“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.