Are adults with Asperger’s syndrome more likely to feel and act aggressively than neurotypical people? If so, why?
The first question is easy to answer – there is no evidence that people with Asperger’s are any more prone to aggressive behavior than those with other mental health conditions or, for that matter, the general population.
Yet, it is also true that some adults with Asperger’s do act aggressively, even violently, towards others, and it is important to try and understand why this is. Otherwise, we are left with little means of assisting them with this behavior and perhaps preventing it in the first place.
Here is what the scientific literature has to say about the causes of aggression and violence in certain adults on the autism spectrum.
1. Adults with Asperger’s tend to develop a life-long habit of social and psychological isolation, which together with their sometimes eccentric behavior lends itself to an attitude of resentment about their lives, the circumstances they live in, and the people with whom they interact. Such resentment propels them towards aggressive and anti-social behavior against those who, in their minds, are causing their unhappiness. The aggressive behavior is often born out of a conviction of being disrespected and unfairly treated, the remedy being an aggressive counter-reaction.
2. Adults with Asperger’s tend to have a limited ability to understand context or to “see the big picture.” Instead, they process information in parts rather than the whole, or think about things in the smallest possible units. Associated with such a narrow focus is a tendency to separate and compartmentalize thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Doing so allows someone to act aggressively while disassociating oneself from the act itself as if it had not occurred and/or is not as harmful as it actually is.
A result is a person who believes himself to be a law-abiding, rule-following person while at the same time acting in an anti-social manner,
3. Some experts believe that a prominent trait of adults with Asperger’s is a deficiency of cognitive empathy, or difficulty appreciating how other people feel due to their own reduced ability to read social signals and to understand that another person has a different emotional experience of a shared event.
Lacking such an appreciation of what emotional damage their actions can cause, it is common for adults with Asperger’s to react aggressively upon feeling offended, criticized, or in some other way mistreated. Without realizing how hurtful they can be, such aggressive actions seem entirely justified to the aggrieved Asperger’s adult.
4. A known trait central to the diagnosis of Asperger’s is the presence of preoccupations and compulsions. Interruptions of these can lead to aggressive reactions, reactions that appear to the recipient of the hostility way out of proportion to the nature of the interruption itself. This is another consequence of the person’s diminished ability to recognize how hurtful and damaging such aggressive acts are.
5. Finally, the odd and isolated lifestyle common to many people with Asperger’s, as a dominate cause of their aggressiveness, should not be discounted. This lifestyle often leads to the development of its own detached psychological system. That system, combining defective reasoning, reduced ability to assess social situations, and limited appreciation of other people’s point of view, creates instances where adults with Asperger’s are unable to appreciate the consequences of their actions and the impact they have on other people.
Such a diminished capacity, in turn, affects control of one’s actions, creating a sequence of cause and effect wherein insensitivity to aggressiveness reduces one’s control over aggressiveness, in turn further reducing that person’s ability to understand the effects of that aggression.
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