Pride Comes Before a Fall.
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 Syndrome, 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 even mild autism so very vulnerable. I myself have on occasion found myself in situations which I have been ill equipped to handle, which is a difficult thing to admit personally and professionally. it is my own pride which makes it difficult to be objective, but I will do my best to put my professional hat on for a while. Wish me luck!
A Hidden Disability.
The main problem with Autism is that it is a hidden disability. People diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome are classed as having a relatively mild form of autism and it is also classed as a Developmental Disability, although you will also often hear it referred to as a Learning 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. By denying this simple truth, we often make our condition worse, and even more invisible to others, leading to less understanding and social and lack of public awareness.
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 come across as arrogant without ever meaning to.
The term ‘Vulnerable Adult’ has a lot of definitions and carries a lot of connotations. In my profession, we use it to mean somebody who requires assistance in the conduct of their own affairs or may be Susceptible to physical or emotional injury or more Liable to succumb, as to persuasion or temptation.
This can be because of physical disability, mental health, addiction or learning / developmental disability.
Not all people on the Autistic Spectrum can be classed as vulnerable. I think that is a fair statement. I have worked with many who manage well socially and have enough emotional intelligence to cope with most situations.
However, it is often the case that people with even mild autism are classed as vulnerable. The fact is that for many people even on the mild end of the autistic spectrum, without absolute concentration in social situations, it is easy for people on the spectrum to be mislead or taken advantage of.
It common for people with Aspergers Syndrome to put themselves in a vulnerable position. For example, many of us find it easier to level the playing field socially by resorting to a social crutch, such as alcohol or drugs. Socialising with lowered inhibitions while others are in a similar state sometimes makes social rules somewhat easier to follow. Social blunders are more easily overlooked and easing social anxiety, even temporarily, is a relief. Sadly for many people Alcohol abuse often leads on to other forms of substance abuse, which is a common occurrence with mild forms of Autism, such as Aspergers, as we struggle to cope with the world around us.
Trust is perhaps the biggest problem with mild Autism. Most people on the mild end of the Autistic spectrum are too trusting, especially if they are engaged socially. 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. When people seem to be nice to us, it never occurs to us that they may have ulterior motives. 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 of people with ASD who have been taken advantage of and there have been many 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 more serious types of crime, as they simply don’t see it coming.
Mild Autism is a naturally socially isolating condition. Feelings of loneliness an isolation can lead to trust out of desperation to be accepted. In cases of Autistic Spectrum Disorder in general, incidence of abuse (physical, emotional and sexual), is proportionately higher than average, and often is executed by authority figures and worse still, once a victim of abuse there is a need to question the motives of everyone around them, making an already isolating condition far worse.
As children with Autism 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 and peer pressure, 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.
The symptoms of mild autism and their severity vary wildly from person to person. Although some people on the spectrum manage to go through life with relative ease, it is never a given that they won’t experience vulnerability at some point in their lives.
I would like to be able to say that there is plenty of help and support available to those on the Autistic Spectrum, but sadly the funding for the necessary support simply isn’t there. People are becoming more aware of Autism, but we have a long way to go before sufficient help and support is available. Around the world there is a huge backlog of children awaiting diagnosis, and early diagnosis is key. The earlier a child is diagnosed, the better they can be prepared for the unique challenges they will face as an adult on the Autistic Spectrum.