In the past, autism was divided in categories and we differentiated between infantile autism, atypical autism and Asperger’s syndrome. This differentiation has proven unsustainable in practice. Newer approaches see the symptoms on a continuum and describe an autism spectrum. A further positive development is that the current discourse on neurodiversity questions the deficit-oriented classification of the autism spectrum as an illness and calls for the spectrum to be understood as a neurological variation.
There are correlation between giftedness and autism spectrum disorders. Many people with autism characteristics are gifted and, accordingly, mildly pronounced autism phenomena can be found in many gifted people.
In the counselling of gifted people, the following issues are frequent:
- lack of recognition of feelings / emotional dynamics in other peoplen
- rudimentary perception of own feelings
- stimulus filter / stimulus processing defects
- compulsive behavior
- inability to lie, rational development of values
In my practice, the following methods have proven successful:
Regarding point 1 (lack of recognition of feelings/ emotional dynamics in other people)
- Increase knowledge about emotions, practice the recognition of emotions and develop empathy:
- Training emotional competencies
- Analyze movies and other things (Tip: begin with proxemics/ body posture)
- Practice with the exercises and materials of Paul Ekman and mimic resonance
- Increase social competencies and the ability to make contact, e.g.
- practice eye contact (back door: focus on the nose bridge)
- role play
- preparation and follow-up to difficult situations and conversations
- Explain proverbs, metaphors, analogies etc.
- Test: Reason vs. “sensual perception”
Regarding point 2 (rudimentary perception of own feelings)
I recommend mindfulness exercises and elements of the emotional competency training.
Regarding point 3 (stimulus filter/ stimulus processing defects)
Since Asperger’s can lead to a “shut-in” or “melt-down” with an overload of stimuli, it is important to find out:
- where someone’s personal boundaries are.
- which risk situations there might be.
- which symptoms or warning signals indicate a physical or mental overload.
Other than that, I recommend the same methods you would use for managing high sensitivity.
Regarding point 4 (compulsive behavior)
In my opinion, this type of compulsive behavior is not the same as classical, pathological compulsions. Those, seemingly compulsory routines and rules are often genuine and help the individual to create structure and calm. They are not neurotic. Complete abandonment of these routines is often impossible and leads to unbearable inner stress.
This is why it is very important to find out how to best arrange yourself.
Furthermore, this has proven successful:
- Developing functional plans and relaxation techniques for emergencies (e.g. My daily schedule is messed up. An exception feels terrible, but this stress will pass. It doesn’t feel good, but I can bear it. I can practice vocabulary in every intermission and calm myself down a bit. This evening, I will be back to my routine and become calm again. It will just take a little longer.)
- Define three types of rule:
° Rules that can never be broken
° Rules that can be broken only under certain circumstances
° Rules of which everyone knows they exist, but are crossed regularly
Regarding point 5 (inability to lie, rational development of values)
It is helpful to differentiate:
- There are two levels: the factual level and the emotional level.
It could be that somebody is lying on the factual level, but not on the emotional level (and vice versa)
You should always decide: Which level has priority? Does the emotional truth (i.e. effect) count, or the factual, logical one?
Further information and material can be found on the following websites:
© Frauke Niehues