OUTLINE CHARACTERISTICS ASSESSMENT SUPPORTS
Neurology of our brains like this mean that many of us perceive the world differently from the way others do including autistic brains. This is a part of "neurodiversity". Minds with ADHD, ADD, dyslexia are also part of neurodiversity.
Aspergers autistic brains (DSM5 describes as ASC level 1 or 2) are autistics without a cognitive disability and, like many autistics, have busy minds processing our senses, which make colours, sounds, smells and feelings seem brighter, louder and stronger than for Neuronormal. The 'Spectrum' is a term used because the variations in autism neurology affects people in many different ways and degrees. Aspergers autistic individuals are each different yet are often processing additional detail around them and have great skills in detail observation and order and are often our experts or specialists on specific topics. Aspergers autism is mainly a hidden difference with characteristics of system thinking and communication differences, and in a world set-up for neuro-normal people, our environment and way others communicate impacts us, creating stress and anxiety including stress from change or misunderstanding.
Positive Aspergers autistic strengths include (see below for more):
Our approach at AV is to build on strengths which then support challenges. Our Autistic analytic brains can learn strategies for managing challenges created by our world- with the right approach.
Autism is a mainly genetic difference in the hard wiring of our brain and is mostly 'hidden' as it may not be obvious to others, nor to that autistic person, that they are processing the world differently. The diagnostic traits identified with our niche of autism are varied (see section below) but usually include several of the following characteristics:
Each person with autism is an individual with their own mix of traits, culture, personality and more - Aspergers autistic neurology does not necessarily define them. However, some of uscan find it more stressful or difficult to communicate with non autistics which, without our best supports, can create social anxiety and isolation.
We see in our peer activities that we have our own ways to communicate and socialise, are mainly independently capable (with the right supports and environment in place) and some of us also have unusual talents and abilities in other areas too, such as science or the arts with a steely determination driving us. Many famous inventors, authors and artists are now considered to have had autism such as Einstein, Aristotle, and Mozart. Many Aspergers autistics are proud to call themselves ‘Aspie’ or describe themselves as being 'on the Spectrum'.
Autism is a neurology that affects the way we communicate, and Autism level 1 and 2, formerly diagnosed as Aspergers, is part of the broad autism spectrum. Aspergers is no longer a diagnostic term but is still a colloquial term used in the ICD-10 and across our community describing a niche on the Spectrum. Autistic differences in thinking influences the way we make sense of the world, process information, relate to other people, and cope with various situations. Many people with Asperger autistic traits don’t feel ‘disabled’, just different. It is how they are treated in the world that can disable them.
With the right support, strength-based strategies and encouragement, neurodiverse people can thrive. On the other hand misunderstanding, unrealistic expectations and lack of adjustment in their environments, can result in distress for the autistic person as well as for others.
The extent to which autism shapes an individual’s life and experiences is highly variable and can change. Children have varying degrees of difficulty at school and at home, and adults have varying degrees of difficulty with independent living, employment or with relationships at home. Misunderstanding, unrealistic expectations and pressure to communicate or participate beyond our ability can trigger sensory overload, anxiety and meltdowns.
Knowledge of autism, and appropriate individualised supports are more available now, including through AV so that many of the challenges are understood and supported. Peer support and understanding through our activities, which are all peer-driven, can make an important difference for many individuals and families. With understanding of our individual strengths and challenges, support networks, encouragement and good communication, children and adults with autism can thrive.
Independent, unique thinking - our autistics tend to like to spend a lot of time alone, teamwork is often a challenge and peer pressure may not be as influential. As Tony Attwood says “The person usually has a strong desire to seek knowledge, truth and perfection with a different set of priorities than would be expected with other people…the person values being creative rather than co-operative.”  Allowing time for a balance between independent versus group activity is appreciated.
Visual, three-dimensional thinking - Some of us are highly visual thinkers, which lends itself to useful and creative applications, but auditory information may not be retained, so information in visual form is helpful. Some of us are auditory-visual thinkers too.
Logic versus emotion – A particularly logical approach to problem solving is our strength, however solving a problem can be the overriding priority rather than satisfying the social or emotional needs of others. Guidance may be needed on how to help us manage and express emotions, which at times can be overpowering and cause us meltdowns especially when we are stressed.
Importance of routines and rules - To try and make the world less confusing and stressful and to minimise change, our autistics may follow particular rules, rituals and timetables. As a result, they may be perceived as very conscientious, and having a strong sense of justice, however an unexpected change or delay can cause us a great deal of anxiety. Advanced notice and concrete concise explanations of the need for changes and allowance for adjustment time is helpful.
Strong particular interests - we may have an intense, at times obsessive, interest in a topic, hobby, or collecting, which can evolve or remain fixed. This can lead to us becoming an expert on that topic even at a very young age with our fantastic memory for factual details. Some people are exceptionally knowledgeable in their specialised interest. With encouragement to build on this strength, these interests and skills can evolve into a course of study or work in their area of expertise. For example, a particularly good physical endurance can translate into a great sporting talent, probably in a non-team sport.
Focus and diligence - Our Aspie ability to focus on tasks or things of interest for long periods without interruption is highly useful. With motivation to focus on a particular task such as a sport or music, comes diligence and persistence, and this practice builds strong talents. However this particular focus can be a distraction, so we may need strategies for refocusing on other priorities may be needed, especially those less motivating.
Attention to detail - Some people see or recall errors or details at a glance, so quality control is a strength. However this approach can be seen as pedantic and perfectionistic and without reminders the “big picture”can become lost. We can become self critical easily when we make mistakes, instead of realising that's the best way our minds learn.
Memory – Some autistics have great long-term memory but not so good short-term memory. For example, memory of exact details, especially for visual material or events or in a particular field of interest may be particularly good. However people’s names may be forgotten, objects such as car keys may be misplaced, or when solving problems reminders may be needed of relevant facts. This requires simple strategies so we create habits in our thinking and planning.
Higher fluid intelligence – Some of us have a higher fluid intelligence, that is, the ability to find meaning in confusion and solve new problems, to draw inferences and understand the relationships of various concepts, independent of acquired knowledge. Often our autistics have average or higher than average IQ and very busy minds thinking beyond normal insights.
Honesty and loyalty – Sometimes we have personalities that demonstrate these valued and appreciated qualities to a high degree, but Aspies are also known for being very direct (blunt even) and speaking their mind. We can also be very literal; so can have difficulty initially understanding jokes, metaphor and sarcasm. They are unlikely to be social manipulators.
Political resilience – Our traits enjoy being alone and tend not to be swayed by peer pressure to change our views.
Sensory sensitivity - Many of us have an overwhelming and intense sensory sensitivity in one or several sense. These can occur in one or all of the senses: sight, sound, smell, touch, taste, body awareness and balance, and the degree of sensitivity varies for individuals. Most commonly, an individual's senses are either intensified (hypersensitive) or underdeveloped (hyposensitive), for example: bright lights, noises or smells may be overpowering; and some food textures may cause anxiety and pain. People with sensory sensitivity may also find it hard to use their body awareness system and carry out 'fine motor' tasks such as tying shoelaces. This sensitivity can also assist and hone our strengths and creative talents, for example in music with perfect pitch. Using earplugs or sunglasses, for example, can help avoid sensory overload.
Many of our allies especially other family members will have some of our traits to some extent- we call this the autistic paradigm. Formal assessment does reveal the medical model's view of a common group of traits. However, the intensity of autistic personality traits exists on a continuum, so in the same way that everyone has their own individual personality, people recognised as having autism differ greatly from each other - having autism and other co-conditions just adds to our individuality.
Dr. Stephen M. Shore says, '“if you've met one individual with autism, you've met one individual with autism” in a majority of my presentations. It shows how wide and unique our spectrum truly is.'
Who has our autism?
According to the criteria preferred by many researchers, about 1 in 44 children (in USA 2018) is diagnosed with autism level 1 and 2, and about the same number again have not received a diagnosis . In comparison, around 1 in 80 people have a diagnosis of Autism. We recommend you visit our webpage outlining well known people who are recognised as having autism.
Autism is currently diagnosed about 3 times more often in younger boys than in girls - however this ratio reduces after teens. The reasons for this are unknown but are considered to be possibly due to girls’ capacity to mimic social skills and the limitations of current assessment tools. Many are diagnosed earlier now and more often in school years but many more realise as adults, having missed the school and professionals awareness we have today.
Since the term Aspergers was removed from American medical terminology in 2013 Australian health professionals and the community often continue to use this term as a meaningful way to access the research and information that capture our specific niche neurology and so our specific needs and support are more easily identified. An increasing number of children are receiving a diagnosis of autism level 1 and 2. A school teacher or parent might be the first person to identify difficulties or behaviours a child is having at school or at home as being related to our neurological traits.
Adults are also increasingly recognised as being autistic, sometimes following the diagnosis of their child or recognition of these traits by their spouse.
A parent of a young adult may identify difficulties at home as being related to these traits in their adult child. Some young adults experience difficulties with social isolation, and also need help to increase their independent living skills and become less dependent on their parents. For some adults with undiagnosed Asperger traits, difficulties first become apparent when they have difficulties adapting to becoming a parent themselves, or they experience difficulties sustaining spousal relationships. A spouse may identify difficulties at home as being related to Asperger type personality traits of their partner.
Recognition and understanding of autistic thinking in a child or an adult can be a welcome revelation for family members as well as for the individual themselves. Significant misunderstanding and stress can be relieved and help can be obtained to communicate more effectively with family members and others including friends, teachers and employers. Undertaking formal autism assessment with a health professional can help with accessing services, but learning new skills for everyone involved can make the biggest difference – learning new communication skills and gaining understanding of your own traits.
An increasing number of children and adults are being recognized as having autistic traits and often earlier in life as understanding improves. For an adult sometimes this follows diagnosis of their son or daughter or recognition of Asperger autistic traits by their spouse. The term autism is understood to reflect the Spectrum and the diversity of individual neurology and personality in our community as autism is such a heterogenous condition with a spectrum of traits. You have met one person with autism - you have simply met one autistic, and they may have very different traits to each others especially if they are at a different functioning state at that time.
Undertaking formal autism assessment with a health professional can help with accessing services including NDIS support, but gaining understanding and learning new communication skills for everyone involved can make the biggest difference.
Autistics diagnosed in level 1 and 2 do not usually have intellectual disabilities or cognitive issues as experienced by some with autism level 3, but they may experience specific associated learning difficulties such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or epilepsy.
With changes to the Psychology diagnostic manuals, most receive a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD level 1 or 2), instead of Aspergers. Sometimes the diagnosis we see used is: 'Autism level 1 - formerly called Aspergers'. These diagnoses often have similarities and similar support needs to those previously diagnosed with Aspergers.
Our professional directory lists a range of professionals who may be able to assist you with your diagnosis journey.
As knowledge and understanding of autismimproves and support services continue to develop, autistics have a greater opportunity to build self understanding and value their neurology
Support groups, information sharing, events and other services such as those offered by AV are known to help mental health and support the development of social skills, providing links to others who understand, as well as providing information and peer support for family members.
There are many helpful approaches, therapies, and strategies, which improve an individual's experience, for those with autistic traits, with or without a diagnosis.
Knowledge and understanding together with appropriate communication skills, advice and a network of support make an important difference for everyone involved, including family members, friends, teachers, and employers with mentors and encouragement essential!
For more information read these:
1. Attwood, T., The Complete Guide to Asperger's Syndrome. 2006: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
2. AANE Asperger/Autism Network, What is Asperger Syndrome? 2014.
3. The National Autistic Society UK: www.autism.org.uk/about/what-is/asperger.aspx
4. "Aspergers is just another operating system" article here