Autism is a developmental disability that affects the way people interact with the world. As a spectrum condition, it affects people in different ways. Asperger’s syndrome is one form of autism. Affecting an estimated 700,000 people in the UK alone, autism is relatively common.
Someone living with Asperger’s syndrome will see things differently to someone who doesn’t. It is not a disease, nor is it something that can be ‘treated’, there are however approaches and support frameworks that can be helpful.
On this page we will explore how it feels to live with Asperger’s syndrome. We’ll look at associated mental health conditions and how counselling can help.
What is Asperger’s syndrome?
Asperger’s syndrome sits within the autistic spectrum. The developmental disability affects people across the globe regardless of gender, race or social background. People on the autistic spectrum will share similar difficulties but will be affected in different ways. Some people with autism will have learning disabilities and other mental/physical health concerns.
Those with Asperger’s may not have the learning disabilities often associated with autism, but can have more specific learning difficulties. They typically have fewer problems with speech compared to those with autism, but may still find it hard to understand and process language. People with Asperger’s tend to have average or above average intelligence.
The usual hallmarks of Asperger’s syndrome include:
- difficulties with social interactions
- highly-focused interests
- repetitive behaviours
- sensory sensitivity
As Asperger’s syndrome affects people in different ways it can be very hard to diagnose. Unlike autism which is usually diagnosed during early childhood, it often isn’t diagnosed until later in childhood, or further into adulthood.
Diagnosis will often involve a team. This may include a speech and language therapist, a doctor and a psychologist/psychiatrist. In order for someone to receive a diagnosis, they will be assessed as having ongoing difficulties with social interaction, repetitive (and restrictive) behaviour patterns that have existed since early childhood that impair everyday life.
For some, receiving a formal ‘label’ of Asperger’s syndrome feels unhelpful, for others, however, it can be beneficial. Understanding what it means to have Asperger’s syndrome can help both those with the condition and their loved ones. It also opens the door to further support.
What support is available?
Autism and Asperger’s syndrome are not conditions that can be ‘treated’ or ‘cured’ (it is not an illness), however, certain strategies and approaches can be helpful. These include the National Autistic Society’s SPELL framework, the TEACCH programme, visual aids and Social storiesTM . You can find out more about these strategies on the National Autistic Society’s website.
In terms of general support, there are various charities and online forums which provide information and a space to talk for those living with autism. For more tailored support, counselling can be useful.
Use our advanced search tool to find a counsellor near you who can offer tailored support, wherever you are on your journey.
Many people with autism and Asperger’s syndrome find it helpful to speak to a professional. Counselling can help those affected develop coping strategies, learn relaxation techniques and overcome relationship problems.
Counselling provides a safe space for people to talk about how they’re feeling in confidence and without fear of judgement. Depending on what the person is seeking support for, the counsellor can use specific psychological approaches to help. The following are just a few of the approaches that can be helpful for those with autism.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
Evidence shows cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can help reduce anxiety symptoms in some people with autism. This therapy looks at the way your thinking relates to your behaviour and how you can make positive changes.
Some people on the autistic spectrum have unhelpful ways of thinking that make everyday interactions difficult. These include:
- polarised thinking (when someone is either a best friend or worst enemy)
- all-or-nothing thinking (‘I have to be great at everything all the time’)
- fatalist thinking (‘things are bad whatever I do’)
CBT can help those affected understand such thoughts, how they affect the way they act and ways of changing them.
Solution-focused brief therapy
Rather than problem-solving, this form of therapy looks at solution building. Solution-focused brief therapy helps clients look to the future, using their own strengths to achieve goals. Aiming to be concise with practical applications, this therapy is often time-limited (although effects are long-lasting).
If a counsellor takes a psychoanalytical approach, they will look to the person’s past and their unconscious mind. The aim is to improve the client’s self-awareness and how they have power within relationships. Some people on the autistic spectrum find this method more complex.
Living with Asperger’s syndrome
For some, living with Asperger’s is an overwhelming experience. It can be very hard to understand and relate to those around them. They may feel different, ‘odd’ or that other people don’t ‘get them’. Feelings of anxiety and burn-out can also surface.
As autism is an invisible disability, other people will not immediately know they live with the condition. Indeed, those with Asperger’s syndrome may be highly intelligent and able to converse with ease. Below are examples of what someone with Asperger’s lives with.
“The most interesting people you’ll find are ones that don’t fit into your average cardboard box. They’ll make what they need, they’ll make their own boxes.” - Dr Temple Grandin.
Difficulty with social interactions
People with autism find it difficult to interpret language and may struggle to understand sarcasm and/or read social cues. Although people with Asperger’s syndrome typically have good language skills, they can still experience difficulties. They may fail to understand what is expected of someone within a conversation.
Reading other people’s feelings and intentions can be hard. They may also find it difficult to express how they themselves are feeling.
Highly focused interests
Most people have hobbies and interests, but someone with Asperger’s will usually have an interest they are incredibly dedicated to. This can lead to them taking a lot of time studying or interacting with said interest (this could be art, computers or collecting memorabilia).
Channelling this interest into paid work or volunteering is often reported. Many people with Asperger’s say having an interest or hobby like this is key to them feeling happy and fulfilled.
Having a regular routine offers a sense of security to those with autism. It can help them feel safe when other things may be making them feel overwhelmed or anxious. This can make them resistant to change, which is why it is helpful to build up to changes in routine.
For some people with Asperger’s, sensory sensitivity can occur. This is when you experience an over, or under, sensitivity to smells, sounds, light, temperature or even taste. For example, loud noises may cause physical pain and even anxiety. Alternatively, someone with Asperger’s may be especially curious about light and colour.
Mental health and Asperger’s syndrome
Those on the autistic spectrum can be more likely to experience mental health concerns than those not on the spectrum. The following have been found to be more prominent:
It is estimated that 40% of people with autism suffer from anxiety symptoms, compared to 15% of those not on the spectrum. There is a variety of reasons for this, including biological differences in brain structure and dealing with social difficulties.
Anxiety disorders can lead to fears and phobias of certain situations, creating a vicious cycle. If left untreated, it can lead to depression. Talk therapies that look at changing negative thought patterns can help break the cycle and reduce anxiety symptoms.
While all of us can feel sad or down from time to time, if low moods last a long time and get in the way of day-to-day tasks - it could be depression. People with autism are just as likely as anyone else to develop this.
It can be hard for someone with Asperger’s syndrome to vocalise how they’re feeling. They may be more worried about asking for help than usual. There is help available however and it can be useful to speak to someone who understands autism and the challenges it can bring.
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) has been found to be more common in those with autism. The condition involves recurring and intrusive thoughts as well as compulsions to carry out certain behaviours. As people with Asperger’s can display repetitive behaviours, OCD can be overlooked. The two are, however, very different.
Speaking to your doctor about your concerns is a great first step to an accurate diagnosis. There are several different treatment options to help with OCD including medication and talk therapy.
What should I be looking for in a counsellor or psychotherapist?
There are currently no laws in place stipulating what training and qualifications a counsellor must have to help someone with Asperger's syndrome. However, NICE have developed a set of guidelines that provide advice about the recommended approaches.
In terms of psychological support, NICE recommend cognitive behavioural therapy and/or behavioural therapy. To help manage symptoms such as anxiety and/or repetitive thoughts, medication may also be offered. The guidelines also list various therapies and treatments that should not be offered, including chelation therapy.
Counsellors supporting people with autism or Asperger's syndrome may have to adjust the way they work. For example, including more visual information. Therefore, it is advised that you seek a professional who has specific training and experience in working with people within the autistic spectrum.
Read the full NICE guidelines:
What our experts say
- Silent Asperger's in the couple relationship
Freddi Manson - Counselling for Individuals and Couples4th January, 2016
- Recognising the potential of Autistic Spectrum Disorders
Leslie Stanberry MBACP Registered, UKCP Registered7th August, 2014
- Asperger's: how counselling can help
Virginia Sherborne MBACP (Accred.)1st April, 2012
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