Depression is more frequent in those with AS than the general population, and the struggles of those with AS often contribute to the development of depression. The obvious question is, what resources are available and what do we do? First, we should not accept depression as just a normal part of AS, especially if it’s interfering with everyday life. Secondly, we need to recognize the symptoms to help as early as possible. And lastly, we need to research the supports that are available – how you can help yourself or others right now – and what resources still need much improvement so that you can call upon action in your community.
Being aware of the symptoms of depression is critical:
- sleep difficulties, either sleeping more or less (insomnia, early morning waking);
- changes in appetite (either more or less hunger);
- weight gain or loss;
- a failure to enjoy normal sources of pleasure;
- difficulty concentrating;
- sadness, guilt or hopelessness;
- crying or unusual irritability.
Someone who is clinically depressed sees the world in the above ways each day. It’s important for the individual or those around to seek professional help.
Medication can help many with depression, as can Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Although CBT is a slower process with AS individuals and needs to be adapted to their thought process. Some studies suggest neurobiofeedback can be helpful with depression and there are a few early studies of its use with ASD patients. For those who prefer to avoid medication, this is certainly worth exploring. It is best to come to your medical sessions with the knowledge of various treatments so that you can be prepared to discuss what is best for you.
It’s important to think about addressing the factors that can result in depression.
Failure to diagnose AS can contribute to outcomes of depression and even the potential for suicide. This makes it critical that those with AS are identified as soon as possible, and that supports be available to help children, teens and adults develop social relationships, handle anxiety and address bullying. This requires teaching skills, learning methods for handling anxiety, and education about inclusion and bullying.
Despite increased awareness of ASD and AS, in my experience, mainstream schools often have minimal supports and protections.
Often students get a 30 minute social skills group weekly, and such groups tend not to be useful in real-time experiences. Responding in real social situations is very different; social demands are faster, more fluid and come from multiple directions at once. Also, most people with AS are very detail focused. This focus can be a real strength in many areas of learning and employment. However, the changing details of different social situations can make it difficult for some AS individuals to recognize when a learned strategy is appropriate or not.
It’s difficult to have embedded social coaching in mainstream schools; the cost alone would be prohibitive. However, creative teachers can facilitate students meeting other students with similar interests. Teachers can also help students engage in group projects and counselors can help process social interactions. Good social skills curriculums exist and classrooms can actively support diversity.
Unfortunately, most communities don’t build a sense of acceptance of diversity.
Some children’s TV programs like Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers, and even Daniel Tiger introduce diverse characters to very young children. But this discussion about representation of diverse people needs to take place in homes, places of worship, and community programs such as Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts. Parents can advocate that Scout Leaders, town recreation department heads, and others be educated in helping AS children integrate into their programs. A peer support program in community settings can also be helpful to help children in real time social skills.
The AS community is pushing for education; this takes community leadership as well.
As a professional known for working with and advocating for AS clients, I’m often told by people I meet that they have family members or friends with AS children. Pressing for education and public awareness needs to come from family members and friends as much as immediate families.
Adults find few if any community supports, although some meetups exist. There are online resources such as Aspergers 101 and other websites, chat groups and blogs. There are YouTube videos by, for and about individuals with Aspergers as well as TED talks by individuals with AS. MyAspergers.net has a listing of support groups and meetups. It’s important to vet chat groups to make sure that they are constructive and helpful, providing understanding and positive strategies. Finding shared interest groups can be helpful – I had one young man interested in fishing happily included in a group of similarly focused fishermen.
Social media can be a good way to connect. Many find texting or communicating through social media gives them the time to think through their responses and establish friendships.
Research has been mixed about how well online friendship translates into face to face skills. Also, it’s important to be aware that most people present “online selves” on social media: Instagram posts of parties, friendships and good times don’t accurately reflect the fact that all people experience stress and problems. Comparing oneself to these unrealistic picture can exacerbate depression for neurotypicals as well as those with AS!
There are useful books:
Such as the Tony Attwood series, “Been There, Done That, Try This!” written by individuals with AS and comments by Dr. Atwood. A check of Amazon or Jessica Kingsley Publishers in particular shows an enormous number of helpful books on AS and college, jobs, dating, marriage, etc.
There are also many books for AS children, tweens and teens, such as “What It Is To Be Me: An Asperger Kid Book” by Angela Wine, “The Asperkid’s (Secret) Book of Social Rules” by Jennifer O’Toole, and “Freaks, Geeks and Asperger Syndrome: A User Guide To Adolescence” by Luke Jackson.
Resources that appear to be the most needed:
- Public education to create more awareness and dispel negative stereotypes;
- Real-time face to face support groups for adults;
- Coaching and shared living spaces for those wanting to move out but are not ready for total independence.
Parents and AS individuals are working to create such resources, and AS individuals themselves can use social media and meet ups to create a support system. We’re making gains in educating others and in creating what’s needed. Aspergers individuals have much to offer in their reliability, unique insights, attention to detail and expertise. Progress is being made, although slowly, and advocacy needs to continue.
by Marcia Eckerd, Ph.D.
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