Coping with an adult with Asperger’s (3)

In this third blog on living with a person with Asperger’s, (see Coping with an adult with Asperger’s (1) and (2), we look at further behavioral patterns of the sufferer and ways families and friends can better deal with difficulties encountered in everyday interactions with individuals with the condition.

Asperger’s Disorder makes for difficulties in understanding the emotions of others as well as interpreting subtle communication skills, as transmitted through eye contact, facial expressions, and body language. This often leads to the person with this disorder being labeled as rude, uncaring, cold, and unfeeling. While it is natural for those who interact with Asperger’s to feel this way, it is unfair to the sufferer. This is because Asperger’s Disorder is a genetic, neurological condition which renders the sufferer mentally unable to readily understand and interpret the emotional states of others.

One of the problems associated with adult Asperger’s is lack of accurate diagnosis. Because Asperger’s is a disorder that has only been recognized and singled out from other autistic spectrum disorders in the last decade, to date there has been little information about the behaviors of adults with the condition. As children, these adults would have stood out among their peers as being “unusual,” yet at the time there was no accurate diagnosis available. Hence there still remains many adult Asperger’s in the community who remain undiagnosed.

The other problem is that, even when diagnosis occurs, the Asperger sufferer may refuse to go into family counseling or accept available assistance as they do not see that they have a problem. One of my client’s who had a mother with the condition was relieved to finally discover the reason for his mother’s emotional aloofness, yet was devastated when that same mother refused to go into family therapy because she simply said “I feel good, there’s nothing wrong with me.”

In this case, there was no denial involved on the part of the mother. She simply couldn’t understand her son’s pain, his feelings of rejection, or his desire for a real “mother-son” relationship. None of it made any “sense” to her. In addition, her interactions with the family and in-laws were fraught with difficulties. Eventually this man decided to limit interaction with his mother as it caused too much distress.

In other cases, the Asperger sufferer, when told that their actions are hurtful or inappropriate, may be genuinely shocked. However, the behavior is likely to be repeated, unless there is some form of intervention, and the individual genuinely desires to change.

Some Asperger’s can maintain ongoing relationships, however due to their neurological inability to effectively communicate on an emotional level, there are numerous difficulties. Even dating can prove to be a problem as the subtle “language of love” which operates during the courtship phase is often a mystery to the Asperger’s sufferer. This can apply to even the most academically gifted individual. Recent research into the sexual behaviors of Asperger’s suffers indicates that they have similar sex drives as the general population but seldom possess the social skills to deal with the high level of intimacy required of such a relationship. In fact, research suggests that the divorce rate for couples in which one partner has Asperger’s Disorder is around 80%.

In the next blog, we will look at further aspects of Asperger’s as well as treatment options.

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