Living with Aspergers

Asperger syndrome usually leads to problems in social interaction with peers. These can be severe, especially in childhood and adolescence; children with Asperger syndrome often are the target of bullying at school because of their idiosyncratic behavior, language, and interests and because of their lower or delayed ability to perceive and respond in socially expected ways to nonverbal cues, particularly in interpersonal conflict. A child or teen with Asperger syndrome often is puzzled as to the source of this mistreatment, unaware of what has been done "wrong". The social alienation of children with Asperger syndrome can be so intense that they create imaginary friends for companionship (although this is certainly not specific to Asperger syndrome because Non-autistic's may do the same). Even later in life, many people with Asperger's report a feeling of being unwillingly detached from the world around them.

Children with Asperger syndrome often display advanced abilities for their age in language, reading, mathematics, spatial skills, or music, sometimes into the "gifted" range, but this may be counterbalanced by appreciable delays in other developmental areas. This combination of traits can create problems with teachers and other authority figures. (It may be relevant here that one of the social conventions many people with AS ignore is respect for authority. Attwood notes a tendency to feel that everyone should be treated much the same regardless of what social position they occupy; the student with AS may not give respect to an authority figure until he or she feels it has been earned, an attitude many teachers either do not understand or take strong exception to.) Like many other gifted children, a child with Asperger’s might be regarded by teachers as a "problem child" or a "poor performer." The child’s extremely low tolerance for what they perceive to be mundane and mediocre tasks (such as typical homework assignments) can easily become frustrating; the teacher may well consider the child arrogant, spiteful, and insubordinate. Meanwhile, the child sits mutely, feeling frustrated and wronged and often having no idea how to express these feelings.

However, Asperger syndrome does not guarantee a miserable life. The intense focus and tendency to work things out logically, a characteristic of Asperger syndrome, often grants people with the syndrome a high level of ability in their fields of interest. When these special interests coincide with a materially or socially useful task, the person with Asperger's often can lead a profitable life. The child obsessed with naval architecture may grow up to be an accomplished shipwright, for instance.

On the other hand, many people with Asperger syndrome may experience inordinate levels of distress at having their routines disrupted or being denied the opportunity to express their special interests. For example, a child with Asperger syndrome may be a gifted writer for her age and may be happiest when spending class time working on her stories. The teacher may insist that the student instead pay attention to the lesson or work on assigned homework assignments. A non-autistic child in such circumstances may be mildly upset but probably would go along with the teacher. For a child with Asperger syndrome, on the other hand, such an experience can be extremely traumatic and leave the teacher and the rest of the class wondering why the normally withdrawn child is suddenly angry or upset seemingly out of proportion to the situation. Dismissing the child’s concerns at such a juncture – perhaps by characterizing the concerns as immature or disrespectful – can be a serious blow to the child’s self-esteem, which is often fragile already.

Although many people with Asperger's are not considered socially successful by common standards – and there are many who remain alone their entire lives – it is certainly possible for them to find understanding people with whom they can have close relationships. Many autistic's have children, in which case their children may or may not have an autism spectrum disorder. Also, many people with Asperger syndrome recognize that there is a problem and try to adapt to living among people without the syndrome, even if they are unaware of the term "Asperger syndrome" itself or believe it does not apply to them. It is possible with training and self-discipline for a child with Asperger's to end up as an adult who, though still having Asperger's, is able to interact well with others. However, because of their delayed social development, it is not unusual for people with Asperger's to feel most comfortable with people younger than they are.

Significant others and family members of people with Asperger's are often more prone to depression than the general population because people with Asperger's may not spontaneously show affection and can be very literal and hard to communicate with in an emotional way. However, not showing affection (or not doing so in conventional societally-acceptable ways) does not necessarily mean that he or she does not feel it. Understanding this can lead the significant other to feel less rejected and be more understanding. There are usually ways to work around the problems, such as being more explicit about one's needs. For instance, when describing emotions, it can be helpful to be direct and to avoid vague terms such as "upset" when the emotion being described is anger. It is often effective to lay out in clear language what the problem is and to ask the partner with Asperger's to describe what emotions are being felt or ask why a certain emotion was being felt. It is very helpful if the family member or significant other reads as much as he or she can about Asperger’s syndrome and any comorbid disorders. In a minority of situations the opposite problem occurs; the person with Asperger's is unusually affectionate to significant others and misses or misinterprets signals from the other partner, causing the partner to get annoyed and leave the person with Asperger syndrome feeling depressed and alone.

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