385: Navigating the Female Aspergerian Mind

“Samantha Craft,” M.Ed. has served as an educator for adults and children, a spiritual counselor and an advocate for individuals with special needs. She holds a teaching credential and a Master’s Degree in Education, and has completed multiple postgraduate courseworks in the field of psychology and counseling. Currently, under the penname of Samantha Craft, she manages and authors the well-circulated blog Everyday Aspergers: Life through the eyes of a female with Aspergers. Her prolific writings depict the multifaceted daily life of an adult with Asperger’s Syndrome. Samantha maintains contact with people across the world touched by ASD and serves as the founder of an online support group for adult females on the autistic spectrum. She resides with her husband and three sons, (one with ASD), in the state of Washington.

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Navigating the Female Aspergerian Mind

Chances are, because of the lack of available resources in regards to Females with Asperger’s Syndrome, an undiagnosed female with ASD has slipped under the radar of many professionals. With today’s growing rates of autistic syndromes, any professional established in the field of mental health therapy would benefit from careful examination of the complexities of Asperger’s Syndrome, as it pertains to the female experience. Until recently, little to nothing was known about the female with Asperger’s, as most, if not all, current diagnostic tools are geared toward and develop based on the male genders’ characteristics of ASD. The simplest of signs that might indicate the female representation of Asperger’s to a practitioner are often misunderstood, misdiagnosed, denied, diluted, or unnoticed.

As a result of under-diagnoses, a large majority of females on the autistic spectrum are reaching adulthood as survivors of multiple emotional and physical traumas. Because limited resources and tools are available for working with the female client with Asperger’s, professionals sometimes fall back on what has worked with clients who do not have ASD, regardless of the fact that Asperger’s is not a mental health condition, but a neurological syndrome. More often than not the practitioner treats the symptoms and not the condition, focusing on the obvious comorbid traits of Asperger’s, such as depression and anxiety, without full consideration dedicated to the whole of the person, in particular the fact that he is working with an individual who views the world somewhat different from the mainstream client. Though the professional has the client’s best interest in mind, in some cases the professional’s overall lack of education and limited know-how can be not only non-beneficial for the client with ASD, but detrimental to the psyche. Wherein the astute practitioner recognizes the challenges at hand in regards to the female with ASD, he seems to be a rare minority.

Considering the sensitive nature of the female with Asperger’s condition, an individual whom has likely often found herself a subject of alienation, ridicule, suspicion, doubt and abuse, it is vital for the professional to understand the power she holds to make or break her client; especially the client’s feasible outlook on seeking out further assistance as pertains to her emotional well-being. In example, females on the autistic spectrum develop both conscious and subconscious strategies in their attempt to function effectively in a world which often appears unpredictable and potentially volatile. Oftentimes, a female with Asperger’s is using all of her mental and emotional resources to merely survive and navigate the social world. In response she is fatigued and over-taxed. If a female is partaking in mental health therapy, and the therapist suggest to her that she change or adjust some of her coping mechanisms, for example seeking out strategies to decrease verbal processing, the suggestion itself has the potential to create increased anxiety and feasibly shutdown the client’s ability to remain focused and present. Aspects of the unexplored “Aspergerian” mind can present challenges and/or roadblocks that the practitioner does not necessarily encounter in therapeutic dialogue with ‘typical’ clients, e.g., those presenting with mental health illness without a neurological condition. (I avoid the word ‘disorder’ entirely, in regards to Asperger’s Syndrome, as it is my firm belief that just because one functions outside the perimeters of the current majorities’ collective agreement of norm does not by the process of negation establish a select group as abnormal or having a disorder.)

In understanding the female’s (with Aspergers) mindset is uniquely different from the majority of mainstream society, including her capacity for complexity of thoughts, intense mental connections/scaffolding, and advanced logical sequencing, and taking into account the potential effects of a lifetime of repeated humiliation and abuse, it is advisable for the professional to consider the (ASD) client’s trauma may reach far beyond what is considered the typical depths of post-traumatic stress. Add this to her tendencies for sensory-stimuli overload, and the female with Aspergers will likely exhibit an instinctual flight-or-flight response to any new situation; especially those pertaining to vulnerability and emotional intimacy. Other factors hindering the benefits of therapy include the client’s ability to recreate her self-presentation based on how she perceives the professional perceives her. Often a master actress, the female with Asperger’s has developed a toolbox of masks enabling her to move in the world undetectable to the naked, untrained eye. Here in the client-practitioner relationship, the client is likely to mold into the persona that she believes best fits the comfort-level of the professional, moving within the room of therapy just as she moves in the exterior symbolic rooms of her life. A professional, unstudied in the elements of the female condition of Asperger’s, is apt to miss the nuances of a given client’s chameleon qualities, overlooking the client’s subtle changes in representation of self or wrongfully assuming the client is resorting to trickery and sabotage.

The female with Asperger’s, while extremely witty and intelligent, exhibits continual emotional fragility. In some cases this is hidden behind emotionally-detached humor or within the guise of a persona she is currently exhibiting; e.g., she may imitate a character on television. Though she is emotionally vulnerable, she is capable of hiding herself from other people and is keen in her honed ability to detect social norms and acceptable behaviors of a given situation. Given her nature and character, one word or mannerism from the practitioner may be overanalyzed and/or perceived by the client as a threat or criticism. Misinterpretations, distrust, or a number of other variables, can lead the client to shutdown (emotional withdraw), meltdown (emotional outburst), retreat into imagination or fantasy, recreate the presentation of self, and/or switch from a state of emotional presence to logical analysis. When the client is triggered by the professional and responds accordingly, the quality of the therapeutic relationship is adversely affected. Unlike the mainstream client, a woman with Asperger’s may never trust a professional once she believes she has been misinterpreted and/or criticized.

As a professionally diagnosed female with Asperger’s, in reviewing my own experiences in therapy, which encompass a decade-long-span of individual, couple, small-group and large-group interaction, incorporating a cornucopia of therapeutic techniques and theories, my most damaging experiences occurred when the practitioner was neither vulnerable nor authentic, a perceived-lacking from my point of view, that affected my capacity to connect at a humanistic-level with the practitioner. The best scenarios, in my therapy experience as the client, occurred when the professional was free of dogma, restrictions, and rigid-habits, and able to see through my mirage of disguises. In truth, I don’t think this ever happened, the best scenario that is, and that I, in actuality, through the process of vigorous self-help and psychological self-studies and applications, became my own psychologist by trade, primarily implementing Transpersonal Psychotherapy and elements of Logotherapy.

Based on my own life experience, the deep-level of understanding of my own Asperger’s condition and the personal interactions with other females on the autisitc spectrum, I have developed a list of what I would have liked to have seen, given the means and opportunity to time travel back as a client or to time travel forward as a practitioner. In recognizing each therapist has his unique style, I offer this as a list of suggested ideas, my hope and intention being to provide others the opportunity for a beneficial client-practitioner relationship.

List of Ideas

304: Time Travel Back to Pre-Teen Me

I sometimes think if I could go back in time to meet my pre-teen self, I wouldn’t. Mainly because of the whole “Butterfly Effect” and my inner dread of somehow erasing my own children, or possibly my own self.

But… if I was able to travel back in time and actually be triple-pinkie-promised, by the Big Man in the Sky himself, that nothing would change in my life when I returned, and that my entire memory of the event would be wiped out, and that the girl (that is little me) would not be negatively affected in any way whatsoever or have her life altered drastically, and I could verify I was really talking to God, and get the archangels, all the great gurus, and talking trees to back Him up, then, and only then, would I maybe consider traveling back in time. I’d want a contract too that insured I wouldn’t explode on impact, and I’d likely ask for a cute Dr. of some sort to come along.

In meeting me there are several things I’d want to say. Beyond the greetings, and saturation of unconditional love, positive affirmations, kudos, information about boys, men, and safe dating, and lessons on proper etiquette and manners, and compliments on my beauty, and the reassurance that all would turn out, and so much more, I’d definitely want to set myself straight on the whole hygiene and puberty thing.

I’d probably put the hygiene stuff into a list form, specifically listing things I was relatively clueless about.

1) Brush the back of your hair. I went until my early forties not realizing that just because I cannot see the back of my head does not mean that everyone else can’t.

2) Look at your toe nails every once in a while. Try to get into the habit of cutting them and cleaning them. Despite what your stepmother once told you, in an attempt to get you to cut your nails, you will not get nor die of toe fungus. Never. Stop obsessing. And if, and when, you go to get a pedicure, try to remember to clean your nails first. As an aside, you will feel guilty getting pedicures and making someone clean and touch your feet. The best way to solve this is to tip big, preferably in cash. You’ll always forget to cut your children’s toe nails too; so teach them young or they will look like little hobbits.

3) Remember that food gets stuck between your teeth. I know you don’t like smiling in the mirror. Eventually your chipped, discolored, and dying front tooth, and your extreme overbite, will entirely vanish. Look in the mirror, open your mouth, check in between your teeth, and floss. If you don’t have floss, you can use a piece of your hair. If you learn this before you are a senior in high school, your boyfriend’s older sister will not have to teach you these things in a public restroom.

4) Scrub your hair with your nails when you shampoo. Suds up the soap and scrub all over. Scrub hard and only use a dab of shampoo. The chemical shampoos will cause an allergic reaction; so start saving up now for the expensive natural alternatives.

5) I know you don’t like washcloths, but try ever so often to scrub behind your ears. You will discover in your forties that dirt collects there.

6) You don’t need to go to the dermatologist at all, until after you are in your forties. The spot on your eyeball is a freckle, it will not kill you. It will not grow. It will not change. You only have like five dark freckles on your entire body, and the doctor will not consider that a concern or a lot. The red spots are red freckles. There is nothing they can do about the dark patches you got from pregnancy on your forehead and along your jawline, except offer expensive laser treatment. Just wear a hat and sunscreen in the summer. When you move to the dreary northwest, you’ll be too pale most of the seasons to notice. (By the way you will get every pregnancy side-effect imaginable. Don’t panic. You will be fine.) That one dermatologist you see about the age-spots on your arms, well he will way over charge you to burn the spots off, your arm skin will turn red for weeks, hurt like hell, and the treatment will make no noticeable difference. And by the way, that skin doc closed down shop permanently two years later after being sued for malpractice. You were smart not to pay that $400 he wanted to remove the one red scalp freckle.

After answering hygiene questions, I’d sit myself down and tackle the topic of puberty. Then I’d leave my little self a reference letter:

Dear Beautiful Me,

Those books mother gave us in third grade aren’t going to help you in most areas. I know the nude beaches were creepy, but wait until you watch those movies in that Human Sexuality Class you take in your first year of college. Maybe prepare a bit for that. Your bodily changes at age twelve will totally freak you out. Hair is supposed to grow in those places. Please, please, please try not to kiss so many boys. Perhaps fixate on a movie star and write him letters—a much better choice than boy chasing. Do not, I repeat, do not tell your friends everything. Do not tell anyone about kissing boys, your body, or fantasies. Write it out, and don’t show anyone. Keep it under lock and key. Try very, very, very hard to share nothing private with ANYONE. Remember we spent an entire day together, you and me, discussing the concept of PRIVATE. Take out those notes and refer to them again and again. Do not under any circumstances draw pictures of boys’ private parts or the diagrams will get passed around middle school. I guarantee you will regret it. It’s funny when you are thirty, and a great joke to retell, but so not worth it! The entire “here comes the period” drama… you are not bleeding to death. That terrible feels-like-your-guts-are-being-eaten-by-a-mutant hamster clan, those are called cramps. Take some pain reliever. It will improve after you have babies. Don’t wait four months to tell your mother. The toilet paper won’t work. Give mom a note, if you are afraid to speak to her. And talk to her years before the event, so you can fill up an entire walk in closet with supplies. Huge Warning: Do not take the free samples of super-size expandable tampons that they PE teacher gives out in gym class. That should be illegal. But if you do by mistake, whatever you do: DO NOT USE THEM. Also, do not look too closely at that baby-birthing area, after your first child. Your insides are not on the outside. I totally promise. The emergency examination by your family doctor caused by your full on panic-freak-out-episode will result in the same level of humility as the penis picture in middle school. And goodness, use soap and water or shaving cream when you first shave, unless you want a scar atop the shin bone area of your leg the rest of your life. Oh, and don’t announce to the other seventh graders standing in the lunch line: “Look, I got a new training bra.” That circles back to the whole privacy thing. Read the reminder list, please!

Love,
Sam (Who somehow turned out just fine, despite all the little mishaps.)