This is The Sensory Funnel, and it explains how Asperger’s works:
The problem with most approaches to helping someone with Asperger’s is that they are quite literally backwards.
Here’s how the normal method works:
Get diagnosed. Then intensive treatment is recommended focusing on the areas of social skills & executive function. After all, Asperger’s is a social skills deficit right? So if you teach them social skills, then it all works out in the end.
Except it doesn’t work. Top down approaches to Asperger’s simply don’t work, because they ignore the root cause entirely, and focus solely on surface symptoms.
As someone from our Facebook page recently put it:
The root of Asperger’s issues DOES NOT lie in the lack of ability to have social or executive function skills. It lies in sensory overwhelm, emotional distress and lack of awareness (we call this "Defense Mode"). You resolve those 3 issues, and the social skills and executive functioning come on their own.
Here’s how The Sensory Funnel works in more detail:
Think of it like this: If you take a soldier in Iraq, and say, “Hey! I want to teach you how to knit”, they may LOVE that idea. They may totally want to learn knitting. But right now they are kinda busy not dying.
(One of our AE+ support group members took this analogy a lot further and applied it to behavior. Her post, “Why rewards and punishment don’t work for someone with AS” can be found here)
The same is true for people with Asperger’s. Since the majority of our time is spent in Defense Mode (until you learn to get out), we are constantly on the defensive. And when we are on the defensive, we aren’t receptive to learning (nor is it possible for us to be receptive). So teach all the social skills you want. We won’t listen. We CAN’T listen... until you help us with the root issues of sensory overwhelm, emotional exhaustion, and raising awareness. (The best way to do this is to follow the AE Process).
But don’t they need to learn social and executive function skills?
Absolutely! Of course they do! However, teaching them through rote memorization or social skills groups won’t work. If we assume that they CAN learn social skills like everyone else (through observation and experience), and that they are just blocked instead (in Defense Mode), then once we get them out, they begin to learn social skills just like everyone else.
That’s been the experience of us here at AE and the experience of thousands of our clients and customers. Deal with the sensory overwhelm, the emotional fatigue, and raise awareness levels and then the social and executive functioning skills take care of themselves.
If you want to learn more about our approach to helping someone with Asperger’s (or yourself), start here.