Could severe childhood emotional trauma mimic AS/ASD?

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Zonder
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20 Apr 2008, 6:10 am

This is somewhat of a difficult question, partly because those who have been abused as children have probably not been studied for preexisting ASDs. Stephen Pinker in his book The Blank Slate mentioned that most studies of childhood development evaluate children from stable homes - they don't tend to study marginalized children or children who have been significantly traumatized. This might be due to a couple of reasons. Studies are often voluntary, and abusive parents would probably not volunteer to have their children studied. Also if a study evaluates a child over a period of time, the child would need to have parents stable enough to keep appointments, etc.

It is kind of a catch-22. The mental disorders of the parents definitely contribute to the abuse of their children, but what if the children inherit disorders similar to their parents? It would be very hard to sort out.

I used to think that we are the way we are because of what we experienced in childhood. But for the last four generations that I can trace, the children in my father's family have consistently had significant trauma including my sister and me (our dad couldn't hold a job, we moved between three states for several years and were briefly homeless). I believe that ASDs run in that family and the trauma and behavior are related to our neurological brain development more than to childhood events. The events are a result of adults with ASDs making poor judgments and life decisions that affect their children who inherited ASDs - a repeating cycle. That is how I see it working in my family, but I can't say it is the same for everyone else. However in looking at patterns over a long period of time, if there is a family that through generations has traumatic events and difficulty holding it together, I'd bet that something is going on and it might be inherited Autism Spectrum Disorder.

My sister and I have stopped the cycle in our family branch. Neither of us have children and I don't think either of us plans to.

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Greentea
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20 Apr 2008, 6:49 am

My siblings weren't abused. This is another reason why I believe the abuse was because I was different, and not the other way round that I turned different due to abuse.


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20 Apr 2008, 7:13 am

Zonder, that really opened my eyes. I really think my mom is bipolar, and may even have Asperger's, even though she is really great at communicating with people. One minute she'd be really happy then if something miniscule sets her off it's like a roman candle going off and she gets REALLY angry and said all this mean stuff to us that really hurt, and then a few minutes later would be playing gospel songs on her piano and talking to her friends on the phone real loud about how bad we are. I guess Asperger's made this worse, because I don't think I'm a bad person, but if she's constantly saying it, I don't really know.

I think the most important thing is to break the cycle. But even that is extremely hard because you've grown up on all the abuse and everything, especially if you grew up in a household with divorced parents. It makes it really hard to trust people.



Zonder
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20 Apr 2008, 7:28 am

Obstinate wrote:
Zonder, that really opened my eyes. I really think my mom is bipolar, and may even have Asperger's, even though she is really great at communicating with people. One minute she'd be really happy then if something miniscule sets her off it's like a roman candle going off and she gets REALLY angry and said all this mean stuff to us that really hurt, and then a few minutes later would be playing gospel songs on her piano and talking to her friends on the phone real loud about how bad we are. I guess Asperger's made this worse, because I don't think I'm a bad person, but if she's constantly saying it, I don't really know.

I think the most important thing is to break the cycle. But even that is extremely hard because you've grown up on all the abuse and everything, especially if you grew up in a household with divorced parents. It makes it really hard to trust people.


The thing that I've done to start to trust again etc. is to accept what I experienced (not forgive but accept), realize that my parents had problems that they couldn't necessarily control, and focus on finding ways to be comfortable with myself. If someone is making me feel badly about me, I stay away from them until they stop their behavior.

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Zonder
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20 Apr 2008, 7:33 am

Greentea wrote:
My siblings weren't abused. This is another reason why I believe the abuse was because I was different, and not the other way round that I turned different due to abuse.


This is sad but so true, Greentea. The "different" person in the family is often targeted for abuse and then the whole family joins in.

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Silke
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21 May 2008, 6:33 am

This is a really interesting topic and the only reason why I continue to question my conclusion of aspergers. I mean there were pointers when I was really small like constant melt-downs, allegiance to truth and fairness and shyness, especially around peers. Sensory issues (i.e. scared of loud noises and tickling that would "hurt" and make me scream and cry rather than laugh). And the feeling of an old soul if that makes sense - the voice that we hear inside our heads - mine was always the voice of a grown-up even when I was only a little child and I always felt more comfortable with grown-ups, "hanging-out" and generally being a little professor.
But my real problems (or at least as far as I can remember) started when our family started to break apart. I was about 10/11 and my mum was an alcoholic, my dad cheated on her and me and my brother were caught in between. Thats when my tics started and when I began isolating myself. It was like my life suddenly stopped and I had to live for other people (i.e. my mum) and be constantly on guard as her moods and emotions flipped at a blink. Life was just very unpredictable and I felt completely alienated to my peers or what as going on out in the real world in general. It was just me and my mum and a quest to keep her alive and myself somehow sane. I was bullied at school throughout the whole time as well since I was unkempt, serious, quiet, couldn't understand their kind of "humour" (i.e. them making fun of me) and had no clue about nor interest in anything they were interested in. To them I was just a weird mucky oddball I guess.
This has been 20 years ago and my life is great in general now. But I still feel alienated and my tics (stimms) are having a field day. I am high anxiety even when there's no reason at all and now rather than being a grown-up in a child's body I'm more like a child in a grown-ups body. My social skills have deteriorated somewhat from a few years ago but I blame that on moving to a different country with a different culture which rendered most of my "learned" social skills useless. I find it hard to make friends, still can't get my head around small talk or fashion and when I do meet somebody I get on with I can't turn it into a friendship or pretty quickly destroy the friendship by either being too full on or to distant or committing some other faux pas like being to direct and saying the wrong things.
I don't know anymore...I guess you're right and its both at the same time and one has influenced the other. I guess if I wouldn't have had my special interests when I was little (i.e. piano, reading) and wouldn't have been comfortable with being on my own it would have been a lot harder to cope and get through.



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21 May 2008, 8:50 am

I think my mother resented the way women are marginalized in our society, so she allowed my older sister to use me like a trash bin so she'd feel better about herself by making it perfectly clear I was a lower class citizen and had fewer rights and choices than my sister. When it came to my sister against me, both of my parents always sided with my sister regardless. She was always right and I was always wrong.

The really strange thing was my 3 older brothers weren't treated like that at all. Their lives were for their own individual selves, and my life was for my sister. Perhaps I have PTSD becasue of it.

I sometimes wonder if aspies are more prone to PTSD than NTs, since aspies don't always understand what is happening to them so they have a harder time dealing with some things than others.

Just a thought.


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Greentea
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27 May 2008, 2:20 pm

I think we're often targeted for abuse at home because we're easier to abuse than NTs - what with us being more gullible, more honest, more loyal to the family. My mother confessed once that I had been targeted by her during childhood because I wouldn't fight back nastily. It was easier to punish me for my siblings' wrong-doings than to punish my siblings. So I believe it's the AS that causes the abuse, rather than the other way round.


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Confused-Fish
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27 May 2008, 3:21 pm

some of the traits from severe child hood trauma would be reminiscent with some of the traits commonly assigned to aspergers, sure.



Sorenna
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27 May 2008, 4:22 pm

edit



Last edited by Sorenna on 31 May 2008, 10:05 am, edited 1 time in total.

drybones
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27 May 2008, 5:08 pm

interesting topic and given me lots to think about

i can't add anything more interesting right now though



catspurr
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27 May 2008, 5:11 pm

I had both growing up.

It magnifies your issues with people growing up.

I was as a child trusting of others. Very polite.

I still am polite but have trust issues over alot of the pain I went through growing up.

I still try to give others the benefit of a doubt and find extreme dissappointment when they throw stuff back in my face to the point to where I feel like shutting down all communication with the outside world and focus on the people that I can trust already.

Abuse did not cause my AS. Ridicule did not cause it either. It just made it that much more difficult to relate to others and shut down.



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28 May 2008, 12:43 am

Greentea wrote:
My siblings weren't abused. This is another reason why I believe the abuse was because I was different, and not the other way round that I turned different due to abuse.


I can very much relate to that.



Scoey
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28 May 2008, 1:14 am

PTSD has symptoms that closely resemble those of ADHD. The jitteriness, inability to stay focused, and the need to stay hyper-aware of their surroundings (i.e.: easily distracted) are all fight-or-flight responses, into which PTSD victims are seemingly locked. They are often mistaken for ADHD for obvious reasons and have been the cause of many misdiagnosed, and therefore mistreated young people.

I'm not sure of how many symptoms correlate between AS and ADHD, but if you are describing AS-like symptoms from PTSD, then this convergence might be a way to avoid the number of misdiagnoses of PTSD as ADHD.

It does sound, however, from many of the replies thus far, that there is a chicken/egg question as to whether the AS lead to the trauma and subsequently the PTSD in many respondents. Aspies are routinely teased and bullied and if they have parents or other associates who have violent tendencies, this may trigger an assault on an Aspie.



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28 May 2008, 2:35 am

I had Aspergers from the start, but at the beginning, I was very... Mild, so to speak. I was obviously AS, but I was a happy, innocent child. After an unhealthy dose of childhood traumas, I degenerated greatly. I turned deeply inward, shut myself out from reality, was depressed, contemplated(and attempted) suicide, and began to exhibit my symptoms even more strongly.
Did that mimic my AS? No, it exacerbated it. It made it worse.

AS and childhood trauma, in my general experience, often go hand in hand. I think the majority of Aspies have had at least a few traumatizing experiences in their youth. And what most people seem to remember involves pain. I try to bury my memories as far down as I can get them to go.

Still, it's not easy trusting people. I'm a bitter cynic, a strong pessimist, and I have repressed a great deal of my childhood because of the pain of those memories.


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28 May 2008, 8:53 am

I think that some aspects of childhood trauma and/or other situational factors like isolation for autistic people are confused with autism itself, and have been confused with it from the beginning to the point where they've become intertwined with how everyone conceives of autism. I also think that the problems don't necessarily have to happen at home, they can happen other places too.


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