I never fail to be concerned by the significant number of clients I meet who have/appear to have, traits often associated with Autism and Asperger’s in their various presentations, and who are without a diagnosis. It has been estimated that in the UK alone, as many as 1 in 100 people are with some form of autism!
Worse than this, they have never, are far as is known by these clients, even been considered as such. The age group of these clients (I observe) are most commonly in their late forties, even into fifties.
A lifetime of confused relationships and interactions brings them to therapy!
For the younger generations, thankfully, providers in education, and guardians, have become savvier, though I would suggest there is still some way to go. I have in the last year observed two teenagers who went on to receive neuro-specific diagnosis.
How many times have you read a school report that said, “Joe/Jane fails to pay attention in class, daydreaming into oblivion…?” And how often have you thought, “Why are relationships so challenging for me”?
So what of this seemingly ‘lost’ generation?
It is never too late to bring understanding to those affected, the family, friends, colleagues and lovers of those whose world is perceived so very differently from those without communication challenges for societal ‘norms’.
It is also worth making clear that conditions involving Asperger’s syndrome (AS – or ‘aspies’) and those with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) are unique in their own communities as others are in theirs.
The media and ‘arts’ often portray this group as anything as diverse as ‘geeks’, introverts, extroverts, stalkers or aggressive. But rarely are they shown for their skills, compassion, needs, individuality and value!
There are various levels of these conditions. This means that all affected are indeed unique in the way the cognitions, the memory of the past, and how able they are to bring these memories and experiences to a present situation automatically, without conscious thought as others do, occurs.
In common scenarios, the things others take for granted are a major deal for AS-ASD individuals. This group may become overwhelmed by sensory overstimulation found during the gathering of people at an event, maybe a party, or reunion for instance. However, others may have no difficulties and ‘come to life’!
Traditional gestures associated with the accepted normality of social interactions may be baulked at by those with autism; the handshake can be uncomfortable, or even unwelcome because in the conscious they may fail to be objective around ‘why’ someone would want or need to shake hands, what is the relevance, they might ask?
Some simply do not have the same method of experiencing and recall, cognizance, that others do, meaning that each social interaction, even within family, can be akin to a new experience every time, or simply make no sense, having little objective points of reference available.
For some they accommodate this by taking deliberate time to slow themselves before making an estimated response. They may mimic what they see from others around them as (hopefully) appropriate and this can cause consternation from those waiting for the response.
More still may be perceived as ‘aloof’, or exhibiting failure to concentrate, when the reality may well be they are using every last ounce of concentration!
Ambient sounds can disrupt this concentration. The sensory overload is often described as one of the reasons a ‘meltdown’ occurs and the sufferer has to retreat, distressed, to a place of quiet.
For yet others, they may try quickly to provide a best guess response, leading to a perceived or actual inappropriate retort or action. In relationships, some will seek and need them; others are commonly very content with an accentuated introversion. This is healthy and separate from reclusive behaviours, as it is commonly ‘understood’. For the partners and loved ones of some who display autistic traits life can be hugely painful and upsetting when they’re expectations are frequently unmet for what may be deemed reasonable behaviour in others.
Cause and Cure
It is less than clear what causes these conditions, but what is clear is that a greater understanding around ‘how to’ accommodate people with traits in communication styles does lead to a reduction in the anxiety and depressive illness found in some of those who are misunderstood. These individuals are outside of malevolent behaviour; they are no more evil or bad than the rest of the community in which they live. This is important to understand.
There is no known cure! But then again, who is to say there needs to be? Maybe these people are correct in their behaviours and it’s others behaving incorrectly? However, whilst there are currently no recognised ways to remove the traits completely, they can be improved upon from both sides of the equation; the individual with the trait, and those affected.
The affected person can be provided tools to assist and improve their speech and interactions to fit in with what is expected of others, and those others can be better informed around how this person receives information.
Understand that their brains are hardwired to sort and recover and recall information in a very unique way, and that often, all that is required is tolerance and some understanding.
If you were to find yourself in a situation with a person with whom you both understood a separate language, I would like to think it would be reasonable to pay great attention to the way you gave and received, tried to understand the communications. Similarly, if you were to meet a celebrity, a powerful boss, political leader, artist, whatever – most will react and behave in a more considered way (some will not of course!) This can be afforded to those who receive information in a different way.
This is in no way intended to be anything more than the briefest of articles to introduce just a few possibilities for the reader to consider when living with, or coming across individuals who behave differently from our expectations. It really is unlikely these people are waking up and thinking, or planning how to annoy you, or fail to understand you quickly enough.
We can be particularly vigilant when meeting people only occasionally, or for the first time. For it is these events that seem to cause the most challenges for the person affected by autism, Asperger’s, or any number of conditions that may have similar traits. Remember if you will, that affected individuals often state that each day, each interaction is a ‘new’ experience’, then consider what it would be like for you, the anxiety is would cause if every person, every situation appeared to be like the first time you met someone, the first day at school or work!
Are you recognising traits similar to those above, in addition to, in yourself or others?
You can, in confidence start with an informal and online ‘quiz’, or speak to a professional. Be aware, there are a number of inconsistencies in attempting to decide if someone can be described as ‘autistic’, whichever phraseology is used. Gaining some understanding can however provide some relief if you have always felt misunderstood.
What are your experiences and views on this emotive and important subject? Perhaps you disagree with terminology, diagnoses, health professionals or other. What helped you or another you care for? Just as importantly, what hasn’t helped? Did you or a loved one have to wait too long in your view for a diagnosis? Did a condition contribute to a relationship success, or failure?
Further information around autism in all its guises, including Asperger’s, can be found at LIVING autism
Bob Brotchie is a counsellor, mindset consultant and creator of "Conscious Living by Design"™. He writes for Anglia Counselling, is featured on various other websites and introduces us to many guest writers all covering topics related to mental health and wellbeing.
Bob provides bespoke counselling services to individuals and couples in the privacy and comfort of a truly welcoming environment at his Anglia Counselling company office, located near Newmarket in Suffolk, England. Bob also provides professional online counselling, for local, national, and international clients. The therapeutic models offered are bespoke to the client’s needs, especially those in receipt of 'childhood emotional neglect' (CEN), whilst integrating a mindful approach to psychotherapy and cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) principles. For clients experiencing trauma and/or phobia, Bob offers EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing).