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Living with Asperger's Syndrome: Tips for Partners

Living with Asperger’s Syndrome: Tips for Partners

Having a romantic relationship with someone with Asperger’s Syndrome can be engaging and rewarding, but it can also be very challenging, especially as the major life changes that often accompany relationships (marriage, home ownership, parenting) shake up the routine of the person with Asperger’s Syndrome and introduce stress and complex dynamics that he or she may be ill-equipped to deal with.

In order to get the best out of your partner with Asperger’s Syndrome, it’s important to keep the following points in mind; remember, however, that all people with Asperger’s Syndrome are different, and thus, so are all marriages with Aspergers partner—Some points may therefore apply more than others. The most fundamental thing to remember is that, like any other marriage, a marriage where Asperger’s Syndrome is present will only work if both partners share a willingness to communicate and understand each other’s needs.

When conversing with your partner who has Asperger’s Syndrome, you should try to:

  • Be as clear and concise as possible; rely on logic and reasoning to reach your partner, not emotion.
  • Be consistent; mean what you say.
  • Be upfront with what you expect and need; “hinting” and other more subtle methods will not have any positive effect on your partner.

Be prepared to deal with extra challenges if you start a family. Those with Asperger’s Syndrome struggle with child-rearing at times because:

Social Skills in Children with Asperger's Syndrome

Social Skills in Children with Asperger’s Syndrome: Issues and Solutions

Most children are sponges for new information, learning rapidly about everything around them and incorporating it into their lives, often through imaginative play. For many children, social situations are no exception to this rule; they can move through peer situations easily, changing their behaviours to fit the changing milieux around them. Through experience and observation, they learn to pick up on the many subtle cues and “unspoken rules” that govern social interaction.

For a child with Asperger’s syndrome, the social world is very different place; their brains do not register this vital interpersonal information easily, particularly the more subtle forms of it, such as body language and tone of voice. Many children with Asperger’s syndrome either misread this kind of information or miss it altogether. For this reason, many children with Asperger’s syndrome appear socially awkward, and they may not behave in ways others feel are appropriate. Teaching social skills to children with Asperger’s syndrome is absolutely essential and it will help them develop proper behaviour in social situations.

In order to help children with Asperger’s syndrome learn better social skills, parents and educators must understand the unique challenges faced by children with Asperger’s, and how their brains learn differently than those of normal children. The following “problem areas” tend to have a particular impact on the learning of social skills:

  • Visual spatial processing: Children with Asperger’s syndrome need things explained to them verbally, as they don’t process visual information around them easily. They will not generally observe the behaviour of their peers and mimic it, which slows social learning.
  • Holistic processing: Children with Asperger’s syndrome are not “big picture” thinkers; they tend to instead hyper-focus on small details. Therefore, they often cannot read situations as whole entities, finding themselves unable to make the needed connections. Children with Asperger’s syndrome may also struggle to properly apply their past experiences to new situations, and will overly generalize situations to simplify them into something they can understand. It is also hard for children with Asperger’s to properly sense intent, leaving them both naive and prone to being inappropriately defensive.
  • Abstract reasoning and problem solving: When issues arise, especially socially, children with Asperger’s syndrome often cannot think abstractly enough to solve the problems at hand (or it would take them much longer than they are likely to be allowed). They have a hard time assessing what their choices are, and selecting a specific choice that represents the best course of action. In their frustration, they can become overwhelmed and emotional.
The difference between Asperger’s and High-Functioning Autism

Asperger’s vs. High-Functioning Autism: Understanding the Difference

Autism is a very diverse condition, and as such, it is often referred to as being a “spectrum” disorder which encompasses many different types of disability, all of which can affect unique individuals differently. When it comes to distinguishing the various forms of “high functioning” autism, one can encounter challenges, as the level of disability is itself less obvious, and its impacts are therefore more subtle and hard to differentiate.

In particular, high-functioning autism (HFA) and Asperger’s syndrome (AS) may present quite similarly to an untrained eye, but retain important differences that are still being researched today; below, the difference between the two conditions is explained:

The primary difference between the two conditions is generally found in the area of language development (notably, those with Asperger’s syndrome usually do not experience delayed language development while young) but the differences go beyond this one area, and have been subject to a certain amount of debate and controversy over the decades.

History of the Autism Diagnosis

The term “autism” was originally coined in 1911 by psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler, and was at first meant to denote the social withdrawal and detachment that often accompanies schizophrenia (indeed, the word “autism” translates to “selfism”). Later, in the 1940s, when both American Leo Kanner and Austrian Hans Asperger were working on defining the childhood disorders they were treating, they came across the concept of autism in their research, and decided it was an apt description for the various symptoms they had been attempting to treat in children. Over time, Kanner realized these children were not actually experiencing schizophrenia, but rather something else, which he dubbed “infantile autism”. Asperger added onto this body of knowledge by ascertaining that some of the children referred to his child psychiatry clinic were suffering from a condition that had not been hitherto properly described, but which loosely fit what Bleuler had defined as autism (and which lacked the acute psychosis of schizophrenia). Kanner’s work was highly accurate and detailed for its time, and formed the cornerstone of future research into autism, particularly after his paper (published in the UK in 1943) gained widespread recognition in the English-speaking world.

Following Kanner’s paper, the diagnosis of ‘infantile autism’ came into popular use as the 1950s and 60s progressed, and Kanner’s work largely overshadowed Asperger’s, who remained mostly unknown outside Europe.

Over time, academics, along with Asperger himself, noted that Asperger’s and Kanner’s autism bore striking similarities. Judith Gould and Lorna Wing, in particular, contributed by conducting a revolutionary study in the late 1970s that demonstrated autism existed on a continuum. It was during this course of this study that the phrase “Asperger’s syndrome” was first used to describe a higher-functioning sub-group of the autism patients surveyed. Asperger’s came to be seen as a more “positive” diagnosis, with less social stigma attached to it, creating some controversy around the prevalence with which it was thereafter used.

Some debate still exists today around the four main areas of difference that separate Asperger’s syndrome from high-functioning autism:

Understanding Asperger’s Syndrome

Understanding Asperger’s Syndrome

Most of us desire to make the best first impression possible when entering into any important social situation; being able to do so is vital to thriving in our society, as it facilitates us effectively applying for jobs and resolving difficult conflicts around us. In order to do this, we have to be able to calculate our responses to people using observations about their facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language. Through doing so, we can determine if our actions are making them happy, sad, angry, etc.

Now, imagine having an illness that affected your ability to read all of those vital social cues; how hard would it be to effectively communicate with others? Such is the struggle faced by those with Asperger’s syndrome, one of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).

What is Asperger’s syndrome?

This mental health disorder is named after Austrian pediatrician Dr. Hans Asperger, who was the first to research and describe this disorder in 1940s.  As mentioned prior, Asperger’s syndrome is a less severe form of autism, a disability one is born with and which presently has no cure (nor known cause). This disability affects cognitive functioning, namely how an individual processes information about the world and other people around them. Asperger’s is often said to be on the “autism spectrum”, as autism is highly variable, affecting different individuals in many different ways, and with many different degrees of severity. Asperger’s is relatively common, affecting around 1 in 165 people in Canada. According to Asperger’s Society of Ontario, more than 70000 people in the province live with Asperger’s syndrome. This disorder can affect people from all walks of life, but is more frequently seen in males than females (it’s not yet understood why this is the case).

Asperger’s is typically considered to be an invisible disability, as it is not immediately apparent. As one gets to know someone with Asperger’s, however, one will typically see them struggle with the following:

  • social communication;
  • social interaction;
  • social imagination.

Asperger’s syndrome does not, however, necessarily affect intelligence; many who have the disability demonstrate IQs that higher than average — unlike autism, which frequently causes learning disabilities (though it should be noted that people with Asperger’s are prone to ADHD, dyslexia, and dyspraxia, and in extreme cases, may also have epilepsy). Moreover, Asperger’s syndrome is often confused with giftedness, thus resulting in gifted children being diagnosed with Asperger’s and vice versa.

As those with Asperger’s are not severely impaired, they often go on to lead happy and successful lives, if they have access to adequate support; there are many forms of social, behavioural, and communications-based therapy that can help a person with Asperger’s.