Children with Aspergers (high functioning autism) may develop problems in their abilities to successfully engage in interpersonal relationships.
Aspergers may lead to problems in social interaction with peers. These problems can be severe or mild depending on the child. Kids with Aspergers are often the target of bullying at school due to their idiosyncratic behavior, precise language, unusual interests, and impaired ability to perceive and respond in socially expected ways to nonverbal cues, particularly in interpersonal conflict. Kids with Aspergers may be overly literal, and may have difficulty interpreting and responding to sarcasm, banter, or metaphorical speech. Difficulties with social interaction may also be manifest in a lack of play with other kids.
The above problems can even arise in the family; given an unfavorable family environment, the youngster may be subject to emotional abuse. A youngster or teenager with Aspergers is often puzzled by this mistreatment, unaware of what has been done incorrectly. Unlike other pervasive development disorders, most kids with Aspergers want to be social, but fail to socialize successfully, which can lead to later withdrawal and asocial behavior, especially in adolescence. At this stage of life especially, they risk being drawn into unsuitable and inappropriate friendships and social groups. People with Aspergers often interact better with those considerably older or younger than themselves, rather than those within their own age group.
Kids with Aspergers often display advanced abilities for their age in language, reading, mathematics, spatial skills, and/or music—sometimes into the "gifted" range—but this may be counterbalanced by considerable delays in other developmental areas. This combination of traits can lead to problems with teachers and other authority figures. A youngster with Aspergers might be regarded by teachers as a "problem child" or a "poor performer." The youngster’s extremely low tolerance for what they perceive to be ordinary and mediocre tasks, such as typical homework assignments, can easily become frustrating; a teacher may well consider the youngster arrogant, spiteful, and insubordinate. Lack of support and understanding, in combination with the youngster's anxieties, can result in problematic behavior (such as severe tantrums, violent and angry outbursts, and withdrawal).
Difficulties in relationships—
Two traits sometimes found in Aspergers children are mind-blindness - the inability to predict the beliefs and intentions of others – (see below) and alexithymia - the inability to identify and interpret emotional signals in oneself or others – (see below) which reduce the ability to be empathetically attuned to others. Alexithymia in Aspergers functions as an independent variable relying on different neural networks than those implicated in theory of mind (see below). In fact, lack of Theory of Mind in Aspergers may be a result of a lack of information available to the mind due to the operation of the alexithymic deficit.
A second issue related to alexithymia involves the inability to identify and modulate strong emotions such as sadness or anger, which leaves the child prone to “sudden affective outbursts such as crying or rage.” The inability to express feelings using words may also predispose the child to use physical acts to articulate the mood and release the emotional energy.
Children with Aspergers report a feeling of being unwillingly detached from the world around them. They may have difficulty finding a life partner or getting married due to poor social skills. Children with Aspergers will need support if they desire to make connections on a personal level. The complexity and inconsistency of the social world can pose an extreme challenge for children with Aspergers. In the UK Asperger's is covered by the Disability Discrimination Act; those with Aspergers who get treated badly because of it may have some redress. The first case was Hewett v Motorola 2004 (sometimes referred to as Hewitt) and the second was Isles v Ealing Council.
The intense focus and tendency to work things out logically often grants people with Aspergers a high level of ability in their field of interest. When these special interests coincide with a materially or socially useful task, the person with Aspergers can lead a profitable career and a fulfilled life. The youngster obsessed with a specific area may succeed in employment related to that area. People with Aspergers have also served in the military. Although Aspergers is generally a disqualifier for military service, the individual can be qualified for enlistment if he or she has not required special accommodations or treatment for the past year. More research is needed on adults with Aspergers .
Mind-blindness can be described as an inability to develop an awareness of what is in the mind of another human. It is not necessarily caused by an inability to imagine an answer, but is often due to not being able to gather enough information to work out which of the many possible answers is correct. Mind-blindness is the opposite of empathy. Simon Baron-Cohen was the first person to use the term 'mind-blindness' to help understand some of the problems encountered by children with autism or Aspergers or other developmental disorders.
Alexithymia is defined by:
- a stimulus-bound, externally oriented cognitive style
- constricted imaginal processes, as evidenced by a paucity of fantasies
- difficulty describing feelings to other people
- difficulty identifying feelings and distinguishing between feelings and the bodily sensations of emotional arousal
Theory of mind appears to be an innate potential ability in humans, but one requiring social and other experience over many years to bring to fruition. Different people may develop more, or less, effective theories of mind. Empathy is a related concept, meaning experientially recognizing and understanding the states of mind, including beliefs, desires and particularly emotions of others, often characterized as the ability to "put oneself into another's shoes."
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