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Adults With Aspergers: What Other Family Members Need To Know

Aspergers (high functioning autism) is typically first diagnosed in children. In contrast to those with autism, adults with Aspergers usually acquire language skills normally, develop appropriately in cognitive abilities and tend to have higher-than-average verbal skills. The most significant feature of Aspergers is the inability to interact appropriately on a social basis. If untreated, many difficulties continue into adulthood.

Eccentric people have always existed, but Aspergers isn't always recognized as a possible cause of strange adult behavior. Aspergers, one of the neurological disorders on the autism spectrum, can be mild, causing only somewhat unusual behavior, or severe, causing almost complete inability to function in society without assistance. Adult Aspies, like kids with the syndrome, have trouble deciphering the normal rules of society, which impacts their home, work and social lives.

Grown-ups with Aspergers have high intellectual functioning – but diminished social abilities. An adult Aspie might:
  • appear clumsy
  • follow repetitive routines
  • have limited or unusual interests
  • lack social skills
  • lack the ability to read non-verbal cues
  • seem egocentric
  • use peculiar speech and language

Typical adult symptoms include:
  • "black and white" thinking
  • a tendency to be "in their own world"
  • appear overly concerned with their own agenda
  • difficulty managing appropriate social conduct
  • difficulty regulating emotions
  • follow strict routines
  • great musical ability
  • highly focused in specific fields of interest often to the exclusion of other pursuits
  • inability to empathize
  • inability to understand other perspectives
  • intense interest in one or two subjects
  • outstanding memory

Let’s go into greater detail regarding Aspergers in adults:

1. Assessment—Aspergers is a clinical diagnosis versus medical. Neurological and organic causes remain unknown. Psychological interviewing that includes medical, psychiatric and childhood history contributes to an Aspergers diagnosis. Aspergers is considered a pervasive developmental disorder according the DSM. The DSM extension after Adult Asperger Assessment (AAA) includes a list of criteria for an Aspergers diagnosis. Aspergers may coexist with other mood and behavior disorders.

2. Behavior— Grown-ups with Aspergers usually prefer structured lives with well-defined routines and may become agitated or upset when these routines are broken. If, for example, your spouse normally eats breakfast at 9 a.m. and becomes stressed out when asked to eat at an earlier time, this may be indicative of Aspergers. Unlike adults with autism, however, an individual with Aspergers will probably be able to keep his frustration in check. Grown-ups with Aspergers may also be reluctant to initiate conversation and require prodding to talk to you at all, especially if that individual is already engaged in a favored activity when you try to initiate conversation. Eye contact may be rare. An individual with Aspergers may have obsessive tendencies that manifest in such ways as insisting all of his books be lined up in a certain order on the shelf or that the clothes in his closet are categorized by color, style or season. Reliance on routine, obsession with categories and patterns and limited conversation are all symptoms of Aspergers that may be observed at home.

3. Cognitive Symptoms— While grown-ups with Aspergers are often of above-average intelligence, they may process information more slowly than normal, making it difficult to participate in discussions or activities that require quick thinking. Grown-ups with Aspergers may have trouble with organization and seeing the "big picture," often focusing on one aspect of a project or task. Most are rigid and inflexible, making transitions of any type difficult.

4. Common Careers— Adults on the autism/Asperger continuum have sophisticated skills in certain areas, such as those dealing with numbers or art. Most often, these skills do not exist together. Careers that do not rely on short-term memory are better suited for an individual on the spectrum. Appropriate careers include computer and video game design, drafting, commercial art, photography, mechanic, appliance repair, handcraft artisan, engineering and journalism.

5. Communication— Grown-ups with Aspergers may demonstrate unusual non-verbal communication, such as lack of eye contact, limited facial expressions or awkward body posturing. They may speak in a voice that is monotonous or flat. They may engage in one-sided conversations without regard to whether anyone is listening to them. Grown-ups with Aspergers are often of high intelligence and may specialize in one area or interest. This leads to a lack of interest in alternate topics and the unwillingness to listen when others are speaking. Such poor communication skills can lead to problems finding a job or interacting effectively in a workplace environment. Grown-ups with Aspergers often communicate poorly with others. Many talk incessantly, often about topics that others have no interest in. Their thought patterns may be scattered and difficult to follow and never come to a point. Speech patterns may have a strange cadence or lack the proper inflections. An individual with Aspergers may have difficulty understanding humor and may take what's said too literally.

6. Diagnosis— Most grown-ups with Aspergers are able to live relatively normal lives. They are often regarded as shy, reserved or even snobbish by others. As these are not considered abnormal behaviors, a real diagnosis may come late in life, or not at all. You can get a more accurate picture of whether your partner/spouse has Aspergers by talking to the people who know him, such as co-workers, college professors, other relatives and friends (though an individual with Aspergers may have a very limited social circle). Ask whether your partner/spouse initiates conversation, if he seems awkward and unsure of himself during social interactions and whether he has any strange behaviors his peers may have noticed. If the answers you get make you suspect Aspergers, you can encourage your partner/spouse to seek medical attention to manage the condition better.

7. Emotional Symptoms— Unlike adults with autism, people with Aspergers want to fit in with others. Their social and work-related difficulties can cause anxiety, anger, low self-esteem, obsessive compulsive behaviors and depression. They may feel disconnected and distant from the rest of the world, a feeling called "wrong planet" syndrome.

8. Imagination— Grown-ups with Aspergers may be unable to think in abstract ways. They may be inflexible in their thinking, unable to imagine a different outcome to a given situation than the one they perceive. Such rigid thinking patterns may make predicting outcomes of situations difficult. Grown-ups with Aspergers may develop strict lifestyle routines and experience anxiety and distress if that routine is disrupted. To avoid such disruption, some adults may keep extensive written to-do lists or keep a mental checklist of their plans.

9. Physical Symptoms— Grown-ups with Aspergers are often physically awkward. Many have a peculiar walk, poor posture or general clumsiness or difficulty with physical tasks.

10. Preoccupations and Obsessions— One of the diagnostic criteria for Aspergers is an "encompassing preoccupation with one or more stereotyped and restricted patterns of interest that is abnormal either in intensity or focus." A grown-up with the syndrome may obsessively latch on to a single hobby or area of interest, often memorizing facts to the smallest detail. Some individuals are successful in their work environment because of their attention to detail and ability to retain information. An inability to be flexible or to deal with changes in routine is also a trait. An adult with the syndrome may have difficulties in his home life, often demanding little or no change in routines or schedules.

11. Prognosis— Aspergers is a continuous and lifelong syndrome. Individuals with Aspergers should be able to function with the syndrome with proper coping skills in place. Adapting their environment to their syndrome is especially critical. Finding a work environment that de-emphasizes social interactions may be appropriate. In addition, having a regular work routine and schedule may be beneficial. Interventions, such as social skills training, education and/or psychotherapy, may be necessary to better manage symptoms.

12. Relationships— Because grown-ups with Aspergers struggle to understand emotions in others, they miss subtle cues such as facial expression, eye contact and body language. As a result, an adult Aspie appears aloof, selfish or uncaring. Neurologically, adults with Aspergers are unable to understand other people's emotional states. They are usually surprised, upset and show remorse when informed of the hurtful or inappropriate effect of their actions. Affected adults show as much interest as others do in intimate relationships. However, most Aspergers adults lack the social or empathetic skills to effectively manage romantic relationships. An individual with Aspergers behaves at younger developmental age in relationships. The subtleties of courtship are unfamiliar and sometimes inappropriate physical contact results.

13. Social Interaction— Grown-ups with Aspergers may have difficulty interacting in social groups. For example, they may choose inappropriate topics to discuss in a group setting or find making small talk difficult or even annoying. As they tend to be literal thinkers, they may have trouble understanding social metaphors, teasing or irony. They may lack empathy or find it hard to relate to other people. Some adults with Aspergers have anger management problems and may lash out in a social setting without regard to another's feelings. They may report feeling detached from the world and having trouble finding and maintaining relationships.

An individual with the syndrome lacks the ability to display appropriate non-verbal behaviors, such as eye contact, facial expressions, body postures and gestures. He may have difficulties in initiating and maintaining friendships because of inappropriate social behaviors. He may appear rude or obnoxious to others and at times is left out of social encounters. Unlike adults with autism, who withdraw from other people, adults with Aspergers often want to fit in but don't know how. The inability to "read" other people's social signals or to display empathy for other's problems leads to awkward social encounters.

14. Speech Patterns— Another feature of Aspergers is impaired speech. The individual with this syndrome may speak in a monotone voice or may speak too loudly and out of place. He may interpret everyday phrases literally. The commonly used phrase "break a leg" will be taken literally to injure one's self. Subtle humor or sarcasm may not be understood or may be misinterpreted. Some individuals display highly developed vocabulary, often sounding overly formal and stilted.

15. Stereotypical Behavior— Grown-ups with this syndrome often are preoccupied with something to the extreme level. For example, if an individual with Aspergers likes football that is all he will talk about--all the time and with everyone. These individuals are also often obsessed with parts of objects. On another note, grown-ups with Aspergers need routines to help them function. They do not like changes in routines, and find them difficult. Other stereotypical behavior in which they engage is body movements; they often flap their hands or fingers, or make complex body movements.


•    Anonymous said… Did you know your spouse had AS? In many of our cases we did not nor did they. It is a relatively new and ever expanding diagnosis and understanding and every case is slightly different. The things that drew me like a magnet to my husband were and still are the things that make him special. I am no slouch and at the time of meeting my husband I was dating several college young men and they pailed in comparison to his whit, intellect and attention to detail. I was also very glad he was not so stuck on himself like many of the people I was dating. he did not care if he wore the latest fashion, etc. I still am intrigued by his ability to comprehend complex thoughts and frankly living with a "normal" person must be quite boring. Marriage is a 2 way street but not every street has level surfaces and some roads have bumps and pot holes. I am not saying that life is easy living with a spouse with AS but it could be much worse. We have never been without a home, vehicles, jobs, or our needs met. He works hard to provide for his family and himself. He knows his limitations but also knows that he can try and make up for it in other ways. Keep researching and trying to find out if a life with your spouse is right for you. Not everyone can be the strong one or the one who has t take care of the finer details of life. But, be encouraged, at least you now know what is going on and can take whatever steps you both desire to achieve your outcome.
•    Anonymous said… Good luck. Keep trying. Pregnancy was not a big deal for my ASH either. On the good side, It was all about me smile emoticon And... I took care of the children by myself and in my younger years I was resentful but when we had our son I actually was thankful. My children have wonderful memories I made for them. We had bonding time that was ours and ours alone and that is okay by me. My ASH could not nurse the babies anyway, LOL. One good thing is they take things literally. You can say exactly what you need. If I want to celebrate a holiday, I say, "it is important to me to celebrate. I want,,," and say specifically what I want, go out to dinner, gift, party, etc. I had a significant birthday last year. I got exactly what I asked for, like a hand written love note at least 3 sentences. It was beautiful!
•    Anonymous said… I also feel like I'm nagging some, not as much as I used to. I finally got over having my house look a certain way. When I want it neat for more than a few minutes and get frustrated, I have to stop and think of all the things I love about him. We separated for about 9 months. It really helped us both see what was important, and he realized that making a habit of a few chores was important to me.
•    Anonymous said… I find that it is really helpful to communicate with my partner with AS via emails and texts especially about important things to do with our relationship but even about things that I need help with for our baby daughter and around the house. It allows him the emotional and mental space he needs to absorb the information and takes away the feelings of frustration that usually arise for me when I can't seem to get through to him.
•    Anonymous said… I simply can't imagine why anyone would knowingly marry into this. I felt conned. Bait and switch. Three years later and two kids later im so burnt out. All advice is for how the NT partner should walk on eggshells. This is BS. Marriage takes TWO. Where are the articles and advice for the work the aspie partner has to do?
•    Anonymous said… I think my biggest challenge is that my spouse needs constant reminding of what needs to be done. He is not the orderly type of AS, but a really messy one. He just does not notice what needs to be done, because it is not important to him. I do have to state what I feel is the obvious, like please take out the trash, because it really does not bother him if it's setting in his path and he has to walk over it or around it. The constant reminding, which I feel is nagging, gets really old to me. I feel like I am the only responsible one a lot, although less than I used to feel. On the other hand, my husband is very honest and communicative. He does not like tension between us, so he makes sure that we are good and I am not upset with him. We have been married for 21 years and he has matured greatly. I have to say that at the time I married him, AS was not a term, he was just quirky. My friends and family were slow to warm to him, and he to them, so sometimes that was uncomfortable for me, too. He is much more social than he used to be. He has more of a sensor now, so he doesn't blurt out intimate details of our life to everybody anymore, which is nice. He has really great friends and is a really great friend. If you are his friend, he will be your friend for life. He is maybe the most caring individual I have ever met. I have to say that our first 5 years were very trying at times, but I had to change my mindset that an argument wasn't about winning, but it was about understanding where the other person is at. I guess we have both really matured over these years. Now we are parenting two kids, one with AS and the other NT. I am so glad that he is my partner for this ride because he really gets our AS child and is such a great dad to both of our children.
•    Anonymous said… The AS realization came only about two months ago. It explains everything of the past three years. Truthfully, it has been terrible. He did enough at the beginning, and then switched off once I got pregnant. He's blowing off going to therapy of any kind. Thats what gets me most angry. He needs to try. And he should. What I liked about him at the beginning was like an illusion. He's not that person at all. Your words give a glimmer of hope though. Thank you again.
•    Anonymous said… The non AS partner does often reach the point of feeling lonely and neglected, without their partner noticing, which adds to the downward spiral. I am looking forward to hearing of any strategies that couples have found helpful in addressing this. On a positive note, this is a second marriage for both of us, and it has lasted longer than both previous relationships partly because we are aware of AS!
•    Anonymous said… This is so very new to me. I just found out my husband has aspergers and we just got married. I am really struggling with this. On one hand I am very glad I finally understand why I do not have this emotional connection with him but on the other hand I am a person who loves affection and I was just thinking if he could get some counceling from the abuse he had when he was a child then maybe I could get it and now I feel like I will never have it. Though my ex husband cheated on me left and right indo know for a fact my husband would never ever cheat so that is a relief. How did you deal w the loss of affection?

Post your comment below…


Anonymous said...

My situation is that I am a social worker working with a family with a defiant Aspergers Teen (and the Aspergers is not officially diagnosed or accepted by the parents although the symptoms are pretty clear) and I’m looking for ways to help the parents who are walking on eggshells around this rather explosive kid to figure out how to regain their parental authority and control some negative choices.

Anonymous said...

Quickly, I am 64, divorced, two grown children, and six grandchildren. I am a CPA, but, more importantly, I have had 43 jobs since I graduated college 40 years ago. And I have moved more times than I have had jobs, something like 54 addresses.

When I learned my grandson had aspergers syndrone in October 2010, I did not know what it was. I knew Sam was different from his three brothers, but that was all.

Two weeks ago, while watching Hoarders on TV, the lady said: "Emotions? What emotions?" Something went off inside of me, and I hit the Internet. Searching about Aspergers, with no emotions.

I found "me".

First grade, elementary school, my teacher hit me for not doing what I was supposed to be doing. Fourth I was horrible at sports, my teacher, a lady, took my bat, and said loud and clear, "let me show you how to do it." The laughing from the class almost killed me.

High School: Mr. Peculiar, had to drink beer to be able to talk, had to drink beer to be able to dance, then, only certain dances.

I attended East Carolina University from 1965-1969. I never met or made one single friend.

Marriage: arguments, arguments, then some more arguments. We divorced after 32 years in 1999.

My daughters, now 43 and 39, rarely speak, and when we do, it is all superficial....and very painful to me. Why the word painful? Well, over two weeks ago, it was. Now, I think it may be less. When you know you have something, you know the name, it makes a difference. Not knowing is the nightmare.

Medical: In 1972, I had a nervous breakdown, was put on Tranxene. What brought it on was my working conditions. I was put into a huge room with nothing but women, in low cubicles. In other words, one could be seen.
The psychiatrist in 1972 said I had a "social disorder." In 1976, another breakdown.........brought on by being asked to do something I did not know how to do on the job.
In 1995, clinical depression hit. In Duke for three weeks, zoloft did its magic and got me out. But huge side effects sexually, as there was none with zoloft. In 2000, clinical depression arrived and stayed for 9 months. Electrical shock treatments finally broke it, and paxil.

Anonymous said...

My 22 yo daughter has recently been diagnosed and we're learning slowly. The red flag I see here is "self diagnosed". Your wife should be assessed by an MD/Psychiatrist. I am struggling to urge my daughter to accept help via medication, and I think that medication combined with therapy (maybe for both of you?) could be a big help.

Anonymous said...

My dad (78 years old)is moving in with my husband and I next month. He very recently diagnosed with Aspergers (imagine at his age) but as a teacher, I had strong suspicions. In recent years, I've rec'd a lot of training for working with my students, and so much works successful with them, but with dad, very little works. He is full of anxiety, some depression (mom died 3 years ago) and is OCD. We are moving him here because we worry about him but he says he only feels safe around us. He wants to come too, and is dealing pretty well with the preparations and the change-he wants to come NOW although we need a few more weeks to get his apt ready. We truly believe without his house worries and being alone (although we go there daily) will relieve a lot of anxiety, but I am getting so anxious. How do I cope with the repeated stories -over and over and over. I can deal with almost everything else, I can refocus him, calm him, feed him, etc., !
but after 10 times of the same story, especially when he interrupts everyone else to tell it again, I want to scream. He has become so childlike in things he does, that my 4 year old grandchild looks confused. I want him to feel safe and secure and well cared for, but I wonder how I will cope when I am trying to grade or work on intense lesson planning and he is still telling me the same story for the umpteenth time. I am so afraid that I will yell at him which will be horrible. We were packing some of his pictures yesterday and 6 times he interrupted to show my son (who is moving in his house) how to turn the shower on. Each time we stopped and my son went to look, but when he did it a 7th time, we said dad, we have to finish this and you already showed him. Dad cried and I am afraid that he will cry or get angry, and we did not even raise our voices. Any suggestions????

Anonymous said...

Hello Mr Hutten,

I came across your website during my research. My research is trying to measure the need of Independent Living communities for adults within the Asperger spectrum.

We started the process to open Shire House as an Independent Living Housing...we hope to open our first home by the end of the year.

I do know there is a need here in the San Fransisco Bay Area but am looking for concrete numbers here and nationwide. I'm also researching what is actually out there to fill this need and what their programs like like.

I found your website to be very helpful... wish I had heard about it sooner since most of my experience in helping/dealing with my 19 year old son came from the school, therapists and county mental health dept. Back in the early years we were all learning together.

Thank you for the wonderful service you provide and will direct young parents dealing with these issues to your site.

Sincerely, Elizabeth

Anonymous said...

Our problem is that in his quest to have friends he lets his self be used. Our son is now staying with a friend in his basement apartment. He has been there 5 weeks and has not even looked for a job. He shows back up to work with his dad or do yardwork enough to get gas and cigarette money. As soon as he gets a counselor who he is comfortable with they change jobs. He cant keep his appointments unless I remind him he forgets his meds. He basically sleeps all day and then plays guitar. We have tried everything to make him work. Taken his car. Turned off his phone. He now has learned to mooch off people the way they have mooched off him for his car. His car has 200000 miles and when it dies I told him we are not going to help him get another one. He does not use the car for a way to get back and forth to work. He has used it to sleep in at college and he uses it for a taxi for his so called friends. We are at the end of our rope. When he’s here we fight about him and when he’s gone we worry about him. We tried to send him to a vocational program thru DOORS and he wouldn’t go because he saw someone drooling. He became insulted and said “I’m not retarded and I’m not staying there”. Please let me know do I cut off all contact and make him tough it out or what ? Thanks confused mom

MinnesotaMother said...

I've desperately googled, and now stumbled upon your comment. May I ask.... how are you and your son now?? What did you decide and what were the consequences??? Please!

Unknown said...

I am 22 with aspeger syndrome and my anger and out breaks have become more terrifying to my mom...she doesn't know how to deal with it and then once it's over she'll come back two days later and rub it in my face and say things like do you remember this and how you acted and you could've just sacrificed things but i don't want to hear stuff like that cuz it gets me more angry... like what can she do as a mom who is new to this...

Unknown said...

I am in desperate need of some advice! My son is 21 years old and has Asperger's. His dad and I split when he was 10 and he went to live with him when he was 12, thinking the grass would be greener on the other side. He quickly realized that it wasn't, but things had happened with his younger brother that meant he couldn't come back to live with me, until about a year ago. He drove himself from Maine to Illinois to live with me, his step dad, and our three other kids looking to improve his life. Things were going pretty good for awhile. He joined the volunteer fire dept., went to school and earned his EMT license, and worked part time at a local grocery store. The only problem was he took up smoking Marijuana again, he did this before moving out here as well. One of the conditions of him moving out here was that he would no longer do this, especially in out house. More and More lately, he has developed this attitude that all the rules we have set down are unreasonable (and there aren't really that many), and he is going to do what he wants. He continues to smoke Pot and make poor decisions. Recently, he purchased a jeep that he knew the owner didn't have a title for. I'm not even sure it wasn't stolen before he purchased it. He is driving it with no insurance and plates that the previous owner gave him to use. I don't feel comfortable even having this parked in my driveway.
My other issue is the way he bullies his younger brother into doing whatever it is he wants him to do. He is 18 and trying very hard to figure out his own life. the problem is when his brother wants something, he gets very angry until he gets it. So he just winds up going along with whatever his older brother wants.
This is just a couple of the most important issues, but there are many. I am not sure how to handle this. I have been trying so hard to help him, but I feel like I am at a point that he needs to learn from natural consequences. That being said, Should I tell him it's time for him to find a place of his own to live? He recently got a factory job in town making decent money, so he could afford it if he stops blowing his money on Pot and other things that are not a priority. But I am honestly afraid that if I push him, it might lead to him going over the edge in some way.

My child has been rejected by his peers, ridiculed and bullied !!!

Social rejection has devastating effects in many areas of functioning. Because the ASD child tends to internalize how others treat him, rejection damages self-esteem and often causes anxiety and depression. As the child feels worse about himself and becomes more anxious and depressed – he performs worse, socially and intellectually.

Click here to read the full article…

How to Prevent Meltdowns in Children on the Spectrum

Meltdowns are not a pretty sight. They are somewhat like overblown temper tantrums, but unlike tantrums, meltdowns can last anywhere from ten minutes to over an hour. When it starts, the Asperger's or HFA child is totally out-of-control. When it ends, both you and your child are totally exhausted. But... don’t breathe a sigh of relief yet. At the least provocation, for the remainder of that day -- and sometimes into the next - the meltdown can return in full force.

Click here for the full article...

Parenting Defiant Teens on the Spectrum

Although Aspergers [high-functioning autism] is at the milder end of the autism spectrum, the challenges parents face when disciplining a teenager on the spectrum are more difficult than they would be with an average teen. Complicated by defiant behavior, the teen is at risk for even greater difficulties on multiple levels – unless the parents’ disciplinary techniques are tailored to their child's special needs.

Click here to read the full article…

Older Teens and Young Adult Children with ASD Still Living At Home

Your older teenager or young “adult child” isn’t sure what to do, and he is asking you for money every few days. How do you cut the purse strings and teach him to be independent? Parents of teens with ASD face many problems that other parents do not. Time is running out for teaching their adolescent how to become an independent adult. As one mother put it, "There's so little time, yet so much left to do."

Click here to read the full article…

Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism

Two traits often found in kids with High-Functioning Autism are “mind-blindness” (i.e., the inability to predict the beliefs and intentions of others) and “alexithymia” (i.e., the inability to identify and interpret emotional signals in others). These two traits reduce the youngster’s ability to empathize with peers. As a result, he or she may be perceived by adults and other children as selfish, insensitive and uncaring.

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to read the full article...

Highly Effective Research-Based Parenting Strategies for Children with Asperger's and HFA

Become an expert in helping your child cope with his or her “out-of-control” emotions, inability to make and keep friends, stress, anger, thinking errors, and resistance to change.

Click here for the full article...

My Aspergers Child - Syndicated Content