Asperger’s in Adults

After a cursory investigation into the symptoms of Asperger Syndrome, the mind tends to reel back to people we’ve known, characters from popular fiction, family members or even life partners, with the thought, “I wonder…” It can be tempting to begin amateur diagnosis of every person who says an insensitive thing or won’t look you in the eye. But Asperger’s symptoms in adults can be just as subtle and complex as they are in children.

The fact that Asperger’s is a relatively new diagnosis—it only made it into the DSM in 1994 and is being folded back into the autism spectrum in 2013—means that there are many adults out there who never had proper diagnoses as children. Perhaps a family doctor hesitated to diagnose autism due to the mildness of symptoms or the stigma attached with the term “autism” at the time. Or perhaps a diagnosis of mild autism was made, and even well intentioned parents were unsure how to act on it. But the most likely scenario is that a child was simply labeled “weird” and went on with life unclear why they struggled in ways their peers did not.

As such, Asperger’s in adults can be a very frustrating thing to cope with, both for patients and people in their lives. Whether diagnosed or undiagnosed, it often means a life of struggle during social interactions, work, and in family or romantic relationships. Many don’t learn they have the syndrome until a child or grandchild is diagnosed, and then a light bulb goes off when shared family members recognize similarities. The resulting realization and diagnosis can be a tremendous relief, followed by a daunting look toward the challenges ahead.

Manifestation and Challenges of Asperger’s in Adults

Some of the symptoms of Asperger’s tend to ease a bit with age, or as the person learns to compensate for his or her different abilities. As with Asperger’s in children, the primary symptoms involve difficulty empathizing and reading emotions, or the social cues most people notice automatically. There may be a sensed coldness or lack of connection between loved ones. Adults with Asperger’s may be labeled as “quirky” or “weird,” never quite keeping up with conversation during social or work gatherings. They often continue the tendency to hold conversations that feel one-sided, robotic, or monotonous.

Adults with Asperger’s also will continue to have similar fixations in narrow interests. They often obsess over hobbies that involve collection and classification, less as a social activity and more as something they enjoy in isolation. They are often highly intelligent and have a singular skill or expertise in their passions, but might be labeled strange, slow or antisocial nonetheless.

In Relationships: You can imagine such symptoms, especially if someone doesn’t know he or she has any kind of disorder, can be exasperating in daily life. For one, relationships can be trying for both parties involved. For the person with the disorder, it can feel as though a partner or family member is never satisfied with the level of emotion being expressed. And on the other end, there will be a sense that the person is shut off, overly rational, or excessively vigilant about details. A partner may have the feeling of being along or having to carry the emotional weight for both halves of the relationship.

Relationships with an adult who has Asperger’s are far from doomed though. The emotions are there, and the person is not a robot. It’s just that the connections and the communication of emotions can be quite strenuous. But just as we love all people for their strengths and weaknesses, similarities and differences, the same goes for adults with Asperger’s.

In the Workplace: Work can also be a challenge for adults with Asperger’s. Repeated difficulty or failure in certain realms can be maddening to no end. On top of these struggles, even once diagnosed, it can be difficult to find proper disability resources because of the unique nature of the disorder. The fact that a person can cope fairly well most of the time can betray the severity of the disability.

Fortunately, we’ve come a long way and awareness about autism spectrum disorders continues to improve. For example, public schooling can offer individual counseling and assistance, and many universities have built in resources and made adjustments for students on the autism spectrum. There are also increased opportunities for attending college from home or online. There are also support resources that help adults with Asperger’s find and retain employment, including finding a specialized position that suits the unique needs and skills involved. Many people with Asperger’s have thrived in positions that demand fixed attention for long periods of time, such as computer programming, drafting, work with electronics or mechanics, or a variety of positions in the physical sciences.

Finally, while the challenges for an adult with autism are significant and not to be minimized, it’s important to point out that, whether in spite of or because of, there are many stories of adults with autism spectrum disorders finding great success in their fields of interest. They champion the concept of “neurodiversity,” and as proud Aspies cite their prominence in the tech and computer fields. Professionals have noted apparent Asperger’s symptoms in people like Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg or even Former Vice President Al Gore.

Resources and Reading

For adults who may have Asperger’s, or their loved ones, a similar level of caution should be exercised with diagnosis and treatment, including help from health professionals. It’s especially worth noting that in adults with Asperger’s, there are often other concurrent disorders such as hyperactivity, anxiety or addiction.

To start with, the Autism Society is a fantastic resource that can point affected adults in the right direction. There’s also a great deal of literature available, from personal to clinical. Here are a few selections:

  • Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s, by John Elder Robison
  • The Journal of Best Practices: A Memoir of Marriage, Asperger Syndrome, and One Man’s Quest to Be a Better Husband, by David Finch
  • Asperger Love: Searching for Romance When You’re Not Wired to Connect, Kindle Single by Amy Harmon
  • The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome, by Tony Attwood

Comments (19)

  • Beverly Brooks

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    I think my adult son may have this , how do I get him tested to help him.
    Thank you.

    Reply

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      Hi Beverly,

      Thanks for your comment/question. The best thing you can do is talk to your family physician. He or she knows your son and and can recommend a physician specializing in developmental-behavioral medicine who will be able to assess your son and if necessary prescribe a treatment regimen.

      If you don’t have a family doctor, try Googling “Aspergers physician ___________” with the underscore being your city or area. That should give you a list or place to start. Failing that, call the local hospital’s information desk and ask for a recommendation.

      Best of luck, and please come back and let us know how your son’s visit went. We’d love to hear about it!

      - Logan

      Reply

    • Joy

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      Beverly you need to have your primary refer you to a “neuropsychologist” for diagnosis. Do not accept a referral to a neurologist, these disorders are not their specialty. They are not equipped to do the DSVM testing.
      If you do not have a neuropsychologist within your medical facility your doctor can refer you out of network to get a consult and diagnosis with a Hospital or medical facility that has a Neuropsychology department.

      Reply

  • Dorothy

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    Found this site helpful and very positive. My wonderful husband of more than 25 years was diagnosed with Asperges 3 mths ago. While the diagnosis made sense of difficulties he experienced until his early 20′s not getting any further help and lots of negative from health professionals has been really hard. Like many adults with Asperges he has amazing qualities and skills, the big thing is learning how to manage in situations that he finds very stressful. For me, it’s learning to phrase questions differently as we don’t think along the same patterns. Rough going at present as help has been non existant since diagnosis and so much that is on the web is depressing or doesn’t relate. The bonus is we have a happy strong marriage. Thanks for the site.

    Reply

    • Logan

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      Hi Dorothy,

      So, so glad we could be of some use. A happy strong marriage after 25 years with Asperger’s is truly remarkable. You are both obviously fortunate, as well as strong. Good luck to both of you going forward.

      Reply

  • nancy

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    Hi, I think i may have this along with depression and social anxiety, well i just feel like i cant bond with people and i do find myself obsessed with odd topics , and i dread social situations but then i feel lonely, sad, rejected and inadequate i feel like an emotional burden to my husband who is a social butterfly, the only thing that doesnt seem to fit into this diagnosis is that i dont come out as cold or insensitive i come out as over sensitive and i think i over analyze other people’s body language, i also dont think i bring up topics repeatedly or be unaware of people’s boredom , i also keep my interests to my self and enjoy my time alone but then i feel hopeless and sad for the lack of meaningful experiences and relationships in my life, i dont feel overly anxious on social situations only with people ive known for a while and im supposed to already have bonded in some way i feel anxious with them because i feel like a failure, i know this was long and full of grammar mistake plz excuse me english is my second language, i just want to know if it is possible i have aspergers syndrom, ive always tought i have depression that has led to social anxiety, but a lot of the symptoms are familiar to me.

    Reply

    • Logan

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      Thank you for writing in Nancy. I’m sorry you’re going through such a tough time. Despite your detailed explanation, it’s impossible for me to make a diagnosis from the Internet. My advice is to bring up your thoughts with a psychiatrist or psychologist, or at the very least, your family physician. They’ll be able to look at all the symptoms you’re presenting, and follow up with questions that will help them make an accurate diagnosis.

      Good luck to you.

      -Logan

      Reply

  • Roslyn

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    For the past year I’ve believed that my husband of 20 years is on the asperger’s spectrum. The diagnosis explains everything. However, I don’t know how to bring it up to him in a way that he will consider it because he’s so extremely self-conscious about what people think and he’ll view it as a weakness or a stigma. I’ve found a lot of information about it on the internet, but most descriptions are more severe than his degree of the condition. How do you tell the owner of a large successful business that there might be something wrong with him?

    Reply

    • Logan

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      Thank you for writing Roslyn. It’s often challenging loving someone with Asperger’s, especially when symptoms that present mildly go undiagnosed. I sympathize with both of your positions, and hope that you can find the common ground that allows for open and honest communication.

      Unfortunately, his self-consciousness is unfounded, as he clearly has strengths he should be enormously proud of. “Wrong” is not the word I choose to use to describe Asperger’s, especially when the syndrome typically comes with compensatory/attendant gifts. Most likely, his strengths are a component of his Asperger’s, if indeed he resides on the spectrum. My advice would be to approach the conversation from that angle, rather than viewing it as a disease.

      Good luck to you both. I’d love to hear back from you after you’ve crossed this bridge.

      -Logan

      Reply

  • Angela

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    I have an adult brother (50yrs) who has always had trouble academically and socially. He is a very kind-hearted person and at times I feel he is almost child-like. He attended private schools and still struggled. He has been out of work for 3 years and has had to move in with our mother due to his finances. He doesn’t seem to understand the severity of this issue, and I believe our mother is in denial. He has no medical insurance, no skill set and only a high school diploma. I am concerned for his future, and honestly, I am concerned that he will become my responsibility. I believe he may have Asperger’s and wish that he would see a doctor. I have mentioned this to my mother, but again she is in denial (although she did tell me that when he was in elementary school, testing was suggested and she was offended-thus the move to private school). Please advise!

    Reply

  • liza

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    This is sooo very disturbing . I had my daughter in therapy since she was 6. Six years old . Her therapist of 8 years did NOT diagnose her correct. My daughter now is 24 . What do I do? disturbed and torn mother

    Reply

    • admin

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      It’s never too late to get the care and guidance that can really help the lives of those of us with Asperger’s. If your daughter is willing, have her visit another doctor, ideally one who specializes in Asperger’s/Autism.

      It could make a huge difference in her life. Good luck Liza.

      Reply

  • janet ginger

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    i didn’t know about aspergers, until last summer a women moved in our building who would come in lounge and sit right between means when i asked and another having a private conversation. She appeared to be reading a book. She also would be everywhere watching. It made people angry. She also switched large personal plants on different floors as if she was controlling us. My niece and sister talk on and gush sentiment,leave
    long messages but have answering machines on cell or land line.

    Reply

  • Dallas

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    My girlfriend of 3 years just happened to run across an Asperger video which lead her to the test. She took the test as if she were me and then informed me of the results. I then ran across your test and decided to take it. I’m thinking that I might need a professional opinion now. This could explain so much about me that it is troubling. I was institutionalized by an alcoholic mother at age 8 for “anger issues” and have no significant memories of treatment, just certain moments that stuck. Anyway, thanks for the test, I think it could be a life saver eventually.

    Reply

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      Thanks for sharing your story Dallas. I wish you luck in your journey.

      -Logan

      Reply

  • Valarie

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    I have been dating a man (55 yrs old) for the past year whom I suspect may have undiagnosed Aspergers. He was married 30 years and there was major communication issues it seems. It sounds like the concerns I have may be issues that he’s had since he was a child…What suggestions do you have to help identify if he does in fact have Aspergers? He seems to have many of the characteristics behaviorally (selective mutism, repetetive phrasing of “I’m thinking” or “I need space”, withdrawing from communication for a couple days, regimented behaviors, doesn’t handle change well, etc). And yet he is one of the most kind men i’ve ever known outside the AWOL events. How can I help him most and how can I help myself from the emotional rollarcoaster that it sometimes brings?

    Reply

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      Thank you for sharing your experience Valarie. Your concerns are legitimate: the tension of loving a man who can at times display the behavior you described must indeed be difficult. And these “AWOL” periods are likely as painful for him as they are for you. If he’s willing, it would behoove you both to see your primary care physician. He or she can refer you to a specialist who can best diagnose the behaviors.

      Good luck to you both.

      -Logan

      Reply

  • Kevin

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    I am a 19 year old teen with Aspergers i had that diagnoses since i was 6 years old and i am homeless trying to get a job a find somewhere to live my biggest fear is not being able to find hot girl fall in love and have kids i am very uncertain about life right now i also have the state of ohio \
    help me to do all of that and i am also trying to ac heave my dreams and find a job at the same time and i always have some thought that my mother that kicked me out has Aspergers what do i do

    Reply

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      Hi Kevin,

      You’ve got a lot on your plate right now and I admire your ambition and motivation.

      Do you have access to a homeless shelter in your area? If so, oftentimes there will be a social worker on staff or who makes regular visits. This person can be a tremendous resource for you. They can help you with many of the things you are struggling with (well, maybe not the hot girl;).

      If there is no shelter near you, make a call to the nearest Dept. of Social Services and speak with someone there. They can tell you what you’d need to do to find help through the system.

      Good luck Kevin.

      -Logan

      Reply

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