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“Running Head:” Asperger’s Research Group

Asperger’s Research Group
Can Current Adult Development Research Apply to Adults
with Asperger’s Syndrome?

April D. Hord
, Elliot Duncan, Kenton Searce, Christina Pacek, Lindsey Troyer, Jennifer
Kunc, Debra

Virginia Commonwealth University

ADLT 604
Adult Development


November 13
, 2007



Asperger’s syndrome is a type of
autistic spectrum disorder. Au
ic spectrum
refers to a range of developmental disabilities that includ
es Autism as well as other
disorders. These disorders are characterized by abnormalities of social interaction and
communication that pervade the individual’s functioning abilities (WHO, 2006).

syndrome and high functioning a
are characte
rized by the individual’s
problems will social interaction, obsessive attention to patterns, and possible language
difficulties (APA, 2000).

The incidence of a
utism in all forms has spiked in numbers over the past 20 years.
It is now reported that 1 out

of every 166 children will be diagnosed with an autistic
spectrum disorder (Klab, 2005). The rise in incidence of autistic spectrum disorders
alarming and has caused a flurry

of research into
the grounds for such increases
However, o
ne particular ar
ea that
has been lacking in the research is
the adult
development discipline.

If 1 out of every 166 children

born with an autism spectrum disorder, what does
this mean for these children as the mature and enter adulthood. Will these children
differently in adulthood? Will they
go through the same transitions
in the same
time frames? Or does adult development need to

the whee
l when it comes to
researching autistic adults?

These are some of the questions that this research hopes to

current theories of adult development and by talking to adults who are living
with Asperger’
s syndrome or high functioning a
utism. The research will begin by
examining several adult development theorists and applying what we k
now about high

functioning autism to those theories. The second portion of the research will be

interviews of Asperger’s syndrome and high functioning autistic adults and
their caregivers.

Literature Review

Daniel Levinson

In 1986, Yale psych
ologist Daniel Levinson developed a comprehensive theory of
adult development referred to as stages or transitions. His theory was based on in
interviews with 40
males (1978) and 45 adult females (1987) which he proposed
that adulthood is char
acterized by alternating periods of stability (when individuals
solidify their life structure) and periods of transition (when the structure is reexamined
and modified)

(Adult Development: Implications For Adult Education, 1960)

Levinson’s theories of
adult development were a

result of two landmark studies

Seasons of a Man’s Life
, and
Seasons of a Woman’s Life
. The seasons in both studies
refer to th
e four seasonal cycles:

preadulthood, early adulthood, middle adulthood, and
late adulthood. Within eac
h season is a life structure which is the pattern of an
individual’s life at that particular time. An individual’s life structure is determined by

social and physical environment which may include other variables such as family,
work, religion, race
, or economic status. Also, within each season are times of stability
which can last about 6
10 years, and times of transition which can last 4
5 years.

stable periods are

the time to build life structures, make key choices, form support


to pursue goals and values, while a

transition period terminates existing life
structures and creates new ones

(Levinson, 1896)


In looking at the

of an individual’s life, Levinson maintains that
readulthood ends after childhood and adolesce
nce. Next, the transition
nto early
adulthood begins with the establishment of careers and families. Individuals
in this

reexamine themselves and settle down to work on career advancement. The
transition in
to middle adulthood begins around

ge 40
45 when

individuals begin to
e their lives again


realize that their ambitions or goals have not
been met. During middle adulthood, individuals deal with their individuality and begin
to find ways to modify skills and assets.

The transition into late adulthood begins a time
in which individuals reflect upon successes and failures, and start to enjoy the rest of their
lives. During Levinson’s study with women, he found that women go through the same
type of cycles that men do.

However, the life stages of women tend to be more closely
linked to the family life cycle

(Midlife Passages, 2007)

Levinson’s theories of adult development can apply to individuals with

syndrome, depending on the severity of the
. S
ince individuals with

syndrome may be only mildly affected and frequently have good language
and cognitive skills, some can make the choices necessary to transition from one stage to
another with a good support system in place. Because children


syndrome may be only mildly affected, behavioral issues and immaturity may not be a
problem academically in elementary school, but as they move through the school system,
difficulties with social skills, language, and obsessive behaviors b
ecome more

(Whiting, 1988)

Many individuals with

syndrome are able to continue their education
with accommodations and guidance with social interactions. The transition from


to the early adult stage may require guidan
ce from an individual’s support
system. Making decisions about one’s career could go in many directions. Are they
college bound

Do the n
eed vocational training, adult education, or employment or
training? Individuals with

syndrome have good
language and cognitive skills,
but may not understand subtleties of language, such as irony or humor, or may not
understand the give and take of a conversation. Also, since they may be socially


social roles


limited eye contact
, or

a support role is
crucial in finding the appropriate placement. Th
ese social
difficulties may

be overcome with support

a career, but individuals
may be
limited when
seeking relationships and building their ow
n family.

Some individuals with

are able to

learn better social skills in

and early adult s

(Whiting, 1988)
. Those who do
, can transition into
early adulthood and late adulthood stages with understanding and support.

It would be
difficult for most individuals with

syndrome to reexamine their careers and
set new goals because

individuals with

syndrome seek jobs that require
focus on details

but limited social interaction with colleagues

ch as

computer science, research or library sciences.

Others with more severe

syndrome may have supported employment
others may work in a secure setting.
, the ability to live at home or in
the community



an individual’s
ability to manage day to day tasks with
little or no supervision. So, the ability to transition independently into the next stage
would depend on the degree of

syndrome present. Does an individual have
the ability to

reexamine goals and make changes to careers? Once again it depends on

the degree of

syndrome present. Repetition and consistency are
also factors
in an individual’s success, as they are essential
elements of

syndrome life. An
vidual w
ho does not like change would not

see the reasoning behind reexamining
their career and making a modification.




some individuals who have a mild form of

who can make the transitions in Levinson’s adult develop
ment theory on their own, or
with support. But, there are
also many who do not have enough understanding of
skills, relationships, or rules of society to make appropriate

choices and reflect and
reexamine decisions or new options. Levinson’s theor
y depends upon the individual’s
ability to analyze and reevaluate during their life structures. People with

syndrome need stability and do not usually have the capabilities to make the decisions
necessary to transition into something new. Levi
nson’s theory can be applied to only
those individuals who have a very mild form of

syndrome, with support.

Linda George

Research on life transitions highlights the normative and non
normative changes
that individuals experience over tim
e (
George, 1993
, p. 353

During the past two
decades, the study of life transitions has become more complex, focusing on the ways
social and historical contexts shape individual transitions. Linda K. George, a professor
t Duke University’s
department o
f sociology, has studied the sociological perspectives
on life transitions throughout her academic and professional career. She has concentrated
on the idea that social roles affect adult development. Social roles encompass the
following: husband, wife,
significant other roles; mother, father caretaker roles;

employee, supervisor, manager roles; church and community service roles

to name a

George’s idea of “role theory” stemmed from previous research done by Ralph
Linton who introduced the initi
al elements of role theory and O.G. Brim, who researched
the dynamics of role allocation and socialization (George, p. 354). Role allocation refers
to how roles are basically assigned to individuals and socialization refers to how skills
and attitudes are

transmitted to those individuals. Role theory centers on the idea of life
transitions, which in this case refers to role entry and exit. This is very similar to
Levinson’s theory of life transitions. Within George’s theory, it is said that most
ions are predictable in both occurrence and timing (George, p. 355). Also,
socialization provides individuals with the skills needed to master transitions and perform
new roles effectively.

The idea of role theory and the transition between roles sound
s very similar to
how society works. But, the idea that this process should operate smoothly with little
disruptions to an individual’s life seems a little too general. This research project focuses
on adult development theory and how it may or may not r
elate to the development of
adults with Asperger’s syndrome, or high functioning autistic adults. As noted above,
socialization is a big part of acquiring the necessary tools to master these “role
transitions” as described by George.

According to an art
icle focusing on adults with Asperger’s, the development of
social competence can be very difficult. In fact, the leading factor in the failure of most
adults with AS (

Syndrome) is the inability to develop social competence

Gutstein and Whitne
y, 2002
, p. 161). This article focuses on the importance of learning
through social development and the barriers those individuals with AS face.


of interest that relates to George’s adult theory
, is the idea of
“instrumental social learning”
as described by Gutstein and Whitney. Basically, this is
the idea that individuals interact with others to obtain specific objects, information, or
new skills. This also includes the performance of daily social activities related to
meeting specific need

waiting in lines at the store, behaving appropriately at work, etc.
This idea specifically relates to George’s idea of role allocation and assuming those roles
through socialization. This might be a very difficult task for adults with AS. Obtaining
social competence is a constant struggle for most people with AS, and requires a lot of
support. Therefore, the transitions from one role to the next would not be as smooth for
adults with AS.

As mentioned before, social roles include the act of being
an employee,
supervisor, or manager. In George’s view, one would enter an organization with a cert
role (entry level position), exit that role,
and enter a new role with more responsibility.
Before that transition, the individual would have gone throu
gh the socialization process
in the organizational setting to obtain the necessary skills and knowledge to be promoted,
giving them more r
esponsibility and/or supervisory duties
. According to an article in
Computerworld, autistic individuals (and those wi
th AS) lack the social and
communications skills needed in management capacities (
Anthes, 1997
, p. 37).
Therefore, AS adults will find it very difficult to gain the necessary tools and skills to
advance or obtain new positions that involve team management
. Anthes focuses on the
fact that adults with AS are excellent candidates for computer programming and graphics

positions. He states that highly functioning autistic adults often exhibit extraordinary
creativity and concentration. This was definitely an

interesting idea and Anthes went on
to explain how the payoff can be significant for companies who can foster a supportive
environment for high functioning autistic adults. From the words of an autistic
programmer, “we can offer dramatically innovative a
pproaches, the ability to focus on a
limited number of things for extended periods to a far greater degree than non
and, on occasion, savant
like abilities available from no one else” (Anthes, p. 37).

Another article added to this idea by stat
ing that adults with AS typically work as
accountants, engineers and computer specialists, as well as other professions that benefit
from the craving for order and routine (Frederickson, 2007, p. 45). Conversely, their
obsessive attention does make them a

bit socially awkward at times and can lead to
ostracism, misunderstanding and failure on the job. In terms of development, this could
make it very hard for adults with
AS to transition into new roles,
according to what
George has proposed in her theory.
It seems that adults with AS in this type of profession
do have social roles from an employment standpoint, but from a perspective different
from the norm.

In summary, Linda George provides some great information and theory involving
the process of adult
development. Social perspectives do play a large part within life
transitions, but when
an individual

has difficulty socializing

they will not be able to
benefit from lessons and knowledge

gained from the transition period
. Adults with AS
may not carry
the same social characteristics as do people without AS. They take on
different roles of which might not necessarily be predictable, such as George explained in
her role theory.


Roger Gould

Dr. Roger Gould developed a theory that analyzed adult devel
opment from a
lifespan approach. Gould claims that adulthood should be viewed as a process rather than
an arrival. As we move towards adulthood, we move towards what Gould calls an
“adulthood consciousness.” (Gould, 1978) Adulthood consciousness can be
viewed as
an advanced level of logic, reason, and responsibility one demonstrates without the
presence of irrationality. To move towards adult consciousness is to move away from
“childhood consciousness.” (Gould, 1978)

Childhood consciousness can b
e vie
wed as an irrational group of false
assumptions, desires and/or myths
that children

develop. Gould says that as adults move
away from childhood and towards adult consciousness they may experience battles
between the two consciousnesses. He
s mos
t of the pain we feel as adults to
these battles. Moving towards adulthood details a process of growing and reformulating
ourselves; Gould calls this process transformation (Gould,
1978). The purpose of this

is to analyze Gould’s theory and see if

it can be applied to all adult with a
disability, specifically Asperger’s Syndrome (AS).

The process of t
ransformation is one where adults must face irrational
assumptions, desires and/or myths developed as children. According to Gould children

a series of irrational or false assumptions that prove detrimental to them as
adults. Some o
f the false assumptions include

thoughts like

y parents will always be
there to fix the messes I make
” or

I am not like my parents in ways I don’t want to be


or even
y loved ones can complete for me what I have been unable to complete for

Other false assumptions may be that
there is only one right way therefore all
other ways are wrong,
or that and individual’s
intellectuality is the same as my
the reality of o
ne is the reality of us all, or

there is no evil in
individual, nor
any evil in the world (Gould, 1978). As children “we make life exactly
what we want it to be and endow it temporarily with the illusion of reality (G
ould, 1978).
As children we make reality what we want it be within the parameters of our parents’
rules, as adults we realize that the government, our employer, and our personal
relationships all crate rules of operation that we must comply with or else r
un the risk of
losing that relationship. The struggle, as Gould calls it, is to persevere through the coping
of these relationships without allowing these childhood assumptions to prevail in our
adult decisions.

The successful transformation process sh
ould yield cognitive clarity. The
transformation process should bring us to a place, some call it an epiphany, religiosity, or
sophy awakening, where


false assumptions and immature beliefs are petty.

moves toward t
he t
ypes of peop
le we are and not as

h the type of people
others are
. We begin to accept that our false assumptions are indeed false and we cease
the strife of holding on
to them. This is not age

it can happen at any age or point
in life.

an adults with A
sperger’s Syndrome transform according to Gould’s theory?

process requires de
ep contemplation and reflection.

A person with
will not experience transformation as outlined by Gould’s theory


especially if accompanie
d with mild/severe symptoms, involves difficulty with

communicating and building relationships. Gould’s transformation process deals with
overcoming the childhood falsehoods we develop simply because we are children. He
does not discuss how disabilities,

especially developmental disabilities, might impact our
childhood assumptions. Th
e childhood experience for some
one with AS would be much
different for someone without it.

According to Dr. Carol Watkins, children with AS can become successful

but it
ill require a great amount of focus on education and societal functioning. Dr. Watkins
provides examples of children with AS who refuse to build friendships because they were
made fun of for not understan
ding age appropriate humor. T
hose who
do go on to
ainful employment

work jobs with little to no deviation because they have difficulties
with changes to their daily routines. Not to infer that persons with AS can not undergo
some form of transformation but because of their disability their process of
nsformation will not occur as Gould describes it.

Leonard Pearlin

When evaluating the theory of Leonard Pearlin and relating it to
Asperger’s syndrome, the factors of stress and coping relate strongly between the two.
Asperger’s syndrome is a form of Aut
ism that focuses on a lower level of communicatio
skills and social interaction


most people with AS will learn to cope well with
their individual differences.

Pearlin studies stressors in a person’s life and coping methods used. He discusses

stress process and its different structures, such as the exposure to and meaning of
stressors, access to stress mediators, and the psychological, physical, and behavioral
manifestations of stress

(Pearlin, 1989)
. He looks at life strains and events and ho
w these

all play a part in how and why people cope differently. His theories strongly relate to
those with Asperger’s syndrome as well as the family and people within close interaction
with them. AS will generally cause a person to have more stressors in t
heir life because it
deals with multiple symptoms and conditions.

When relating Asperger’s syndrome and Pearlin’s theory, we can break it down
into how the theory directly relates to those with AS and to those who directly care for
these individuals. Ulti
mately stress and coping will play a different part for these two.
Since AS is a type of
autistic spectrum disorder (ASD)

we know that it begins during
childhood or infancy and has a strong impact on the way the brain matures. This initially
can cause high
er levels of stress for the caregiver because they will be the ones solely
concerned and taking care of the child. Later on in life the stress of AS will impact the
individual themselves.

When individuals with AS

grow older

and the more noticeable charac
teristics of
AS are seen throughout their personality, interactions and patterns, their personal stress
level may and more than likely will


Social interaction strongly relates to one

esteem and Pearlin talks about how diminished self
ept and esteem can leave
omeone vulnerable to experience

symptoms of stress

(Pearlin, 1981)
. Asperger

syndrome may lead to feeling overwhelmed even in a relatively simple setting.

Children with AS may perhaps be more sensitive or insensitive to sound,
touch, tastes and other stimuli. These
are typically
trigger stressors that a child without
AS would probably not think twice about

however to a child who has this syndrome
these stressors might have a large impact. If their classrooms are too crow
ded or noisy

some children, depending on their condition, may get more agitated and even certain

smells, textures and temperatures can alter their day to day experiences. All these
different factors can create anxiety and relates to Pearlin’s analysis of
psychological and behavioral stresses.

Pearlin also discusses coping and its functions. He believes that coping behavi
is put into three categories:

eliminating or modifying conditions giving rise to problems,
perceptually controlling the mean
ing of experience in a manner that neutralizes its
problematic character and keeping the emotional consequences of problems within
manageable bounds

(Pearlin, 1978)
. He found that individuals cope the best and
interventions are most effective when dealing
with close, personal situations such as child

In addition, t
he concept that Pearlin has on coping and stress in addition directly
relates to those caregivers and how they handle the consistent situations that may arise. A
primary stressor

d with caring for someone with AS

is the hardship directly
related to

the actual

care giving
. Instead of looking at Asperger

syndrome as a
roadblock, the parent or caregiver should reinforce their child’s strengths and help them
overcome their weaknesses
, or stressors. As people who are diagnosed with AS get older
they will also have to learn to cope with their individual characteristics. They will learn to
recognize what stressors they can handle better than othe
rs and what situations they
should and sho
uld not

put themselves through.

Pearlin’s theory on

stress and coping is very relevant

and important when
analyzing Asperger

syndrome. His concept on primary and secondary stressors helps
with the understanding of AS. Primary stressors can include

problematic behaviors where
as secondary stressors focus more on family tensions that

come from the demands of
care giving


the constrictions put onto caregivers (Pearlin,

Individuals who have

syndrome have symptoms

that will cause them
to have constant pressures throughout their lifetime and they, like anyone else, have to
learn how to best cope with them. Pearlin examines how stress is unique depending on
the person and with this condition, each case of AS is indiv
idualistic and thus makes it
harder to pinpoint one particular outcome. It is very likely to say that Asperger
, stress
and coping go hand in hand not only for the person diagnosed

but for their caregivers as

Carol Gilligan

Through the many voices
of theorists in adult development there are many
theories about how adults develop, whether it occurs in stages, steps, or phases. Carol
Gilligan, an adult development theorist, focuses merely on social roles, the differences in
gender, and morality. Gill
igan is best known for publishing the book,
In a Different
, in 1982. The book documented her research on the moral development in women
due to the lack of women’s voices being heard and the moral developmental theory
(Gosselin, 2003).

Gilligan mad
e many contributions to moral development. She offered a critique
of Freud, Piaget, Erickson, and Kohlberg due to the bias she saw present. The bias that
was present
, she claimed,

was a masculine bias (Gilligan, 1982). Gilligan proposed that
“Gender iden
tity for males is tied to separation and individuation while gender identity
for females is tied to attachment and intimacy

(Herman, 2005)

The bottom line is that
males and females grow up in a society that is gender stereotyped. “Boys are taught to

lue independence, assertiveness, achievement, and individuation, while girls are taught
to value connectedness, caring, sensitivity, and concern for others” (Herman, 2005).
Although stereotypical, this has been somewhat identified in males and

females who

suffer from autism

however, it is not as concise.

Due to the noticeable rise in the diagnosis of autism, it has been made evident that
males account for eighty percent of Americans diagnosed with an autistic disorder.
Studies were conducted to prove if,

in fact, boys live closer to the autistic spectrum than
girls. The results came back
to show
that it is not proven true in every case (Cowely,

But when researchers study groups of people

infants, toddlers, teens, or

an interesting pat
tern emerges. New born girls gaze longer at
faces then at mechanical mobiles, while boys show the opposite
preference. By the age of 3, girls are more apt than boys at imagining
fictional characters’ feelings, and by seven, they are better at identifying

faux pas in a story. The disparity is just as striking when adults are asked
to interpret facial expressions and tones of voice. (Cowley, 2003)

However, in SAT tests males have shown a lifelong advantage over females that
require spatial and mechanical

reasoning. Males also are more likely to score
higher on a math test and four times more likely to become an engineer. Social
conditioning may explain some of this gap (Cowley, 2003)

When investigating Gilligan’s theory on moral development, Gilligan
Attanucci (1988) summarized their gender issues in moral development. The
summarization is as follows:



Concerns about both justice and care are represented in people’s
thinking about real
life dilemmas, but people tend to focus on one
set of concerns
and minimally represent the other.


There is an association between moral orientation and gender such
that men and women use both orientations, but Care Focus
dilemmas are most likely to be presented by women and Justice
Focus dilemmas by men (p. 223).


is pointed out by Lyons (1990) that neither
of the
orientations are mutually

Although it is a challenge to see how autism fit
s into this design,

t does
deed occur and can occur to an extreme. While autism gender orientations still
the lines may be more blurred due to the disorder. A perfect example of
the lines being blurred, but yet still fit
ting into gender orientation is as follows:

An autistic boy and


girl were watching the movie “Finding Nemo
he girl was conc
erned about Nemo and how he was feeling and asked if Nemo
was scared and the boy asked what
type of food clown fish eats

(Cowley, 2003).

Individuals with autism break the mold that was set by Gilligan.
Individuals that suffer from autism score lower than
typical males on tests that
involve predicating people’s feelings and interpreting their facial expressions.
However, when they were challenged to find a tria
ngle embedded into a design
autistic individuals

scored just as well if not better, regardless of


It is apparent that individuals that suffer from autism can fit Gilligan’s
design and at times can not fit Gilligan’s design. Gilligan’s design did not take

into account individuals with disabilities or disorders and certainly not a disorder
at affects such a wide range or communication and social abilities

Paul Baltes

time professor of psychology and director of the Center of Lifespan
Psychology in Berlin, Paul Baltes is best known for several distinctive contributions in
the field of
adult development.

Through his research and analysis, Baltes established the
discipline of lifespan psychology, which deals wi
th the study of ontogenesis,
development of an

individual from birth to death


The bulk of Balte
s’ work examines devel

cognitive aging and the
acquisition and employment of wisdom, which Baltes defines as “expert knowledge
involving good judgment and advice in the domain, fundamental pragmatics of life”
(Baltes & Smith, p.95).

Baltes contends that wisdom is a form
idable predictor for many
teristics of aging successfully

(Baltes et al., 1999)

Although their intelligence generally ranges from normal to extremely high,
people with Asperger’s Syndrome have been observed to be socially clumsy, reticent or
e in nature (MAPP)
. It stands to reason

that an
adult may have
developed differently, or unsuccessfully in Baltes’ eyes, because good judgment and
advice may be lacking, therefore making the attainment of wisdom, in the experiential
sense, chal

In addition to his inferences regarding wisdom, Baltes, in conjunction with his
wife, Margaret, has published myriad research on lifespan psychology that has lead him
to identify successful development as a three
fold process of selection, op
timization and
compensation, a key theory in

the field of adult development



the model delineating selection, optimization and compensation (SOC) is widely believed
to be imperative for the functioning of older people due to the de
cline of their resources
and physical abilities (Medicine Encyclopedia), these are arguably essential processes for
people with Asperger’s Syndrome as well, who must learn effective coping skills to
achieve success as adults.

Baltes describes the process o
f selection,

which has been noted as a

process that may be inherent from birth, as the es
tablishing of goals or


This initial process of selection is likely weaker for a person with
Asperger’s Syndrome, who may only be abl
e to focu
s, or obsess, on limited goals

However, for an adult who has learned adaptive skills in response to AS, the
process of selection can be a useful tool. If an AS adult selects goals at which he is apt to
be successful, he will realize a hi
gher rate of achievement, aiding the ease of his
developmental journey.

Baltes et al. identify the second step in the SOC model, optimization, as “the
acquisition, refinement and maintenance of means or resources that are effective in
achieving desirable o
utcomes and avoiding undesirable ones” (1999). Because children
with AS “
are much more likely to grow up to be independently functioning adults

(MAPP) than children with autism, people with AS may be viewed as having a
heightened sense of optimization.
If optimization means using one’s resources to the best
of one’s ability, successful adults with AS may have learned to use their strengths, such
as an intense focus on a particular topic, to their advantage to achieve a goal. Often times
adults with AS


gravitate to a job or profession that relates to their own areas of
special interest, sometimes becoming very proficient
” (MAPP).


The third process in the SOC model, compensation, is depicted as a “response to
the loss of an outcome
related means” (Ba
ltes et al., 1999), or an adjustment for the
purpose of succeeding at one’s goals. High functioning adults with AS have finely honed
adaptive skills that have enabled them to cope in the “normal” world. People with AS
often need consistency, structure an
d predictability in order to function


Experience gained through lifespan development may provide techniques for
AS adults to compensate for their idiosyncrasies.

According to Baltes, all three processes, selection, optimization and
pensation, are integral to the successful development of adults. Because of the
adaptive nature of Baltes’ SOC theory, his research may be recognized as a fitting model
for adults with AS, who struggle in their quest for successful development.


The remainder of this paper is analyzing interviews of various people in
which Asperger’s syndrome has affected their lives. These are the interview
summaries and the

analysis with regard to the theorists they chose to
research fro
m the lit


Interview 1

This interview will present two different male brothers who both have

syndrome. The interview was conducted with the mother of the two boys.
The first male is currently living at home and graduated high

school last year. He is 20
years old. His mother describes him as very pessimistic and easily angered. She stated
that his anger issues were present as early as elementary school and he was placed with a
behavioral specialist in second grade. She said

behavior plans and schedules never

seemed to matter, and he became extremely violent in third grade. He was finally tested
in third grade and had an extremely high IQ but socially couldn’t handle being
mainstreamed with other children. She said that the

autistic label was given to him, but
she was told he was very high functioning. She said that didn’t make sense to her
because he couldn’t interact with others and had a ‘short fuse’. When they tried to place
him in the autistic classroom, she fought to

have him removed. She remembers going in
the classroom and hearing a child screaming and another one was hitting himself in the
head. She said she didn’t know where her son belonged, but it wasn’t in there. He was
placed in a regular education classroo
m and went to see the behavioral management

each day. By the time he went to middle school, he hated school and was
becoming more violent. She met wit
h the school counselor when her son was in eighth

who suggested medication and counseli
ng. The mom said middle school was a
nightmare. Other students knew how to “push his buttons”, and she constantly had to go
to school and pick him up for fighting. Finally, after medication and counseling, he
began to develop better social skills. The
counselor referred the son and family to a
program that provided support for children with autism. She said since her second son
was having similar prob
lems, they all went and met an A

s liaison for the school
system who gave her the appropriate gu
idance. Her son went to a technical center to
become an electrician and is currently in an apprenticeship program with a local
company. He still sees a counselor and is on medication. He is lives at home and still
gets angry. She said the new problem i
s alcohol. He has been befriended by a group of
young men who drink and stay out late at night. The inability of him to make social
decisions is driving him to make bad
ecisions about money and friendships. She said

that she worries because h
e seems to

like the

attention of the friends, and likes how the
alcohol makes him feel. She thinks the friends are talking advantage of him, and his

The second son is now in his first year of high school. The said that because she
had gone to the suppor
t group recommended by the counselor for her first son, the

s liaison had recommended early on in elementary school that her youngest son
go to Greenfield w
hich has a special program for A

s syndrome. The second son
had different c
istics of A

s syndrome. He does not have the anger
problems like her first son. His difficulties are mainly social. She said he was diagnosed
in second grade at the same school her first son attended. She spoke more confidently
about her decisio
ns for him because she said she was more educated and knew where to
get help. Her second son has many “quirky” characteristics that enable him to be
mainstreamed all day. She said that he always has to be the last one in line. She said that
when they go

out, waiting in line is an event. She laughed because she said he will
continuously move out of the way and let people in front of him so he can be last. He
also doesn’t like anyone to touch him, not even brush up against him by accident. She
said he c
an’t wear jeans because he doesn’t like the scratchy feeling; he prefers sweat
pants and a t
shirt even when it is cold. His motor skills aren’t the best, but it seems that
mom doesn’t push him to learn or practice. She buys him clothing that doesn’t hav
e to be
buttoned, and Velcro shoes. She said he has a great sense of humor, when it is his joke.
He likes to do the same thing every day at the same time. On Mondays they always go to
, and he watches the same shows each night. He is curren
tly in eleventh
grade and doesn’t have a care in the world. She said that he likes to draw, but has no

ambitions to do any type of employment. I got the fee
ling that after seeing her adult

being used by “friends” and using alcohol, she is in no rush
to send her second child out
into the real world. She said that because of his many social inabilities, she isn’t sure
what type of real job he could do. His counselor had referred the mom to Department of
Rehabilitative Services for training and placeme
nt in a job, but she has not pursued the
referral. Mom is in the protective mode with her second son.

The older son has been diagnosed with A

s syndrome but is also emotional
disabled. He has never developed the social skills that would enable hi
m to select a
support group of friends that would provide a positive guidance. Unfortunately, because
of the lack of social development combined with the anger, he feels he fits in but is being
taken advantage of by others. Although he is very verbal and

a good
ommunicator, he
doesn’t see the inappropriate behaviors of his peers. The second younger son is
developmentally not ready to be autonomous. His mother is not allowing him to develop
or grow for fear he will be taken advantage of too. The second

child has so many
“quirks” that it is possible that he will not be able to handle the public population on his
own. I don’
t agree with mom that he could not

be gainfully employed. I think that his
cognitive development is high enough that he could learn

a skill and with the right

be employed.

In reviewing the interview with the mother of the two boys with

yndrome, it is apparent that both of the boys lack the skills to make
decisions to pursue goals and become
totally autonomous. According to
Levinson’s theories, a stable period is the time to build life structures, make key
choices, form support systems, and to pursue goals and values. The older boy had

selected a career path, with guidance from his parents,
but has made extr
bad choices in selecting friends

and handling his finances. He has decided to
associate himself w
ith peers who are not

able to provide support and have
influenced him to use substances that are not compatible with his medication, an
further impede his decision making skills. The younger boy has more severe
social deficits and many typical Asperger’s Syndrome obsessions. Although he is
functioning well in the structured, academic environment of school, he has many
difficulties with

social, public environments. He doesn’t know how to initiate,
continue, or end normal conversation and is not comfortable around his
immediate family support system. The second half of Levinson’s theory is the
on period when

individuals terminat
e existing life structures and create
new ones. Is either boy socially aware enough to terminate a life structure? The
older boy has proven he does not accept nor want his parent’s help with the
alcohol addiction or selected peer support system. Without

his parent’s support,
he has made life changing decisions but not decisions that would create positive
transitions. The younger boy has no awareness of his current life structures, so he
would not be able to make decisions independently to create a new l
ife structure.
Since Asperger’s Syndrome has such a large spectrum under the autism spectrum,
it would depend on the severity of each case to whether Levinson’s theories
would apply. The two boys in this interview are not capable of making the
necessary to transition through the stages.


Interview 2

For this aspect of the research project an interviewing session hosted by Karen
Hurlbutt and Lynne Chalmers was used. Their focus was how being an adult with

syndrome (
AS) affected employment (Hurlbutt and Chalmers, 2004). Six
adults with AS (or those that were highly functioning autistic individuals) were
interviewed about their experiences regarding the employment process. Hurlbutt &
Chalmers conducted initial and fo
up interviews for all six participants. They
recorded the conversations, took detailed notes, and created concise summaries of the

Hurlbutt & Chalmers discovered two general themes of interest from the data
collection. The first basically
suggested that adults with AS and highly functioning
autistic adults (HFA) seem to experience frequent unemployment and underemployment
situations. All of the participants had negative experiences and had not been able to
obtain positions in their field o
f training. Most took any job they could get, and noted
that frequent unemployment was due to asking too many questions, or not asking enough
questions. Also, it was noted that most of the participants worked better individually or
in small teams, since
large groups created too much confusion. This relates back to the
Computerworld article which explored how AS/HFA adults seem to be very successful in
related jobs or accounting jobs. They are able to concentrate more with fewer
distractions, wh
ich leads into the second them

surfaced from the interview session:
social skills affect employability.

All of the participants expressed having a tough time with the social aspect of
employment. They were not very good at dealing with people in social

situations and did

not know how to interact with typical workers, or those who did not have autism. This
was a very frustrating part of the job since according to one participant the most
important rule at work is to get along with the other employees.
All of the participants
noted that stress was an overwhelming aspect each day at work given that they had
difficulty understanding social rules of the working environment, which topics were
appropriate to talk about, and asking for help. Since they knew t
he importance of
socialization and success, it fostered breakdowns and lead to the loss of employment.
This is very interesting data to interpret compared to Linda K. George’s idea of role
theory. She focuses a lot on the fact that social roles affect ad
ult development (George,
1993). From her standpoint, your career develops and succeeds through socialization, or
the act of learning skills through social interaction. If AS/HFA adults have such a hard
time overcoming the social barrier at work it can pr
ove very difficult to develop,
according to George’s theory. The six participants in the interview sessions acknowledge
that fact and provide proof that adult development from a career perspective is extremely
challenging. The idea of being social is ver
y stressful for these adults and hinders their

In conclusion, Hurlbutt & Chalmers revealed that not being able to maintain
employment was the biggest issue. This was a result of poor communication, social skill
deficits, and sensory issues
. Through research it was discovered that AS/HFA adults
have difficulty understanding social rules, understanding cues/body language,
reciprocating social interactions, understanding their own and others’ feelings, and being
able to interpret the other pe
rson’s feelings (Attwood, 1998). This type of behavior
usually leads to resisting of change, or avoiding the idea of transitions from one position

to the next…or one role to the next. AS/HFA adults have a need for routine, which is
why some seem to be so

successful in computer programming roles. They have the same
schedule each day, there is limited social interaction (lowering anxiety and frustration),
and they can concentrate intensely on a topic of interest. It seems that a lot can be
learned when re
lating George’s social theory of development to the employment barrier
AS/HFA adults seem to run into more often than not.

Interview 3

The interview occurred on a Monday evening in November via phone, in order to
make the contact. The person chosen to

interview was Lenore, an Autism Resource
Specialist, at an area school district. Currently, Lenore has been an Autism Resource
cialist for four years. Lenore
‘s job requires her to provide support for teachers in the
general education classroom witho
ut the support of an actual autism program. Also, she
provides direct services to students that are diagnosed with Autism, as well as, serves as
their case manager.

When questions were asked about students with autism and their traditional social
, Lenore believed that the students, as well as, non

autistic students have social roles
that are innate, not necessarily learned. For example, the autistic boys that Lenore has
observed enjoy trains,
, and video games. However, the girls enjoy dra
playing with stuffed animals, and dolls. Although Lenore feels that many of the social
roles are innate, she does agree with Carol Gilligan in that we live in a society which is
very gender stereotyped.

When comparing what Lenore has observed to Ca
rol Gilligan’s theory there is
some commonality. Carol Gilligan believes that justice and care are represented in both

males and females. Lyons quickly pointed out that neither is exclusive. Lenore agreed
that both are present in autistic individuals an
d that boys tend to lean toward the justice
side of Gilligan’s theory. Once again, she agreed with Lyons that neither is

exclusive in that care and justice will be present.

Although Lenore and Gilligan have some commonality, Lenore feels that man
social skills and job roles are taught to autistic and non
autistic individuals; therefore, it is
difficult to decipher which tendencies are innate and which are taught.

Interview 4

In an article in
The New Yorker
, writer Tim Page details his struggle
erger’s syndrome
. Growing up in the 1960’
s, Page was undiagnosed

most of his life
and spent his childhood grappling with the knowledge that he was vastly different from
most of his peers. While his classmates developed socially and academically,
Page faced
the painful realization that he was somehow different, awkward in social settings and
unsuccessful in school.

Page recalls a school field trip which epitomized the

distinctive quirks that his
teachers and classmates found so frustrating. On a c
lass trip to Boston, Page was more
observant of the extraneous details

what time the bus left, the route they traveled, the
company that chartered the bus and the neighboring town of Warrenville

that he
completely crowded out the day’s lesson about the
Boston Massacre. His summary paper
disclosed all of these noteworthy details, yet earned him a grade of “unsatisfactory,” to
his hurt and surprise.

As a result of these types of “failures,” Page began to come to terms with the fact
that his mind worked di
fferently than most of his peers. A battery of tests and treatments

ranging from electroencephalograms to anti
seizure medications did not shed any light on
the problem, so he and his family began to focus on the positive aspects of his condition

his hi
gh I.Q. and diligent attention to detail. His subsequent diagnosis of Asperger’s

in 2000 came as a colossal relief to Page, a validation of his years of struggle.

Over those years, Page showed evidence of developing by way of Baltes’ theory
of se
lection, optimization and compensation. As he began to recognize his own
idiosyncrasies, Page chose tasks at which he could find some measure of success.
Because of his lifelong obsessions with music and literature, Page became a successful
music critic,

writing for such noteworthy publications as the New York Times and the
Washington Post. Knowing that he lacked the social skills to feel comfortable around
others in many settings, Page read Emily Post’s “Etiquette” cover to cover and practiced
the advic
e as his personal development tool, optimizing his social skill set to the best of
his ability. He often compensates for his self
proclaimed weaknesses by allowing
himself to indulge in his obsessions in certain instances while holding back when


Though much of Baltes’ research and theory is driven by the aging population, it
is clear through the life experiences of Tim Page that the theory of selection, optimization
and compensation is applicable to adults with Asperger’s syndrome. The developme
challenges that adults living with A
perger’s face require a strategy of adaptation in order
to be viewed as successes in our society. Baltes’ research has articulated that strategy
along the path of successful development.




syndrome is ri
sing significantly in incidence in the United States
population. In researching this topic the group found that a tremendous about of research
is being performed to found out what causes Asperger’s and autism and why the
incidence is rising
. Another huge area of research is directed towards Asperger’s and
autistic children: How do they develop? How do we teach them? Should they be
included in regular classrooms? With respect to adults living with Asperger’s and high
functioning autism
he research being performed is only geared toward job placement and
training. This research group found that
not much research is being performed on how
these adults develop as compared to normal adult development. Adult development
theories were examine
d to determine if aspects of current theories could be applied to the
development of AS adults. The group found that whether or not the theories could be
applied depended on the severity of the AS.
The research showed that if the AS adult is
high functio
ning and highly adaptable then many of the adult development theories could
be applied. The support system the adult had as a child and currently has is also a factor
on how they develop as an adult. The group also found that some of the adult
t theories did not apply in any way because of the nature of AS. The group
found what a lot of AS and autism researchers find, that this is a difficult topic to study
because the individuals with the disorder are extremely variable.



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