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Theory of Mind and Mind Blindness

We humans are said to have intuition that we can easily decode feelings of another person. It isn’t in the sense that we guess what’s inside of a person’s head but rather we can understand what the other person is thinking through observation of body language, gesture, eye contact and tone of voice as well as language use. These are what we call “reading between the lines” or in other words non-verbal communication (or cues). We, especially most women can easily, decode non-verbal cues while most straight men can decode but not as intuitively  as women do (hence men can’t read women’s minds especially if she’s not in the mood??). When a person has good grasp of looking into human’s minds by just observing non-verbal cues, he or she is said to have good people skills and high empathy. And that’s what needed in order to have a good social life and to carry on with life itself.

This process is called the Theory of Mind.

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Image courtesy of Slidshare. Are women really better than men in theory of mind?

But what about mind blindness? Does that mean that the mind can go blind?

A person is said to have mind blindness if he or she fails to understand the mental states of another person especially if he or she cannot interpret non-verbal cues. Just like in the drawing above.

To explain these further let’s truly define theory of mind and mind blindness.

What is theory of mind?

Theory of mind (ToM) is the ability to attribute mental states—beliefs, intents, desires, pretending, knowledge, etc.—to oneself and others and to understand that others have beliefs, desires, intentions, and perspectives that are different from one’s own.[1][2] This means that you as a person can “read” what another person thinks or feels through observation of non-verbal communication like body language and figures of speech. A person who has theory of mind can often develop empathy thus become good at people skills.

Most people (neurotypical) have theory of mind since early chidhood, hence can develop good social skills at a young age. However, people who have autism, Asperger’s syndrome, ADHD, non-verbal disorder and schizophrenia lack theory of mind, meaning they can’t read other people, making socialization difficult for them – a hallmark sign of these disorders.

How is theory of mind developed?

Theory of mind isn’t something that develops overnight. It usually begins in infancy or early childhood where they learn the early skills that they’ll need to develop their theory of mind later on. These skills include the ability to[3][4][5]:

▪ pay attention to people and copy them
▪ recognize others’ emotions and use words to express them (“happy”, “sad”, “mad”)
▪ know that they are different from other people and have different likes/dislikes from others
▪ know that people act according to the things they want
understand the causes and consequences of emotions (If I throw my toy, Mom will be mad)
▪ pretend to be someone else (like a doctor or a cashier) when they play

When they reach the ages 4-5 they really start to think about others’ thoughts and feelings, and this is when true theory of mind emerges. Children develop theory of mind skills in the following order[3][6][7][8]:

▪ Understanding “wanting” – Different people want different things, and to get what they want, people act in different ways.
▪ Understanding “thinking” – Different people have different, but potentially true, beliefs about the same thing. People’s actions are based on what they think is going to happen.
▪ Understanding that “seeing leads to knowing” – If you haven’t seen something, you don’t necessarily know about it (like the Dad in the example above on the telephone). If someone hasn’t seen something, they will need extra information to understand.
▪ Understanding “false beliefs” – Sometimes people believe things that are not true, and they act according to their beliefs, not according to what is really true.
▪ Understanding “hidden feelings” – People can feel a different emotion from the one they display.

When one child finally masters these tasks above, socialization will be easier for her, thus practicing her “theory of mind skills” at home, school and play until she has more than enough theory of mind to deal with people and life in general.

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Image from Pinterest. Theory of Mind works like this picture. One person knows that the other person thinks about her.

What if a child has no theory of mind?

Like stated above , not all children have developed theory of mind especially if a child has autism or a learning disability. This makes them look like antisocial or without empathy leaving them socially isolated. This is what we call mind blindness.

What is mind blindness?

Mind blindness is a cognitive disorder where an individual is unable to attribute mental states to the self and other. As a result of this disorder the individual may be unaware of others’ mental states, or incapable in attributing beliefs and desires to others.[9][10] This means that a certain individual with mind blindness has little to no knowledge and understanding of oneself’s emotions as well as the emotions of others ie you cannot comprehend why you best friend cries over a movie character that has died towards the end of the story. Mind blindness is said to be common in autism spectrum disorders like the classic autism and Asperger’s syndrome, schizophrenia, and even depression, dementia and normal aging (that’s why your grandpa is grumpy sometimes).

Mind-blindness is a state where the ToM has not been developed or lost in an individual. The ToM is implicit in neurotypical individuals. This enables one to make automatic interpretations of events taking into consideration the mental states of people, their desires and beliefs.[9] Researcher Simon Baron-Cohen says that an individual lacking a ToM would perceive the world in a confusing and frightening manner; leading to a withdrawal from society.[9][11]

An alternative to the ToM deficit is that of impairment to read more complex emotions of people (sarcasm, figures of speech). Uta Frith concluded that the processing of complex cognitive emotions is impaired compared to simpler emotions.[12]

In short if you have mind blindness, you are dumb in recognizing and processing emotions of yourself and others, leaving you clueless on how to deal with other people. You will actually depend more on your logical mind to comprehend the world around you. As in my experience before when I was younger, I think like a robot or computer meaning I only have black and white, yes or no thinking. The result is I cannot understand what the other person says, thinks or feels like people are speaking a different language. This caused me to be socially isolated.

Let’s give some examples of situations where mind blindness is present:

Imagine that your friend cried over her dead cat. Of course for most of us that would be a very sad and horrible feeling when you lost your beloved pet knowing that she will never live again. But if you have mind blindness you can’t understand her emotions of grief over the death of her cat. You just might think it’s already dead and cannot come back. You either just ignore her feelings or even you can say why should you cry over a died living thing?

Here’s another situation. You are given by your date a bunch of roses. For most girls it’s really sweet and appropriate to be given flowers by a date to express his admiration and affection for you. But if you have mind blindness you may say why I was given dead plants?

Too bad. When you have mind blindness you do think very literally like a computer which just thinks only a yes/no command and if no it is error. No emotion. No gray areas. This makes a person with mind blindness look either aloof, antisocial or even rude to other people leading him to be socially isolated without ever knowing why. He’s totally clueless how to read people ‘intuitively’ without becoming ‘dry.’

What causes mind blindness?

Mind blindness is said to be caused by deficits in three regions of the brain[9] where ToM is utilized:

The anterior paracingulate cortex is the key region of mentalizing. This cortex is associated with the medial frontal cortex where activation is associated with the mentalization of states.[9][10]

The superior temporal sulcus and the temporal poles aid in the activation of the regions that are associated with the ToM. The superior temporal sulcus is involved in the processing of behavioural information while the temporal poles are involved in the retrieval of personal experiences. The temporal poles provide personal experiences for mentalization such as facial recognition, emotional memory and familiar voices.[9][10]

The amygdala and the orbitofrontal cortex also are a part of the ToM. It is in involved in the interpretation of behaviour which plays an important role in social cognition and therefore contributes to the theory of the mind.

Executive function also plays a role in ToM where it includes skills such as organizing, planning, sustaining attention, and inhibiting inappropriate responses.[]

Huh? Where in the brain they are?

A lot of regions in the brain are involved in ToM but mostly they are found in the frontal and temporal lobes of the cerebrum (the biggest part of the brain). The amygdala is not part of the cerebrum but it is part of the making of ToM and is within the temporal lobes as well.

The anterior paracingulate cortex is located above the anterior corpus callosum (the cingulate gyrus is the red area below while the corpus callosum is the white area below the gyrus) near the frontal lobe.

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Image from studyblue.com

The superior temporal sulcus is in the middle portion of the brain on the temporal lobe while the temporal poles are at the ends of the temporal lobe. (Below images courtesy of Wikipedia)

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The amygdala is a tiny thing under the frontal lobe and under the corpus callosum.

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Image from brainmadesimple.com. Location of the amygdala

 

The orbitofrontal cortex is located in the most inferior part of the frontal lobe.

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Image from Tufts University. The orbital frontal cortex is under the frontal cortex.

Damage or underdevelopment to these areas can cause mind blindness.

How is mind blindness tested?

When a child does not developed normally like having social deficits including no eye contact and non-responsiveness tests are given to rule out a developmental disability or deafness. If she has a suspected developmental disability psychological tests are given of which the most famous is the Sally-Ann(e) test[13].

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(C) Psychology Today. Sally-Ann Test.

The image above asks where will Sally look for the ball. To be able to pass this test, the child must answer that Sally will look for the basket and not in the box. Below is the more detailed Sally-Ann(e) test including the answers:

sally-anne-test-educate-autism

(c) EducateAutism.com

If the child has a wrong answer she is now confirmed with mind blindness, a hallmark sign of autism disorder.

It is very important therefore to assess whether a child has developed ToM or not. This is to assess if her brain is developing typically or not. This is to ensure that proper care is utilized to the child and develop specific plans of therapy or lesson plan to the child whether with ToM or with mind blindness.

If someone is mind blind, how is it managed?

As soon as mind blindness is confirmed (usually with the diagnosis of autism/Asperger’s) , affected kids and teens  can learn to compensate for mindblindness and alexithymia with the parent’s help and a lifetime of constant counseling by therapists.[15]

To help a mind blind child (or teen ot adult) parents and/or therapists must understand that their Aspergers kids must be taught to use logic to make sense of the world and the people in it, one personal situation at a time.[15] This is to compensate for the child’s lack of social intelligence and to take advantage of his strength in his logical mind to be taught social skills and management of emotions literally as if they are academic subjects.

My Aspergers Child website has general tips of teaching ToM to people with mind blindness[15]:

1. Every human behavior has a reason behind it, even if I don’t see it.
2. Most people usually talk about the things they want, and openly say what they believe.
3. Some people are so messed up that it is just not possible to figure them out. Know when to give up.
4. When somebody’s behavior flies in the face of logic, concentrate on that person’s feelings.
5. Women talk more than men and focus on feelings more.

These are the more general tips. For more specific tips click on their article page here.

Conclusion

Theory of mind is an important tool for us in order to deal with the world. It enables us to navigate the social world, assess and recongnize our own feelings as well as the feelings and thinking of other people, and most of all enable us to cooperate with people as if they are our own family. However some people in neurodiversity lack ToM and therefore have mind blindness which can adversely affect their dealing with themselves as well as other people which could bring bad results such as social isolation and depression. It is therefore important that when a child shows lack of interest in the world to be assessed right away for mind blindness and help teach theory of mind through years of therapy and love and support. With enough support neurodiverse people can navigate the world more easily.

Reference:

  1. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory_of_mind
  2. Premack, D. G.; Woodruff, G. (1978). “Does the chimpanzee have a theory of mind?”. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 1 (4): 515–526. doi:10.1017/S0140525X00076512
  3. http://www.hanen.org/helpful-info/articles/tuning-in-to-others-how-young-children-develop.aspx
  4. Westby, C. & Robinson, L. (2014). A developmental perspective for promoting theory of mind. Topics in Language Disorders, 34(4), 362-383.
  5. de Villiers, J. G. & de Villiers, P. A. (2014). The role of language in theory of mind development. Topics in Language Disorders, 34(4), 313-328.
  6. Sussman, F. (2006). TalkAbility™ – People skills for verbal children on the autism spectrum: A guide for parents. Toronto, ON: Hanen Early Language Program.
  7. Wellman, H. M. & Liu, D. (2004). Scaling theory of mind tasks. Child Development, 75, 759-763.
  8. Peterson, C. C., Wellman, H. M. & Slaughter, V. (2012). The mind behind the message: Advancing theory-of-mind scales for typically developing children, and those with deafness, autism, or asperger syndrome. Child Development, 83(2), 469-485.
  9. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mind-blindness
  10. Gallagher, Helen L.; Frith, Christopher D. (1 February 2003). “Functional imaging of ‘theory of mind'”. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 7 (2): 77–83. doi:10.1016/S1364-6613(02)00025-6. PMID 12584026.
  11. Baron-Cohen, Simon (1990). “Autism: a specific cognitive disorder of ‘mind-blindness'”. International Review of Psychiatry 2: 81–90. doi:10.3109/09540269009028274.
  12. Frith, Uta (1 December 2001). “Mind Blindness and the Brain in Autism” (PDF). Neuron 32 (6): 969–979. doi:10.1016/S0896-6273(01)00552-9. PMID 11754830. Retrieved 19 February 2012.
  13. Baron-Cohen S, Leslie AM, Frith U (1985). “Does the autistic child have a ‘theory of mind’?” (PDF).Cognition 21 (1): 37–46. doi:10.1016/0010-0277(85)90022-8. PMID 2934210. Retrieved2008-02-16.
  14. https://www.autismspeaks.org/family-services/tool-kits/asperger-syndrome-and-high-functioning-autism-tool-kit/executive-functioni
  15. http://www.myaspergerschild.com/2011/04/coping-with-mind-blindness-and.html
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Emotional Intelligence in Neurodiversity

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Happy Hearts Day! Hmm, want your heart to be happy? Have a high emotional intelligence. Eh??

It’s a happy Valentines’ Day to all. Yeah it’s kinda sweet this mushy season especially if you’re with someone special. Oh, it’s quite common in neurodiversity to find a someone special. Believe me. But, like me, am six years single since my last relationship and haven’t found another one, it’s okay. Don’t fret. Don’t be jealous. Maybe for us neurodiverse people (and all people of course) we need to learn more about emotional and social intelligence before we worry about finding that special someone.

What is emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence (EI) or emotional quotient (EQ) is the knowledge of awareness and dealing with emotions or feelings. It is the capability of individuals to recognize their own, and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different feelings and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior.[1]

Usually most people do acquire emotional intelligence as they learn to navigate the world from their childhood ie by slowly learning to control their feelings like learning to delay gratification by not whining or throwing tantrums as they get older. Or when they become adults they try to calm down when being nagged by an angry employer or lover and not just shout back and curse them unless they cause so much harm or have an emergency situation.

Now, the problem with neurodiverse people, people with learning disabilities and developmental disorders and people with extremes in intelligence, their emotional intelligence is usually less developed than most people or the typically developing people. Why is this that so? Because these people usually has atypical or not so usual brain development ie too rapid cognitive development like giftedness, errors in brain chemicals that govern the brain and its activities like in ADHD or lack of theory of mind or the ability to read other people in cases of autism spectrum disorders, these can cause less development of the emotional intelligence.

What is the implication of the lack of EQ to neurodiverse people?

The thing here is because neurodiverse people have less developed EQs, their dealing with emotions is much harder to control. Let’s give child prodigies as example. Usually parents of child prodigies just harness their children’s area of gift (usually classical music or math) and they train these kids harshly as if they’re robots that do nothing but practice all day or study without teaching them to be more aware of themselves – their strengths and weaknesses. Now prodigies do excel in their gifts, but that cannot be sustained. Why? Because these kids tend to become their own uinverse thanks to parents who want them to be always the winner and being a loser means they’re rubbish and a loser anyway, they tend to lash out when they lose or may become withdrawn and quiet, not able to deal with their own emotions. This is not good as it can result in having emotional problems later on in life.

People in neurodiversity have more problems picking up and understanding emotions but this is not due to their laziness or sort but because of the brain structure. In children in ADHD, some brain parits are actually smaller than the brains of children without ADHD. Overall rain size is generally 5% smaller in affected children than children without ADHD.[2] This means that the part of brain dealing with emotions is somewhat less developed. This makes children with ADHD less attuned with their own feelings and just blurt out hurtful words or become too emotional that is not appropriate for their age ie a middle schooler throwing tantrums and behaving like a 2-year-old.

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Image courtesy of quotesgram.com. Oh! this dog is too cranky. People with lower EQ have much more tendency to be cranky all of the time especially when they can’t get  what they want.

What are the complications of having a low EQ?

Psychological problems may arise from not being aware of their feelings. they may become more obsessed with numbing their emotions by having a vice (illegal drugs, casual sex)  or become more dependent too other people (as security blanket – hmm I’m guilty of this as I used my mom as my security blanket to hide my emotional inadequacy). Also, by not being aware of your emotions, you’ll also never to learn to be aware and support other people’s feelings. You become more selfish and childish in your ways just trying to consider only yourself not other people. That is so bad. People will get avoid and dislike you, which si the reason why a lot of neurodiverse people are single or have turbulent relationship history.

Not good right? Now, what are the characteristics of people with high emotional intelligence and how neurodiverse people can learn from them?

Daniel Goleman, an American psychologist, developed a framework of five elements that define emotional intelligence[3]:

  1. Self-Awareness – People with high EI are usually very self-aware . They understand their emotions, and because of this, they don’t let their feelings rule them. They’re confident – because they trust their intuition and don’t let their emotions get out of control.[4]
  2. Self-Regulation – This is the ability to control emotions and impulses. People who self-regulate typically don’t allow themselves to become too angry or jealous, and they don’t make impulsive, careless decisions. They think before they act. Characteristics of self-regulation are thoughtfulness, comfort with change,integrity , and the ability to say no.[4]
  3. Motivation – People with a high degree of EI are usually motivated . They’re willing to defer immediate results for long-term success. They’re highly productive, love a challenge, and are very effective in whatever they do.[4]
  4. Empathy – This is perhaps the second-most important element of EI. Empathy is the ability to identify with and understand the wants, needs, and viewpoints of those around you. People with empathy are good at recognizing the feelings of others, even when those feelings may not be obvious. As a result, empathetic people are usually excellent at managing relationships , listening , and relating to others. They avoid stereotyping and judging too quickly, and they live their lives in a very open, honest way.[4]
  5. Social Skills – It’s usually easy to talk to and like people with good social skills, another sign of high EI. Those with strong social skills are typically team players. Rather than focus on their own success first, they help others develop and shine. They can manage disputes, are excellent communicators, and are masters at building and maintaining relationships.[4]

All these five are needed in order to have a high emotional intelligence. Easier read than applied, right? Especially if you have a learning disability right?

Yes. That’s only a part, but trust me, all people do have to learn how to have emotional intelligence. In short everybody. But also we need also EQ, needed it more than IQ in order to be more satisfied in life and in ourselves.

How to increase your EQ?

Awareness and acceptance are the key elements in developing your EQ. To develop your EQ you just first be aware of what are you feeling. Note your emotional reactions to events throughout the day. It’s easy to put your feelings about what you experience throughout the day on the back burner. But taking time to acknowledge how you feel about experiences is essential to improving your EQ.[5]

Pay attention to your body. Instead of ignoring the physical manifestations of your emotions, start listening to them. Our minds and bodies are not separate; they affect each other quite deeply.[5]

Wikihow gives some examples of feelings with physical signs[5]:

Stress might feel like a knot in your stomach, tight chest, or quick breathing.
Sadness might feel like waking up with slow, heavy limbs.
Joy or pleasure might feel like butterflies, your stomach, a racing heart or increased energy.

Observe how your emotions and behavior are connected.[5] For example when you see your crush, what do you do, do you hide? Become speechless and run away? Or when you’re angry, you throw things like I used to do. This is very important especially for people who can’t fully express themselves verbally (autism, expressive language disorders and the like) as behavior can make or break in dealing with other people. Especially if a person behaves destructively. She can hurt herself as well as other people. This can cause social isolation and can lead to more severe psychological problems like depression.

And accept your feelings wholeheartedly. No judging. Even if you feel ashamed (I’m still guilty of this but am trying to fight it). Feel it. Accept your feelings as your own. But please don’t wallow on them.

Practice deciding how to behave. You can’t help what emotions you feel, but you can decide how you want to react to them. If you have an issue with lashing out in anger or shutting down when you’re hurt, think about how you’d rather react.[5] It’s actually hard. Promise, but really practice makes perfect. And when you fail to do, don’t punish yourself. Don’t also use escapist behaviors like binge eating/drinking, compulsive gambling etc.

More tips[5]:

Be open-minded and agreeable. Consider other people’s point of view. Not just me, myself and I. That’s emotional immaturity.

Improve your empathy skills. Instead of just pitying another person who has problems, imagine yourself in that situation that person has as if it’s your own. Very hard because you have Asperger’s? Yeah hard, but you must. Now when you imagine that you have that problem, it’s much easier for you to understand and support your loved one in trial.

Read people’s body language. How? Observe how people act and they say and compare them to see if there’s any discrepancy. Hard? Literally study people as if they’re academic subjects. Also you can watch your favorite television show and observe how characters behave.Here you’ll learn about body language and you can compare a sincere person or not.

Practice being emotionally honest. Don’t ever lie about your feelings like telling “I’m fine” but in fact you’re cranky. That’ll lower your EQ and you are being dishonest to yourself and other people.

See where you have room for improvement. Being intellectually capable is important in life, but being emotionally intelligent is just as essential. Having high emotional intelligence can lead to better relationships and job opportunities.

Be more light-hearted at home and at work. When you’re optimistic, it’s easier to see the beauty in life and everyday objects and spread that feeling to those around you. Practice this everyday and poof all people will be drawn to you. Be negative and people will avoid you for good.

Hope this will help all of us here, whether neurodiverse or neurotypical. Maybe that special someone will come to you and have a sweeter Valentine’s day or even if not, at least you’ll become more content with your emotions and life as well.♡

Reference:

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emotional_intelligence
  2. http://www.additudemag.com/adhd-web/article/5008.html
  3. http://www.danielgoleman.info/topics/emotional-intelligence/
  4. https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newCDV_59.htm
  5. http://m.wikihow.com/Develop-Emotional-Intelligence
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The Different Presentation of Asperger Syndrome in Females

As we know Asperger syndrome (AS) is said to be more common and more obvious to men that to women. That’s because of the typical symptoms usually associated with males like narrow interests like computers, trucks and numbers and lack of communication and social skills. Likewise females can be affected too but oftentimes are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed and can “slip through cracks” of diagnosis and intervention for Asperger syndrome.

How is that? Asperger syndrome has defined characteristics so how females with AS are undetected?

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Image courtesy of 123rf.com

A possible reason for missing Asperger diagnosis in females is the “masculinizing diagnosis” of AS[1]. This is because historically AS is predominantly studied in boys and no girls were studied until 1980s when psychiatrist Lorna Wing introduced the term “Asperger’s syndrome” upon realizing her daughter Susie was found to be autistic.[2]

By masculinizing AS it means that the symptoms of AS are always attributed to male interests and not female. For example, while neurotypical boys’ interests are almost exclusively sports, AS males are usually fond of math and related concepts, computers and trains, whereas both neurotypical and AS females have virtually the same interests (fashion, celebrities, soap operas, animals, cleaning). This makes diagnosis of AS in girls very hard.

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(C) Hasbro. I bet both neurotypical and AS girls love My Little Pony (I myself included) which makes AS diagnosis in girls very difficult.

Another reason why AS in females has a different presentation is the “concealment” of symptoms of AS in girls.[1] Women generally are more apt to conceal their AS behavior as early as childhood by mimicking neurotypical girls’ social behavior, adopting a passive girl role, or putting a “mask” to make her appear “neurotypical.”

Unlike AS boys who are more likely to be disruptive and destructive when change is introduced (rigidity is a telltale sign of AS) AS girls are more likely to  be passive (aka passive girl role) to avoid being labeled by peers, parents and teachers as “disruptive.” This way girls with AS are less likely to be diagnosed and receive intervention which could have ill effects when they enter adolescence and adulthood.

What are the ill effects of masking AS symptoms in girls?

As girls become women efforts of concealing can become very tiresome and added with puberty (which is another change AS girls cannot cope with) develop psychological problems which can affect their daily lives.

Below are some as listed by the “Asperger’s Syndrome for Dummies“[1]: book by Georgina Gomez de la Cuesta and James Mason

Anorexia nervosa (AN) – or in layman’s term just anorexia (means weight loss), is an eating disorder, a serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss.[3] It is said to be more common in women and is more common in women in the autism spectrum disorder (ASD) range where Asperger syndrome is included. It is also found that there is a strong genetic link between AN and ASD including AS where both anorexic and autistic patients have a tendency to behave obsessively and suffer from rigid ways of thinking.[4]

anorexia

Emaciation is a sign of anorexia nervosa – too skinny that your bones are already obvious.

Why anorexia is prevalent in AS females?

While AS males are more preoccupied with male things, AS females are very much preoccupied with girly things – unfortunately – female thinness included, which may lead girls into believing that thinness is beautiful wholeheartedly that they come to a point of averting to food and self starving.

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Image courtesy of Pinterest. AS girls are obsessed with their appearance which may cause them developing anorexia nervosa

 

“Both autism-spectrum conditions and anorexia share a narrow focus of attention, a resistance to change and excellent attention to detail,” says Simon Baron-Cohen, director of the Autism Research Centre at Cambridge University.[4]

It’s easy to see how an outsized sense of perfectionism in a female might lead to an unhealthy obsession with thinness — given society’s preoccupation with physical appearance — while a male might end up obsessing about cars or trains, which is typical in autistic boys. “The reason [Asperger’s] is usually diagnosed less often in females may be because it takes a different form — anorexia may be just one of the forms,” says Baron-Cohen, adding that there are likely multiple routes leading to anorexia and that autistic features may not factor in all of them.[4]

AN has increased rigidity and obsession characteristics similar to autism. This makes AS females more prone to have anorexia nervosa than females without AS.

Isolation – Because AS females are socially naive and cannot fathom social language, they cannot form permanent bonds with other women (and sadly men too) and many women on the spectrum end up lonely and isolated.[1] While autistic men are completely unsuccessful in social relationships since childhood, women may form some social bonds at school but they’ll be no more different than men when they reach adulthood. Peers marry and become parents while women on the spectrum are left behind.[1]

Post-traumatic stress disorder – is a condition of persistent mental and emotional stress occurring as a result of injury or severe psychological shock, typically involving disturbance of sleep and constant vivid recall of the experience, with dulled responses to others and to the outside world.[5]

AS females’ naivety puts them at risk to be picked up by “predatory” boys and men (I mean abusive, dysfunctional men) thus making them suffer bad and sometimes terrible experiences (domestic violence, spousal abuse), resulting in post-traumatic stress disorder.[1]

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) – This is a personality disorder marked by unstable moods, behavior, and relationships.[6]

People on the spectrum find others unpredictable (remember AS people are resistant to change) because they have a weakness in their ability to consider other people’s thoughts (theory of mind).[1] This weakness makes them prone to develop maladptive personality disorders like BPD.

Agoraphobia – or extreme or irrational fear of crowded spaces or enclosed public places[5]. It also means fear of what may happen in those spaces – the outside world.[1] This causes women with AS rather stay at home (homebody) than go outside which makes them more socially isolated. This is called agoraphobia.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) – a classic complication of ASD. Both sexes with AS may have OCD but different presentation per gender. If men learn train timetables, women obsess over cleaning.[1] AS females are more prone to have OCD than men.[1]

These are some of the common difficulties associated with Asperger syndrome in females.

The Three Types of Asperger Females

What?

You read it right. Asperger syndrome in women has three different presentations[1]:

The Female Mathematician – She’s very much into her subject and doesn’t pay much attention to “girly” subjects.[1] She doesn’t see much point in small talk, but gets really into discussion of Gödel’s theorem[1] (what’s that? its actually a math theory that you cannot prove everything).

You can say this is the obvious one. Not girly. Not reacting when given a photograph of Channing Tatum or Zac Efron (or other hot celebrity). And yes, she’s masculine. No sissy stuff please.

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(C) Riyoko Ikeda. Do you think this is a woman?

Not necessarily true. She can be more fashionable and more feminine than you – she learnt the importance of how you dress and other social niceties at school.[1] Only those with more severe form of AS going to ASD do struggle with social niceties (clear signs are not washing, unkempt hair, odd eye contact) and needs to study social niceties academically.

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(C) Riyoko Ikeda. Yes, she’s a woman. A character like Lady Oscar can be identified to AS females.

She may act masculine, love everything boyish ie Clash of Clans, mechanics stuff, military stories (though can be strong or clumsy) but still she can be still a girl in heart. Still this type of AS female has high rates of bisexuality, homosexuality and asexuality (no sexual preference).

The Asperger’s Fashionista

She’s got all the clothes: her makeup is perfect. She demurely ignores all approaches by the many men who notice her, and scares quite a few of them off just by her presence. An appearance of aloofness may be the result of panic about what to do or say.[1] She’s a goddess but her AS symptoms are still obvious, making her look like the ice queen, scaring people off. She may have a grasp of small talk thanks to imitation to neurotypical girls. She holds a doctorate degree in studying women but the problem is the AS fashionista is more prone to talk about her looks or hair that makes her look like a bitch to other girls and poof… bullying and isolation follows.

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(C) People. I think many AS fashionistas idolize Kim Kardashian and imitate her (this may include her traits also which could intimidate boys and irritate girls).

There’s a comment about the AS fashionista which explains that though this AS girl makes a “mask” of herself, she cannot totally hide her AS symptoms[7]:

Very often though the Aspergers Fashion Goddess goes much further than my feeble attempts and is often stunningly attractive and groomed within an inch of her life. She has a ‘to die for figure,’ which she works tirelessly to preserve. Her wardrobe is crammed with all the right labels and often her credit card is under a constant considerable strain also. The Aspergers Fashion Goddess also has perfect nails, luscious locks and she has an instinctive ability to spot a fake fashion item from a great distance.

Unfortunately though for the Aspergers Fashion Goddess her appearance is actually just her mask i.e. her defense mechanism that she uses to defend herself from the confusing, frightening neurotypical world or just her way of attempting to fit in.

It has largely been through observation and research that the Aspergers Fashion Goddess has garnered her in-depth knowledge of the fashion world. So her current image only actually came about as the result of relentless observations of women she admired until she pieced all her studies together and used this knowledge to create a ‘neurotypical,’ version of herself. Autistic girls do this to try to mask their autistic confusion, difference and the inadequacy that their autistic brain feels because they have no idea why they see the world differently because they are usually unaware of their Aspergers Syndrome. So the Fashion Goddess image is actually just one defense mechanism adopted by autistic girls to cope with their inner confusion and psychological turmoil.

Of course it usually doesn’t work so well because other women are unnerved by this Fashion Goddess’s constant state of perfectness along with her ensuing stony silences and her more than occasional aloof attitude. Other females also often perceive the Aspergers female as being self-centered or maybe just totally detached or uninterested. As an Aspie female I know though that this is not intentional on the part of most Aspie females.

The truth of the matter actually is that many women with Aspergers Syndrome (especially when they have never received a diagnosis) are usually just insecure and lacking in the necessary ability to know how to handle intense social interactions that certainly do not come easily to them. So rather than making themselves more anxious by doing or saying the wrong thing often the Aspergers girl just prefers to remain silent so she can observe and learn how to be social.

Men on the other hand are often attracted to this beautiful woman but the vibes that she gives off usually turns them off or maybe her icy stare just scares them to death. Also the Aspergers Fashion Goddess is often very confused as to how to handle any male advance and often misses the usual subtle flirting cues that neurotypical ladies will instinctively just get and know how to handle.

So the Aspergers female will often find it difficult and very hard work to try and form a relationship with a significant other. This is also hard to handle when you are already constantly making such a huge effort to appear normal and in spite of this you are still being singled out as different.

This is usually the biggest dilemma for every female with undiagnosed Aspergers Syndrome. Deep down she innately knows that she is different to other people. So she feels she has to work extra hard at socializing and despite all the effort she puts in to her Fashion Goddess image underneath her confusion and lack of confidence at her absence of social and communication skills means she is often in constant psychological turmoil. So even though these Aspegers females may appear super confident on the outside underneath she is actually experiencing total turmoil and panic. So please just give the next Fashion Goddess Aspie you meet the benefit of the doubt and just try to get to know her before writing her off.

The Asperger’s Cook

This woman is most people’s idea of a domestic goddess. Her kitchen is clean and organised; she has dozens of cookbooks on the shelves.[1]

She is often most likely caught watching cooking shows like Masterchef and she obsesses over spotless clean house. She cannot tolerate seeing excess dust or flying dander all over. She may even study germs that linger the household and then say “yuck” on such stuff.

Nevertheless, she has (nearly) mastered all the delicious recipes from Masterchef and really loves to cook even for guests. (By that way she can avoid small talk with other people that she dreads about).  The Domestic Queen with Aspergers Syndrome is massively house-proud and undoubtedly her home could easily adorn the pages of any ideal homes magazine. If you are ever asked for dinner it is both an anxiety ridden experience (I might break something or dirty the tablecloth) but also a culinary delight as you will be fed with many delectable dishes.[7]

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(C) Disney. You can compare the AS cook to Tiana of Princess and the Frog

That’s the three types of females with Asperger’s.

The AS female is hard to detect because of her personality profile. She looks like anybody else with these types and because the AS female are very good at masking their AS symptoms of social immaturity, difficulty regulating emotions and sensory problems.

How to Spot an AS Female?

Asperger’s Syndrome for Dummies list some of the common features of AS in women[1]:

Bookworm

Though common in gifted women, AS women are naturally born bookworms. Be it classical literature, foreign language books or even textbooks are a source of entertainment for AS women. The internet can be a toy too for AS women. Reading can be more pleasurable than being with others.[1]

Tomboy

Like from the AS mathematician type the AS female has no interest in talking about typical female things (that’s despite being some AS females are masters in fashion and makeup and showbiz). They see these things as trashy. As some AS females aren’t that interested in being girly they are seen across as masculine in interests, behaviour, and appearance.[1]

Poor Multitasking

Women in the spectrum are not as good as neurotypical women in multitasking or doing a lot of things at the same time. So do not expect to tell them to cook while taking care of babies or disaster will follow.

Strong Systematizing

Systematizing is a male brain trait: make lists, break things down into components and understand the function of each component (including ideas) and to arrange and catalogue things.[1] But this is a great trait for the female Aspie. Talk to her and she’ll give you every information you need, including when the bra was invented (when the bra was first really invented?).

Emotional Outbursts

This is the Aspie female’s Achilles heel. While women are known to be emotional (men on the spectrum are more likely to be spotted because we’ll tell them they’re sissies) the AS woman has an overacting emotional response. This is not because they cannot control emotions or is childish but rather AS females cannot read emotions even of herself adding up poor negotiation skills and not showing outward signs of stress and chaos follows. This is somewhat embarrassing to both the AS female and other people.

Puritanical View of Sexuality (or the opposite)

This is not included in the Asperger Syndrome for Dummies book but this is included in Rudy Simone‘s book 22 Things a Woman with Asperger’s Syndrome Wants Her Partner to Know where it is evident in adolescent Aspie girls that they value their sexual purity and will give it on their wedding night to their husbands.[8] Parents, teachers and clergymen do no be overjoyed yet. While she is considered an ideal woman to all (and in fact some men are do attracted to the Aspie female’s childlike innocence and naivety[8]) she is prone to be taken advantage off by sexual predators hence will be more likely to be victims of rape and abusive relationships.

Why is that so? While the AS teen girl is rewarded by the elders for her goody two shoes behaviors she can devalue her moral conviction and instead “join the crowd” to be in whilst being clueless in the social world which can have a risk for her.

…adolescent girls with Asperger’s syndrome can develop low self-esteem due to being bullied and teased by peers, and rather than enforce social and moral conventions, decide to actively contravene them, becoming vulnerable at a relatively early age to relationship and sexual predators. They may not have the intuitive ability to identify disreputable characters, but tend to set the relationship expectations very low, and often experience multiple abusive relationships.[8]

That is the sad truth for AS females. I can say that most victims of domestic violence are AS females. I can say that because AS females are actually very kind, loyal companions but because of their social immaturity and brain difference they are rejected by peers, which causes them to be insecure and instead seek unhealthy attention like becoming provocative which attracts the wrong kinds of men.

There are some AS females who are sexually promiscuous (and some are porn stars or prostitutes) who enjoy sex without emotional attachment but in general AS women are renowned for being loyal and trustworthy and for having a strong moral code.[8] This is why AS girls must be protected more and as much as possible be taught of socialization in an academic manner (and also sex education) to avoid becoming a victim of relationship/sexual abuse.

Conclusion

Asperger syndrome has a different presentation to females. While males are easily more detected and managed females are much diagnosed and managed later, which, the sad part is that they have had suffered much more psychological issues before they were given a diagnosis and management. I hope more and more awareness will be spread around the world about Asperger syndrome in females, as they too, are part of neurodiversity that makes the world more colorful.

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How wonderful the rainbow is! This is when AS females become when all of us become aware and accepting of them – their strengths, weaknesses as well as their character.

References:

  1. Gomez de la Cuesta G. and Mason J. (2010) Asperger’s Syndrome for Dummies. Wiley and Sons. ISBN: 9780470660874
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lorna_Wing
  3. https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/anorexia-nervosa
  4. http://content.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1904999,00.html
  5. Google Dictionary
  6. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/borderline-personality-disorder/index.shtml
  7. http://hubpages.com/health/TheAspergersFemaleUncovered
  8. Simone R. (2012)  22 Things a Woman with Asperger’s Syndrome Wants Her Partner to Know. Jessica Kingsley Publishers. ISBN: