Since first being recognized in 1944 by an Austrian paediatrician, Hans Asperger, the neurologically diverse disorder known as Asperger’s Syndrome, has arguably become one of the most widely misdiagnosed, socially misunderstood and contentious disorders on the Autism Spectrum.
For this reason, those living with Asperger’s Syndrome often find themselves having to battle against a sea of erroneous professional and social misconceptions (myths) which leave them wide open to a consistent stream of criticism and suspicion as to who they truly are, their levels of ability, and the validity of their ‘unusual’ ways of being the world.
The aim of this article is to redress some of the myths that have sprung up regarding Asperger’s Syndrome over time.
Myth 1: Asperger’s Syndrome is both an over and under Diagnosed condition that only affects males .
Since its addition to the DSM in the late 80’s researchers have contended that Asperger’s Syndrome is a condition that has been both significantly over and under diagnosed.
Given such paradoxical assertions, one could argue that contentions surrounding either the over or under diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome, appears to be very much dependent on which ever ways the political winds of the time are blowing.
For example, there are some who contend that a 1992 U.S. Department of Education directive to enhance services for children diagnosed with “pervasive development disorder, not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS),” led to a flood of diagnosing “socially awkward children” with Asperger’s Syndrome as a knee jerk reaction to achieving higher levels of funding and support for those children.
Since then the question has often been asked:
“ At what point should a child’s eccentric, aloof or ‘oddball,’ behaviours be considered a developmental condition instead of a potentially passing phase?”
Questions like these have led to a high degree of social scepticism over the validity of an Asperger’s diagnosis, with many choosing to believe instead that Asperger’s is merely a diagnosis of convenience, used by parents to try and excuse their children’s bad behaviours.
Beliefs such as these have fed into a tendency to either under diagnose or delay the diagnosis of children with Asperger’s Syndrome.
They have also further added to the high degrees of intolerance and lack of understanding that parents of children with Asperger’s Syndrome, particularly girls, routinely describe experiencing in the difficult and stressful process of trying to seek help, support and acceptance for children on the Autism Spectrum.
There is no doubting that rates of under diagnosis have had a particularly strong impact on the lives of women and girls, whom it was once believed could not experience Asperger’s Syndrome..
More recently researchers have begun to contend that boys are no more dramatically susceptible to the syndrome than girls; rather it’s the fact that girls present or manifest the disorder in ways that are different to boys that have led to their high levels of under or misdiagnosis.
Though many females have remained undiagnosed for a variety of reasons, including the fact that girls are better at blending in, or that some AS traits are seen as being more socially acceptable in girls, there are females with Asperger’s Syndrome within our communities and more and more females are being diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome every day..
This improvement in the rates of girls now being diagnosed can be directly attributed to the many adults, particularly women, who are now speaking out about the debilitating impacts that growing up as a child with undiagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome has had on their lives.
If we listen to the experiences of those adults who are now speaking out, we should all be able to become more aware that the level of damage caused by refusing to legitimately recognize the symptoms of Asperger’s Syndrome in a child, regardless of their gender, can be catastrophic.
The stories of those who have lived through the pain of being undiagnosed should serve as a reminder to us of the importance and the need to engage in an accurate and unbiased diagnostic process, untethered to either political or financial interests.
2 Myth: Asperger’s Syndrome only affects children: Therefore adults can and should grow out of it with time.
Many people have a tendency to think that Asperger’s Syndrome only affects children and that adults can and should be capable of growing out of it.
Such thinking has evolved in parallel with the idea that all children with ADHD can be medicated and will eventually grow out of the condition.
Similarly, people also presume that adults with Asperger’s Syndrome, should somehow have been cured of it via early intervention therapies and other treatments by the time they reach adulthood.
Such ideas are both erroneous and extremely harmful to adults with Asperger’s Syndrome who struggle daily to attain some small degree of acceptance and understanding for their symptoms.
As it stands, there is no cure for Asperger’s Syndrome because it is neither a disease nor a disorder that people can turn on or off at will or that can be treated and made disappear by the use of medication.
One of the main reasons why the myth that Asperger’s Syndrome isn’t as common among adults as it is among children has persisted, may well be the fact that adults often have had a lifetime of trial and error experiences to draw upon, which subsequently helps them to mask their symptoms for brief periods of time.
This skill unfortunately also enables people to believe that a person’s Asperger’s Syndrome is capable of going away. Which of course it isn’t.
Rather than allowing people to presume such nonsense I like to think of it this way:
Adults do not grow out of having Asperger’s Syndrome, but rather, after living a life time of observing others and figuring out for themselves which environments and people are best suited to them, many adults with Asperger’s Syndrome grow into a deeper acceptance of themselves and therefore seek out life styles, where possible, that better suit their needs.
In this way I believe that adults grow into their Asperger’s Syndrome, not out of it.
So now that we’ve established that adults can and do legitimately have Asperger’s Syndrome it’s time to move on to some of the most common misconceptions about adult’s with AS.
3 Myth: Adults with Asperger’s Syndrome are attention seeking, cold, aloof, loners, who don’t care about the needs of others.
This is perhaps the most harmful myth of all. It has been said (and sometimes by fairly prominent people within the media) that Asperger’s Syndrome is just an excuse for some people to behave like sociopathic jerks.
This is not true. As with the formerly more well-known form of classic Autism, those with Asperger’s Syndrome do not choose to have this challenging condition.
They are not trying to be deliberately rude by avoiding eye contact, social interactions or loud, unfamiliar environments such as parties or large family gatherings simply as a way of gaining attention.
Part of the problem for those with Asperger syndrome is that personal relationships, including familial relationships, often require them to try and take part in hyper social activities that contain all of the many unwritten rules and social cues, those with Asperger’s Syndrome find so confusing.
As a result they will often avoid taking part in such activities.
Yet get a person with Asperger’s Syndrome in a one on one situation, without all of the distractions of a loud or unfamiliar environment, and you will often find that they are very warm, witty and generally caring people.
It really is as simple as that.
Yet despite this simple truth, those with Asperger’s Syndrome, whose outward appearances mark them out as being more focused on their own needs rather than on the social niceties of life, still often find themselves being ostracized and misunderstood by others.
Another very simple truth is that the vast majority of those with Asperger’s Syndrome desperately want to be liked and accepted by others. They just don’t know how to achieve this because unlike neruo-typicals, those with Asperger’s Syndrome were not born with the same intrinsic toolbox of social understandings and awareness’, that those born without Asperger’s Syndrome take for granted.
So although people with Asperger’s have routinely been viewed as being quiet, introspective people who are cold and aloof, the truth is that more often than not, they are simply people who are either too shy or too scared of being misunderstood, to say a word.
Another area of life that may make those with Asperger’s Syndrome appear aloof, or unable to put the needs of others first, involves the impacts that sensory issues may have on them.
For this reason, the need to maintain an environment that lessens the impacts of their sensory issues often creates within those with Asperger’s, an over-riding drive for safety that can become far more important to them than taking part in the social niceties of life.
But this does not mean that all Aspies are introverts, indeed some are also extroverts.
A good rule of thumb to remember is that if it looks like an Aspie is ignoring you, chances are they’re not, they’re merely observing your interactions and being cautious
And speaking of being cautious, here’s another myth that desperately needs busting.
4. Myth: Asperger’s is a dangerous mental illness that makes People more prone to Violence
Due to modern media discourse and the recent spate of sad and unfortunate instances of loner male teens committing acts of unthinkable violence, several erroneous links between such teens and those with Asperger’s Syndrome has once again raised speculations that Asperger’s may be a form of mental illnesses.
Such speculations however represent both an immense lack of understanding in regards to mental illness in general and of Asperger’s syndrome itself.
Asperger’s syndrome is not a mental illness.
It is a neurological/developmental disorder.
Unlike classic or severe Autism, those with Asperger’s syndrome are often not diagnosed until school age when they’re lack of interaction with peers and the inability to automatically understand social cues begins to mark them out as being in some way different from their peers.
Although those with Asperger’s syndrome may also experience high levels of anxiety and a predisposition towards depression, it as yet unclear whether or not these conditions occur in tandem with Asperger’s Syndrome as a result of either sensory overload of the constant desire of society to force those with Asperger’s Syndrome to assimilate into social and environmental situations which they may find either uncomfortable or excruciating.
For instance, if you have an extreme sensitivity to sounds, being forced to sit amidst a classroom full of noisy peers would be enough to trigger both extreme anxiety and discomfort.
If you don’t believe the debilitating effects this can have on an individual with Asperger’s Syndrome, then try going to a heavy metal rock concert with an ear infection and see whether or not you enjoy standing in front of the speakers.
Chances are, you will not.
However, unlike those with Asperger’s Syndrome, nobody is likely to accuse you of having a mental illness simply because you found being in a loud environment with painful ears unbearable.
The sheer logic alone of trying to associate the reactions of those with Asperger’s syndrome experiencing sensory overloads with the actions of those experiencing psychotic mental illnesses is once again extremely flawed.
So flawed in fact that it is now widely accepted by psychiatrists and psychologists alike that there are few, if any, alleged links between Asperger’s Syndrome and extreme acts of wilful violence to be found.
Hence those with Asperger’s Syndrome are no more prone to violence than the general population.
The only crime it appears those diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome are guilty of is that of being somewhat eccentric by exhibiting behaviours that do not fall within the realms of what society considers ‘normal’.
Once again these are issues of socialization, not violence.
In conclusion, Asperger’s Syndrome, is considered a “developmental disorder” that a person is born with.
While no one knows exactly what causes Asperger’s Syndrome, what is becoming clear is the fact that the levels of misconception and suspicion that often surrounds adults with Asperger’s Syndrome, make it a tough and lonely disorder to live and deal with on a daily basis for many.
One key way in which we can begin to redress many of the myths and misconceptions that surround the experiences of adults with Asperger’s Syndrome would be to encourage those with the condition to discuss their struggles openly and honestly without all of the leering suspicions that have become so much a part of their daily lives.