Asperger’s syndrome in adults is a brain disorder which is part of the autism spectrum. It is not a mental health problem, such as depression, but a neurological disorder that a person is born with. Asperger’s Syndrome is a fairly recent development in the field of neurological disorders; it was discovered in the 1940s by Doctor Hans Asperger, but has only recently received widespread recognition and attention. Due to the fact that Asperger’s is a fairly recent development in the medical world, it is thought that there may be thousands of undiagnosed adults within the autism spectrum. In the past autism was often misdiagnosed as attention deficit disorder, or a mental illness such as obsessive compulsive disorder, or the person was perhaps just seen as ‘quirky’ or ‘eccentric’. Getting the correct diagnosis for adults with this condition can help themselves and their families understand the situation and get the right help and support.
Asperger’s syndrome can best be described as a difference in the wiring of the brain, in which the person affected sees the world in a different way. As part of the autism spectrum, Asperger’s syndrome is considered very high functioning autism, which means the person who has it may not show any signs of ‘classical’ autism, such as severe developmental problems, particularly with speech and motor skills. The term ‘high functioning autism’ itself, is usually used to classify an autistic person with a 70 or above IQ. Therefore, it may be very difficult to tell someone has high functioning autism until they are put into a ‘trigger’ situation. Adults with autism feel comfortable with routine and order, as well as familiarity, so if they are put in a new situation, or feel something is disrupting their routine, this can lead them to become irritated and anxious. Adults with Asperger’s syndrome tend to be oversensitive to light, audio and tactility, as well as a tendency to fixate on a particularly niche hobby or interest, almost to the point of obsession.
Asperger’s syndrome affects each person differently, but generally adults with Asperger’s syndrome have average to above-average intelligence. Social situations are usually the most pervasive problem for people with this condition; to someone with Asperger syndrome, the world can seem like a confusing, frightening and often isolating place. People with this condition see the world in a very analytical and logical way, and everyday interaction, particularly social interaction, can be very difficult from them to make sense of. As autistic adults feel comfortable with order and structure, they may see other people’s behaviour as erratic and confusing.
People with Asperger’s can also have trouble understanding and expressing their own emotions and feelings; this can lead to feelings of anger and frustration, as well as difficulty being understood by those who do not understand the disorder. Adults with Autism have difficulty understanding everyday social interaction, especially the subtle degrees of human body language and speech. They can have difficulty understanding changes in facial expression, body language, tone of voice, or fail to grasp the concept of personal space, resulting in what would be considered ‘inappropriate’ behaviour or touching to those who are not aware of the condition.
If the person with this condition has a fixation on a particular hobby or interest, they may dominate a conversation with this topic, not change topics or not know how to start or end a conversation; they may not be particularly interested or get upset if the other person in the conversation tries to change the subject. Adults with Asperger’s often have trouble with empathy, seeing things from another person’s point of view, or understanding how their words and actions could affect other people. They also tend to display unusual nonverbal body language, such as odd body posture and avoiding eye contact. They may take speech literally, not understand metaphors, sarcasm or humour. This lack of awareness in social situations can often lead to misunderstandings, such as being labelled ‘crazy’ or being perceived as ‘rude’. This, of course, has a direct impact on their ability to form and maintain personal relationships.
In turn, Asperger’s syndrome can seriously affect an adult’s daily life, not only in the form of a social life, but also when it comes to acquiring and holding down a job. An adult with autism may feel that disclosing their condition in a job application may lead to them not getting an interview, but, conversely, that if they do not disclose it, they may be perceived as acting ‘strangely’ during the interview itself, if the interviewer is not aware of the autistic person’s medical condition. Though this may seem bleak, many adults with autism have found stable jobs where their strengths can be used to their advantage, such as their tendency to enjoy routine and order, for example.
Autistic adults often suffer from hypersensitivity, particularly to audio, visual and physical stimuli. Everyday sights and sounds such as sunshine and traffic, to a person with Asperger’s, can be unbearable. This can make going out, particularly during the daytime or fraternising socially where loud music is played, for example, very difficult and distressing. Again, this makes it more difficult for an autistic person to live a normal life; because they are very restricted in the things they feel comfortable with doing.
Asperger’s syndrome is a lifelong condition which cannot be cured; however, it can be treated effectively, allowing the adult to live a normal life. There is no one effective treatment for Asperger’s syndrome, but cognitive behavioural therapy, language therapy and social skills therapy have proved to be effective in managing the condition.