Asperger's Syndrome More Frequently Recognized in Adults
> 7/24/2007 12:52:57 PM

Recent trends in diagnoses and personal testimonials lead one to believe that Asperger's syndrome, as one of the least obvious variations of Autism Spectrum Disorder, is far more common than previously recorded, and its undocumented presence extends deeply into the adult population. This unfolding mental health conversation comes, unsurprisingly, amidst near-ubiquitous reports of vast increases in the number of citizens diagnosed with autism. Asperger's itself, though named for a German physician who described it in the mid-40's, has only been on the DSM since 1994, and it is only now beginning to be understood as the public gains more knowledge about the condition.

An increasing number of adults who've led relatively successful (though socially challenged) lives report personal epiphanies founded on the realization that they bear at least some of the symptoms of Asperger's. This newfound knowledge usually stems from either a formal Asperger's diagnosis or a personal exploration of its symptoms prompted by related news reports or the suggestions of acquaintances. Some have been diagnosed with unrelated psychiatric conditions and now believe the earlier assessments to be incorrect. They may be right, as Asperger's remains a largely unidentified and misunderstood condition. Many individuals who believe themselves to be affected have careers, spouses and children, and some have written books detailing their experiences.

While Asperger's undoubtedly varies widely in degree, these reports run against common stereotypes of hermetic, childlike eccentrics as well as general medical opinion, which lists Asperger's patients as "higher-functioning" autistics who may elude diagnosis because of their average-to-above-average intelligence (which often manifests itself in debilitating, obsessive traits) but notes their general resistance or inability to maintain relationships and raise children. Anti-social behavior is extremely common among Asperger's patients and generally interferes with or completely derails their ability to successfully "integrate" into society. Some make the dubious speculation that brilliantly single-minded individuals such as Bill Gates, Albert Einstein, Nikolai Tesla and David Byrne drew their unusual insights and often baffling behavior from undiagnosed cases of Asperger's syndrome.

At present, Asperger's is an untreatable lifelong condition, but it can be improved through talk therapy and personal disciplines learned over time. It is also very seldom a black and white diagnosis. Nearly every individual who takes the time for self-analysis will find certain characteristics resembling those attributed to Asperger's syndrome: difficulty conversing with or relating to others, emotional impulsivity, fear of crowded social situations, obsessive hobbies or areas of expertise, physical clumsiness. Some may look to Asperger's as a way to explain their own troublesome tendencies or disappointments in their personal lives, but it is a severe condition that cannot account for a series of smaller and seemingly related difficulties, and overdiagnosis is a distinct and unfortunate possibility; the director of UC-San Francisco's Autism Center says that "she does more "un-diagnosing" than diagnosing." But for those truly living with the disorder, such newfound attention can only be a good thing. And the internet has allowed them to view their condition in a newly enlightened way, offering peer networks, humorous advice and even dating sites specifically aimed toward Asperger's individuals.

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