Asperger’s Syndrome and Adults

This article is from Mental Health Matters, and describes Aspergers in adults.

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Asperger’s Syndrome in Adults

By Better Health Channel,

Government Organization
Better Health Channel, Victoria Austrailia

“A person with Asperger syndrome often has trouble understanding the emotions of other people, and the subtle messages that are sent by facial expression, eye contact and body language are often missed.
Research suggests that the divorce rate for people with Asperger syndrome is around 80 per cent.
Social training, which teaches how to behave in different social situations, is generally more helpful to a person with Asperger syndrome than counselling.”

Asperger syndrome and adults

Asperger syndrome is one of the autism spectrum disorders, and is classified as a developmental disorder that affects how the brain processes information. People with Asperger syndrome can show a wide range of behaviours and social skills, but common characteristics include difficulty in forming friendships, communication problems (such as an inability to listen or a tendency to take whatever is said to them literally), and an inability to understand social rules and body language.

There is no cure and no specific treatment. Asperger syndrome doesn’t improve, although experience helps to build up coping skills. Social training, which teaches how to behave in different social situations, is generally more helpful than counselling.

Typical adult symptoms

More males than females have Asperger syndrome. While every person who has the syndrome will experience different symptoms and severity of symptoms, some of the more common characteristics include:

  • Average or above average intelligence
  • Inability to think in abstract ways
  • Difficulties in empathising with others
  • Problems with understanding another person’s point of view
  • Hampered conversational ability
  • Problems with controlling feelings such as anger, depression and anxiety
  • Adherence to routines and schedules, and stress if expected routine is disrupted
  • Inability to manage appropriate social conduct
  • Specialised fields of interest or hobbies.

The emotions of other people

A person with Asperger syndrome may have trouble understanding the emotions of other people, and the subtle messages that are sent by facial expression, eye contact and body language are often missed. Because of this, a person with Asperger syndrome might be seen as egotistical, selfish or uncaring. These are unfair labels, because the affected person is neurologically unable to understand other people’s emotional states. They are usually shocked, upset and remorseful when told their actions were hurtful or inappropriate.

Sexual codes of conduct

Research into the sexual understanding of people with Asperger syndrome is in its infancy. Studies suggest that affected people are as interested in sex as anyone else, but many don’t have the social or empathetic skills to successfully manage adult relationships.

Delayed understanding is common; for example, a person with Asperger syndrome aged in their 20s typically has the sexual codes of conduct befitting a teenager. Even affected people who are high achieving and academically or vocationally successful have trouble negotiating the ‘hidden rules’ of courtship. Inappropriate sexual behaviour can result.

Being a partner and parent

Some affected people can maintain relationships and parent children, although there are challenges. Dutch research suggests that the divorce rate for people with Asperger syndrome is around 80 per cent.

A common marital problem is unfair distribution of responsibilities. For example, the partner of a person with Asperger syndrome may be used to doing everything in the relationship when it is just the two of them. However, the partner may need practical and emotional support once children come along, which the person with Asperger syndrome is ill equipped to provide. When the partner expresses frustration or becomes upset that they’re given no help of any kind, the person with Asperger syndrome is typically baffled. Tension in the relationship often makes their symptoms worse.

Common issues for partners

An adult’s diagnosis of Asperger syndrome often tends to follow their child’s diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. This ‘double whammy’ can be extremely distressing to the partner who has to cope simultaneously with both diagnoses. Counselling, or joining a support group where they can talk with other people who face the same challenges, can be helpful. Some common issues for partners include:

  • Feeling overly responsible for their partner.
  • Failure to have their own needs met by the relationship.
  • Lack of emotional support from family members and friends who don’t fully understand or appreciate the extra strains placed on a relationship by Asperger syndrome.
  • A sense of isolation, because the challenges of their relationship are different and not easily understood by others.
  • Frustration, since problems in the relationship don’t seem to improve despite great efforts.
  • Frequent wondering about whether or not to end the relationship.
  • Difficulties in accepting that their partner won’t recover from Asperger syndrome.
  • After accepting that their partner’s Asperger syndrome won’t get better, common emotions include guilt, despair and disappointment.

Things to remember

A person with Asperger syndrome often has trouble understanding the emotions of other people, and the subtle messages that are sent by facial expression, eye contact and body language are often missed.
Research suggests that the divorce rate for people with Asperger syndrome is around 80 per cent.
Social training, which teaches how to behave in different social situations, is generally more helpful to a person with Asperger syndrome than counselling.

Published in: on July 20, 2009 at 12:09 pm  Comments (1)  
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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Wow, I have experienced everyone of these issues. I am certain my husband has this syndrome. I thought it was bipolar. He is highly intelligent but has extreme problems socializing. I feel overwhelmed most of the time as I have a demanding job also. Peeiodically he can five me deep heartfelt complements. I try very hard not to take personally his seemingly condesending remarks when he is lacking sleep. He also has a lifelong sleep disorded.Because I was in a previous abusive relationship I have a hard time separating his behavior from abusive behavior. I want to learn coping skills or I don’t think our relationship will las another 10 years. The first ten have been difficult.


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