I have wanted to write this post for a while now, but if I am honest I have been unsure of how best to write it, so I have put it off. As someone with Aspergers, but also someone who works with vulnerable people I have found it quite difficult to describe what it is exactly that can make people with AS so very vulnerable, partly because it is personal to me, but also because it is difficult to be objective, but I will do my best and put my professional hat on for a while. Wish me luck!
The main problem with Aspergers Syndrome is that it is invisible. Make no mistake though, Aspergers Syndrome IS a Developmental Disability. Many people with Aspergers are quite understandably uneasy with the term “disability”, but there are certain things that we struggle with, or in some cases are completely unable to do and by denying this simple truth, we often make our condition worse, and even more invisible, leading to less understanding and social and public awareness of Aspergers Syndrome.
When you have no clear understanding of the social landscape around you and no social map to navigate by, it is easy to come across as rude, to be insulting or to be arrogant without ever meaning to. My father-in-law calls Aspergers “Rude Bastard Syndrome”, and he isn’t far off the truth and I am sure I have come across that way to many people, including family and friends.
The fact is, without absolute concentration in social situations, it is depressingly easy to miss some hint or point and to cause incredible offense without any real idea of why or how. When that concentration slips it is easy to miss a point or not listen as your mind starts to wonder. We find it difficult to make eye contact, so it can appear that we aren’t listening. We sometimes talk over people,or not realise it is our turn to talk. Occasionally we will think a conversation is over we will talk about something unrelated, in what is actually the middle of a conversation. None of these things are intentional, but they do create an impression – usually a poor one.
For many people with Aspergers, the best way to level the playing field socially is through alcohol. Alcohol at first can appear to be an excellent social crutch; it often removes the social anxiety that Aspies feel and when everyone around you is drunk, the social rules seem to become somewhat easier to follow and if I am honest, it is a social crutch that I myself have used with varying degrees of success for many years. But, Alcohol does have its downsides, not just the obvious health risks and hangovers, but also social – offending someone who is drunk is often takes a much worse turn than offending someone who is sober – in fact from my professional experience, almost all violent crime involves alcohol to some degree. For many people with Aspergers Syndrome, substance abuse often follows on from Alcohol abuse, as a simple means of suppressing symptoms and an aid to coping with the world around them.
- Susceptible to physical or emotional injury
- Liable to succumb, as to persuasion or temptation.
Trust is perhaps the biggest problem with Aspergers Syndrome. Most Aspies are too trusting. For the most part we tend to make an innate assumption that when people say they are going to do something – they will do it. We assume that when people approach us with a smile their intentions are good or when people seem to be nice to us, it never occurs to us that they may take advantage. These are logical subconscious assumptions, which come naturally to us; unfortunately, the world simply doesn’t work that way.
I have come across a several cases recently of someone with Aspergers Syndrome have been taken advantage of and there have been similar examples in the media. Sadly in our society, violent crime in not uncommon and in the case of people with Aspergers Syndrome, the limited ability to read intent from facial expressions and poor social interaction often makes them more vulnerable to these types of crime, as they simply don’t see it coming.
In cases of Austistic Spectrum Disorder in general, incidence of abuse (physical, emotional and sexual), is proportionately higher than average, and often is executed by authority figures. This is equally true of Aspergers Syndrome.
Typically there are several other social problems that People with Aspergers suffer with. We tend to have a natural sense of justice, and don’t typically follow controversial views, which depending on the social group can be problematic. We have special interests, which we feel free and easy speaking about, often without realising that most people are not interested. Equally, for many of us, sports hold little or no interest, which for male bonding can be a huge hurdle to overcome.
For adults in particular, experience of events like these can cause even more social isolation and worse still, a need to question the motives of everyone around them, making an already isolating condition far worse.
As children with Aspergers Syndrome get older, the social gap between themselves and their peers widens, often making them socially isolated as they approach their mid-teens. During those years, Aspie children are especially vulnerable to bullying, as other children have a natural need to examine and single out differences. Obviously this can have a large impact on a child’s life and if you talk to many people with Aspergers Syndrome, you will often find that their school career was a pretty miserable time for them, which is why many people with Aspergers Syndrome, although highly intelligent, often do rather poorly academically.
As I have mentioned many times before, the symptoms of Aspergers and the severity vary wildly from person to person, but to some extent, all people with Aspergers Syndrome are socially vulnerable, but unfortunately they often don’t get the help, support or advocacy they need to over come these problems, because in general the public still have little or no awareness of Aspergers issues.