The term autism spectrum disorder has been a matter of debate because for those who interact with people who live with it and, in addition, have an analytical thinking, it is relevant to have clarity in the concepts. Regardless of how the person is called or referred to (autistic, with autism or with Asperger’s), it is essential to provide them with understanding, support, guidance and empathic accompaniment throughout their lives, that is, from home, while they are in elementary, middle and high school, until they enter the workplace (in the best of cases).
The condition of the autism spectrum until a few years ago considered the category Asperger syndrome, however, disappears in the most recent version of the DSM-5 and ICD-11 Manual. Currently it is cataloged as autism level 1 requiring help. What is relevant and real is that the condition exists and is present in society, that is, in the family, school, centers and at work.
The person with Asperger’s in society
It is known that a significant number of people go through life without being diagnosed or even misdiagnosed (with ADD or ADHD, language development disorder with deficiency mainly in pragmatic language, social communication disorder or oppositional defiant disorder, among others). It is a priority to mention that in some cases there are comorbidities and that the person should be cared for in a comprehensive manner. What suggests such a mistake are always the behaviors that prevail when being in a group. The peculiarity in their way of relating, communicating, thinking, using objects and reacting to certain stimuli is what attracts attention.
Asperger’s and adaptation
Kindergarten educators and peers are the ones who notice certain behaviors labeled as “odd” in classmates. The term “odd” refers to polar behaviors, i.e., intense or inhibited. These are unbalanced behaviors that may appear at the beginning of the school cycle and disappear over time as the ability to adapt begins to strengthen in any person, remaining “stuck or suspended” in some of them.
In elementary school, undiagnosed Asperger’s becomes evident when the person who experiences it remains alone in the playground or chases his “friends” without following the implicit rules that everyone follows in these games.
The older the age, the greater the demand for adaptation. Those living with Asperger’s may have a very difficult time during high school and college, and even at work.
This raises a number of questions…
How do people with Asperger’s behave?
People living with Asperger’s are generally solitary, it becomes difficult for them to spontaneously initiate, sustain and conclude an interaction as expected. Without a filter they comment to their teachers “leave me, I don’t want to, I don’t like you”. If peers invite them to participate in the game, without filter they ignore, reject and avoid them and are also likely to talk all the time without realizing that they are ignoring, rejecting and avoiding them due to their persistence in their topic of conversation, be it dinosaurs, car brands, dog breeds, flags of countries of the world or facts about the Second World War. Any child may become interested in knowing the breed of their pet, but only the first time their companion tells them.
Asperger’s during childhood
The behaviors of children living with Asperger’s become similar to each other. However, personality, character and style are abysmally different due to the context in which they develop and their own abilities. Thus, a child may line up all kinds of material within his reach without letting others participate and may even get angry if someone dares to do so. Without a filter, he follows his impulse and takes his classmates’ breakfast, leaves the classroom without following the agreements to do so, leaves the bathroom with his underwear on his knees, repeats phrases he hears all the time, among many other situations that also attract attention due to their intensity and frequency.
In elementary school, children are ruder in their comments and in the way they relate to each other. When they notice that their classmate makes strange movements with his fingers, does not hold his gaze while talking, does not understand jokes and interrupts the conversation of others and, above all, makes comments out of place all the time as if his mind worked without a filter, they qualify him as strange and little by little they leave him out of the circle of friends. Sometimes they try to include him, but they don’t know how. Listening to them talk about Godzilla all the time is absolutely boring and exhausting.
Asperger’s during adolescence
Adolescence is complicated for the person going through this period and for everyone around them. For those who live with Asperger’s it seems that this complication is enhanced because the social aspect permeates the other aspects that make up the overall development of the individual. Without filter he/she chooses the clothes to attend a meeting to which he/she may be forced to go, obviously without caring about the fashion trend, if it is formal or not, the essential is to feel comfortable and pants with sweatshirt will be fine; the gustatory sensitivity will make him/her serve in his/her plate an excessive amount of pasta without considering that there are other attendees, will make unfortunate comments such as how horrible the birthday boy looks or maybe he/she wants to be the one who blows the candles of the cake.
Immaturity accompanies those who live with Asperger’s, there are girls who sleep with stuffed animals and boys who identify and behave like anime characters. In high school they do not fit in with their peers just because of their tastes that they share without filter even without being asked. Young people use double meanings most of the time, being at a disadvantage for not being able to decipher them, being the object of ridicule and exclusion. Dating becomes complicated because the theory of mind is one of the biggest challenges for them since it is difficult for them to interpret or “read” the non-verbal language of the partner. As it is known, 70% of the communication that we have with the interlocutor is corporal through gestures, gestures, including moments of silence.
Asperger’s in the workplace
The labor field enhances the demands to relate and interact with the world. It is common for young adults with Asperger’s to choose university careers related to hard sciences such as physics, mathematics, etc., in which they have minimal relationship with a group of people. Those who choose the soft sciences will require extra support to enable them to interpret reactions, intentions and actions of the people with whom they have to interact.
There are other difficulties that are rarely taken into account. The unfiltered comments they make about their co-workers or clients always attract attention. Some have to do with their bad breath or hair style, with interrupting the story about their last vacation or with the reluctance to pay attention to details of their personal life. Difficulty in accepting consequences for their actions is a constant, so it is important to have an in-depth understanding of Asperger syndrome so that anyone who has a relationship with someone with this condition has ways to make explicit to them what is expected of them in the different contexts in which they find themselves and the possible consequences of each act they choose or choose not to carry out.
The need to use visual resources to regulate the behavior of persons living with Asperger’s
Objects, photos, drawings and writing have a symbolic function, they are a reference and, therefore, endow meaning. Thus, by resorting to pictures of socially accepted episodes and not, by showing and interpreting them, the behavior expected in such a situation is made explicit. The age and level of abstraction of each person is what suggests what kind of material to use. In this way the executive functions begin to be strengthened by gradually reducing the unfiltered reactions that are characteristic of people living with Asperger’s.
Does it mean that we should change the essence of the person living with Asperger’s’?
Not really. Any of us would like the people we interact with to be that honest. And that they would tell us without a filter whether they love us, whether the clothes we wear flatter us, whether our company is pleasant or uncomfortable, etc. The aim is to dampen the reaction of others to the situations described above and to mediate. Make them see that diversity is valuable and respect is even more so. Empathy and solidarity are basic values that we all have to practice constantly.
The role of executive functions
Executive functions allow us to adapt successfully to new situations and the use of these resources is a good way to balance the “no filter” that accompanies the person living with Asperger’s day to day.
Let’s think about everyday life, where a 12 year old boy is in class, his teacher is about to finish the class and starts talking about homework: analyze literary styles, look for the story you prefer and write a new version according to the style we have just approached. Your processing speed depends on some resource to keep up with the rest of the students. An agenda is useful, so they can anticipate actions and successfully solve the task. In this case, it would be to have a portable recorder on hand to activate when the time comes so that he can repeat the prompt as many times as necessary. The unfiltered commentary that he usually expresses in such a situation is considerably reduced until it almost disappears. In this way, each skill that makes up the executive functions can be addressed.
There are as many minds as there are people in the world, all of them respectable. The unfiltered mind, such as that of people with Asperger’s, needs support to improve the quality of interaction. There are ways and resources, what may be lacking is knowledge and will to do so. The grain of sand to contribute so that my child, student, neighbor, classmate, teacher, partner, parent or boss enjoys social inclusion is voluntary. Although I may be the one who has to recognize that I speak, give my opinion, judge and plan without a filter or live without a social filter.
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition (DSM V) American Psychiatric Association..
International Classification of Diseases for Mortality and Morbidity Statistics. Eleventh Revision. ICD-11.
Carnero-Pardo, C. Entrevista temática a Javier Tirapu Ustárroz: Las funciones ejecutivas [en línea] [Executive functions [online]]. Circunvalación del Hipocampo, mayo 2020 [Consulta: 2 de agosto de 2021]. Available at: https://www.hipocampo.org/entrevistas/JavierTirapuUstarroz.asp