The first article in this series looked at the concepts of mild and severe autism, and addressed how challenging autism can be for anybody, no matter where they are on the spectrum. Asperger`s is often referred to as a mild form of autism, but is there really anything mild about having Asperger`s?
This depends on the definition of mild. It is true that when compared to classic autism physical symptoms may be less obvious. People with Asperger’s tend to be verbal, and in the eyes of somebody who isn’t familiar with autism this probably looks like a massive difference in severity. But in reality Asperger`s comes with a wealth of potential problems. The levels of anxiety, and stress that somebody with Asperger’s may experience can lead to severe panic attacks, depression, and self-doubt. Some people with Asperger’s might excel in some areas of their lives, but still find themselves unable to ever truly achieve independence, be it with travelling or living alone. One of the problems with having Asperger’s is that sometimes people underestimate how difficult things can be for themselves. It seems as if they can push it to one side, and simply get on with their lives. But this doesn’t last forever, and at some point the impact of this will catch up with them. Autistic crashes are common in people with Asperger`s. This is when somebody has done everything they can to fit in to society – maybe going out and copying what they see others doing – socialising or conforming to social norms, everything that comes `unnaturally` to them, right up until the day when they can`t. And the years of supressed stress and anxiety hit them in one go. To anybody observing them during the course of the preceding years, they probably would have said that they looked as if they were coping extremely well. But this is the thing, it is not about how somebody looks on the surface. It is about what is actually going on inside their head.
This article isn’t written to try to make Asperger’s sound terrible. People`s lives are not miserable because they are autistic, and there are certainly a long list of positives that come with having autism. But it is a little bit naïve, and even offensive to people who struggle every day to simply dismiss the negatives of autism. In the same way that people with Asperger’s rightly get annoyed when it is made out that they are somehow different from other people on the autistic spectrum. People with Asperger’s aren’t any better than anyone else with autism, and just because the challenges they face can be different, this doesn’t mean that they are less.
Autism can be a great thing. And being autistic comes with so many positives that it does seem sad to write an article explaining how everybody with autism faces challenges. But it is possible to be both positive, and realistic about living with autism. Even if the positives do outweigh the negatives this doesn’t take away the severity of the negatives. To just circle one section of people on the spectrum and say `Well, you`re ok. You have mild autism. ` seems to be an unfair underestimation of the struggles that they face daily. If things look easy on the surface this is only due to hours, days, and even years of hard and stressful work on the part of the individual, their family, and likely professionals. This isn’t to suggest that people with Asperger`s should work hard to appear less autistic – many of these individuals don’t even know they have autism til later in life – it is simply about working hard to get through life without being bullied, or trying to find a place in the world regarding relationships, friendships, employment if this is what the person with Asperger`s wants. And it can take a lot of work. This hard work doesn’t have to be dwelled on, but neither should it be brushed aside. There might be a lot of positives about having Asperger’s but that does not mean that it is mild.
Asperger`s is not mild autism, it is autism – full stop.