There IS a “Cure” For Adult Asperger’s

Is there a cure for adult Asperger's
The possibility of curing Asperger’s is not as far-fetched as commonly thought

Adult Asperger’s cannot be cured, say the experts. The reasons are twofold.

First, Asperger’s is believed to be caused by disturbances in the development of the central nervous system, causing the child, and later the adult, to behave in ways we associate with Asperger’s syndrome. Since these behaviors are neurologically based and not caused by one’s environment, it is assumed they are permanently fixed. To a certain degree they can be modified but not eliminated completely.

Secondly, we look at mental and physical disorders differently. Someone breaks a wrist and when it has healed the condition is considered cured. The same is true of bacterial infections treated with antibiotics, Hepatitis C, scurvy, smallpox, and a host of other physical conditions.

A mental condition, on the other hand, is assumed to be far more persistent. Once you have it, there’s always a possibility it will come back. Since it’s not separate from the mind and can’t be seen, examined, or removed, there is no guarantee it can’t reoccur. Hence, as we do with all mental disorders, the assumption is that Asperger’s can always come back no matter how much has changed.

Why A “Cure” For Asperger’s Makes Sense

Studies show that about half of the children who are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), the current term encompassing Asperger’s, don’t meet the criteria for ASD when they are retested. Furthermore, a significant number of children with Asperger’s will outgrow the diagnosis upon repeated evaluations.

This means two things. Either the follow-up evaluations corrected the initial assessments and those children who were diagnosed with ASD didn’t actually have it, or those children who didn’t meet the ASD criteria in the second evaluation outgrew the diagnosis.

The latter possibility suggests improvement that could reasonably be considered a cure. True, it would take repeated assessments over a person’s lifetime to prove that what changed was permanent. But that same standard could be applied to physical conditions we consider curable. By that standard, no condition of any type could be considered definitively, permanently ended. Yet, we use that term, as I noted earlier, in many situations regarding many conditions.

Furthermore, we know that the brain is capable of enormous changes throughout the lifespan. The only constant about the brain is that it changes constantly. As we experience the world, practice habits, and learn new information, our brains change, grow new connections, and repair broken ones. These changes are permanent until the next change happens. Why shouldn’t we assume that Asperger’s is the same, that someone with Asperger’s is changing all the time and those changes are permanent?

Is A Cure For Adults Asperger’s Possible?

Why not? If we accept that mental conditions, like physical conditions, can be modified, that those changes can endure over time, that neurologically based conditions are malleable, pliable, and modifiable, why then is Asperger’s different?  Why can’t an adult with Asperger’s who is motivated to change, who is willing to put the time and effort into it, and who is supported in those efforts, not be able to be different permanently?

Additionally, what if the whole notion that Asperger’s is a fixed, discrete entity completely different from the way “normal” people are is wrong. What if what we call Asperger’s is a variation of what is normal. What if it’s true that many normal people are eccentric and socially awkward and there is, in fact, no clear line of demarcation separating them from Asperger’s and that what is happening with people with Asperger’s is actually caused by similar processes that cause these people to be the way they are. Perhaps, then, it really is possible that people with Asperger’s can change just as permanently as anyone else.

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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.