What Treatments Are Available for Adults with Asperger Syndrome?

Treatments Are Available, and Many Can Make a Positive Difference

Treatment for Adults with Aspergers
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While Asperger syndrome is no longer an official diagnosis, the symptoms of "mild autism" are just as common as ever. The symptoms include a life-impairing level of difficulty with social communication, some level of sensitivity to sensory input, and a need for sameness, repetition, and order. Some people with milder forms of autism are also likely to be "passionate" about a particular area of interest and have a hard time engaging with other people outside of that special interest.

If you're an adult with those symptoms, you may already have an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis. Or, like many people, you may be wondering whether you should consider seeking a diagnosis. If you're on the fence, or not sure whether treatment is likely to be helpful now that you're an adult, it's important to know what's available -- and what isn't.

Do Adults with High Functioning Autism Need Treatment?

Autism is not a disease, and it is not degenerative. So there is no physical need or ethical obligation to do anything about it if you don't want to or need to. Many people who are diagnosed as adults simply stop with the diagnosis and walk away.

For those people who are interested in exploring their AS further, says Dr. Shana Nichols of the Fay J. Lindner Center for Autism in New York, "We do a debriefing and exploration focused what they feel now that they know about it. We do a diagnostic 'life mapping' and explore that; we talk about how all people with AS are different from one another.

Then we make a plan from there: We say you came there for a reason,' and we ask, 'Where would you like to go next?'"

Which Treatments for Children Are Appropriate for Adults?

Children with any level of autism usually receive a set of treatments and therapies in school. Often, they'll receive physical, occupational and speech therapy along with some kind of social skills training and behavior support.

If they over- or under-react to sensory input (lights seem too bright, sounds seem too loud, etc.), their parents might also sign them up for sensory integration therapy. As they get older, they might get involved with social skills groups and cognitive therapy.

While some of these therapies are appropriate for adults with AS, says Dr. Nichols, treatment for adults really depends upon the individual adult's response to the diagnosis. And responses can run the gamut from joy to anger -- and everything in between.

When people are diagnosed as adults, says Dr. Nichols: "Some people are overjoyed because finally, everything makes sense to them -- why they can't hold a job, keep a relationship. They have blamed themselves all their lives. Now they have a framework in which to understand their difficulties and their strengths. For a lot of people, it's a relief." For people who were diagnosed as children, of course, there is no "ah ha" moment -- but it may nevertheless be helpful to consider going beyond child-appropriate therapies as an adult.

Treatments for Adults with High Functioning Autism

Some of the issues Nichols explores with her patients include quality of life concerns such as leisure interests, social activities, health, employment, and family.

"We look at all the different areas that make up quality of life, see how they're doing, and where they want to make some changes."

In addition to working on personal goals, says Nichols, "Family work is often indicated. There are often rifts that have occurred where siblings are no longer talking. We explore the questions, 'What do you want to tell your family? How would you like to repair relationships?' Sometimes we have families come in to work on issues together."

Beyond cognitive therapy, adults with a high functioning autism diagnosis have a number of other treatment options. They can ask their diagnostician to write a report that clearly outlines diagnostic issues, IQ, and adaptive behaviors.

With that report, adults diagnosed with autism can often qualify for services provided by state and/or federal agencies. Such services range from cognitive therapy to vocational training, job placement, health insurance, and, in some cases, housing.

Some of the therapies that are useful for children are also helpful for adults (with appropriate tweaks). For example, sensory integration therapy can be helpful in alleviating hypersensitivity to sound and light; social skills therapy (often in the form of life or job coaching) can improve job situations and even friendships.

Perhaps most important, say autism advocates, is "do it yourself" therapy. Adults with high-functioning autism have access to books, support groups, conferences and other resources that provide insight, ideas, and information on all aspects of life with AS. The Global and Regional Partnership for Asperger Syndrome (GRASP) offers a whole page of links to sites and resources to support adults with AS seeking ideas, insights, and next steps.

Sources:

Asperger's Syndrome Fact Sheet, National Institutes of Neurological Disorders. Prepared by: Office of Communications and Public Liaison National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke National Institutes of Health Bethesda, MD 20892 Publication date January 2005.

Interview with Michael John Carley, Executive Director of the Global and Regional Asperger Syndrome Partnership. April 2007.

Interview with Dr. Shana Nichols, North Shore Long Island Jewish Health System, Fay J. Lindner Center for Autism. May 2007.

Online Asperger Syndrome Issues and Support (OASIS) Website. "Adult Issues, Resources and Contributions From and For Individuals with AS and Autism."

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