Asperger’s or not Asperger’s?
By: Beth McHugh 2007
We’ve all heard of common mental conditions such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, and mood disorders. We may also have knowledge of less mainstream disorders such as body dysmorphic disorder, borderline personality disorder and Tourette’s syndrome.
Yet there are many other conditions that affect humans that do not fall into such clear- cut categories but which nevertheless are indicative of problems in the sufferer. We discussed one such case in the article on Munchausen by Proxy.
Many more strange and puzzling afflictions affect the general population and today’s blog describes one of them. It involves the diagnosis of a child with Asperger’s Disorder. As described in previous articles on adults with Asperger’s, the diagnosis of an adult often comes on the heels of the diagnosis of a child. As Asperger’s has a strong genetic component to its occurrence, when a child is diagnosed with the disorder, a parent or grandparent is often diagnosed retrospectively. This means that all the unusual behaviors of a parent or grandparent, or perhaps even an aunt or uncle, suddenly become quite clear once the child or grandchild is diagnosed with the condition.
Often though, a child may have Asperger’s without either of the parents showing signs of the disorder. And this is where the case of Katherine comes in. Katherine and Craig had a young son diagnosed with Asperger’s. Katherine, who herself suffered from depression and borderline personality disorder, was convinced that Craig was the carrier of the defective gene that resulted in her son’s behavioral difficulties.
So Katherine went from therapist to therapist, insinuating that her husband suffered from Asperger’s while at the same time making out that she knew little of the disorder. She informed one therapist that she had already been told by a behavioral specialist that her husband did not have Asperger’s disorder. She also revealed that she had been very angry with the specialist for not diagnosing her husband with the disorder. One wonders why anyone would deliberately want a family member to have any illness whatsoever.
But the tale continues. Furious with two “unsuccessful” diagnosis, Katherine tried another therapist with the same tactics. The same subtle, yet naïvely “helpful” facts that pointed to Asperger’s in her husband were offered in the initial consultation, while at the same time unwittingly revealing other facts that clearly illustrated that Craig did not have the disorder at all.
When the same verdict came through again, that Craig did not have Asperger’s, Katherine ended therapy and moved onto yet another specialist for yet another diagnosis. Meanwhile it became increasingly obvious that Katherine was in the grip of a disorder herself.
So, what propels a woman like Katherine to search for conclusive proof that her husband suffers from the same illness as her son? As we saw in The Parental Blame Game in Mental Illness, Katherine had a vested interest in making sure that her son’s illness was due to Craig and not herself. The sad part is that it need not have come from either parent. Yet she is harming herself, her husband, her son and her marriage by keeping up this desperate search for a false reality that somehow comforts her. It is cases such as these that psychologists study with great interest, since they reveal small but significant insights into the full spectrum of abnormal human behavior.