Education and Counseling for Individuals Affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders


Aspergers in Adulthood

Like other conditions on the autism spectrum, Aspergers (high functioning autism) is believed to be caused primarily by errant genes, and it is not typically associated with low IQ. Although there's no consensus on prevalence, a study in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry pins it at 1 in 400 among 8-year-olds, more often in boys than girls.

Though professionals use the same diagnostic criteria, interpretations make for wide disparities in diagnosis. Some people may have family members with autism-spectrum disorders and exhibit features of Aspergers, such as "social deficits and a great deal of rigidities," but these traits are not tantamount to the diagnosable condition.

A person with Aspergers often has trouble understanding the emotions of other people, and the subtle messages that are sent by facial expression, eye contact and body language are often missed. Research suggests that the divorce rate for people with Aspergers is around 80 per cent. Social training, which teaches how to behave in different social situations, is generally more helpful to a person with Aspergers than counseling.

Typical adult symptoms—

More males than females have Aspergers. While every person who has the syndrome will experience different symptoms and severity of symptoms, some of the more common characteristics include:

• Adherence to routines and schedules, and stress if expected routine is disrupted
• Average or above average intelligence
• Difficulties in empathizing with others
• Hampered conversational ability
• Inability to manage appropriate social conduct
• Inability to think in abstract ways
• Problems with controlling feelings such as anger, depression and anxiety
• Problems with understanding another person's point of view
• Specialized fields of interest or hobbies.

Primary Symptoms of Aspergers—

• Difficulty with Social Communication: People with Aspergers often find it difficult to understand others and express themselves. They fail to interpret gestures, facial expressions and change of tone. They are usually at a loss in choosing a topic to speak on, and do not know when to start or stop a conversation. They are very literal in what they say and fail to comprehend complex words and phrases, expressions like metaphors and even jokes. The best way to interact with individuals with Aspergers to keep one's sentences short and concise.

• Difficulty with Social Interaction: It is their inability to communicate that hampers their ability to maintain friendships. They might be confused at the way other people behave, because they are unable to understand social ways of conduct. They may lose interest in people and appear aloof most of the time. They are often mistaken as ignorant and vain individuals.

• Lack of Social Imagination: Although adults with Aspergers can be accomplished musicians and writers, they are unable to imagine alternatives to social incidents. They cannot predict a normal course of action according to social norms. For example, going to a wedding reception of a newly married couple may baffle them.

• Love for Routines: Adults with Aspergers seem to follow routines and rituals religiously. They do not take very well to a sudden change in their daily time table, and have set hours for everyday work. The reason behind such mechanical behavior is not very clear. However, it could be an attempt of further simplifying even the simple things that baffles the mind of an individual who suffers from Aspergers.

• Special Interests: Individuals with Aspergers are sometimes found to have an intense or even obsessive interest or hobby. Sometimes these continue for one's entire lifetime. However, in some cases, an individual may get smitten with a completely unrelated activity. However, this obsessive involvement with particular topics helps them in gaining an amazing insight into those fields. These topics could vary from computers to knowing how to play the guitar. Encouraging such individuals to continue with their interest helps them to acquire an in-depth knowledge in certain fields. This could help them to gain employment in their fields of interest.

The emotions of others—

A person with Aspergers may have trouble understanding the emotions of other individuals, and the subtle messages that are sent by facial expression, eye contact and body language are often missed. Because of this, a person with Aspergers might be seen as egotistical, selfish or uncaring. These are unfair labels, because the affected person is neurologically unable to understand other individuals's emotional states. They are usually shocked, upset and remorseful when told their actions were hurtful or inappropriate.

Sexual codes of conduct—

Research into the sexual understanding of individuals with Aspergers is in its infancy. Studies suggest that affected individuals are as interested in sex as anyone else, but many don't have the social or empathetic skills to successfully manage adult relationships.

Delayed understanding is common; for example, a person with Aspergers aged in their 20s typically has the sexual codes of conduct befitting a teen. Even affected individuals who are high achieving and academically or vocationally successful have trouble negotiating the 'hidden rules' of courtship. Inappropriate sexual behavior can result.

Being a partner and parent—

Although research into the sexual interests of adults suffering from Aspergers is still in the stage of infancy, the studies have revealed that they have a normal sexual urge as other adults, but their sexual codes may not be as mature as expected of their age. Hence, inappropriate sexual behavior can be expected. Biologically, they are capable of having kids. However, due to their inability to understand people's emotions, they may face some challenges in issues related to married life and parenting. If only the partner understands the symptoms and does not expect the spouse suffering from Aspergers to shoulder equal responsibilities of the family, married life could still be carried out on near-normal levels.

Life is like a complex puzzle for adults with Aspergers at every step. Matters become worse for them as most of us can't recognize Aspergers in adults. If you know that a person is suffering from this syndrome, be patient with him. With time you will be able to see why his behavior that seems inappropriate to you is the only right way for him to react.

Some affected individuals can maintain relationships and parent kids, although there are challenges. Dutch research suggests that the divorce rate for individuals with Aspergers is around 80 per cent.

A common marital problem is unfair distribution of responsibilities. For example, the partner of a person with Aspergers may be used to doing everything in the relationship when it is just the two of them. However, the partner may need practical and emotional support once kids come along, which the person with Aspergers is ill equipped to provide. When the partner expresses frustration or becomes upset that they're given no help of any kind, the person with Aspergers is typically baffled. Tension in the relationship often makes their symptoms worse.

Common issues for partners of Aspergers adults—

An adult's diagnosis of Aspergers often tends to follow their youngster's diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. This 'double whammy' can be extremely distressing to the partner who has to cope simultaneously with both diagnoses. Counseling, or joining a support group where they can talk with other individuals who face the same challenges, can be helpful. Some common issues for partners include:

• A sense of isolation, because the challenges of their relationship are different and not easily understood by others.
• After accepting that their partner's Aspergers won't get better, common emotions include guilt, despair and disappointment.
• Difficulties in accepting that their partner won't recover from Aspergers.
• Failure to have their own needs met by the relationship.
• Feeling overly responsible for their partner.
• Frequent wondering about whether or not to end the relationship.
• Frustration, since problems in the relationship don't seem to improve despite great efforts.
• Lack of emotional support from family members and friends who don't fully understand or appreciate the extra strains placed on a relationship by Aspergers.

The workplace—

Aptitude in social behavior is required in every aspect of life. Hence, despite their intelligence being average or above average levels, the chances of employment for adults with Aspergers get limited due to their social disabilities. However, there are agencies and services which help such individuals in getting jobs. It is important to remember that Aspergers does not retard one's intellectual development. If only the society is a little patient with their inability to understand social norms, they can fend for themselves as engineers, mathematicians, video game designers or photographers. They should avoid jobs of a receptionist, cashier or waiter as these involve a lot of social interactions.

A person with Aspergers may find their job opportunities limited by their disability. It may help to choose a vocation that takes into account the individual's symptoms, and plays to the strengths rather than the weaknesses. Here are some career suggestions:

Careers to avoid—

Careers that rely on short term memory should be avoided. Examples include:

• Air traffic controller
• Cashier
• Receptionist
• Short order cook
• Taxi dispatcher
• Waitress

Careers for visual thinkers—

Suggestions include:

• Appliance repair
• Building maintenance
• Building trades
• Commercial art
• Computer programming
• Drafting
• Equipment design
• Handcraft artisan
• Mechanic
• Photography
• Video game designer
• Webpage designer

Career for those good at mathematics or music—

Suggestions include:

• Accounting
• Bank teller
• Computer programming
• Engineering
• Filing positions
• Journalist, copy editor
• Mathematician
• Physician
• Piano (or other musical instrument) tuner
• Statistician
• Taxi driver
• Telemarketing

Treatment of Aspergers—

There is no cure for this syndrome. However, there are a number of therapies for adults with Aspergers. It should begin with a trained therapist first of all helping the patients to come to terms with their disability. It is important to make such individuals realize that they are just as functional as others, and that they could minimize the drawbacks of their disabilities with certain therapies. The treatment that follows differs according to an individual's response. While some may be overjoyed as they start to understand that it was not their fault if they did not understand how the world around them worked, there are those that simply abandon further treatment. It is important to make individuals with Aspergers feel confident about themselves, so that they respond positively to further course of treatment. This can be done through counseling. After that cognitive behavioral therapy sessions could be used successfully. Social training could also be adopted as it teaches individuals how to behave in different social situations.

The Aspergers Comprehensive Handbook

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