Adults with Asperger’s: Boundary Problems
By: Beth McHugh 2010
Because people who suffer from Asperger’s disorder have difficulty is reading other people’s body language and even understanding the more subtle aspects of normal human verbal communication, adults with the condition can experience an array of interpersonal problems.
Mainly though, it is the people who interact with adult Asperger’s who have the problem, rather than the sufferer themselves. This is because they are often either not aware of the hurt and trouble they are causing, or more commonly, they will not listen to significant others who tell them that their behavior is inappropriate.
Let’s look at the case of Alison. Alison is a helper at her local church and does such tasks as driving older parishioners to the doctors, the hairdressers, shopping and the like. Other parishioners describe her as “strange” in that she seldom makes eye contact and will often ignore people who she knows quite well. Naturally these people begin to feel hurt and angry, especially when Alison will actually approach them on her terms – that is, when she has something she wants to say. But notice there is no reciprocity in the relationship. When Alison does not want to talk or has nothing to say, she is unable to engage in normal social chit-chat. She also isolates herself in group activities as is seen as standoffish.
She recently caused much pain in the family on one parishioner where the elderly mother had asked Alison to clean out her wardrobe and all her private papers. A normal person when asked to perform such a request has certain social mores already in place and is unlikely to proceed with such as activity without consulting the family. Not so Alison because these rules are alien to sufferers of Asperger’s. A request is asked and it shall be executed in their minds.
The mother’s daughter was aghast at what was occurring as the mother had always asked her daughter to make sure no-one did this particular task but her. Unfortunately the mother was losing her faculties and did not respond to her daughter’s or her sister’s request to stop this activity and that the job would be done by family members. The daughter also explained this situation to Alison.
Other parish members were also very angry that Alison was even doing this activity which crossed the boundaries of her duties. But Alison did not respond in any way to the daughter’s request to stop cleaning out the wardrobes and dressing table. She merely looked past her and continued on with the task.
This is the type of situation where adults with Asperger’s do not have the emotional development to realize that they offending people, stepping over boundaries that a normal person wouldn’t even get involved with in the first place, and are unable to read the body language of the daughter who asked her to desist.
Consequently a rift has occurred between this family and the church concerned. No one in the church will stand up to Alison because she does so much “good work” and volunteers are few. Although she is recognized as being “strange”, there are few if any people who would be able to diagnose Alison with Asperger’s unless they were either mental health professionals or had close contact with Asperger-disordered people among their family or friends.
There are many people who suffer from Asperger’s disorder who are aware that they are different and are amenable to learning how to interact better, and in fact seek it out. Sadly, the more affected the individual, the more resistant and argumentative they are to any suggestion that there is a problem.
Sadly this undiagnosed woman has caused suffering to a family already in crisis because the lack of volunteers coupled with the reluctance of people in a position of power in this particular church to stop this woman from violating the rights of this family has resulted in unnecessary problems and a falling out with the church.
We will look at difficulties other people suffer due to undiagnosed Asperger’s in coming articles.