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Social Anxiety vs Aspergers

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How can I tell the difference between Social Anxiety and Aspergers?

Asperger syndrome is an autism spectrum disorder that is characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction. Restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests, which are often abnormally intense and focused, are present. Reading and understanding social cues is usually a challenge for the Asperger individual. A failure to develop relationships, a lack of social empathy, and impaired non-verbal behaviors are common. Asperger syndrome is distinguished by a pattern of symptoms rather than a single symptom. It is a pervasive developmental disorder with no clinically significant delay in cognitive development. Social anxiety is a specific symptom, with numerous manifestations, which is based on performance dynamics. It is a common subset of Aspergers, as well as, other developmental disorders-challenges. Social anxiety, concurrent with the challenges of Aspergers, often translate into a substantial social handicap, which is a combination of anxiety and social skills deficits. You may be interested in viewing The Sally Jesse Raphael Show titled “The Socially Handicapped” at This show aired in 1988. When contemplating Aspergers, it is important to understand functioning levels. There is a tremendous variation for Aspergers individuals. Variables that determine functioning levels include emotional and social intelligence, as well as intellectual intelligence, independence-survival skills, and more. Here’s a short story that describes functioning level issues. Patient x was 16 years old. He had Aspergers and substantial social anxiety. He had a straight A average in high school while spending less than an hour a day with homework. He was involved in martial arts. He spent about 30-40 hours a week playing one particular computer game and had reached the point that he was well known on the internet for his expertise in this area. He had absolutely no interest in socializing. The family lived out of state and was doing therapy via telephone with me. One day, they came to Great Neck for an in- person session. At one point the father asked X to go across the street to get something at a store. X responded “I can’t cross the street without you (the father)”. Straight A’s, 16 years old, and can’t cross the street without a parent. This story opens the door for a discussion on a myriad of issues related to functioning levels. I first discovered social anxiety in 1976, before the term became common, when I was creating a socialization program for learning disabled-developmentally challenged teenagers as a youth worker in a community center. Many of these adolescents had Aspergers. After doing intake interviews with the teens and parents, an interesting phenomenon occurred. Many of those interviewed never came to the group. There was a tremendous level of fear regarding social interaction along with the “pecking order” phenomenon. The pecking order is a complex dynamic characterized by the individual not wanting to interact with other “same” individuals based on the belief and perception that others are lower functioning.

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