What is Asperger’s Syndrome?

Asperger’s is a neurological condition that causes one to become overwhelmed by sensation, be unable to connect socially with their peers, and withdraw into a world of their creation. Now if you look and ask a doctor, the term Asperger’s has actually been phased out, it’s now been replaced with Autism Spectrum Disorder. And you can look in the new DSM, the DSM V, to find that.

But it essentially means the same thing, it’s just a different label for the same thing. Nothing has really changed at all. Autism Spectrum Disorder is just now diagnosed either as mild or severe (mild meaning Asperger’s, or severe meaning full-blown autism). But it’s just a different name for the same exact thing.

We still use the word Asperger’s because it still holds a lot of meaning to people. They still identify with it and they still know what it means and they’re familiar with it.

It’s like Mac or PC, it’s just a different operating system. The icons may be slightly moved, things may work slightly differently, there may be different workflow steps to get to the same thing or do the same thing, but it’s all still there and it all still works. It’s just for different types of people.

Or it’s like the brilliant but odd scientist, the guy with hair all over the place, “I have an idea,” but is sort of socially awkward. Now I want to make a distinction here. Not all people with Asperger’s are Sheldon on the Big Bang Theory. We may not be the really, really nerdy people. We’re people just like anybody else.

It’s like saying is this type of school good for someone with blond hair? That’s not a question you would ask, because people with blond hair are people, people with Asperger’s are people. We just have a different way of looking at the world.

So let’s break down that definition of Asperger’s I just gave you. Start by “a neurological difference.” It means it is a difference. It is not a disease. There is nothing contagious about it. It is not something that’s wrong. It is literally just a different way of thinking.

So the second part of that sentence is “overwhelmed by sensation.” That means that we are constantly shut down because there is way too much input coming in. And it’s called the Intense World Theory if you want to Google it.

Overwhelmed by sensation also means that we are in defense mode a lot. Defense Mode is a state where we are disconnected and extremely overwhelmed and literally terrified of everything. In scientific terms, that means we have low vagal tone, if you want to go look that up.

But when you’re in that state of Defense Mode, you can’t help but constantly be on the alert and constantly vigilant because something might attack me from anywhere and I need to be careful because the very threat to my survival is at stake– or so it is perceived.

The best book that I’ve ever read on autism and pretty much the only one that I recommend, because all the rest are just memoirs of, ‘here’s my life’ or very scientific discussions that never really get to the core of what’s going on, the best book that I read is called Reframe Your Thinking Around Autism by Holly Bridges.

The next part of that sentence is “be unable to connect socially,” right? People with Asperger’s are unable to connect socially. So that generally means one of two things. You’re either in protect mode or you’re in connect mode. You can’t be in both. And since people with Asperger’s are often in Defense Mode, they are often in protect rather than connect.

And finally, we have the last part of the sentence “withdraw into a world of their own creation.” What that means is that people with Asperger’s have a specialized fascination. They are utterly obsessed about something and that is their life. And because of that, they sort of create their own world around that.

The actual world is sometimes too threatening and too scary, so we withdraw into our own world and end up becoming hyper-focused and hyper-specialized on one thing. So much so that you get somebody who’s really, really good at their expert topic, but because of that, we sort of disconnect from the real world. So it’s very hard for us to, as I said before, learn social skills and things like that.

Look, as I said earlier, at the end of the day all Asperger’s is is a label. It’s a word to used to describe a whole bunch of symptoms like anxiety, depression, and lack of social skills, and hyper-obsession and things like that, and sensory overwhelm. That’s it. That’s all there is. It’s is just a label. It’s like saying, hey, I’m standing in a collection of brick and glass and steel and stone and stuff rather than a building.

It’s just a shorthand. It’s literally just verbal shorthand so that we don’t need to say I have anxiety and depression and social skills issues and sometimes I get overwhelmed, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. I can just say Asperger’s and they know what that means. It’s not a defect. There is no moral failing. It’s basically shorthand, a neurological shorthand in a way.

And when you understand that, nothing changed. You get a diagnosis of Asperger’s and great, now what? You go about your day. Nothing really changed, just the word. So if you’d like to learn more about Asperger’s or how to help somebody with Asperger’s or how to live with Asperger’s, start with the AE Process here.

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