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Asperger’s Syndrome: A Developmental Puzzle by Michael McCroskery

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csweepigirl

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Asperger’s Syndrome: A Developmental Puzzle by Michael McCroskery



Cognitive and social skills, which shape personality and character, develop throughout life. However, genetic or environmental obstacles can obstruct development, especially early in life. One such obstacle is Asperger’s Syndrome.

Asperger’s Syndrome (or AS) is a congenital neurobiological condition that affects 0.25% of the population. AS is linked to autism spectrum disorder, and includes autistic-like behavior and marked deficiencies in social and communication skills. AS individuals are of average to above average intelligence, some with unusual gifts and creativity. As a diagnosis, it has been known in Europe since the 1940’s, but has only been included in our medical diagnostic manuals since 1994. Thus many adults and children remain undiagnosed. Consequently AS is relatively unknown and not clearly understood, even among professionals.

AS is indeed a puzzle, and researchers are working to identify the pieces and form them into a meaningful picture. My experiences as an adult recently diagnosed with Asperger’s, together with my studies in child development, suggest that individuals with AS are like young children, stuck in time, so to speak, never able to advance beyond early stages in social, cognitive and language development.

For example, most AS difficulties center around social competencies. A salient characteristic of young children is egocentrism—the inability to recognize that other people think and feel differently than oneself. Persons with Asperger’s Syndrome remain in this egocentric state, unable to interpret the thoughts and emotions of others, or to experience empathy. Another name given to this condition is "mind blindness"— the incapacity to visualize the mind states of others. Thus it is hard for AS individuals to develop normal friendships, as either children or adults. Without empathy, they become emotionally stunted. A related problem is the inability to carry out social referencing through understanding nonverbal cues, such as facial expressions or body language. Such cues are "invisible" to those with AS.

A piece of the AS puzzle related to cognitive skills is attentiveness. "Attention span" is the number of mental elements that one can remember at any given time. During preschool years children exhibit "centration," focusing on one piece of information at a time, and briefly at that. The ability to process several elements simultaneously, or to remain focused on a task, comes with greater cognitive sophistication. Unfortunately, the tendency towards centration seems to remain with the AS individual into adulthood. One diagnosis commonly given prior to accurate diagnosis with Asperger’s Syndrome is "attention deficit disorder."

A third part of the Asperger’s puzzle relates to language. An early stage of language development includes "telegraphic speech", abbreviated speech in which words not essential to the meaning of a sentence are omitted. People with AS seem not to develop beyond this stage, further stunting their communication skills. The easy flow of spontaneous social conversation is usually beyond their capacities. They must learn social "scripts" through special training and repetition. Even then, AS speech tends to be stilted and formal. Also, children in early stages of language development are quite literal. Figurative use of language, symbolic representation, nuances and double meanings are a later development. Once again, the individual with Asperger’s remains in a childhood realm—that of literalism. Linguistic sophistications such as jokes, puns and idioms are hard for AS individuals to grasp. Even the most basic of social interactions become a confusing and humiliating experience.

Understandably, AS individuals encounter enormous difficulties during the transition into adolescence, and later into adult life, since they have not completed the requisite developmental tasks or moved beyond early stages in language, cognitive and social skills. They frequently remain emotionally dependent upon parents or family members, and suffer from separation anxiety and insecurity when trying to live on their own. Friendships with peers, romantic relationships, marriage and parenting, and entry into the work world are usually beyond their capacity. They remain, in many debilitating ways, stuck in time, trapped in the AS puzzle. They are, in essence, childlike beings attempting to live in an adult world, but without the support and understanding that children are afforded.

csweepigirl

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For me, the last paragraph I can relate to. I do not "feel" like an adult yet, and it's distressing if I really face reality and know that I am. I'm fine with the fact that I am married, and that I am a mother, but an adult..that bugs me. I remember crying on my 12th birthday because I knew it would be the last year I would technically be a child. Than crying again on my 18th because I was officially an adult. I even dieted and tried to "look" young, to be treated as such. I've given up on that now that I am 29 years old. I can't believe it, and I refuse to think about it. Of course the freedom of being an adult is wonderful, it will never be as "safe" as being a child. So yeah, the transition was hard.

BradB


This was a very well-written article, thank you for posting. I relate to almost every word. I can feel empathy for others, but usually after the fact, not in the midst of conversation. And I find that the more time I spend with someone the less empathy I have for them. I've tried "training" myself to feel empathy constantly, but I still have a long way to go.

kristine777

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BradB wrote: I can feel empathy for others, but usually after the fact, not in the midst of conversation. And I find that the more time I spend with someone the less empathy I have for them. I've tried "training" myself to feel empathy constantly, but I still have a long way to go.

You know why I think it is hard to feel empathy? Because most people are lying. Their feelings are cheap, fake and sentimental and unreal, taken straight from constant pop-cultural trash they have been raised on. Now why would you feel empathetic with something like that?

I don´t agree with the view that people with Aspergers are somehow less able to interpret social signs and feel empathy. I rather see it as a compulsive "truth seeking". There is very little truth in the society and culture around us, hence we are considered "subnormal". May be its not us, its "them".

I never feel uncomfortable with people because I "can´t read them" or "feel empathy towards them". Only because they are fake and manipulating or when I feel myself to be too deeply personally involved with them to remain objective. And I´ve met several people with AS and none of them I have found to be "unempathic". They are selective with their feelings, true, but they feel very deep. May be that is a part of the problem too. There is this german writer, Wilhelm Borchert, I think is his name, and he wrote about the post II War generation smthng. along these lines: "We don´t cry, because if we would begin, that river would flood the world".


My 2 eurocents, anyway Cool

KelleyNNelson

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Again, thank you for the article. It's like looking into a mirror. Amazing.

And as far as the last two comments, I totally agree, but it's hard for me to tell when someone is "lying," faking or simply looking for attention, and when someone is seriously in need of empathy. Somehow, I tend to be the shoulder people cry on, which I don't mind... It's likely because I keep my mouth shut and let them talk it out, but I rarely have anything to add or even have a "there, there" for them at the end, ya know? I feel bad about it usually, but I can never come up with the right words to say.

And Kim, sweetie, you just turned 30. Razz. Love ya honey.

But on that note as well, I'm the same age, closer to 31 actually... and yet I feel, look and act, usually, closer to my late teens. I notice my age, but I don't let it bother me in a mental sense. If I never feel like I want to grow up, then so be it. I never will.

kristine777

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KelleyNNelson wrote:

But on that note as well, I'm the same age, closer to 31 actually... and yet I feel, look and act, usually, closer to my late teens. I notice my age, but I don't let it bother me in a mental sense. If I never feel like I want to grow up, then so be it. I never will.

I don´t think the "normal" people grow up either... I think they pretend to be adults. Underneath they are all just as clueless as an average 11 year old. Most people, I find, don´t grow up, they just get old.

KelleyNNelson

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kristine777 wrote:I don´t think the "normal" people grow up either... I think they pretend to be adults. Underneath they are all just as clueless as an average 11 year old. Most people, I find, don´t grow up, they just get old.

Ha... I know what you mean. I know several people like that. My dad namely for one (of course, he could be a textbook aspie as well though), is 53 and has never grown up. Wink

csweepigirl

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KelleyNNelson wrote:

And Kim, sweetie, you just turned 30. Razz. Love ya honey.

.

RUB IT IN!!! geek I really wish I could go to vital statistics and pay to have my birth year changed to say, 1984!!!! uck.. I do not like the reality that I am 30. It scares me, I mean, well, it just does dang it LOL

KelleyNNelson

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csweepigirl wrote:
KelleyNNelson wrote:

And Kim, sweetie, you just turned 30. Razz. Love ya honey.

.

RUB IT IN!!! geek I really wish I could go to vital statistics and pay to have my birth year changed to say, 1984!!!! uck.. I do not like the reality that I am 30. It scares me, I mean, well, it just does dang it LOL


Hee... I went to buy liquor a couple of times at the same store, granted it was a month or two apart, but I recognized the lady behind the register immediately as the same woman, mainly because of her personality, and I bought the same thing I always buy... Of course she carded me. Both times. (and I swear, I only got carded after I turned 21. lol...) The second time, she told me it was because I "looked all of about 12." lol... when she saw my ID and age, she looked at me and said, "No WAY!" and I responded with the same story I'd told her the previous time in the store where basically a very similar previous discussion occurred... "Yeah, my dad just recently stopped getting carded and he's 53. He just started going grey recently. I'm hoping to age as well as he has." And again with the "No Way!" lol... some people, I swear.

Again... aging does not scare me. You're only as old as you want to be, and I want to be young, so I stay young. Very Happy In fact now, when even asked my age, I seriously have to think about it because I stopped paying attention around my mid twenties. My initial urge to the question is usually 25 or 26 or so. I don't know why.

csweepigirl

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I'd like to say 19. I don't know why yet again.... LOL.. of course the gray, thanks to heredity, has already hit me.. and I'm looking old I think, maybe the smokes.. You still look like a baby LOL =D no fair

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