So What Exactly Is Asperger’s?

Those of you who have been reading my blog since I have been blogging about my expat experience (& haven’t read the archives) probably don’t know this but I have Asperger’s Syndrome.  It’s not something I talk much about after the initial rash of blogging after I was diagnosed with it last year. I can pass as normal.  I don’t think anyone having meet me in a social situation would probably even guess.  Repeated exposure to me would probably give people the impression I was slightly odd, but that would, most likely, be put down to the fact I was a geek and unashamedly so.

To be honest, these days I don’t like talking about the fact I have Asperger’s Syndrome.  It’s almost like my dirty little secret. I want to pass as normal.  I don’t want people to know I have a disability, especially one with so many negative connotations as Autism.  However, I was listening to one of my favourite skeptical podcasts, The Skeptics’ Guide To The Universe (SGU), and they were talking about Asperger’s Syndrome and whilst they are usually spot on with their knowledge, they got what Asperger’s actually is so hopelessly wrong, it was almost insulting.  Therefore me being quiet and silent about my Asperger’s is not helping people understand about this disorder and I feel it is more important that people are educated then my hang ups about being viewed as a person with a disability.  I will state at the outset that I am not an expert on Asperger’s or Autism and what is written below is my opinion only and of course, a medical professional trained in diagnosing children and adults with Autism/Asperger’s should be consulted if you have concerns about yourself or a loved one.

Asperger’s Syndrome is a form of Autism Spectrum Disorder and is therefore classed as a developmental disorder.  The main difference and one that appears to be used in diagnosing if a child (or adult) has Asperger’s or Autism is if there is or was a language delay at childhood.  Kids with Autism do not hit their language milestones with some being completely non-verbal until late childhood and even beyond.  Kids with Asperger’s hit their language milestones and can in fact have huge vocabularies at very young ages. That’s it.  The terms Asperger’s and Autism tell you nothing about that child’s functional ability.  There are kids with Autism who are much higher functioning than kids with Asperger’s.

The discussion on SGU that got me really annoyed was the belief that people with Asperger’s are just geeks with poor social skills and that there was no disabilities associated with Asperger’s.  This is complete rubbish. In fact nothing could be further from the truth. Asperger’s, just like Autism, covers a wide range of functional abilities.  The common saying in the Asperger’s community is ‘if you have meet one person with Asperger’s, then you have meet one person with Asperger’s’.  I have mild Asperger’s meaning that I am high functioning.  I can hold down a full time job, live independently (and even in a foreign country) and can form long lasting relationships. However, there are others with Asperger’s who can not do these things.  I know Aspies who live in group homes or assisted living facilities, who are unable to work and have limited abilities in forming meaningful relationships.

I love that people with Asperger’s are getting more media exposure and there are now quite a few well-known and loved TV characters with Asperger’s out there – the most famous being the fabulous Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory.  However, with that comes the belief that Asperger’s is a disorder resulting in high intelligence and low social skills and that is all there is to it, that there is no real disability. Excuse me whilst me and all my primary school teachers go and have a good laugh at that one. Asperger’s comes with a lovely range of disabilities and a few co-morbid ones that also come along for the ride. What follows is a list of my disabilities, as I have stated before not everyone with Asperger’s have the same disabilities or to the same degree.

  •  Mild Dyspraxia – this is a motor skills disorder where, in my case, I mainly have fine motor control issues.  This resulted in me as a kid being unable to form my letters and having to undergo years of remedial handwriting classes. I still have issues doing my hair and poor balance.  I also crawled and walked at a very late age.
  • Auditory Processing Disorder – whilst my hearing is fine, I have problems understanding what I am hearing.  My main problem is perceiving differences in speech sounds especially letter combination sounds. This makes spelling a complete and utter nightmare. Also, I frequently know what a word looks like but have no idea how it’s pronounced and vice versa, I can pronounce a word without having a clue how to spell it.  Sounding the word out to work out how to spell it is literally impossible.
  • Selective Mutism – this I had as a kid, but at times, it rears its ugly head. I simply could not speak to people I didn’t know well. I have no idea why, but it is what promoted my parents to put me in a drama school. Then there are also times when I would just stop speaking all together.
  • Social Problems – One of the hallmarks of Asperger’s is the inability to pick up social clues, social rules, social norms etc. I have learnt to function socially by rote learning all the social rules but I still mess up.
  • Communication Problems – Whilst there is nothing wrong with my ability to speak, I still have communication problems.  This can be stumbling over words, problems understanding slang and double meanings (these are all rote learned too), taking things way too literally and intonation.  I prefer to communicate via text than verbally.  Text is much less confusing.

So as you can see, Asperger’s can come with lots of disabilities.  Those of us who come across as geeky socially misfits are usually struggling with lots of other disabilities that are not apparent to other people.  We have learnt the very hard way how to compensate for them.

I will get off my educationing people about Asperger’s soapbox now as this post has gotten way too long.  However, if you have any questions, please ask them – trust me, I’m not going to be insulted or offended by them.

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About Meg

A thirty something queer Aussie geek girl who now lives in Germany.
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16 Responses to So What Exactly Is Asperger’s?

  1. endlesspsych says:

    An important post to make. A Most mental illnesses and developmental disorders are to an extent “invisible” from the outside. They can look like just someone being odd or awkward and it’s easy for people to dismiss them or label them medicalisation. (I know this as someone with Bipolar-2)

    The distinction between autism and aspergers has always seemed a little arbitary to me (particularly as we move towards a spectrum view of ASD) and I believe I am correct in saying that soon Aspergers will be subsumed as a diagnostic label by ASD.

    • Riayn says:

      I believe there is a push for in the new DSM for Asperger’s, Autism and PDD-NOS to all be labelled Autism Spectrum Disorder. I’m undecided if I think that this is a good move on their part or not.

  2. genevieve says:

    Very interesting post Meg.

  3. Great post. My sister has Asperger’s too. I think it’s awesome of you to put this out there and try to increase awareness – I’m sure there are a lot of misunderstandings out there, as there are with most things not everyone experiences.

    • Riayn says:

      Would be interested to hear about your experiences growing up as a sibling to an Aspie. I can’t imagine that we would be easy people to live with at all.

  4. Proud of you for having the courage to post this as this is something I was completely unaware of.

    • Riayn says:

      Thanks. :)
      As I stated in my post I really don’t talk about my Asperger’s not only because of hang-ups about it, but also because I don’t think nor do I want it to define who I am. My Asperger’s defines who I am as much as my blue eyes do.

  5. Lee says:

    I have Asperger’s syndrome and I have significant physical and sensory problems. I have auditory, visual and olfactory hypo- and hypersensitivity, dyspraxia, have difficulties in telling voices apart or looking people in the eye…and a typical aspergic posture and gait which makes me look gormless.

    • Riayn says:

      This is why the comments made on SGU that Asperger’s doesn’t come with disabilities made me so angry, exactly this.
      Thanks for sharing your story.

  6. outoutout says:

    Well, you know me – I’m an Aspie, and very openly so. :)

    I know exactly what you mean about the ignorance out there. It’s one of the reasons I feel very strongly that more of us need to come out and share our stories, as you have here. So, good on ya!

  7. Mandi says:

    Thanks for sharing, I think that’s one of the best ways to educate others about what Asperger’s is and what it’s not.

  8. shoegirl says:

    Thanks for sharing. My first and only knowledge about Asperger’s came from the character Jerry Espenson on Boston Legal (love him & that show!). Huge kudos to you for coming to a new country and learning a new language despite all the challenges Asperger’s presents. And here I thought my poor hearing created a hardship! You’ve inspired me to try that much harder.

  9. kim riedel says:

    Just discovered your post and grappling with the realization that my eldest son may have Asperger’s. I’d like to ask, what was, if any, the biggest mistake your parents made with you while growing up? All the while, I was assuming my son was just uninterested in academics or simply lazy about his schoolwork. Now, I feel the road ahead is daunting, both for my son and his dad and I. He’s 11 years old. Any advice?

    K. Riedel

  10. Pingback: 7 Links Blogging Project | Counting Time

  11. josh grings says:

    CHIEF KIEF has aspergers he’s famous now; if anyone see’s this and cares to know just thought id tell ya

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