How is it possible to tell for sure if someone doesn’t understand subtle emotions? They often don’t come up while sitting in an office speaking to a professional and because the person is not aware of their presence it’s unlikely that person would volunteer how hard it is to understand them. Relying on a spouse’s or friend’s report about how someone recognizes emotions is not always advisable since those reports are filtered through the spouse or friends’ own biases and their own ways of understanding emotions. The only way to tell is to be around someone long enough to experience what they are like, to see how they respond in situations that test the features of Asperger’s and ask the right kinds of questions to clarify whether they have those features. There is test yet developed that can be used to make a diagnosis of Asperger’s, no instrument that measures Asperger’s nor any procedure that can objectively sort out those with Asperger’s from those without it. Brain scans, blood tests, X-rays and other physical examinations cannot tell whether anyone has Asperger’s. The bottom line is that Asperger’s is a descriptive diagnosis. A person is diagnosed based on the signs and symptoms he or she has rather than the results of a specific laboratory or other type of test. Those signs and symptoms are often subtle and it takes someone with considerable experience to tell whether they are present and, if so, whether there is enough of a case to say confidently that the person has Asperger’s. It is all a matter of confidence, that is, with very few exceptions no one can say that someone else has Asperger’s only that one has a certain degree of certainty that a person does have Asperger’s.
The first meeting covers general facts about the person, particular those relating to his or her present life. I want to find out about the person’s significant relationships, whether they are friends, work colleagues, spouse or partner, children or anyone else with whom the person interacts regularly. I am interested in how the person gets along at work and his or her work performance, how the person manages daily living, what initiative the person takes in planning and achieving life goals, and how satisfied the person is with his or her life. These questions help me assess whether the person’s attitudes towards life, conduct in relationships, and general success in achieving life goals reveal any of the characteristics that typically are found in people with Asperger’s. The second meeting focuses on the person’s background, particularly information about the person’s early family life; previous school experiences; past friendships, employment and intimate relationships; childhood emotional development and functioning, and significant interests throughout the person’s life. Because Asperger’s is a condition that exists at or before birth, clues about the presence of Asperger’s are found in the history of the person’s childhood. Hence a thorough understanding of early social, emotional, family, academic and behavioral experiences are essential to the diagnostic process. The third and final meeting is a time to clarify questions that were not completely answered in the previous meetings, gather additional information and raise additional questions that have emerged from the information collected so far. When everything has been addressed to the extent allowed in this timeframe, the final part of the clinical interview is the presentation of my findings. Presenting these findings is a multi-step process. First, I explain that certain characteristics are central to Asperger’s syndrome. If those characteristics are not present in the person then he or she doesn’t have Asperger’s and if they are present a diagnosis of Asperger’s is much more viable. There are also characteristics that are related to Asperger’s but are also shared by other conditions. An example of this is difficulty noticing whether people are bored or not listening in conversations. Lots of people don’t pay much attention to whether people are listening to them, but that doesn’t mean they have Asperger’s. On the other hand, in combination with other signs of Asperger’s, not noticing how people respond in conversations, could be a significant confirmation of an Asperger’s diagnosis.
To diagnosis and adult with Asperger’s requires that the person have:
Of course, it is possible that people in someone’s life will react to the diagnosis of Asperger’s by alienating themselves from that person. Stigmatizing and disapproval, based on the knowledge that a person has Asperger’s is still prevalent in our society. Damage to one’s self-esteem as a result of disapproval, ridicule, discrimination and rejection is possible when knowledge of an Asperger’s diagnosis is disseminated.
Job discrimination is a realistic possibility in the event that an applicant reveals an Asperger’s diagnosis. While it is not legally acceptable to do so, we know that silent discrimination happens, hiring decisions are not always made public and competition can leave someone with a different profile out of the picture. Similarly, having a diagnosis of Asperger’s may lead others to assume the person will never be able to be as successful in life as neurotypical people. It is commonly assumed that Asperger’s makes someone too difficult to be around, unable to get along with people, too narrowly focused on their own interests, and too stubborn, self-absorbed and lacking in empathy to be a contributing member of society, a view that is narrow in its own right and sadly mistaken in many cases. Nevertheless, attitudes like this can arise when a diagnosis of Asperger’s is made public.
People with Asperger’s think through their actions more carefully. They may interrupt and say things without regard for whatever else is going on but it is because they don’t understand how conversations are carried out rather than not being able to restrain themselves. There is a big difference in how adults with ADHD use language compared to adults with Asperger’s. They do not tend to have specific weaknesses in their understanding and use of language. They readily understand when a statement such as, “it’s raining cats and dogs” is being used as a figure of speak and not as a literal statement. They also speak with a normal tone of voice and inflection. In contrast, adults with Asperger’s tend not to understand non-literal language, slang or implied meanings. They may talk a lot and have more one-sided conversations as do adults with ADHD but they do so because lacking an understanding of how the person they are talking to is grasping what they are saying they are, in effect, talking to themselves.
Difficulty interpreting non-verbal communication and subtle aspects of how people relate to each other is characteristic of adults with Asperger’s. They confuse behaviors that may be appropriate in one setting from those that are appropriate in another, so that they often act in appropriate for the situation they are in. They find it hard to interpret the meanings of facial expressions and body posture, and they have particular difficulty understanding how people express their emotions.
Adults with ADHD, on the other hand, understand social situations more accurately and they engage much easier in social situations even though they are easily distracted and often not observant of what’s going on around them. They can consider what other people are thinking much easier than adults with Asperger’s and they participate in the give-and-take of social interactions more readily. Adults with ADHD tend to express their feelings directly and fairly clearly whereas adults with Asperger’s do not show a wide range of emotions. When they do communicate their feelings they are often out of synch with the situation that generated the feeling. Adults with ADHD tend to process sensory input in a typical manner. They may have preferences for how they handle sensory input like music, touch, sounds, and visual sensations but generally the way they handle these situations is much like other adults. In contrast, adults with Asperger’s have more specific preferences about the kind of sensations they like and dislike. They may be overly sensitive to one kind of sensation and avoid that persistently. Or they may prefer a certain type of sensation and, a certain type of music, for example, and seek it over and over. Overall, sounds, temperature differences, visual images and tastes more easily overwhelm adults with Asperger’s than adults with ADHD.
Asperger’s and Social Anxiety Disorder share the common element of discomfort in social situations. Typically, along with this discomfort is lack of eye contact and difficulty communicating effectively. The difference between these two conditions is that people with Social Anxiety Disorder lack self-confidence and expect rejection if and when they engage with others. Adults with Asperger’s, on the other hand, don’t necessarily lack self-confidence or are afraid of being rejected, they are simply not able to pick up on social cues. They don’t know how to act appropriately in social situations and thus tend to avoid them. In addition, Social Anxiety Disorder may be present in children but more commonly it develops in adolescence and adulthood whereas Asperger’s can be traced back to infancy.
While this may strike some as similar to Asperger’s people with SPD can interact with others normally, if they want to, and can get along with people. They don’t have the strong preference for logical patterns in things and people, an inability to read facial expressions or “blindness” to what is going on in other people’s minds that characterizes Asperger’s.
In addition, people with SPD typically do not show these features until late adolescence or adulthood. The characteristics of Asperger’s must be noticeable in infancy or early childhood to receive the diagnosis of Asperger’s. Most importantly, Asperger’s is a form of autism whereas people with SPD have a “neurotypical” brain and have developed into a personality of extreme introversion and emotional detachment.
They often have an inflated and arrogant view of themselves, and are described as excessively opinionated and cocky. They can appear charming and talk with superficial ease, attempting to impress others and appear experts on numerous topics. There may appear to be some overlap between Asperger’s and APD, but the resemblance is superficial. Individuals with Asperger’s have trouble understanding how people operate but they do respect others, whereas people with APD have no regard for people. Individuals with Asperger’s are rarely deceitful, in fact, they are often considered excessively, even naively honest, quite unlike those with APD who are predictably deceitful and unremorseful, and unlike people with Asperger’s they are incapable of feeling genuine love. Asperger’s people do show and feel remorse whereas people with APD do not.
When someone with Bipolar Disorder is in a manic state or depressed they may not interact socially as they might if they were feeling normal, they might be withdrawn, lack much emotional response to situations in their life and lose interest in relationships but the changes in their emotional condition is much different than people with Asperger’s. Someone with Asperger’s is socially awkward, cannot read or use body language or facial expressions well, have difficulty making eye contact, cannot understand sarcasm and jokes, tend to take things literally, may display socially inappropriate behavior without realizing it, have obsessive interests and may have problems with sensory issues.
While they may feel down at times or at other times be unusually happy, their concerns have much less to do with emotional ups and downs.