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Mild Autism

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Rear view of female psychologist helping young family with a kid to solve child development problems. Family sitting on a sofa in the blurred background

Many times, parents, hurt, and still confused by their child’s possible or already diagnosed condition, decide to visit the health care center convinced that a professional in private practice has already given them, or rather, has already provided a diagnosis, emphasizing “mild autism”… 

It’s interesting how these “traits” play out when professionals making these diagnoses have private practices. Parents who receive these “pseudo-labels” often first subscribe to the professional in question, become dependent on them, and may not engage much further in the matter. 

Parents tend to always see the positive side of things, especially from the very beginning. 

There are certain phases one must overcome when told that the unusual things observed in their child, the strange behaviors, tantrums, and social difficulties are due to a disorder with a name, usually fitting within the so-called “Autism Spectrum.” It’s truly challenging. The first phase is denial: this isn’t possible, this can’t happen to me, they’ve made a mistake, this professional doesn’t know what they’re talking about, etc. The second phase is an extension of the first, meaning: well, it’s possible but, at least, my child’s case is very mild. This new attitude is more useful because it can help us take steps to address the child’s difficulties. 

Autismo

It’s true that there’s a continuum in the difficulty or severity of Asperger’s, closely related to mental rigidity, executive function, and cognitive level. It’s also true that the earlier one starts working on it, the better the prognosis, and the greater autonomy the person will have in adulthood. 

However, it’s important to consider something that sometimes escapes us: the “mildness” of Asperger’s is conceptualized by professionals through specific tests and behavioral observations in limited clinical sessions and within the continuum of therapeutic intervention activities. It’s rarely assessed in what we might call an “ecological” context, such as the family environment or observation within a normalized group of the same age. There isn’t an objective scale to quantify this “mildness or severity,” and probably, despite efforts by those at DSM-V, there may never be one. Therefore, it all depends not only on the subjective perception of the diagnosing individual but also on their ability to convey it realistically to those receiving the diagnosis. 

This mildness doesn’t take into account a factor that can be more significant for both, family members and the affected individual: the factor of self-awareness and personal suffering. 
 
From experience, I am convinced that many “severe Aspergers” experience less frustration (if this is somehow quantifiable) regarding their social difficulties than those supposedly “mild.” They may be less aware of some of the unjust social situations they are constantly subjected to, such as being unaware that they are being mocked or marginalized. 

I understand that for a professional, it may be tough to state things as they are, but parents need to know where they stand, without sugarcoating and, above all, without fostering false expectations. 
 
Precisely those parents who have been told the phrase “mild Asperger” are the ones who, to a greater extent, don’t quite take it seriously, don’t give the issue the importance it truly requires, and, worse still, end up feeling more frustrated as their hopes and expectations are not met. 

It’s curious that often parents of children in the same therapeutic group are firmly convinced that their child is the least affected in that group, and that the others are “worse.” It’s a widely held but inherently false perception. 

Taking the child to therapies or social skills groups with the expectation that the problems will be completely solved in a few months is, in most cases, a misguided but common perception. Delegating the therapist with the responsibility for the child’s progress without following guidelines at home, without maintaining a continuous intervention in all natural settings (home, school, extracurricular activities) is something that will genuinely help little. Thinking that “mild Asperger” can be transformed into neurotypical through a few therapy sessions is another perception, not only false but also paralyzing when considering this as a long journey where parents only have each other to understand, seek solutions, and defend against abuses and injustices from schools, administrations, and society in general. 

Although we can significantly improve the social skills of a child with Asperger’s and promote better social adjustment, the challenges they face when they are young are one type, but we must be clear that in the second stage, adolescence, the problems will be different, perhaps even worse due to the characteristics of adolescents and the likelihood of increased anxiety in the face of more complex social demands. Therefore, the so-called “mild Asperger” is likely to go through much tougher times, as it becomes more distressing when you see peers of the same age going out independently, forming groups, and calling each other to hang out in social circles where there’s no place for you. 

It’s more painful when you are fully aware that, time and again, your attempts to “fit in” fail, and when you know that inexplicably there’s something about you that prevents your peers from being willing to include you in a conversation. Someone severely affected may not suffer this as much since they might not even be interested in fitting in socially, as long as they are left in peace with their routines and interests. 

Loving family with little kid on a psychotherapy session with psychologist

It is this awareness of incapacity, this feeling of frustration, this continuous self-demanding to successfully socialize that, in the majority of cases of “mild Asperger,” will lead to profound inner suffering. A sense of loneliness and lack of understanding can and often does result in situations of anxiety and deep depression. This is what is truly serious and can have severe consequences, not only for the affected individual, as the family is likely to be dragged into distressing situations and internal conflicts that few people outside their circle can comprehend. In some cases, the entire family, as a group, becomes a victim of social isolation due to the lack of understanding and easy criticism from others. 

I believe many professionals make a mistake when giving a diagnosis of “mild Asperger.” They err in what the merciful communication of that mildness triggers in the person receiving it. In my opinion, and this is a very personal perspective, there is no truly “mild Asperger” because, in all likelihood, the “milder” cases may become the most painful as they evolve. 

Abraham Ros De La Fuente

Abraham Ros De La Fuente

Instagram: @asperger_y_mi_yo
Website: https://drasperger.com
Language: Spanish

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