Complex PTSD vs Asperger’s: Although complex PTSD sufferers and those with Asperger’s share similar difficulties in social interactions, they stem from very different root causes. Symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome are due to how the brain is wired, whereas complex PTSD stems from long-term multiple traumas.
Is Asperger’s a real condition?
Asperger’s syndrome is a real condition and Asperger’s continues to be recognized by researchers and medical professionals. But, many people are asking if Asperger’s is a real condition, mostly because the DSM-5 no longer defines Asperger’s as a separate condition.
DID YOU KNOW?
The DSM-5 has put Asperger’s under the category of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). So, Asperger’s syndrome is now called “Autism Spectrum Disorder Level 1, without accompanying intellectual or language impairment”.
So technically from a research point of view, we can say that there is insufficient evidence to suggest that Aspies are more likely to experience trauma and therefore suffering from PTSD. But not having sufficient information to prove the case doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. The following experiences prove the point.
At the time of writing, there are only a handful of official research papers in this area, and the research statistics available are very mixed. They range from reporting 67% out the Aspies surveyed showed signs of PTSD to 2-3%, which is no different from the general population. And then we have all kind of numbers in between, such as 26% of the Aspies surveyed had a traumatic history and 17.4% met the criteria for PTSD.
Still, two more studies reported 30.7% Aspies surveyed had experienced physical or sexual abuse, and 40% had adverse childhood experiences such as physical and sexual abuse as well as severe neglect by parents or caregivers. Also, for the last 20-30 years, research demonstrated that the chances of Aspies suffering from clinical depression is 37.4%, and 84.1% for severe anxiety disorders.
Clinicial Presentations and Experiences
Clinicians who are working with people seeking therapy believe that Aspies are more likely to suffer from complex PTSD. Let’s look at a few case studies.
|Case 1: School boy
|Autism has clearly contributed to this child being vulnerable to:
|Case 2: 103 college students
|When focused not on diagnostic criteria, but only the behavioral symptoms, autism and PTSD are definitely closely linked.
|15 Adult Aspies and 15 Caregivers
|Participants were surveyed for how they view and define traumas in the lives of people on the spectrum Their version of traumatic events include:
|So we can see that just by being autistic alone, and having all the symptoms together with it can be very traumatic for them without the need of experiencing or witnessing the extreme traumatic events as defined in DSM-5.
|Case 4: School boy
|When very young, he experienced and witnessed severe domestic violence. As a result of that, he had to:
When interviewed, the mother observations are:
|This case shows that what might be traumatic for someone on the spectrum could be quite different to the general population. For this boy, the impact of his autistic traits are far more traumatic for him than severe domestic violence.
|Case 5: School boy
|This is another case that shows what might be traumatic for someone who is on a spectrum can be very different to the general population. The impact of the fire alarm is so strong that it had resulted in life-threatening self-harm.
When we look at case studies such as those mentioned here as well as other personal experiences, it is clear that autism and traumatic experience are closely related, but what might traumatize an Aspie could be quite different to others. In fact, according to one research Aspies can be 3 to 4 times more likely to suffer adverse childhood experiences, which is also a significant indicator of suicide risk.
Some researchers firmly believe that Aspies are more vulnerable to abuse. Here’s why:
GOOD TO KNOW
Some researchers firmly believe that Aspies are more vulnerable to abuse.
- Aspies have an already highly anxious state when interacting with others, so they may not be able to distinguish the difference between general social anxiety and anxiety is related to abusive behaviors
- not knowing commonly accepted interpersonal boundaries also mean that they may not be aware of the social inappropriateness which should have given them some warning
- given Aspies’ daily struggle in social settings, their complaints of abusive incidents may be interpreted as exaggerated reports or attention seeking behavior
- Aspies tend to have a need for intellectually theorizing social surroundings by painstakingly studying their environment and the personalities of significant others in their lives. This could mean that they do not have sufficient information to model and study early behaviors indicative of abusive intent
- if the perpetrator is a caregiver, that trust could be used to convince the victim that the abusive behavior is part of normal daily lives and lead the victim to believe that it’s their autistic sensitivity at fault
- generally speaking, those who have experienced trauma and yet resilient to PTSD usually have a stable childhood, good support network, and have multiple stress reduction strategies. However, these are also the things that Aspies are least likely to enjoy.
Also, after reading tonnes of Aspie forums, here are some of the things other Aspies have said
- Aspies could be more sensitive to traumatic events that involve stimulus that they are particularly sensitive to
- Aspies are on the spectrum but not cognitively impaired, so do not typically receive the same amount of support and guidance as their lower IQ counterparts. As a result, they may have a lower sense of dangers or understand what is socially acceptable to have happened to them. Yet it is generally not spelled out to them that certain things are not meant to happen.
- Aspies can also be intensely focused on the pragmatic issues resulting from traumatic events such as adapting to new routines or living environment. So much so that the effects of trauma only shows up at a much later stage in life.
- The lack of social interaction and communication skills in Aspies may also increase the chances of being targeted for man-made traumas such as severe bullying, physical and sexual abuse.
Is it Complex PTSD or Asperger’s?
|Case 1: Boy (7-8yrs)
|Case 2: Boy (7yrs)
|Case 4: Woman (30+yrs)
|Case 3: Girl (6yrs)
Can you have complex PTSD and Asperger’s at the same time?
GOOD TO KNOW
Because of the fundamental differences between complex PTSD and Asperger’s, it is possible to have complete PTSD and Asperger’s at the same time.
Researchers generally agree that Asperger’s is to do with how the brains are wired and function. Whereas complex PTSD is due to multiple traumatic experiences over a long period of time. Although both result in social awkwardness or anxieties, there are subtle differences between the two. Also, there are other accompanying signs that are unique for each condition.
Clearly, Aspies are more vulnerable to traumatic events. So why is it that some research reports show only about 2 to 3% of PTSD occurrence?
What makes it difficult for Aspies to be diagnosed with complex PTSD?
The way professionals catergorize Aspergers and Complex PTSD
Aspies tend to be thought of as a childhood thing, and professionals know what Aspies are like as a child. But then with Complex PTSD , they think of it as an adult thing. So to think someone could have both conditions is like saying someone is both a child and an adult.
A one or the other mentality
Another problem is sometimes the Asperger’s syndrome is not recognized until adulthood much later in life. So then the Asperger’s aspect gets totally ignored, and all the focus is on the trauma history. Or, if they already knew you’re an Aspie, and you didn’t have exposure to actual death, threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence, then you cannot possibly have PTSD, let alone complex PTSD.
But the Aspies a lot more sensitive to social incidents such as being bullied, isolated, and teasing. This means that even if they exhibit PTSD symptoms, they may not be diagnosed with it, because technically they have not experience the kind of traumas that is defined in the DSM-5 diagnostic guidelines.
Lack of guidance for recognizing Complex PTSD in Aspies
To date, there are no psychological or mental health diagnosis guidance that specify how things might be different for those on the spectrum. It is only in the last few years that clinicians realized that Aspies can be so sensitive to social contention that it can be described as clinically traumatic. These includes: experiencing or witnessing bullying, teasing, arguments at home, and even domestic violence or sexual abuse.
CITATIONS: Traumatized Aspie