Am I on the spectrum? Does it matter if I am?
August 27, 2013 9:20 AM   Subscribe

I recently spent a while babysitting for a pre-teen girl with Asperger's. I found her behavior to be eerily reminiscent of myself at that age, with the key difference being that I have never had an Asperger's diagnosis. I *do* have a diagnosis of chronic anxiety and ADHD.

As an adult, I still struggle sometimes with things that feel like they should be basic life skills by now. If it weren't for that, I wouldn't particularly feel the need to seek out a professional opinion in re: Asperger's, but I'm curious about whether there are coping strategies taught to people on the spectrum that might be useful to me. Does anyone know whether that's the case? Is it worth finding out whether my hunch is correct?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Hey, go get yourself checked out and see what's out there for you.

There are new discoveries every day. Here what the NIH has to say and the article lists resources.

Good luck!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:27 AM on August 27, 2013

Reading the DSM-IV is a lot like reading your horoscope – if you look hard enough, you can always see yourself. There is a spectrum, as you note, and a lot of ADHD symptoms are also symptoms of Asperger's. But the fact that you have chronic anxiety makes me wonder if this is just something else to be anxious about?

If the therapist that gave you your diagnoses of chronic anxiety and ADHD didn't see Asperger's (which is much less common but also much more marked), why worry? If you want coping strategies, it is probably better to seek them out for specific problems that you are experiencing rather than a broad diagnosis.
posted by ubiquity at 9:29 AM on August 27, 2013 [5 favorites]

I have a son who has what Mrs. RKS and I call "a whimsical touch of Asberger's," and when he got into the band program at school, we said "oh, that's where all the other kids ended up."

And she and I both seem to have touches of it ourselves. She has to be called 2-3 times before she can snap out of reading a book. When I was my son's age, I had horrible social problems, and wasn't the suave, sophisticated person I am now.

I'd say what I've read about the coping strategies are things that couldn't hurt. Why not read up on them and see? Just try not to compulse about your self-image based on it - I think there are many, many, many of us on some point of "the spectrum," to the extent that I resist thinking of it as a negative thing (at least on all points of said spectrum).
posted by randomkeystrike at 9:41 AM on August 27, 2013

Seconding that finding coping strategies for the specific problems you are having is a much more useful way to fix one's life than reading the DSM-5 (IV no more!). While ASD is a little different because it's more "the way you are" than "I struggle with a mental illness," the point of most treatment is to reduce friction in your daily life so that you no longer functionally have a problem. You say you have difficulty with things you think should be basic life skills: what specific skills do you lack? Time management? Making eye contact? Writing? Focus on those and you will be much happier than a person who has a diagnosis but no skills.

(Which is not to say that having a label is not useful. It can be good for obtaining insurance for treatment, and for self-understanding, and sometimes for finding community. But be careful of using it as a comfort or as your only means of self-identification.)
posted by epanalepsis at 9:44 AM on August 27, 2013

Yeah; somewhat echoing everyone here, I think it's important to think about what the practical use of a diagnosis would be for you. By some set of diagnostic criteria, you may be "on the spectrum," but what a clinician labels you with has no real impact on your life outside of what it can do for you. Diagnoses of this type are more useful for people who stand to benefit from getting access to services by virtue of having that diagnosis. While you acknowledge having difficulties, you don't make it sound like those are really severely life-impairing for you.

Sometimes having a label can be helpful for peace-of-mind purposes; that is, you get to say "I belong to this category" (the "way you are" mindset that epanalepsis mentions), and that can relieve a self-esteem burden brought on by the difficulties you've been having, if you're coping with that. But I think you're probably better served by what others are suggesting, focusing on coping strategies for the the problems themselves. (An ASD diagnosis wouldn't fix those problems anyway.)
posted by Kosh at 10:21 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I agree with what the posters above have said. I am someone who does these diagnoses, albiet with children and adolescents, and what I tell my patients and families is that a label is useful in that it can give us the outline of a model to potentially understand ourselves a bit better. At the same time, it doesn't tell the whole story, and it's important to understand each person's specific personality, strengths and relative weaknesses (and we all have them) to truly be helpful. So I would say, if you feel like having that model as a way to think about yourself would be helpful, then it may be worth meeting with someone, like a psychologist, who would be able to help you determine if the label fits.

In terms of whether there are specific coping strategies that you may not have heard about otherwise, I think the answer is probably not too much. Folks on the spectrum have difficulties with symptoms of ADHD/executive dysfunction and we make the typical recommendations for learning organization and other coping strategies for that. Some folks on the spectrum have difficulty wiht anxieyt and we make the typical recommendations for therapy and possibly medication for that. In some cases there may be some more specific social interventions that would be recommended, but those are generally available to anyone who has concerns about social skills. A book like The Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships might be something that would be helpful in that regard. Working with a therapist could potentially be helpful too. So whether the underlying issue is anxiety, or autism spectrum related, or ADHD or a combination of those things, you'd probably be working with similar kinds of interventions, tailored, of course, to your specific needs.
posted by goggie at 11:24 AM on August 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

I do not mean to denigrate your real concerns, but at one time, when Reader's Digest was very popular, doctors offices were flooded with people with the same complaint. Doctors soon realized that the complaint had been featured in RD, and everybody had enough coincidence of symptoms to think they had the disease.
posted by Cranberry at 1:32 PM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

You may be on the spectrum, but the criteria for diagnosis is usually whether it causes significant problems in your life.
posted by gjc at 2:05 AM on August 28, 2013

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