What is Asperger's Syndrome?
By Jerod Poore
What is it? Do I have it?
Asperger's Syndrome is a form of high-functioning autism, first identified in 1944 by Dr. Hans Asperger in Vienna and later refined in1981 by UK psychologist Lorna Wing. Asperger's is part of the autistic spectrum, and is in itself a spectrum syndrome. As such the effects range from severe to mild, although in autistic terms severe Asperger's is relatively benign. You may not fit into society very well, but you can still take care of your basic needs, more or less. Mild Asperger's is just seen as eccentric, except when those rages strike, then you're a first-class jerk with no self-control. Anyway, here are some of the characteristics found in Asperger's:
What causes it?
The generally accepted theory is that Asperger's, and all forms of autism are caused by genetic wackiness. Does that mean that if you have one autistic child that you'll have another one? Maybe. Does that mean if you have Asperger's that your children will have Asperger's or another form of autism? Who knows? There's no genetic test right now. In his article The Geek Syndrome in the December 2001 issue of Wired, Steve Silberman raises the question of the likelihood of autism being passed on with the explosion of Asperger's and more severe forms of autism happening in Silicon Valley and other areas where Aspies have been congregating and settling down.
An odd fact that has turned up in my brain scan and in studies of other autistic individuals across the spectrum is that our cerebellums are smaller than normal while other parts of our brains, and our total brain sizes, are larger than normal. This helps to explain some of the behavior explained above and to focus on which genes to hunt for abnormalities.
One troubling piece of what I consider to be misinformation that is spreading unchecked amongst parents of recently diagnosed autistic children is vaccines as a cause of autism. First it was the mercury component of the vaccines. Now it is the MMR (measles, mumps & rubella) vaccine in particular that is causing Asperger's or other forms of autism. I think this to be highly unlikely. It's a situation of the cart before the horse. Children in the autistic spectrum will have freaky immune responses and unusual levels of metalathione in their blood that will respectively cause unexpected reactions to the dead viruses and the mercury component. As the symptoms of autism, especially the milder forms like Asperger's, first become apparent about the time the MMR is given, it seems easier for parents to blame something external like a vaccine than to consider it could be something internal like genetics.
That written, investigations into the possibilities that the vaccines are aggravating existing conditions should not be suppressed. Some odd things have turned up regarding the measles component of MMR. Only good science can say for sure if there really is something to it after all or if it is just a bunch of hooey.
What can I do about it?
Because of its recent identification, the overwhelming majority of Asperger's diagnosis, treatment, and support are geared towards children. I guess the assumption is made for us adult Aspies is that by now we either sank or swam. That can be a deadly assumption, as borne out by an acquaintance of mine who was firmly in the Asperger's spectrum in his behavior, although not formally diagnosed. Despite working in the Aspie-friendly environment of Microsoft, he opted for a messy early exit, in part because the friction of dealing with normal people day in and day out was just too much.
There is no cure for Asperger's, nor is there likely to be one anytime in the near future. Should we want one is even questionable. To quote Dr. Temple Grandin (author of "Thinking in Pictures" and designer of humane animal agriculture facilities), "Civilization would probably pay a terrible price if the genes that cause autism and Asperger's Syndrome were eradicated. The world might become a place full of highly social yakkity-yaks who would never do anything new or creative."
Still, it ain't easy getting along in the real world. Some meds seem to help. SSRIs tend to be the first-line approach to deal with the anxiety, self-hatred and obsessive behaviors. But SSRIs are a big no-no if you happen to have a comorbid bipolar condition. Fortunately the other set of medications that help with Asperger's are very bipolar friendly, anticonvulsants (usually Tegretol) and the antipsychotic Risperdal. Both help deal with the rage issues and the annoyance that comes from people not understanding the interconnectedness of things we see, yet why do they get pissed off when we start explaining it from the atomic level up? Therapy itself is a big hurdle. We just don't do therapy. The problem is the rest of the world, not us.
There's another reason why everything is geared towards kids. By the time you're an adult it's just too damn late. Sink or swim, right? Wrong. We can change. We can learn and grow. We can tackle some social interactions as if they had rules like a programming language. Starting on God's gift to Aspies, the Internet, where it's all written language and no body language, really helps. Here's a story from Zen Master Raven.
Black Bear said, "I'm frazzled after dealing with my cubs. What if I'm not feeling compassionate."
Zen Master Raven said, "Fake it."
Black Bear said, "That doesn't seem honest."
Zen Master Raven said, "It doesn't begin with honesty."
Or as they say in AA, "Fake it 'til you make it." Really, just fake that empathy. After awhile you start to feel something. Start doing it online and eventually it will come naturally.
Take an acting or speech class to learn to modulate your voice. You don't need to win any awards. Just show a little feeling in the middle ground.
I'm still working on the small talk, eye contact and conversation starting.
The Geek Syndrome by Steve Silberman Wired issue 9.12
Asperger's Syndrome Characteristics by Roger Meyer
as-if Asperger's Information
Northern County Psychiatric Associates
What Is Asperger's Syndrome? Pagewise, Inc.
Autism Research, Duke Center for Human Genetics
Dr. Temple Grandin's Site
Copyright © 2003 by Jerod Poore. All rights reserved.
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