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Asperger syndrome and adults
Asperger syndrome is one of the autism spectrum disorders, and is classified as a developmental disorder that affects how the brain processes information. People with Asperger syndrome can show a wide range of behaviours and social skills, but common characteristics include difficulty in forming friendships, communication problems (such as an inability to listen or a tendency to take whatever is said to them literally), and an inability to understand social rules and body language.
There is no cure and no specific treatment. Asperger syndrome doesn't improve, although experience helps to build up coping skills. Social training, which teaches how to behave in different social situations, is generally more helpful than counselling.
Typical adult symptoms
More males than females have Asperger syndrome. While every person who has the syndrome will experience different symptoms and severity of symptoms, some of the more common characteristics include:
Average or above average intelligence
Inability to think in abstract ways
Difficulties in empathising with others
Problems with understanding another person's point of view
Hampered conversational ability
Problems with controlling feelings such as anger, depression and anxiety
Adherence to routines and schedules, and stress if expected routine is disrupted
Inability to manage appropriate social conduct
Specialised fields of interest or hobbies.
The emotions of other people
A person with Asperger syndrome may have trouble understanding the emotions of other people, and the subtle messages that are sent by facial expression, eye contact and body language are often missed. Because of this, a person with Asperger syndrome might be seen as egotistical, selfish or uncaring. These are unfair labels, because the affected person is neurologically unable to understand other people's emotional states. They are usually shocked, upset and remorseful when told their actions were hurtful or inappropriate.
Sexual codes of conduct
Research into the sexual understanding of people with Asperger syndrome is in its infancy. Studies suggest that affected people are as interested in sex as anyone else, but many don't have the social or empathetic skills to successfully manage adult relationships.
Delayed understanding is common; for example, a person with Asperger syndrome aged in their 20s typically has the sexual codes of conduct befitting a teenager. Even affected people who are high achieving and academically or vocationally successful have trouble negotiating the 'hidden rules' of courtship. Inappropriate sexual behaviour can result.
Being a partner and parent
Some affected people can maintain relationships and parent children, although there are challenges. Dutch research suggests that the divorce rate for people with Asperger syndrome is around 80 per cent.
A common marital problem is unfair distribution of responsibilities. For example, the partner of a person with Asperger syndrome may be used to doing everything in the relationship when it is just the two of them. However, the partner may need practical and emotional support once children come along, which the person with Asperger syndrome is ill equipped to provide. When the partner expresses frustration or becomes upset that they're given no help of any kind, the person with Asperger syndrome is typically baffled. Tension in the relationship often makes their symptoms worse.