January 14, 2010 9:04 AM   Subscribe

Lately there have been a lot of people telling me I have Asperger's syndrome, most notably so my mother. What exactly should I... do

What's the official medical/psychological position on this? I was always sort of torn between the notion that everybody was somewhere on the autism spectrum and that asperger's was just a way of referring to people on the internet with poor social skills who read too much wikipedia.

Obviously there are a lot of people in my life who think I'm socially retarded. Should I seek the assistance of a psychiatrist or do I just have insensitive friends and loved ones?
posted by tehloki to Human Relations (32 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
If you want to be sarcastic, tell them their Internet MD or PhD doesn't qualify them to practice psychiatry or psychology.

If you're really concerned, go ahead and see a psychiatrist.

Your loved ones sound insensitive and rude either way.
posted by anniecat at 9:12 AM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Well, what does it mean that you're 'socially retarded'? It seems like you haven't alienated *everyone* in your life. Is this just their clunky way of teasing you, or is there a real problem?
posted by Reverend John at 9:12 AM on January 14, 2010

There is absolutely no reason to believe that 'everybody' is somewhere on the autism spectrum. Most people aren't anywhere near the autism spectrum, in fact. Your misperception is 'off' enough that it may indicate... something. (Also: Aspergers is not a casual or slang term people use to describe people who spend too much time on the internet. It is an actual psychiatric diagnosis.)

Your friends may indeed be insensitive, in that it generally isn't appropriate to label someone with a psychiatric label when there hasn't been a psychiatric diagnosis.

The fact that so many people, including your mother, have insisted on labeling you despite the social inappropriateness of doing so tells me that perhaps they are fed up with trying to push you to see a mental health professional. They have given up on more subtle or sensitive ways of persuading you.

You should probably see a psychiatrist, not because there is definitely something wrong with you, but because there may be something wrong.
posted by Kololo at 9:14 AM on January 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

There are actual criteria for an Auspergers diagnosis. A doctor can provide the diagnosis, but not us (nor your lay friends).

Ausperger's is only one of a spectrum of autism disorders, but since it is probably the best known, it is the one lay people ascribe when they see behavior they attribute to autism.

As for the "everybody was somewhere on the autism spectrum" notion, that's a bit like saying "everybody is a bit diabetic" or "everybody displays heart disease" - true, sort of, in that we all have bodies & minds that sometimes fall short of the ideal, but autism is a serious disorder, like diabetes or heart disease, and to say "everyone has it" is trivializing the troubles that some face because of it.

Did your mother receive this diagnosis from a doctor?

Finally: you definitely should investigate this diagnosis. Self-awareness is a step in self-fulfillment. You should be as capable as you can be, and that requires overcoming the difficulties that are in front of you.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:15 AM on January 14, 2010

Edit: "A qualified doctor can provide the diagnosis." I didn't mean to imply any GP is ready to do this.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:17 AM on January 14, 2010

Asperger's is the hot diagnosis. It is bizarre in many ways -- so many socially awkward people WANT to be diagnosed as being aspergers that may of my friends have self-diagnosed and insist that they are in fact aspies. Quite a weird phenomena.

If you are having difficulty in life, see a therapist and see if it works. Don't bother with trendy labeling.
posted by rr at 9:18 AM on January 14, 2010 [6 favorites]

How much do you care either way? You don't have to care. You just have to do like everyone else -- try not to hurt people's feelings, know yourself enough to step away when you're overwhelmed, and try to pick up on people's signals.

Whether you have Aspergers or not doesn't really change whether or not to seek help for those things, if they're an issue for you.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 9:18 AM on January 14, 2010

The question isn't the "diagnosis" (which isn't really a diagnosis if being made by family and friends) but the question is are YOU happy/content versus are there obstacles you would like to overcome that are getting in the way of you enjoying life and interpersonal relationships in the way you would like to? If there are things in your life, especially your relationships, that you would like to work on, consider a psychotherapist. You probably don't need a psychiatrist, because aspergers-like symptoms are not sucessfully treated with medications. Some psychiatrists do psychotherapy, but most treat with medication and there are definitely less expensive resources for psychotherapy (psychologists, LCSW's, LCP's, etc) than psychiatrists.. A good psychotherapist shoudl be able to help you evaluate and improve your social relationships and interactions whether the diagnosis is Asperger's or not. Remember, diagnoses are only the tool that people in the field of mental heath use to communicate with each other and with insurance companies. It usually consists of symptom clusters that indicate tendencies, limitations, or difficulties so we in the field know what we are talking about. There are no blood tests, MRI's, or xrays which would uncover most of these diagnoses. It is just a label. concentrate on identifying what could be better in your life, then go about seeking good resources to work on improving those areas. By the way, there are MANY highly intelligent, higly functional, creative and interesting people who have been labeled with Asperger's Disorder!
posted by Lylo at 9:19 AM on January 14, 2010 [4 favorites]

And according to "everyone" someone can be depressed, have anxiety, aspergers, ADHD, etc. People think they're all hot shit because of WebMD, Wikipedia, internet quizzes, etc.

You're probably fine and they're the one's with the problem because they don't understand you or in fact, they may have some serious issue going on (i.e. they're the crazy ones).

Get it checked out. Note that most psychiatrists' diagnosis will vary depending on who you see unless you 100% have an outright problem. For example, one doc said I had depression another said I have anxiety. So which is it?

So tell your mom to stop getting her degree from WebMD and focus on her problems.
posted by stormpooper at 9:22 AM on January 14, 2010

Also, is it remotely possible that what they're saying is "Tehloki, you're a pain in the ass?"

No offense intended. Just kind of sounds like you might have a somewhat rambunctious relationship with these people.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 9:22 AM on January 14, 2010

Just send them here. But yeah, it's worth seeing a psych anyway. I saw three. There's nothing like being told your the sanest person they'd seen in weeks *including* their coworkers and family, three times. Bit of a bummer for the docs saying my migraines had no physical cause though. You'll either get help or have incontrovertible proof that you are fine when people accuse you otherwise.
posted by jwells at 9:22 AM on January 14, 2010

Are you happy? Do you have friends? Can you hold down a job?

If the answer to all of these is yes, tell your mom and your friends to back off. If you feel like you need to be evaluated, that's cool, but it's possible you're just a touch socially awkward and obsessive like EVERY YOUNG, SMART GUY I KNOW.

Based on the DSM-IV, were probably all a little fucked up.
posted by paanta at 9:29 AM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Is there anything you feel you should seek assistance about? I personally, find it a little surprising that "a lot of people" have been telling you this. Most people of my acquaintance know that Asperger's is something like/related to autism. That's it. The only reason I know anything about it is because my SO was a para who worked with autistic/asperger's and other kids who weren't really helped by a normal school environment.

Asperger's and autism are spectrums - not binary options. The fact that you are in your twenties without some type of notice before this indicates that at the very least you are high functioning. You were apparently able to get through your grade 12.

If I were you? It means 2 things.
1.) You now have a (tentative) name for some of your personal patterns. It'll be easier to find out strategies other people use to deal with the same reactions and traits.
2.) Should you feel like there are things you should get "assistance" for, you have at least a direction to point you and your therapist/psychologist.

Caveat: If you do decide to get some type of professional aid, don't be dead set on this whole Asperger's idea. You could just be socially anxious or other things. It's like trying to tell your mechanic the transmission in your car is dying, when in fact its an engine miss.
posted by handle_unknown at 9:30 AM on January 14, 2010

My Mom used to tell me I had this all the time. I did the therapist thing and was diagnosed with social anxiety and ADHD. Guess what? Whenever she has an issue with me, she still insists I have autism.

If you decide to spend the money to go to a psych, do it for yourself and not to shut your friends up.
posted by biochemist at 9:32 AM on January 14, 2010

Asperger's is in the public consciousness because there's a big hacker trial going on right now whose defendant (Gary McKinnon) has it.
posted by rhizome at 9:38 AM on January 14, 2010

I know you only as a MeFi user for the most part. My impression of you here is that you show up a lot in threads on semi-serious topics and make inappropriate statements, sometimes wildly inappropriate statements. I assumed maybe you were drinking, smoking something or had some sort of mild "appropriate meter" related issue. If you are not a drinker or a pot smoker, then you may want to consider this as data point from a non-family member.

The big issue, however, is whether it's affecting YOUR life. Do you see this as a problem? Does it cause trouble at your job or with your relationships? Does it get in the way of you being able to do what you need to do to live your life? If so, you may want to talk to someone. If not, it's basically your ward about what works against theirs. There are a lot of ways to be human.
posted by jessamyn at 9:49 AM on January 14, 2010 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: People who seem to think I'm acting like an asshole to all my friends: I probably am, which is what brings this sort of thing on, but to the best of my knowledge, I'm not. So this is why I'm concerned. My mother says I treat her like she knows nothing, that I'm always condescending and arrogant, and that I'm self-obsessed and withdrawn. I just don't feel like that much of an asshole, but then again my gut reaction to hearing these things isn't "I should really change my behaviour" but "what's wrong with her perceptions of me?"
posted by tehloki at 9:50 AM on January 14, 2010

Response by poster: Like, should I seek professional help to figure out if I'm really a condescending selfish asshole or should I just trust these people in my life and try and modify my behaviour myself
posted by tehloki at 9:52 AM on January 14, 2010

It sounds as though these comments, along with other conflicts in your life, are causing you some degree of stress and worry. For that reason, I'd consider seeing a doctor or therapist. Don't worry now about what the diagnosis will be (in fact, even if you receive a diagnosis, don't worry too much about the specifics of the label). Instead, focus on what the issues are in your life that you'd like to improve and how medical science, introspection, and interactions with trained counselors may be able to reduce the friction in your life.
posted by decathecting at 9:55 AM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

See a shrink or neuropsych. Not because you're crazy or broken, but because in a situation like this, where you and your peers have radically different takes on your behavior, it's helpful to get an educated, neutral, third-party assessment.
posted by KathrynT at 10:03 AM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Or see it as ean experiment of sorts "Okay, Mom seems to think I'm an asshole. Let's see if I can still be me but make minor changes and then she won't think I'm an asshole...."

I did this with my own mom and figured out that no, I couldn't act like myself and still have her not think I was a terrifically rude person. Then I asked a bunch of friends and family members who were like "It's not you, it's her" If they had said "It's not her, it's you" more or less in agreement, I'd assume I was the one with the problem.

Professional help is really just that, help. Sometimes it's useful to have someone outside your own world give you some independent listening and talking time.
posted by jessamyn at 10:07 AM on January 14, 2010

Condescension, arrogance, self-obsession, and withdrawing sound like immaturity. Whether or not there is a medical diagnosis to go along with it is a separate question.

If you are, as you say, a condescending selfish asshole, do you WANT to change your behavior? Do you WANT to be better-liked, or kinder to your mother, or please other people? Or are you happy being a condescending selfish asshole?

Sounds like there's a couple of issues here.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:14 AM on January 14, 2010

You could also get a self help book and bypass the psychiatrist.

Know this, you are asking all of us for some help because it bothers you that people are telling you that you're an asshole. The question is do you want to find out that you are and changs or do you just want confirmation and not change?

There is a big difference. And there are a number of methods to change this: individual therapy, self help books, group therapy, finding a mentor.

Glad you at least are asking these questions.
posted by stormpooper at 10:33 AM on January 14, 2010

If more than one person tells you that the way you communicate with them makes them feel condescended to, then yes, you have a problem. Whether that problem is specifically called Asperger's is pretty well beside the point. You should work on finding new communication strategies with those people.

Do you have a friend who's both empathetic and detail oriented? Maybe you could ask that friend to observe you at a party and give you examples of how you rubbed ppl the wrong way, and provide a few tips for better communication.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 11:14 AM on January 14, 2010

Response by poster: At this point the wild variety in the advice is making me more confused than anything, and I'd like to avoid the "disregard all advice that doesn't go with how you would normally do things anyway" tendency that pops up in these situations, so maybe I'll try answering some of the questions I've been asked to provide better information.

"Did your mother receive this diagnosis from a doctor?"
No, she heard about asperger's on the internet (like most everybody else) and sent me a long email about it.

How much do you care either way?
I don't think about how I make other people in my life feel by what I say, and I guess from an objective point of view I don't seem care about it at the time, but I'm being lead to believe that's part of my problem. In almost any conversation I'd rather be right than anything.

"Are you happy? Do you have friends? Can you hold down a job?"
I'll answer this in reverse.
I can hold down a job for part of a summer, but I'm currently in school so I've never had to do any job that wasn't emotionally uninvested short-term temp work or fixing computer problems for friends/family. So, I'm not really sure.
Do I have friends? Yes, but I'd say that they either fit into the "people I hang out with between classes at school" category or the "people I regularly get drunk/stoned and play video games with while we argue" category. In terms of real, deep meaningful friendships I would say I probably have 1 or 2 true friends by virtue of the fact that we were close in middle school but now only see each other a few times a year (different cities) and communicate mainly through email. I haven't met any new "friends" of either former types for about 4 years, because I can't make myself go out to a bar or a social gathering unless I pretty much already know everybody there. This is probably an issue for a different question.
Am I happy? Well, am I happy when I'm sober? Rarely, if ever. When inebriated, who can really say whether I really am or not, or if that matters?

Do you see this as a problem? Does it cause trouble at your job or with your relationships? Does it get in the way of you being able to do what you need to do to live your life?
I didn't see it as a problem in myself until people started diagnosing me with psychological disorders. Doesn't really cause job trouble because I've only ever done work where human interaction doesn't factor into it, but I find that my relationships with women are usually short and end abruptly and I'm given vague condemnations of my personality as a reason. It doesn't seem to get in the way of how I currently live my life but I'm not sure that I'm really happy with the way I currently live my life.
posted by tehloki at 11:18 AM on January 14, 2010

Response by poster: psuedostrabismus: I wouldn't really trust a friend to give me an accurate analysis of how I behave in a social situation, for fear of offending me. That's why my mother's analysis was the first one that really got to me; she's never been afraid of offending me.
posted by tehloki at 11:20 AM on January 14, 2010

Best answer: If you are looking to the professional route, my strong strong recommendation is a neuropsychologist. This is because the DSM diagnostic criteria for Asperger's and Autism are specific, absolutely horrific, AND they're changing. You want the person who will give you the precise data that will allow you to move forward. This is a 2 part process. #1 get the detailed data that only a neuropsych can get you, and Then decide about #2 what kinds of strategies or input you want moving forward (and there are many available).

My opinion is that the actual follow through from most of the advice on this thread will not actually turn out the way it is intended. I say this as a parent of 2 spectrum children and a professional in the autism field who has worked with a range of folks who are asking these same questions as you are (more of my experience is with younger children though), and I have worked as a service coordinator working with all of the range of assessments and professional documents and service plans from a range of clinicians. Please feel free to MeMail me.
posted by kch at 12:13 PM on January 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I've questioned my own placement on the spectrum, as my brother has mild Autism. When I brought it up to my doctor a few weeks ago, citing that I always feel awkward around people, never look them in the eye, I'm always anxious/fidgeting, she noted that it sounded like a social anxiety disorder more than anything, as my communication skills weren't diminished and I didn't seem "off."

What you're describing sounds a lot like me in the sense that in social situations, I am not comfortable, and therefore I get agitated and defensive -- thus the "asshole" barrier. I have a circle of friends, but like yours, we bicker a lot while we play games and it often turns into a who-knows-more-about-ridiculously-obscure-or-just-plain-unimportant-topic. I never get into these debates because I know better, but I also realize that I think the reason I'm friends with these people despite the odds is because at a deeper level, I think they feel the same way as me, and them I.

I could be completely wrong, and I could be hanging out with people who are damaging to me without fully realizing this because I am too afraid to find new friends and go through the process of moving on.

Asperger's.. eh. More cynical than most, more likely.

FWIW, my doctor put me on Lexapro. I'm still unsure of how it's affecting me yet (it's been about two months). I do smoke marijuana to take the edge off and that seems to help me relax on my own, but often makes it worse in social settings where I feel like I let go too much, get embarrassed, and try to reel myself back in. It's a silly notion, because I'm really not doing any harm or anything I wouldn't do if I didn't feel so nervous around people, but those assholes for friends we have? Their snark and uppity-ness is what makes it worse. Do you think your friends are making you feel inadequate and you reflect that on everyone else?
posted by june made him a gemini at 12:19 PM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Hey mate, it sounds as if you need to talk to someone frankly about quite a few things irrespective of whether you actually have Asperger's. If you're open to it then I would recommend that you look for a therapist that you're comfortable talking to.

I wish you luck.
posted by HopStopDon'tShop at 12:37 PM on January 14, 2010

I don't think about how I make other people in my life feel by what I say....

First this: "I don't think about" is substantially different from "I can't get it". A person I know simply cannot anticipate how people react to what he is going to say or do, even if he tries. So that's different.

I find all this tricky. Other people see things about ourselves that we don't see. If many people say the same thing, one should listen. But the same "diagnosis" - no. 'Aspergers' has evolved into some sort of a web-informed-hobby-psychologists' knee-jerk reflex, likely because people have no patience with any behavior they cannot categorize within a few minutes. It's good to listen to recurring complaints, but beware of pre-chewed psycho-bla.

What I would do: If someone comes with this story ("I think you've got aspergers or something"), try to point out that some clear information instead, about what s/he thinks you could do better, would be more to the point than some random term slapped around your ears. You could then decide whether her/his criticism has any substance of a kind you recognize, seen from your standpoint. If, while shopping around in this fashion amongst your friends and assorted mothers, nothing you hear rings any bell at all, while the kind of information you get seems consistent, it might be time to step to a doctor.

Look there's also something like people who have this quest in life: telling other people that they are selfish. Most of the time it's their problem, really.
posted by Namlit at 12:43 PM on January 14, 2010

You are clearly making other people uncomfortable with your behavior. They may not be telling you to see a psychiatrist out of any great concern for your well-being, but out of a desire to have you stop "ruining" their conversations, etc. I have met people like you, and it's not fun when someone like that kills the mood at a party with strange comments or general weirdness.

You don't seem to care that you're making people upset or uneasy around you, because it's their problem, right? Sure, to a point. But if you want to have a good relationship with a woman or advance higher in your career, you are going to have to make it your problem, sometimes. You can act how you want if you don't expect anything from anybody else, but if you want more positive relationships, you're probably going to have to make more of an effort at responding to people in a way that they like, because most people are telling you loud and clear that they don't like your behavior, and you're NOT going to convince them to like you by arguing with them.

The alternative is looking for people who don't mind your behavior. So far that hasn't worked for you, but maybe that's a more palatable option that trying to alter your behavior. Either way, effort is required. You may or may not need professional help, but I would suggest you try to find a psychologist or psychiatrist when you feel like you're stuck in getting what you want from your relationships.
posted by slow graffiti at 2:03 PM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

You don't need to be diagnosed with a mental illness to see a mental health professional. Lots of people who don't officially have anything wrong with them go to see a shrink... A 'normal' person who needs help developing friendships and who can't figure out how to modify behaviours that he knows are causing him problems could get a lot of seeing a psychologist/psychiatrist/therapist.

Heck, i've seen a shrink just because i felt like i was behaving negatively at work and towards my boss. If you think you need advice or help with your behaviour or thinking, just go - it couldn't hurt.
posted by Kololo at 8:45 AM on January 15, 2010

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