Why is Asperger’s syndrome so easy to miss for both professionals and family members?

man and computerPeople with Asperger’s are often very intelligent, and they can work hard to compensate for their differences. Many people with the disorder use their intelligence to mask their deficits in personal, social, and professional relationships in order to get by in the world.

Asperger’s can be easily missed in one-on-one interactions especially if the affected person is making a valiant effort to be normal. Often they are focused on creating an air of normalcy when they are in public or in a session with a therapist. Unfortunately this “artificial normal” can’t be sustained at home, but it may be a workable strategy on the job or in an appointment with a mental health professional.

The advent of the computer age has been a boon to people with Asperger’s syndrome and helped make some of their poor or underdeveloped social behaviors more acceptable and less obvious.  The internet provides an arena for their professional success as well as a vehicle for avoiding person-to-person contact for Asperger’s sufferers who are more comfortable in isolation. These are people who are more comfortable doing research, getting their social needs met through gaming, or confining their personal interactions to the world of cyberspace.

Techies and Asperger’s

Indeed, there appears to be a high percentage of people in the tech field who have the disorder.  Computer World quotes Dr. Temple Grandin, who the journal identifies as “the closest thing Asperger’s has to an elder stateswoman,” as saying “Is there a connection between Asperger’s and IT? We wouldn’t even have any computers if we didn’t have Asperger’s. All these labels—‘geek’ and ‘nerd’ and ‘mild Asperger’s’—are all getting at the same thing…The Asperger’s brain is interested in things rather than people, and people who are interested in things have given us the computer you’re working on right now.” Widely referred to as “aspies,” these tech types have help revolutionize the way all of us live today.

Even if they are not working in a technical field, people with Asperger’s can use the internet as a source for information on how to be normal, how to date, how to communicate, etc.  Sometimes they follow the instructions verbatim as one horrified wife found out when she asked her husband how he knew what to do when he first met her.

Many other high-functioning people with Asperger’s don’t present as geeks or computer nerds. These individuals appear normal in their presentation and body language, contrary to what many professionals assume that “mild autism” looks like. Sadly most people including mental health professionals can’t identify mild Asperger’s Syndrome nor do they understand how it manifests itself or how truly disabling it can be both for the person with the disorder and for their family, friends, and colleagues.