Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Autism and Asperger’s (High Functioning Autism)

Areas affected by Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD),  including both autism and Asperger’s, can be broadly classified under 1) speech or communication, 2) social skills, and 3) “quirky” characteristics and rigid behavior.

*Teen activist Greta Thunberg on how Asperger’s is a “gift” that helps her fight climate change

Our Test Kit contain autism and Asperger’s screening tests for children and adults.  It will be important to keep in mind that screeners are not a substitute for a professional diagnosis.

A success story of how receiving treatment after getting a diagnosis helps. Learn more about diagnosis.

For those with high-functioning autism (Asperger’s), scroll down for a brief description of areas of difficulties.

Watch Tony Attwood’s “Asperger’s Is a Gift”

ASD at a glance (what is causing troubles for this group?)

Most crucially, people with autism spectrum disorder lack a Theory of Mind: i.e., understanding of their own and other people’s cognitive and emotional experiences. Articulating their own thoughts and feelings doesn’t come easily to this group, just as they find it very hard to intuit those of others. To those with high-functioning autism (Asperger’s), figuring out the intricate workings of an engine is easy, figuring out the intricacy of the human mind is VERY hard and almost exhausting (where their supreme sense of logic can be of little to no help).

A lot of people with this condition are very bright. So they make good use of their intelligence to compensate for what they lack intuitively. For example, they, especially adults, learn typical social interactions via movies, they memorize scripts they could recite, they learn from others’ responses as to what they should and shouldn’t do, and memorize it, even though they might not fully understand why.

A lot of people on the spectrum are actually very lovely and honest; they have a great sense of humor and are very insightful. (A child on the spectrum once asked me, after describing what went on at school, “I don’t think that teacher likes kids. Why does she have that job? She is in the wrong job!”, said with full conviction.) Unfortunately, the social and emotional confusion they live with and the frustration that comes with it make them prone to angry outbursts, for which they are often punished. Because they don’t have the words to tell others what they struggle with, their frustration isn’t well understood, and parents/teachers can feel very alone and lost while trying to help them.

How do I know if my child has autism? Specific behaviors to watch out for are:

  • socialization and communication difficulties (e.g. lack of reciprocity, one-sided communication)
  • difficulty making friends and keeping friendships
  • limited eye contact, facial expressions, and gestures
  • a lack of understanding of emotional cues (in self and others)
  • difficulty with self-regulation
  • fascination with specific objects (e.g., dinosaurs, trains, fans) or part-objects (wheels of cars)
  • awkward body language and poor coordination
  • repetitive and rigid behavior
  • sensory sensitivity (troubled by noise, certain textures, lights)
  • difficulty with change and transitions (e.g., same breakfast every morning)
  • limited understanding of figurative speech (e.g., sarcasm)
  • speech delays

Read an SCMP story on autism where Dr Bertie was asked for her 2 cents.

If my child shows autistic symptoms, do they need to see a psychologist or therapist?

If the information here resonates with your experience of your child, it is a good idea to talk to a psychologist or therapist for starter. My suggestion is to not worry too much about the label at first. It is a word to describe a cluster of behaviors and tendencies. Whether your child has it or not, he/she is way more than the label, I can reassure you. The human brain is very plastic and there is a lot that we can work to change. The earlier your child gets help, the better the treatment outcomes will look. Find out more about child therapy.

I suspect I have this condition but I am already an adult. Can therapy help me?

Yes. Read more about adult ASD below.

A main area of focus in therapy for adults with autism/asperger’s is their interactions with others, and the very complex emotional and cognitive matrix that takes place underneath those social interactions (which could lead to, e.g., angry outbursts, anxiety, obsessive thinking, etc). The fact that you might not have words for that matrix doesn’t mean it isn’t there or it isn’t creating difficulties for you. How you understand your areas of difficulties and what you want to change is something we can talk more about during an initial consultation. Find out more about adult therapy.

Adult ASD at a glance

In adults, people with high-functioning autism are often seen as stubborn, rigid, quick-tempered, lacking in empathy, and sometimes even slightly “weird.” They tend to experience on-going difficulties in understanding other people’s perspectives, experiences, thoughts, and feelings. Interpersonal difficulties are especially pronounced in close relationships, such as with family members and spouses. They often misunderstand social cues and non-literal speech from others, which can lead to arguments. Because they also struggle with understanding and communicating their own thoughts and feelings, and tend to rely on rigid and limited coping strategies to deal with difficult emotions, they can experience a lot of frustration, confusion, rejection, and judgment in the area of interpersonal relationships. A common example is they will repeatedly ask for the same thing over and over again, ignoring their communication partner’s response. Or, if they don’t get what they want, their mind will fill the explanatory gap with a rigid assumption (e.g., “the other person disrespects me”), without the flexibility to entertain other possibilities (e.g., “he didn’t understand what I was asking”). This frustrates both parties and results in conflicts and alienation. As a result, adults with high-functioning autism could live in fear of judgment, rejection, and isolation, which leads to depression and anxiety.

How is autism treated?

Early detection and interventions are highly recommended.  They lead to positive change for children with autism.

Everything Asperger’s

For families with an Aspie, learn more about brain differences and their implications, and common myths about the condition.

Watch a TV presenter’s first person narrative: Asperger’s and Me

To gain a deeper understanding of Asperger’s, read an expert’s view of the condition.

Parenting Tips

This blog gives good illustrations (in a highly-digestible story form) of what adults can do to help kids with autism.

Blogs on attachment-parenting, a relational orientation that parents find helpful to their kids with autism .

There are a lot of resources available for kids with autism. Parents and teachers can explore with these children as to what holds their interest!  Identifying what works for these kids individually is a crucial step: give them space to explore and lead you to what appeals to them, and then join them in those activities.

Resources Online

Resource Types:

Social training (google the following tools)

  • Social play
  • Social stories
  • Peer mentor/rent a friend
  • Friendship diary

Affective training  (google the following tools)

  • Pictoral dictionary of feelings
  • Theomometer
  • Emotion scrap book
  • Facial traffic light
  • More worksheets from Beautiful Mind’s Parenting Kit