Having Asperger’s Syndrome with Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

There are many types of neurodivergence among humans, some helpful, others harmful. The two getting the most notice are Asperger’s Syndrome and complex post-traumatic stress disorder, with headlines and movies putting them in the spotlight.

This article will discuss Asperger’s Syndrome and what it is like to live simultaneously with complex post-traumatic stress disorder.

What is Asperger’s Syndrome?

Asperger’s Syndrome is a developmental disorder whose cause is little understood. The American Psychiatric Association, in 2013, classified Asperger’s Syndrome as a form of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and caused people with it to have impaired communication skills and restrictive thinking and behavior.

Asperger’s is at the mild end of the autism spectrum affecting men three to four times more than women. The disorder forms in childhood but may go unnoticed until adulthood.

Some people experience few symptoms while others have many, but people with Asperger’s can learn to adapt to their world, and many adults hide their symptoms.

Following are the ways that Asperger’s may cause difficulties.

  • Emotional regulation and interpretation
  • Social interactions
  • Behavior
  • Verbal and nonverbal communication
  • Intense focus

Emotional regulation and interpretation. Those adults who experience Asperger’s often find that their emotional responses are inappropriate such as emotional outbursts. These folks may also have a hard time understanding or responding to the emotions of others around them. People with Asperger’s are also known to have difficulty showing empathy.

Social Interactions. People on the ASD spectrum are known for their verbal and nonverbal communication difficulties and find social situations challenging. Those with Asperger’s struggle in conversation, especially in making small talk.

Behavior. People living with Asperger’s Syndrome crave routine and respond negatively to change. These people may make repetitive behaviors part of their daily routine. People on the ASD spectrum may respond differently to sensory stimulation, with some being over-sensitive and others under-sensitive to light, touch, and sound.

Verbal and Non-Verbal Communication. People living with Asperger’s might have difficulty interpreting and noticing cues that are non-verbal such as gestures and body language. While many do not, some people with Asperger’s have difficulty making eye contact with others.

Intense Focus. People on the ASD spectrum focus intently on their actions and have difficulty pulling away or changing course. However, this intense focus is often beneficial as it allows for better concentration for prolonged periods.

Some risk factors involved with the formation of Asperger’s Syndrome include being male, having a family history of autism, and being born prematurely. Also, research has found a possible link between a mother experiencing childhood abuse and her children having an autism spectrum disorder.

What is Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Most have heard of post-traumatic stress disorder, characterized by flashbacks, unstable mood, and survivor’s remorse. Yet few recognize the traumagenic disorder known as complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD).

Beauty After Bruises gives a good description of CPTSD.

“Complex PTSD comes in response to chronic traumatization over the course of months or, more often, years. This can include emotional, physical, and/or sexual abuse, domestic violence, living in a war zone, being held captive, human trafficking, and other organized rings of abuse, and more. While there are exceptional circumstances where adults develop C-PTSD, it is most often seen in those whose trauma occurred in childhood. For those who are older, being completely controlled by another person (often unable to meet their most basic needs without them), coupled with no foreseeable end in sight, can break down the psyche and the survivor’s sense of self and affect them on this deeper level. For those who go through this as children, because the brain is still developing and they’re just beginning to learn who they are as an individual, understand the world around them, and build their first relationships — severe trauma interrupts the entire course of their psychological and neurological development.”

The symptoms of CPTSD often encompass post-traumatic stress disorder, yet there are differences. Many symptoms of complex post-traumatic stress disorder differ from PTSD.

  • Difficulty controlling your emotions
  • Trust issues
  • Constant feelings of hopelessness or emptiness
  • Feeling damaged and worthless
  • Having the feeling of being different from other people
  • Avoiding friendships and relationships
  • Finding friendships and relationships difficult
  • Experiencing dissociative symptoms
  • Suicidal ideations or actions

These symptoms challenge the person who lives with complex post-traumatic stress disorder.

When the Diagnoses of CPTSD and Asperger’s Syndrome Overlap

While one might think that there is no correlation between ASD and CPTSD, people can have both. Only a handful of papers are written to explain the statistics of the combination of Asperger’s Syndrome and trauma-related disorders like CPTSD.

Existing papers contradict one another, with one paper’s survey showing 67% of people living with Asperger’s Syndrome have PTSD while others claim it is 26%. However, the research proves that there is an overarching complexity to having both complex post-traumatic stress disorder and Asperger’s Syndrome.

Take a careful look at the symptoms of CPTSD and ASD. You will see that they overlap with having problems understanding their emotions and forming and maintaining intimate relationships.

There is a problem with diagnosing Asperger’s Syndrome when it co-occurs with CPTSD. Often Asperger’s, accompanied by a trauma history, is sometimes confused with complex post-traumatic stress disorder even though the latter does not appear in the DSM-5TR.

Physicians and mental health professionals need to dig deeper into the person’s symptoms to see if what they see in their client is indicative of CPTSD or if they are looking at a person with Asperger’s diagnosed in adulthood.

The primary treatment for CPTSD and Asperger’s Syndrome is much alike. There are no magic pills or cures for either disorder but treating the underlying co-occurring problems such as depression and anxiety may be necessary. Talk therapy is also helpful in reaching the goals of the person struggling with Asperger’s and complex post-traumatic stress disorder.

Ending Our Time Together

As someone who lives with both Asperger’s Syndrome and complex post-traumatic stress disorder, I can avow how difficult it can become. I crave to be with other people, yet I get exhausted when I am.

Because these two complex disorders overlap in my life, I have difficulties with trust issues, preferring to isolate instead.

If you are neurodivergent, having either or both CPTSD and ASD, you are probably highly intelligent and great to have around in times of crisis, as you can quickly solve problems. Although you have problems empathizing with others, you are someone everyone can trust and have a lot of love to offer the world.

“Life always offers you a second chance. It’s called tomorrow.” — Stephen King

“Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.” — Michael Jordan

Originally published at https://cptsdfoundation.org.

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CPTSD Foundation

Successfully equipping complex trauma survivors and practitioners with compassionate support, skills, and trauma-informed education since 2014.