Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Asperger Syndrome is a form of autism

“This is the generation that missed the opportunity to be diagnosed and understood.” -- Tony Attwood, “The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome” (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2007)
One month ago, if you had asked me, I would not even have known what “Asperger
Syndrome” was. Now, I am learning everything I can about this fascinating condition that explains my lifelong tendencies.

AS is a form of autism that is characterized by social immaturity and a difficulty understanding others’ feelings or communicating one’s own. Other symptoms can include preoccupation with a special interest and sensitivity to the impressions of light, sound, touch, taste and smell. Symptoms range from mild to severe.

Diagnostic criteria were not established until the late 1980s, it is only that recently-understood -- and, for adults like me who were by then out of high school, the criteria were established too late. Yet, somehow, recognition found me through the astute observations of a close friend who is a health-care professional.

I can’t begin to express how relieved I felt that there was an explanation for the way I am. And even though there is no cure (although there are a range of therapies) I am exhilarated to understand myself better than I previously could.

Since being told about AS, I have been turning to books that have enlightened me on the subject and it has been like reading my own biography. I have also been blessed with a family’s loving support and I am fortunate that my occupation is a good fit with my personal abilities. Others on the autism spectrum have not fared nearly as well as me, and I try to keep things in perspective.

Nevertheless, I have concerns, which is why I am writing this piece. How many other adults out there, in their 30s, 40s and 50s, have grown up -- like me -- without early diagnosis and support?

I hope that through publicity they may recognize themselves and achieve a similar reassurance.

Some things about AS and autism are potentially political: children’s exposure to mercury, for example, in childhood vaccines, as a suspected cause of autism. Or the level at which insurance companies will cover diagnosis and treatment.

But I am only just starting to learn about the complex topic of AS and the options available to me. There’s a lot more I have to learn.

If you would like more information about autism and AS, there are several useful sites and I hope to share more resources as I become aware of them. Here are a few places to start:
  • www.tonyattwood.com.au, home page of author Tony Attwood;
  • www.aascend.net, a San Francisco support group for adults with autism and AS; and
  • www.thegraycenter.org, the Gray Center for Social Learning and Understanding, a 501(c)(3) organization that works to improve understanding on both sides of the social equation.
An online search on Asperger is sure to yield many more results.

Published July 25, 2007 in the Clear Lake Observer American

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