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Asperger’s syndrome and narcissism may appear one and the same but they are very different, driven by a completely different cause.

The taker can only take those parts of ourselves that we give away.

Jenna Ryan

I see people with Asperger’s syndrome as a bright thread in the rich tapestry of life.

    Tony Attwood

I am often asked, “How can I tell whether my partner has Asperger’s or narcissism? Is there a difference?”

While a great deal of overlap exists between these two conditions, there is an important difference. Narcissists don’t care if they hurt you or your feelings. People with Asperger’s do, they just don’t realize they are doing it.

Both narcissists and those with Asperger’s appear self-absorbed and neglectful of others, interested only in themselves and caring little about others, but what drives these similarities is much different.

Narcissists ignore and disregard other people because they think they are more important than anyone else. They have little interest in, or concern for, others. People with Asperger’s, on the other hand, may appear self-absorbed but this is because they don’t realize they’re acting this way. They see things from their own point of view and can’t imagine someone else thinking and feeling differently.

Crippling insecurity is at the root of narcissism. The person reacts by acting completely the opposite, hoping this will cure the terrifying sense of complete failure that motivates their grandiosity and self-absorption. People with Asperger’s may, and often do, feel inadequate but what causes their apparent self-absorption is not a desperate attempt to conceal their inadequacy but their limited ability to understand that other people are different from them, think differently, feel differently, have different interests, goals, etc.

To help you better understand what prompts each condition, here is a comparison of the behaviors that are common to each.

Asperger’s                                                                   Narcissism

Little understanding of the hurt                                Hurts other people’s feelings and they cause others.                                                                                                 doesn’t care.

Not sensitive.                                                                 Insensitive.

Not driven to blame others.                                       Blames others compulsively.

Has empathy but can’t show it.                                 Lacks empathy. Intentionally hurts                                                                                                                              others

Wants structure, predictability, and                        Thrives on chaos, unpredictability, order.                                                                                                                   and disorder.

Doesn’t understand social interactions.                  Controls and manipulates people.

Can accept limits.                                                         Refuses limits and will retaliate if pressed.

Narcissism is a deficit of caring for others. Asperger’s is a deficit of social awareness. This difference has important implications.

As Mark Goulston, M.D. has noted, “…it is neither fair nor reasonable to treat someone who is just not sensitive (i.e. they are not doing it intentionally) as if they were someone who is insensitive (i.e. they are intentionally not sensitive).

This said, I do want to be clear that Asperger’s and narcissism may, and often do, appear one and the same. Given their problems with social awareness, adults with Asperger’s are prone to act insensitively. They mistreat others, often without regard to the damage they cause and what they should do to repair it.

As the partner of one person with Asperger’s said to me,

I feel assaulted verbally daily with little regard to how I feel. It’s exhausting, completely exhausting, that we can’t have a normal interaction instead of the verbal and emotional abuse I get. He’s completely oblivious to the fact that I have feelings. I hurt. I need support. I want to be loved, appreciated and respected, and that happens all too infrequently.

But the insensitivity of someone on the spectrum is not for lack of caring, concern, or even a desire to change. Incomprehension of the needs and feelings of others is the root cause. The good news is that with understanding, education, and support, someone with Asperger’s can learn to appreciate and treat others the way they want and deserve to be treated.

Dr. Kenneth Roberson is an Asperger’s psychologist in San Francisco with over 30 years of experience. To ask a question or schedule an appointment, please call 415-922-1122.

The post Narcissism Or Asperger’s: Which One Is it? appeared first on Kenneth Roberson, Ph.D..

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Couples in an Asperger’s relationship can avoid typical communication barriers

Recently, I wrote about a pattern of communication that happens often between couples in which one person has Asperger’s and the other does not. The non-Asperger’s, or Neurotypical (NT), partner typically communicates his or her desire to be understood, validated and cared for by the Asperger’s partner through various instructions, explanations, and requests. These are referred to as prompts, much like the instructions used by classroom teachers to encourage and guide the learning process.

The Asperger’s partner, on the other hand, is in the role of a learner. The difficulties he or she has with social understanding and social interactions, the core features of Asperger’s, make it hard to communicate with and respond effectively to, the NT partner’s need for intimacy. They are skills that are lacking and in need of development.

The result of prompting, on the one hand, and skill building, on the other, has been termed a “communication roundabout.” One person pulls for an emotionally connected intimate relationship by requesting certain behaviors and responses from the other person who is often confused, frustrated, anxious and/or angry with these requests. The negative reactions of the Asperger’s partner then lead to more prompting by the NT person, which generates even greater resistance by the Asperger’s partner, creating a downward spiral in which many couples find themselves alienated, discouraged, and exhausted.

Breaking The Roundabout Cycle

Is there an off-ramp for this revolving circuit of requests for emotional connectedness and failure to provide it? It depends. If both partners want to exit the cycle, that is, find constructive alternatives to their stagnated communication patterns there are alternatives. Here are techniques that can lessen the occurrence of communication roundabouts.

1.   Recognize The Problem

The conventional view of Asperger’s is one of a static, biologically set collection of difficulties that are relatively unaffected by one’s social condition. If you have it, you have it. Whatever is going on around you in your social world doesn’t shape or change your Asperger’s condition.

In fact, the patterns of behavior of someone with Asperger’s are the result of a complex interaction among various needs, expectations, desires, and experiences, all occurring within the person’s social worlds.

Asperger’s is NOT a fixed, constant condition that remains the same throughout one’s life. It is subject to the same forces of change that occur in anyone’s life. Recognizing this provides the encouragement and optimism that is crucial in quitting communication roundabouts.

2.   Watch Out For Prompt Dependency

As in the classroom, prompting gets results. If you explain what you need and how to get it, it often happens. The problem is, prompting becomes habitual. Both partners come to rely on one person explaining, instructing and reminding, and the other responding. Roles become rigid. One person assumes responsibility for initiating change and the other for changing.

Prompting can become a gateway to interactions that best resemble a parent/child relationship rather than a partnership between two capable adults with differing but necessary assets. This tends to bog couples down and hinder their learning to communicate more effectively. Pay attention to prompt dependency and look for ways to avoid it whenever possible.

3.   Intervene Early

Research indicates that prompting should occur as early as possible in a relationship before couples become dependent upon it to address their communication challenges. Catching it early makes it easier to correct.

Don’t give up hope if you’ve just now noticed how prompting is an ingrained feature of your relationship. The adage, “better late than never” definitely applies to this situation. The key to changing ineffective relationship patterns, including communication, is to catch it when you can.

4.   Communicate in Writing

I am a big believer in writing as an effective form of communicating needs and expectations within an Asperger’s relationship. Writing often eases miscommunication and provides the couple with the same information to refer back to in studying their communication patterns.

In writing out one’s expectations and instructions for effective interactions, as well as reactions to these, doing so regularly and consistently is important. Be sure to provide written feedback to each other in order to correct an ineffective course of action. Reassess each person’s needs, expectations and reactions regularly, and make sure there is a frequent feedback loop between what is requested and the responses to it.

With regular monitoring of how things are going and corresponding adjustments to how both partners are responding, couples in an Asperger’s relationship can develop the intimate and fulfilling relationship that both are seeking.

Dr. Kenneth Roberson is an Asperger’s psychologist in San Francisco with over 30 years of experience. To ask a question or schedule an appointment, please call 415-922-1122.

The post Effective Communication For Couples In An Asperger’s Relationship appeared first on Kenneth Roberson, Ph.D..

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Previously, I wrote about a type of communication that occurs often between non-Asperger’s adults (NT) and their Asperger’s (AS) partners. The NT partner, hoping to be understood, validated, and cared for, seeks different ways of eliciting intimacy and closeness from the AS partner. Typically this involves asking for more direct expressions of love and affection, reminding the AS partner of this need, providing instructions on how to be more emotionally engaged, and encouraging behavior that leads to emotionally close, reciprocal interactions.

Relying on these prompts becomes the primary strategy that NT adults use to deal with their partner’s emotional unresponsiveness.

In turn, the AS partner comes to depend upon these continuous prompts as signals of how to behave. What occurs then is a repetitive communication cycle, termed a “roundabout” that neither partner can exit from. The NT adult keeps trying to prompt the behavior he or she desires, the AS partner reciprocates only when prompted, this intermittent success encourages the NT partner to continue prompting, and over time the couple becomes locked in a mutually unsatisfying, intractable communication pattern.

Three significant features of this pattern are worth examining.

Obstructions

As noted in the original study, AS partners tend to react to prompting by withdrawing, stonewalling, acting defensive, and reacting passively to the requests of their partner. Not surprisingly, this generates considerable tension between the two.

One subject in the study noted:

If he doesn’t want to do something he just doesn’t do it. You cannot force him to do anything he doesn’t want to do…I feel helpless…You cannot get past the rigidity. He has no comprehension of the damage that he has done…there seems to be no understanding of the emotional side of things.

The repeated pattern of prompting by the NT partner and reactions by the AS partner result in both partners disengaging and disconnecting. As one AS partner stated:

There’s no making up and there’s no saying sorry…because I’m not wrong and she obviously believes she’s not wrong either and therefore what’s to be sorry about.

Needless to say, stonewalling and defensiveness, in reaction to repeated prompting, generates considerable tension, conflict, and unhappiness between the partners.

Caretaking

NT partners who try repeatedly to get their AS partner to engage and communicate with them assume a dominant role in the relationship, many comparing their relationships to that of a parent/child or teacher/student.

One NT partner noted:

He feels like a child and I am the parent. He can’t cope without me. I have to praise him. I have to prompt him. I have to guide him. I have to teach him. I feel heavy and overburdened.

Typically, the NT partner experiences a profound sense of frustration with the considerable effort required to achieve brief fragments of connectedness, leading at times to their own desire to withdraw.

In many ways, I suppose I’ve given up on trying to have any more of an instructive role because to me it feels like I’m just being a teacher and a carer (caregiver) and not being a partner.

Growing Apart

The consequences of the prompting cycle are mainly negative. The NT partner feels perpetually frustrated and emotionally depleted. Many question whether to stay in the relationship while others feel trapped in it. Guilt over their dissatisfaction is common. Others see no alternative to taking care of a partner who appears unable to exist on their own. As one subject in the study described:

I really don’t see the solution. At this stage in my life, splitting up (isn’t an option), we’ve been together too long. I just feel if I walked away from it he would be this lost person. He would be by himself with no connection to the outside world.

AS partners experience their own dissatisfactions. Some see their NT partner as having become domineering and controlling towards them. They resort to various strategies to avoid communication, as expressed by the following:

I have learned to give up, it is not worth the hassle.

I would communicate by taking some sort of action rather than talk about it.

(Our communication breakdown) doesn’t do anything for the confidence or anything or the ability to do things…It puts your confidence down, in your abilities.

Summary

Because of their unmet needs for intimacy, NT partners resort to prompting their AS partners to provide the emotionally reciprocal relationships they desire. These prompts take the form of reminders, instructions, and explanations. When the desired communication doesn’t occur, the NT partner tries more prompting, resulting in taking a dominant caretaking role, resembling a parent/child relationship.

Not surprisingly, the AS partner often feels pressured into behaving according to what the NT partner wants. Under this pressure, the AS partner resorts to withdrawing; reacting angrily, either directly or passively; complying superficially and/or acting out, rather than communicating directly.

In my next blog, I will discuss how couples can exit the “roundabout” in productive and emotionally fulfilling ways.

Dr. Kenneth Roberson is an Asperger’s psychologist in San Francisco with over 30 years of experience. To ask a question or schedule an appointment, please call 415-922-1122.

The post Communicating Differently: Intimate Relationships With Adults Who Have Asperger’s, Part II appeared first on Kenneth Roberson, Ph.D..

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Communication barriers are typical, but not insurmountable, features of intimate relationships with Asperger adults.

Communication is essential to every relationship. It provides the necessary ingredients for transforming relationships into intimate partnerships. Communication is, however, a central problem for adults with Asperger’s syndrome. They have a tendency to talk “at”, rather than, “to” others. Typically they have limited interest in what others think and feel. Their motivation to be sociable is narrow, as they fear the complexities of relationships will reveal their interpersonal mistakes and lead to rejection. Generally, they shy away from the give-and-take of a close, ongoing relationship.

Yet, many adults with Asperger’s are interested in being with other people. Many form romantic attachments engage in getting to know the person they like and eventually settle into long-term affiliations.

What happens then? What kind of communication occurs between adults with Asperger’s and their non-Asperger’s partners, often referred to as neurotypicals (NT)? Where does this communication lead? And what obstacles occur when one person seeks emotionally engaging, mutually connected interactions, and the other doesn’t?

A recent study of intimate relationships between adults with Asperger’s and their NT partners sheds light on the communication difficulties that transpire in these relationships.

Prompting

Prompts are used in every relationship to encourage a desired response from the person one is communicating with. They are used even more frequently by NT partners who lack the feeling of being understood, validated and cared for, as a means of promoting closeness with their Asperger’s partners.

The study found that many couples develop a cycle wherein the NT partner tries various ways of encouraging effective communication to which the Asperger’s partner responds by avoiding that sort of conversation. The NT person tries again to facilitate better communication and connectedness only to be met with a negative reaction to such encouragement. The NT partner tries harder and the Asperger’s partner reacts more negatively. The result is a cycle of prompting and resistance, a frustrating, debilitating dynamic for both parties.

Unresponsiveness

The majority of the NT people in the study felt that their partners’ unresponsiveness and lack of connection was the most difficult thing for them to deal with. It led, among other things, to considerable loneliness and isolation. As one NT respondent noted,

I mean, it’s a weird feeling to sit and be absolutely distraught and crying and have him change the subject and say, “I saw the most amazing engine the other day.” You are in the middle of this terrible crisis and breaking your heart, and he is telling you about nuts and bolts. I mean, that defies all reasoning. So you don’t talk to people about that.

Asperger adults often realize how difficult it is for them to communicate to their partners but this realization doesn’t translate to an understanding of what their communication difficulties really are and the impact they have on their partner. As one Asperger’s subject in the study said,

…because of the way I am, I didn’t understand what she needs. I have had situations where I would be sitting on a chair, she would be on the floor bawling her eyes out and say, “why can’t you understand?” And I would say, “understand what?”

Asperger’s partners typically don’t comprehend what their partner wants from them and their reaction is to withdraw. Another subject admitted:

…she will often try and get me to respond in the way that she wants me to respond, so she will keep at me…when that sort of thing happens, I start shutting down. So there’s going to be no visible response from me, no emotional response…

The struggle to communicate and the need not to is an enduring feature of relationships between adults with Asperger’s and their neurotypical partners. In my next blog, I will describe more of the dynamics that typically occur in these relationships, including the strategies adults with Asperger’s use to obstruct emotional closeness and the methods their neurotypical partners rely upon to counteract these efforts.

Dr. Kenneth Roberson is an Asperger’s psychologist in San Francisco with over 30 years of experience. To ask a question or schedule an appointment, please call 415-922-1122.

The post Communicating Differently: Intimate Relationships With Adults Who Have Asperger’s, Part I appeared first on Kenneth Roberson, Ph.D..

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Life with someone who has Asperger’s requires compromises, flexibility and a great deal of understanding

It’s impossible to describe what it’s like exactly to live with someone who has Asperger’s. Everyone is different. Yet people with Asperger’s share enough characteristics to make it possible to imagine life with such a person. Here are my thoughts about living with an Asperger’s adult, be it spouse, close friend or romantic partner.

Because of the person’s inability to naturally understand how you think and feel you are constantly misunderstood. No matter how many times you’ve explained how you feel, the response you get back doesn’t fit your description. The same is true when you behave emotionally yourself (you’re mad, sad, happy, confused, surprised, etc.). Your life revolves around explaining, clarifying and repeating what you actually felt, what you really meant to say, and why you did what you did, because your Asperger’s partner just doesn’t get it.

It is tempting to avoid social gatherings because of your partner’s awkwardness and the anxiety it causes him or her to engage with others. You find yourself covering for his or her social blunders with various excuses and explanations. Alternatively, you find yourself trying to match your partner with potential friends in order promote outside social interests and activities.

You have to contend with frequent temper tantrums due to your partner’s difficulty managing frustration.

You also contend with your partner’s focus on facts, knowledge and special interests, and you search for ways to interact beyond these narrow preoccupations.

Planning, organizing and decision making is overwhelming for the person you live with, as is prioritizing tasks. This leaves you having to figure out how to divide up and allocate those tasks so they are possible for your partner to accomplish.

If the two of you are sexual, it’s likely your sex lacks the emotional closeness you need in order to feel fulfilled and satisfied. You may understand that sexual intimacy requires sharing thoughts and feelings but your partner doesn’t. Most likely, you find yourself needing to remind him or her that sexual intimacy requires intimate communication, and misunderstandings flourish without it.

You live with the person’s sensory processing problems, which cause extreme reactions to certain noises, smells, foods, and fabrics, to crowds, touch and other situations and modalities.

It’s likely your partner’s long-term memory is much better than short-term memory. He or she may remember mortgage interest rate fluctuations over the last 20 years yet forget to pick up milk at the grocery store or take out the trash the night before garbage pick-up. You have to be the backup memory required to allow the household to function effectively on an everyday basis.

You understand what “the warmth of sound” means but not your partner. This sort of nuanced communication is very difficult for someone with Asperger’s, and it’s probably quite frustrating for you to have to adjust your speech continually in order to avoid misunderstandings. You probably wish your partner could read your mind. Of course, that’s not possible. People with Asperger’s simply lack the ability to do that, at least to the degree that others can.

It’s quite likely you’ve thought countless times your partner doesn’t love you. The words may be there but the actions aren’t. Think again. Your Asperger’s partner might not be able to show love in the usual ways but this doesn’t mean he or she doesn’t love you.

Love is a complicated emotion, and we know It’s hard for people with Asperger’s to understand and convey complicated emotions. We also know, at least I firmly believe, they feel emotions as deeply as normal people do.

Katrina Bentley, in her book “Alone Together: Making An Asperger Marriage Work,” describes a simple analogy. “Imagine trying to show somebody that you love them, while your hands are tied behind your back, you’re wearing a blindfold and have tape over your mouth stopping you from speaking!”

To have a happy, satisfying relationship we have to understand what makes our partner happy. And we have to respond to whatever that is, as best we can. When that happens, good things follow.

Dr. Kenneth Roberson is an Asperger’s psychologist in San Francisco with over 30 years of experience. To ask a question or schedule an appointment, please call 415-922-1122.

The post Living With Someone Who Has Asperger’s appeared first on Kenneth Roberson, Ph.D..

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Camouflaging makes Asperger’s one of the hardest conditions to diagnosis

Of the 157 conditions listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DMS-5), the authoritative handbook of mental disorders, Asperger’s syndrome is one of the most difficult to diagnosis.

The reasons for this are many, beginning with ambiguity in the diagnostic criteria. What exactly are deficits in “social-emotional reciprocity,” or “nonverbal communicative behavior,” or “restricted, repetitive, patterns of behavior, interests, or activities” the three characteristics required for a diagnosis? I consider myself an expert in Asperger’s syndrome in adults yet I have trouble figuring out whether someone’s behavior represents problematic social-emotional reciprocity, for example. Matching abstractions with real-life behavior is challenging, to say the least.

Yet, it is not this imprecision alone that makes diagnosing Asperger’s difficult. The real problem lies in the fact that, for many people, the evidence of Asperger’s lies buried beneath layers of normal appearing behavior, leading even experienced professionals such as myself to believe Asperger’s isn’t present when it actually is.

This problem is referred to in the literature as camouflaging. It is a coping strategy, sometimes conscious, often unconscious, designed to create the appearance that the person functions quite normally, without obvious problems and need for special attention or help. Those who are good at camouflaging end up avoiding the help they need to address their actual problems, in turn leading to complications with others and unhappiness within themselves.

Why Do People Hide Their Asperger’s?

Simply put, people pretend they don’t have Asperger’s because they want to appear normal. They want to be accepted, to increase connections and relationships with others, to socialize more easily and feel safer in social settings, to avoid drawing attention to themselves, and in some cases to ease the difficulties of work or managing their day-to-day lives.

How Do People Disguise Their Asperger’s?

The main vehicles for camouflaging are suppressing, hiding, minimizing and controlling Asperger’s behavior. One person I saw for an evaluation described an elaborate system of observing others, breaking their behavior down into component parts, analyzing the antecedent and subsequent reactions of that behavior and then constructing a conditional, if-then, system of responding with selected behavior to specific situations, all in an effort to mimic normal social behavior.

Asking questions of other people is a common method of disguising social difficulties, as is controlling self-focused talk. Some people will prepare topics of conversation ahead of time along with reactions to possible responses from those they are speaking with, much as an actor memorizes the script for a movie or play.

All of these strategies are designed to reduce the anxiety of social interactions and create an impression of normalcy, leading to the intended goal of disguising one’s Asperger’s.

Consequences of Camouflaging

Constant monitoring of social interactions and the ensuing efforts to hide the symptoms of Asperger’s is draining, increasing one’s existing chronic anxiety and stress. Many people report being on edge by the fear that people will find out they are concealing their social difficulties. Hiding their challenges, in turn, leads to the recognition of inauthenticity and further damage to one’s sense of self.

Increased feelings of loneliness and isolation are prevalent risks of hiding one’s Asperger’s. The effort to deceive, along with the recognition of a fundamental dishonesty towards others, is debilitating for many adults with Asperger’s. Often, a self-perpetuating cycle of concealing one’s true self out of fear, leading to greater isolation and additional worry of being inadequate, all increasing one’s need to hide, is the outcome of camouflaging.

The many disguises of Asperger’s are both a common companion of this condition and damaging consequence of it, the least of which is the difficulty it adds to diagnosing Asperger’s. For those adults who live with the need to hide who they really are, the many disguises of Asperger’s are an unfortunate fact, and way, of life.

Dr. Kenneth Roberson is an Asperger’s psychologist in San Francisco with over 30 years of experience. To ask a question or schedule an appointment, please call 415-922-1122.

The post The Many Disguises of Adult Asperger’s Syndrome appeared first on Kenneth Roberson, Ph.D..

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The unique qualities of women with Asperger’s are important for all to consider.

Evidence is emerging that women with Asperger’s syndrome think and act differently than men with Asperger’s. The difference is so pronounced that some experts are proposing a type of Asperger’s unique to women, referring to this distinct condition as the Female Autism Phenotype.

Although reference is made to autism, the participants in studies of this condition are generally women with higher functioning autism, more commonly known as Asperger’s. Thus, wherever they fall on the autism spectrum, from classic autism to Asperger’s, it appears that women are distinctly different from men, with important repercussions.

The gender differences in Asperger’s can be grouped into three main spheres:

  1. Women with Asperger’s tend to seek social engagement and have a greater capacity for traditional friendships than men with Asperger’s.
  2. Women are vulnerable to “internalizing” their problems, that is, keeping them private and hidden from others, focusing their problems inwards and subsequently experiencing them in the form of anxiety, depression and/or eating disorders. Men with Asperger’s, on the other hand, typically “externalize” their problems, directing them towards the external environment and acting them out, typically in the form of hyperactivity, impulsivity and inappropriate conduct.
  3. Women engage in fewer repetitive behaviors, interests, and activities than their male counterparts. They obsess less about favorite topics and are less insistent on repeating the same routines over and over.

Furthermore, there are indications that women with Asperger’s are particularly adept at “camouflaging” their social difficulties. From an early age, they prioritize fitting in to a greater degree than men. By observing others and mimicking what is normal, they work to learn, adopt and use “neurotypical” social skills, in effect masking their true nature in order to appear normal.

An important consequence of these characteristics is that women are at greater risk of having undetected Asperger’s than are men. By internalizing their problems and appearing sad, lonely or withdrawn rather than disruptive or troublesome, they fall below the radar of family, friends, and professionals. Because of their social motivation and better non-verbal communication, they are often diagnosed with mood or stress-related disorders, rather than Asperger’s. This is compounded by a frequent bias among professionals that women can’t have Asperger’s. As a result, women require more severe symptoms and a greater number of symptoms to meet the criteria for an Asperger’s diagnosis.

The costs of this bias and the resulting misdiagnoses are considerable. Rather than receiving care for Asperger’s, women are often stuck with the residuals of their internalizing tendencies, that is, anxiety, depression and general distress. Without a proper diagnosis, they have a more difficult time accessing the resources and support that would help them manage their challenges. They miss out on engaging with the adult Asperger’s community. More damaging, perhaps, they are often mischaracterized as lazy, incapable, and inadequate.

The challenges of being a woman with Asperger’s are not insignificant. Many are burdened by their repeated efforts to conceal their symptoms. They are confused about their true identity. Prioritizing fitting into “normal” society often results in being manipulated and mistreated by others, as well as ignored and marginalized.

The challenges of having Asperger’s in today’s society are magnified for women who have to contend with societal expectations that are odds with the specific characteristics of Asperger’s. Traditional female roles such as taking care of others, submitting to authority, being sensitive, gentle, and empathic are often incompatible with how these women wish to live their lives. Taking care to ensure they receive proper consideration, including an accurate diagnosis, is of utmost importance, to them, and to all of us.

Dr. Kenneth Roberson is an Asperger’s psychologist in San Francisco with over 30 years of experience. To ask a question or schedule an appointment, please call 415-922-1

The post How Are Women With Asperger’s Different, And Why Does It Matter? appeared first on Kenneth Roberson, Ph.D..

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Before disclosing your diagnosis, take time to consider a few pros and cons.

Learning you have Asperger’s syndrome is one matter. What to do with that information is another. Should you tell people or keep it to yourself? What are the pros and cons of either decision?

Disclosing your diagnosis requires some consideration since once you tell someone things are no longer the same. That information is out there. Yet, not telling anyone can work to your disadvantage. It’s harder to get the support you need and it can be lonely living with important information about you that no one else knows.

Here are things to think about as you weigh the pros and cons of sharing your diagnosis with others:

  • You are likely to be challenged on whether your diagnosis is correct. Some people don’t want to hear that you have Asperger’s. They don’t believe in it, or they are afraid there is such a thing, or perhaps they worry they might have it. Whatever their beliefs, biases or assumptions it’s not uncommon to hear people say, “oh, you don’t have Asperger’s” or “how do you know for sure?” or other doubts about your diagnosis.
  • Don’t be surprised if people respond to your diagnosis as bad news. In their minds, you have a severe, and likely incurable, medical and/or mental health condition that destines you to never-ending loneliness and misery. Most likely they don’t mean this with any ill intent. Rather, they are uninformed. Asperger’s is not a disease. It is who you are.
  • Be prepared for some misunderstanding. People don’t always hear information in the same way you present it. They have preconceptions and assumptions that color what they hear.
  • Conversely, be prepared for more acceptance, support, and encouragement than you expected. You are likely to find out how caring people can be. You aren’t bad because you have Asperger’s. You aren’t defective. You don’t have something wrong with you. You are different than some people, just like some people are different from you. Asperger’s is part of natural human diversity, not an abnormality. If anyone thinks less of you because you are on the spectrum, that’s their problem, not yours.

With this in mind, consider these factors as you think about whether or not to disclose your diagnosis:

  • Why do you want to disclose your diagnosis? What are you hoping to achieve? Would it improve a personal or professional relationship? Are you looking for support, encouragement, understanding, better working conditions, or access to needed resources? Do you want relief from loneliness? Are you hoping it will make you feel better because you can’t think of any alternatives?
  • What are the risks of disclosing? Are you prepared to be misunderstood, criticized, rejected, or to receive other negative reactions even though you don’t deserve to be? Will this affect your employment, access to insurance, or put at risk resources you depend upon?
  • Are you clear in your own mind about the changes you want? It’s best to be as clear as possible about how you want people to use this information. If, for example, you hope to improve your marriage, be as clear as possible about the changes you would like to happen. Try to explain, as best you can, those changes and communicate your intent to contribute whatever you can to make those changes occur. You are an agent of change, just as you expect others to be.
  • Can you ask for and accept help? Disclosing your diagnosis is a big step to take, not without risk but offering the opportunity for many rewards. It’s probably not an easy thing for you to do. Are you willing to get help making this decision and carrying it out? Once you’ve disclosed your diagnosis are you open to asking for support and understanding? Remember, we rise by lifting others. There are plenty of people around who want to help. Take advantage of them. You, and they, will be better for it.

Dr. Kenneth Roberson is an Asperger’s psychologist in San Francisco with over 30 years of experience. To ask a question or schedule an appointment, please call 415-922-1122.

The post Disclosing Your Asperger’s Diagnosis: Important Considerations appeared first on Kenneth Roberson, Ph.D..

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Resistance to change is driven by at least two factors in people with Asperger’s

There is nothing permanent except change

                  …Heraclitus

 

An often overlooked characteristic of people with Asperger’s syndrome is the amount of effort they put into avoiding change, both in themselves and in their circumstances. This effort may be quite noticeable, as in a direct refusal to modify a routine they have established, for example, or it may be subtle, as in a certain passivity when faced with a need to act differently. In either case, the underlying motivation to resist change is typically intense and persistent. The desire for sameness in one’s life is central to the Asperger’s condition.

Why is Change Hard for People with Asperger’s?

Experts vary as to why change is difficult but two explanations are persuasive, one neurological, the other psychological. Neither are contradictory, as I will explain.

The exact cause of Asperger’s has not yet been identified but we do know that it involves a primary neurological vulnerability, meaning the origin of Asperger’s has something to do with the way one’s brain is wired. How this actually comes about is not obvious, but what is clear is that one consequence of this neurological difference is difficulty processing sensory information, whether it be sights, sounds, smells, touch or bodily sensations. Any of these senses can be over-or under-sensitive, or both, at any given point in time.

Change, whether in one’s self or the environment, typically causes sensory overload, since change affects the person’s ability to process the sensations accompanying that change. Due to neurological differences, people with Asperger’s attempt to control this overload by controlling their environment, typically by clinging to well-defined routines and minimizing spontaneous alterations in their surroundings.

The Need to Avoid Separation

It also appears to be the case that people with Asperger’s, children and adults, because they have trouble regulating their behavior and feelings, are susceptible to the fear of losing contact with other people. Lose of others is important because people help them manage the psychological stress and strain caused by having Asperger’s.

This idea may seem contrary to the common view of the Asperger’s person as detached, aloof, and distant but I caution you not to assume that what you see on the outside is the same as what is happening inside. Just on the basis of the difficulties they have engaging with other people, the idea of being vulnerable to losing connections with people, of being completely alone and of further isolation, makes sense.

What does this have to do with avoidance of change? Creating a structured life of well-defined routines, of activities that don’t vary, and a focus on sameness and repetitiveness in one’s life is a way to minimize loss and separation.

Change requires trusting that others will be there when things are difficult, that people and things will continue to exist in one’s absence, to return to and re-connect with. This trust is extremely difficult for people with Asperger’s who, instead, assume that any kind of shift in what they do or who they are, will cause loss and or separation.

The easiest way to avoid loss of this kind is to control one’s environment, to create persistent routines and rituals, to structure one’s surroundings, and to emphasize sameness in oneself and everything else. Without this anxious, repetitive, and seemingly obsessive sameness, the threat of being alone, even more than one currently is, can be overwhelming.

The Common Factor

Do these two explanations of resistance to change have anything in common? Yes, and it is fear. In both cases, fear drives resistance to change. In one case, fear of sensory overload. In the other, fear of loss and separation.

This common factor, fear, is important to keep in mind when dealing with the resistance to change. Recognizing what is driving that resistance can make it more understandable and, thus, make dealing with the resistance a lot easier.

Dr. Kenneth Roberson is an Asperger’s psychologist in San Francisco with over 30 years of experience. To ask a question or schedule an appointment, please call 415-922-1122.

The post Resistance To Change In People With Asperger’s appeared first on Kenneth Roberson, Ph.D..

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One of the more common features of Asperger’s is the feeling of helplessness to make change possible.

With few exceptions, everyone I have worked with during my career as an Asperger’s psychologist has brought to my attention, in one way or another, the presence of a persistent and enduring feeling of helplessness. It appears to be a core feature of this condition, but one that is often invisible, even to those with intimate knowledge of the person, and in many cases to the people themselves with Asperger’s.

What do I mean by helplessness? It is the belief that events in life are not determined by one’s own actions, they are caused instead by outside influences over which one has no control. Negative events, in particular, are assumed to be one’s own responsibility rather than being caused by external causes.

The feeling of helplessness comes from imagining that bad outcomes are brought about by one’s own actions whereas good outcomes are the result of other causes. In essence, one is helpless to make good things occur and unable to prevent bad things from happening.

Why is this especially true of adults with Asperger’s? For one thing, by definition, they have poor social skills and trouble communicating effectively. Their experiences interacting with others tend to be unsuccessful, frustrating and disturbing, leading to an abundance of negative experiences and few positive ones. Because it appears to them that their communicative and social skills are core aspects of who they are, they see these repeated negative experiences to be beyond their control. Lacking a sense of control over one’s life leads directly to the presence of helplessness.

The Permanency of Helplessness

Helplessness is not caused just by the feeling of being unable to control what happens in one’s life. It requires also the assumption that this lack of control is permanent. Given that Asperger’s is considered by experts to be a neurologically based life-long condition, it is no wonder that adults with Asperger’s generally think of their lacking control over social success to be perpetual.

I cannot emphasize enough how debilitating it is to think of one’s difficulties in life as permanent. How can one be happy and content if it is assumed that unhappiness is the direct result of one’s own actions which are permanent and over which one has no control? Sadly, this a core belief of so many adults with Asperger’s, one that appears to them as real and true as the sun rising in the east.

Can One Change Helplessness?

In a word, yes. Asperger’s may indeed be neurologically based and thus set in motion in the earliest stages of life, but that doesn’t mean it can’t change. Research has shown conclusively that emotional experiences, as well as exposure to new and different ways of thinking, can change brain structure and function. Little about the mind is permanent. One does not have to assume that unwanted outcomes in life are forever lasting because hardly anything is permanent, including the consequences of Asperger’s.

Nor is it necessary to assume that one’s actions are unmanageable because they stem from a condition we call Asperger’s. All of us, excepting those with extraordinary and uncontrollable medical conditions, are free to think and behave as we choose. Our lives are the direct result of personal responsibility and the outcomes of our choices are entirely within our control.

Asperger’s may present challenges to those who live with it but helplessness need not be one of them.

Dr. Kenneth Roberson is an Asperger’s psychologist in San Francisco with over 30 years of experience. To ask a question or schedule an appointment, please call 415-922-1122.

The post The Helplessness of Having Asperger’s Syndrome appeared first on Kenneth Roberson, Ph.D..

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