By William Polkowski
The subtitle of Ask Dr. Tony (2018) explains it all: Answers From the World’s Leading Authority on Asperger’s Syndrome / High-Functioning Autism. The book is written by Craig R. Evans with Dr. Tony Attwood, PhD. Attwood, a clinical psychologist, clinician, researcher, and author, has a son with Asperger’s. He has specialized in Autism Spectrum Disorders for the last forty-five years. Evans, a film-maker, writer, and speaker, has a stepchild with Asperger’s. He created a video program in which he interviewed authors, speakers, medical professionals, researchers, teachers, counselors, social workers, people who were Aspies (as they prefer to be called), and their family members (parents, spouses, and children). This book consists of Dr. Tony’s answers to questions that viewers have sent in. Evans reads the questions, some asked by adults with Asperger’s, others by parents and teachers and spouses, and gathers them into topics that reflect their concerns. Sometimes he expands on these questions by commenting on them and having a little back-and-forth conversation with Dr. Tony.
This is a practical book that gives answers to common issues and questions. When the authors speak of neurotypical vs. neuro-atypical individuals, readers gain insight right away into their own attitudes concerning high-functioning people on the autism spectrum. The authors see Aspies as being different, not as disordered people who need to be cured. They appreciate the special talents and contributions of those with Asperger’s while at the same time acknowledging their special difficulties, deficits, and need for understanding, help, and support.
The book is organized around seventeen issues, with a brief chapter on each. Here’s a ranking of issues by the amount of stress caused by each:
1) Anxiety 98%
2) Self-esteem and self-identity 95%
3) Aversion to change 87%
4) Meltdowns 87%
5) Depression 87%
6) Sensory issues 86%
7) Making and keeping friends 86%
8) Personal management issues 85%
9) Intimacy, dating, sex and marriage 85%
10) Emotional availability 85%
11) Faking it 84%
12) Getting and keeping a job 83%
13) Disclosing a diagnosis 79%
14) Bullying 77%
15) Choosing a career 76%
16) Empathetic attunement 75%
17) Being diagnosed 67%
When the percentage of people living with the issue is ranked in the same way, the list is roughly the same. Those of you who love someone with Asperger’s and those of you who live with Asperger’s will be familiar with the issues. One nice feature of the book is that there are suggestions for books on the various topics.
Chronic anxiety is a central feature for most persons with Asperger’s, and this needs to be managed somehow. Many Aspie solutions lead to further problems, such as distraction in unhelpful ways. Out of a desire to control their painful experiences, they become “control freaks” and super-dominant, or, at the other extreme, avoidant. Many Aspies like routines and rituals because they are predictable and soothing. You can expect great resistance when you try to alter them. But when routines take over living, this is a sign that you need to deal with anxiety. Another way of coping is an emotional explosion. Yet another way is self-medicating through alcohol or drugs. On the other hand, as with most of us, helpful strategies include exercise, diet, relaxation and meditation, doing pleasurable activities, spending time in nature, and caring for pets. These activities keep intrusive thoughts and worries at bay.
Another topic is Self-Esteem and Self-Identity. Here’s a common question: Which is best, home schooling or public education? Dr. Attwood recommends including the Aspie child in the decision, by developing and discussing a list of pros and cons. Attwood has seen many Aspies home schooled with great success. The child needs others to socialize with, but they need not be within six months of their own age. The main thing is that relationships with others are positive. With home schooling, bullying is not as much of a danger.
There are great differences among those with Asperger’s. Some are great with numbers, while others find numbers a difficult concept to grasp. Some are whizzes at foreign languages, while others simply cannot learn one. Some make great engineers or experts in information technology, and others are outstanding in music or art. Some have set their hearts on the caring professions: medicine, psychology, counseling, social work, and psychiatry. And they can do well. In fact, Dr. Attwood would like to see more therapists and counselors who are Aspies. They will be in a better position to evaluate and counsel other Aspies than the typical clinician who, due to lack of experience, may be disadvantaged in dealing with this special population. It’s been said, “When you meet a person with Asperger’s, you’ve met one person with Asperger’s.” Even though each of us has many traits in common with others, we’re all unique.
Besides covering the list of seventeen issues, the book discusses other topics of general interest: genetic contributions, gender differences, and the number of Aspies with savant syndrome. The book contains a wealth of information along with advice born of extensive study and familiarity with the syndrome.
No matter whether you are looking for general information about Asperger’s or seeking answers to particular issues, this is a book you’re bound to find helpful.