When Scottish singer Susan Boyle was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, she said it was a relief to know why she had always been labelled “different” and found it hard to cope with aspects of life others find easy.
She said, “I now have a clearer understanding of what’s wrong and I feel relieved and a bit more relaxed about myself.”
Finding out as an adult that you have Asperger’s – a high-functioning form of autism that affects social behaviour and communication – is becoming increasingly common as the disorder is better understood.
Many adult “Aspies” still slip through the cracks because they just get on with life. Autism New Zealand hears of a couple of new cases every week of newly-diagnosed adults.
Often these are people who have gone through life being labelled “quirky eccentrics” or just “weirdos”.
Asperger’s causes different levels of impairment – some people can’t mix with others; some may be socially awkward or have an obsessive interest in a favourite topic, but will still lead a “normal” life.
As with many conditions, it helps to be diagnosed sooner rather than later. There’s no cure but there are treatments, such as psychotherapy and cognitive behavioural therapy that can help people to deal with traits such as obsessiveness and social difficulties.
Anxiety and depression are quite common in “Aspies”, due to the constant struggles they face and it’s important that they get help for those symptoms too.
How do you know if it’s Asperger’s syndrome?
Common traits include:
• Difficulty understanding gestures, body language and facial expressions
• Being unaware of what’s socially inappropriate, such as going on and on about their favourite topic
• Having an overriding interest in a particular subject
• Difficulty showing emotions or being empathetic
• Problems holding a two-way conversation
• Not being able to tell if someone is joking or serious
• Taking what people say literally, for example thinking “hop in the bath” means jumping in on one leg
• Getting upset if routines are disrupted
• Being honest and direct, sometimes to the point of being tactless
• An unusual way of speaking
Other signs include:
• Unusual sensitivity to light, sound or textures
• Poor co-ordination
• A strong sense of social justice
• A black-and-white view
• Accompanying anxiety or depression
• Being exceptionally talented in a particular field, such as music, mathematics or computer programming.