July 10, 2017

Editor’s Note: Understanding, perspectives and language change over time. Individuals on the spectrum have been writing about their experience of autism for many years… often unheard. When Michael approached us to reprint an article that he wrote 15 years ago for Autism Awareness Month, Autism Daily Newscast gladly agreed to share his submission.

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.

References

Asperger Syndrome: Through the Life Span. University of Delaware. 11 July 1996

Asperger’s Syndrome- Information Package. Autism Society of America. 23 April 1997

Asperger’s Syndrome and Making Sense. Cross, Hubert. 11 January 1999.

Christopher Marsh: Asperger’s Syndrome and me. 12 January 1999

O’ Neil, John. “A Syndrome With a Mix of Skills and Deficits.” The New York Times. 6 April 1999: D1, D4.

Sroufe, L. Alan, Cooper, Robert G., and Ganie B. DeHart. CHILD DEVELOPMENT- Its Nature and Course. (U.S.A.: McGraw-Hill, Inc. 1996) 6-7, 95, 188, 254, 268, 330, 359- 360, 369, 606.

Yale Asper Syndrome Assessment and Diagnosis Guidelines. Yale University. 23 April 1997

 

 Michael McCroskery from Facebook
Michael McCroskery from Facebook

About Michael McCroskery

Michael was born in 1969 in the State of New York, USA. He graduated from The University of Tampa with a B.A. in Communications. He is an active member of the St. John’s listserv and is working on his own personal advocacy project for AS. His career aspiration is to work with children. This article is reproduced by permission of the author.© Michael McCroskery 1999.

Opinions expressed by Autism Daily Newscast Contributors are their own.

About the author 

Contributor

  • Is this article your opinion? Are you speaking just about yourself or the male manifestation of Aspergers?
    I shudder to think that the lack of empathy thing is being perpetuated by this reprint. Very disappointed to find this article accepted by this publication. “Contrary to popular belief, people with Asperger’s do have empathy. They care about how others are thinking and feeling but they often have difficulty putting themselves in other people’s shoes.” from: http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-ouch-28746359, or “Dr. Tony Attwood on this AWA Radio broadcast which I listened to last Sunday: he and the host mentioned recent studies that suggest that those on the spectrum are hypersensitive to the emotions of others — in other words, overempathetic (more about those studies later in this post).” from: https://womanwithaspergers.wordpress.com/2010/05/09/a-few-words-about-empathy/ written by an Aspie. What about this one taken from a therapists web site regarding her experience with aspies: “In fact, this happens so often during sessions that I’ve begun to think of Asperger’s as a disorder often characterized by too much empathy, not a lack thereof.” I hope readers don’t take this article as any across the board characteristics of aspies. One person with Aspergers can be very different from another.

  • Seems to perpetuate myths that aspies don’t grow up, can’t do conversations, are egocentric, lack empathy, can’t have friendships or romantic relationships, can’t parent, and we are puzzle pieces.

    It is very dated and keeps likening aspie adults to aspie children, a huge fallacy.
    Thank goodness we have progressed beyond this.
    At a loss as to why you would reprint this.

    And ditto what Atiya says.

  • An appalling article perpetuating the myths about autism many of us have tried to dispel. Whilst this article may be indicative of the author’s struggles, it is not representative of the average Aspie at all.

  • This article comes over to me as Michael’s own experience of adolescence and autism and a few articles which are self perpetuating rather than proven. There are no examples of people with autism here or explanation as to why these claims of lack of empathy and poor communication skills are made. There are no real positives here, which is a great shame because many people with autism contribute greatly to the world around them. True this is non conformist but why not be so as the best achievements in the history of humanity are non conformist in outlook, so it is a positive way of life, thinking outside the box.
    I think we would all gain more from a positive outlook and embracing the good aspects of autism, rather than forever repeating the myths of lack of social understanding, which people with autism have started to believe is right because it is repeated so often.
    Time for a change in outlook!

  • “Asperger’s Syndrome (or AS) is a congenital neurobiological condition that affects 0.25% of the population.” Holy sh$t – 1 in 4 people have Aspergers!!!

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