypical world.
It is important to note that a meltdown, which is often characterized by an extended period of crying and the inability to properly articulate feelings, is not something that is being done to try to manipulate someone or to control the situation. Instead, it happens because the individual loses their ability to control their emotions as a result of their sensory processing issues.
5. Seeking Medical Care can be Difficult
Receiving medical care is often difficult for people with Asperger’s for a wide number of reasons. In some cases, it is hard to find a medical professional who has experience with adult autism. Social issues and feeling extremely uncomfortable with others touching them can also hinder those with Asperger’s and prevent them from seeking out regular medical assistance. Fortunately, online medical communities such as Lybrate enable these individuals to speak to a doctor without leaving their house.
6. Lack of Eye Contact Doesn’t Mean Lack of Attention
Making and keeping eye contact is not easy for many people with Asperger’s. Women often adapt better to this social requirement, but either way, the amount of eye contact that someone makes with you is not a good indication of whether or not they are paying attention. Individuals with Asperger’s are often noted for their attention to detail and ability to see things that others don’t, so make sure that you don’t hold their lack of eye contact against them or assume that they are not taking in what you are saying. On the other hand, don’t assume that someone who can make eye contact cannot have Asperger’s.
7. The Autistic Community is Divided about the Autism Speaks Organization
The autistic community has been involved in many controversies surrounding the organization Autism Speaks. Otherwise known by their catchphrase “light it up blue,” Autism Speaks has a history of using language and symbols that many with Asperger’s find to be demeaning. The group also does not have any people with autism on its board, and their focus on finding a cure for autism is understandably offensive to neurodiverse individuals who are high functioning and do not feel the need to be cured. On the other hand, there are many parents of autistic children who are committed to helping Autism Speaks with the goal of finding a cure. Due to this, the community is extremely divided on this topic.
8. Routines and Planning Really Do Make Life More Enjoyable
Movies and TV shows sometimes poke fun at the idea of those with Asperger’s needing routines. However, the reality is that having a firm plan for the day, along with incorporating specific routines, is one of the best ways to make life feel less chaotic and more sensory friendly. When these routines and plans are interrupted, it can cause a lot of emotional distress. This is something to always keep in mind when you will be spending time with someone who has Asperger’s.
9. No One “Looks” Autistic
One common complaint within the autistic community is that people say things such as “you don’t look autistic.” Perhaps this is meant to be a compliment, but it really shows a lack of understanding of what it means to be on the spectrum. One person with Asperger’s might regularly exhibit certain behaviors that make them stand out, but another person may be able to restrain most of these traits in public. This does not mean that either of them looks less or more autistic because the reality is that they both have the same neurological condition. The odds are high that you know people with autism, even if they haven’t told you or been diagnosed yet, so avoid using harmful phrases based on stereotypes.
10. Individuals with Asperger’s Often Excel in Certain Fields
Someone with Asperger’s may have a hard time socializing or spending a lot of time in a crowded store, but this does not mean that they are unable to excel professionally. In fact, some companies specifically seek out employees with Asperger’s due to their attention to detail. Asperger’s is often associated with several other positive traits, including loyalty, dependability, a strong sense of right and wrong, honesty, persistence, passion, a specific talent and a unique way of looking at the world.
Despite these similar traits, women and men may fit best into different careers. For example, men with Asperger’s are often drawn to jobs in the tech field, but many women end up doing something creative such as writing, art or photography. Singer Susan Boyle provides a prime example of the talented side of Asperger’s.
Routines are vital to those with Asperger’s, but they also need to schedule downtime in order to recharge. When these people are given the support and freedom they need to embrace their strengths and minimize the challenges that can be associated with Asperger’s, they are able to lead very fulfilling lives and have a positive impact on their friends, family and coworkers.
Featured photo credit: Garry Knight via flickr.com