Joy was obsessed with “anything Ancient Egyptian”, from art, dance, ancient writings and history. It was her passion, her love, her best friend. Her mind was like sponge, it soaked it all in. She was only 14 years old, but she knew more about this subject than her history teachers. But the downside of her unique brain and passion was she had emotional meltdowns and struggled in her social environment. Her peers thought she was “weird” and a “freak”.
She was eventually diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. Asperger’s is considered a high level form of Autism. Individuals with Asperger’s tend to be highly intelligent and gifted, but struggle with their emotions and in their social environment. Professionals tend to focus on the negative aspects of this syndrome and not of the positive qualities that come with having this condition. I would like to first address some of the main challenging traits and then share some of the positive gifts I’ve learning from working with individuals with Asperger’s.
Lack of Social Understanding.
For individuals with Asperger’s, their social world is unpredictable and uncontrollable. This creates a lot fear and anxiety. These individuals have a hard time understanding and often make mistakes in their social world. It is like they are in a foreign country and they don’t speak the language. They often misinterpret social cues and experiences, have problems understanding peer relationships, and struggle with non-verbal behaviors, such as appropriate eye contact. They are often considered “weird”, “different”, and are called “freaks”. They are often bullied.
Another significant challenge for individuals with Asperger’s is their low tolerance for stress and frustrations. They often have emotional meltdowns when they feel overwhelmed and are in sensory overload. They have a difficult time organizing and filtering this information. They are also sensitive to the world around them and when they have too much information, they go into sensory overload and meltdowns occur. These meltdowns often look like child-like temper tantrums. Emotional meltdowns are negative ways that they try to relieve their stress and anxiety.
Individuals with Asperger’s tend to be extremely rigid in their thinking and behavior. They have self-developed rules and rituals. They feel they must follow these rules or they are afraid they will feel significant anxiety and fear. Often their thinking looks like symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder. Rules, rituals and routines help them manage and control their world, but when they are excessive it causes significant problems.
Gifts of Asperger’s
Passion and Intelligence.
As mentioned previously, individuals with Asperger’s love information and their brains are like sponges (especially in subjects they are interested in). Information for them replaces the confusion they often feel and gives them a feeling of control. Because of this gift, many individuals with Asperger’s develop passions and become talented in the focused areas of interest. They are also creative, think outside the box and tend to be very intelligent (especially in the acquisition of knowledge). In addition, when their environment is supportive and structured, they tend to be successful in school, work and careers.
Loyal and Loving.
Although individuals with Asperger’s struggle with social relationships and often fear relationships, deep down they desperately and sincerely want quality relationships. Many have had bad experiences with friendships since they lack many important socials skills. After repeated failures at relationship, many individuals with Asperger’s feel hopelessness and some end up giving up on relationships. The upside is social and relationship skills can be taught and once learned, individuals with Asperger’s bloom in relationships. They become great friends and are extremely loyal and loving.
Reliable and Honest.
Individuals with Asperger’s tend to be reliable and very honest. They appreciate structure and routine. This helps them follow through on assignments, appointments and other responsibilities. They develop patterns of reliability. In addition, these individuals tend to be honest and have a high level of integrity. Their rigidity helps them clearly see things as right or wrong. They are good at knowing and reinforcing boundaries and rules. They greatly dislike any form of injustice.
Working with individuals with Asperger’s can be challenging at times, yet they are a joy to work with. They are wonderfully unique.