Asperger Syndrome (AS) is a form of autism, a neurological disorder that can make it hard to communicate and interact effectively with others. Often characterised by restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviour and interests, it can make change, lack of routine and unpredictability hard to bear. This can lead to feelings of confusion, anxiety and frustration. Another area of difference is sensory stimuli – sight, smell, sound, taste, touch. Difference in sensory processing can be problematic.
The AS brain is wired differently from a neuro-typical brain. AS is not an emotional or psychological illness that needs to (or can) be “treated”. But recognition, diagnosis, knowledge and understanding of the condition can be a huge relief for the AS client and their family. For people who have spent years feeling different, struggling to understand what is going on around them, or suffering from low self-confidence and depression because they don’t fit, it can be such a relief to be able to put all of this into the context of a neurological disorder; it can feel so good to be validated, seen and recognised at last.
Clients with AS, their partners and family members can gain great benefit from working/learning with a counsellor who has experience and knowledge of the condition. When I work with a client with AS I try to ensure that communication between us is clear and logical. No mind-reading, assuming and second-guessing goes on, and there is no automatic expectation that we will be talking about emotions as might more usually be the case in therapy.
The partner of someone with AS will often feel deeply impacted. It’s not unusual to feel emotionally deprived, unseen, of little importance. They may have spent years trying to understand what is wrong with their relationship. Recognition of AS and subsequent skilful understanding/adaptation can be crucial to the success or failure of a couple’s relationship. Working with a therapist around this distress is often more effective than becoming informed and skilful through book learning. It can be healing for a hurt neuro-typical partner to be deeply heard, understood, acknowledged and validated by the therapist.
Further information: Tony Attwood has written a number of useful books on the subject including The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome, Pretending to be Normal: Living with Asperger’s Syndrome and Asperger’s Syndrome: A Guide for Parents and Professionals.
Maxine Aston, author of The Other Half of Asperger Syndrome (Autism Spectrum Disorder): A Guide to Living in an Intimate Relationship with a Partner who is on the Autism Spectrum, is highly recommended for her expertise in working with couples.