Can Adults Have Asperger’s And Not Know It?

Finding out if you have Asperger's can make a big difference in the quality of your life.
Finding out whether you have Asperger’s syndrome can make a meaningful difference in your life.

There are days when I stand on a precipice, precariously ready to fall beyond whom I am and into someone whom I really cannot believe I ever was…Though it has taken thirty-eight years, I cannot express what a relief I feel to finally ‘get’ me!

                                    Liane Holliday Willey

                                    Pretending To Be Normal

In my experience, not only is it possible for an adult to be unaware of having Asperger’s but it is more the rule than the exception.

While Asperger’s syndrome is in the news far more than it has ever been and more children are being properly diagnosed, many more fall through the cracks and grow up never having learned they have this condition. The result is a large number of adults who suspect they are different but don’t know why and thus aren’t able to access the help that would make a difference in improving the quality of their lives.

A similar reason for not knowing if someone has Asperger’s is the fact that the symptoms, particularly when they are mild, appear indistinguishable from unusual, odd behavior that most people think is just a variation of what is average and, therefore, normal.

Take the following description:

Mr. A is generally well liked in social situations. He comes off as quirky but not so far beyond the norm that it raises eyebrows. He generally does well with meeting new people and is fairly quiet until one of his favorite topics enters the conversation, at which point he will dominate the discussion, although he usually gives others a bit of time to respond.

Does Mr. A have Asperger’s or is he simply socially awkward? Is he like many people who just haven’t learned effective social skills for whatever reason or is he burdened by a condition that hinders him from developing those skills?

It’s not until the “oddness” of someone’s behavior reaches a certain threshold that Asperger’s is considered, even though the threshold itself is not uniformly defined and accepted. There is a whole lot of ambiguity when it comes to what’s normal and what’s not.

A third reason why many adults with Asperger’s don’t know they have it is because they’ve been improperly diagnosed. They’ve been told they have Attention Deficit Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Avoidant Disorder or various other developmental and/or mental, emotional and behavioral conditions that overlap with Asperger’s but also have distinct features.

Finally, there is the all-to-frequent case of adults who recognize their differences but for whatever reason have decided not to seek a diagnosis. There is no way of knowing what percentage of adults who actually do have Asperger’s are in this group but in my estimation it is a large number. Many people prefer not knowing, rather than knowing, what’s causing their problems.

For those who are interested in finding out whether they have Asperger’s, the process is not generally complicated or burdensome. While varying somewhat, depending upon the professional who is doing the evaluation, it entails completing a few questionnaires, undertaking an in-person assessment, providing any available documentation related to one’s social, emotional, academic functioning, and answering questions related to Asperger’s. The whole procedure might take an average of three meetings, again depending upon who is doing the evaluation, and the cost should be relatively affordable.

Whatever the overall process involves, in most cases the advantages of knowing whether one has Asperger’s or not outweigh the disadvantages. An accurate diagnosis can be transformational and greatly improve one’s quality of life.

Dr. Kenneth Roberson is an Asperger’s psychologist in San Francisco with over 30 years of experience. To ask a question or schedule an appointment, please call 415-922-1122.

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