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Asperger's Syndrome and Self-Esteem

  • Date: 2014/03/01 (Rev. 2017/06/28)
  • Thomas C. Weiss - Disabled World
  • Synopsis : Information relating to people with Asperger's Syndrome and their self-esteem a disposition that represents their judgments of their own worthiness.

Main Document

'Self-esteem,' is a term used in psychology to reflect a person's overall emotional evaluation of their own worth. It is a judgment of oneself, as well as an attitude toward the self. Self-esteem encompasses beliefs such as, 'I am a worthy person,' or, 'I am a competent person,' and emotions including despair, triumph, shame and pride. The self-concept is what we think of ourselves; self-esteem is the positive or negative evaluations of ourselves. Self-esteem is also known as the evaluative dimension of the self that includes feelings of pride, worthiness and discouragement. A person's self-esteem is closely associated with self-consciousness.

Also known as Asperger disorder (AD) or simply Asperger's, is an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) that is characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction and nonverbal communication, alongside restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests. It differs from other autism spectrum disorders by its relative preservation of linguistic and cognitive development. Although not required for diagnosis, physical clumsiness and atypical (peculiar, odd) use of language are frequently reported.

Self-esteem is a disposition that a person has that represents their judgments of their own worthiness. Self-esteem might be defined as a personal worth or worthiness, or as the experience of being competent to cope with the basic challenges of life and being worthy of happiness. Self-esteem is the sum of self-respect and self-confidence. It exists as a consequence of the judgment that each person has of their own ability to:

  • Face challenges
  • Be given respect
  • Achieve happiness
  • Understand and solve issues
Chart showing self-esteem as a result of our judgment of our own abilities
Chart showing self-esteem as a result of our judgment of our own abilities

Every person has a, 'script,' that is both contributed to by our own evaluation of our self and the judgments made of us by other people. What is written in this script? Does it say positive things about the person? The internalized script a person lives their life by may either promote a healthy sense of self, or a very unhealthy one. If a person feels welcome and valued, the image they have of themselves and their worth should also be one of value. Some practical tips on self-esteem for people with Asperger's syndrome include:

  • Concentrate on your successes non the failures or mistakes
  • Discuss with your child or spouse how they view their own achievements
  • Ask permission to comment on the person's progress from your perspective
  • If a person thinks they are, 'the best,' ask them to explore their reasons why
  • Ask permission to work with the person on any improvements they think may be needed
  • Always comment on any procedure that is done well but try not to comment when it is not
  • Avoid using words that denote something is, 'a mess,' or, 'bad.' People with Asperger's may be quick to pick up on all that they are not instead of what they are or could be
  • Offer plenty of positive reinforcement, not bribes, but well-timed approval. It lets people with Asperger's know that they are OK, but it is useful in teaching them what the most appropriate response may be
  • Never assume that your comments for the person's improvement will be welcome, either ask to be invited to comment or share your own experiences with them and be careful not to compare yours to theirs; simply state facts
  • If a person thinks they are, 'the worst,' ask them to explore their reasons why. Be careful not to use, 'why,' questions and always structure or frame your questions so the person has a framework to respond. Avoid open-ended questions.

People with Asperger's Syndrome, School and Self-Esteem

Building self-esteem at home is great, yet it needs to happen at school as well. Knowing what a student's study skills are is a good place to start to know what skills they will need the most help with. Designing a student inventory for social interaction and study skills is needed at the beginning of each new term. For example; have the student complete a questionnaire such as the one below related to study skills and social interaction:

Study Skills -

  • I write too slowly
  • I am a perfectionist
  • I get distracted easily
  • My hand writing is messy
  • I'm not very good at problem solving
  • I don't know what to focus on in exams
  • I'm not good at setting long term goals
  • I don't like sitting exams in strange places
  • I'm not always able to sit still for long periods
  • I find it hard to be motivated about some topics
  • I find it much easier when people use concrete examples
  • I am not good at getting to class on time or remembering all the equipment I need
  • I do't like making decisions about what is or is not important when reading a book or journal article

Social interaction -

  • I'm not competitive
  • I like to be left alone at times
  • I find it difficult to make friends
  • I like people to say what they mean
  • I'm not good at conversing with others
  • I find it quite hard to look people in the eye
  • I'm not very good with sarcasm or metaphor
  • I don't understand what is funny in many jokes
  • Others have said my speech is odd or eccentric
  • I have difficulty knowing when people are joking
  • I'm not very good at interpreting non-verbal cues
  • I can get impatient when people don't understand me
  • I'm never sure when it's OK to interrupt in a conversation

When you relate with people who have autism it is important to remember the keys to understanding autism. People with autism:

  • Take words literally
  • Are not good at predicting consequences
  • Do not like change because of difficulties with predicting outcomes
  • Are, 'singly-channeled,' meaning they either listen or look instead of doing both at once

It is good to check out the person with autism's perception of what is being asked, said, or demonstrated. Teach that behaviors, emotions and desires may have certain bodily or facial expressions and explain what these are. Rote learn rules for specific situations, such as hugging family members but not strangers.

Provide time, whenever possible, to acclimatise to change; do not suddenly spring things on the person. When the person is anxious use space, dance, relaxation, reassurance and breathing exercises, a calm voice and other acceptable anti-stressors. Place expectations into context through social stories which provide the person with a bigger picture of the, 'wherefore's,' 'why's,' 'how's,' and so forth. Patience is always appropriate.

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