Aspergers and perfectionism

Perfectionism is not uncommon in people with aspergers syndrome.  They set themselves such high levels of attainment that anything that doesn’t meet that level can cause them huge amounts of stress and anxiety.  The smallest mistakes can upset a person with aspergers for days and they can have a lot of difficulty forgiving themselves.

It’s something that my aspergers daughter is starting to struggle with.  She is very artistic and spends many hours drawing and colouring in and up to now has been happy with herself.  However, recently I keep finding her bedroom floor littered with screwed up pieces of half finished drawings.  When I look at her work I can’t help but love what she has drawn.  To me it’s beautiful and I love what she has done.  For my daughter her art is causing her a lot of anguish; she is regularly frustrated with what she has drawn and the slightest imperfection results in her not finishing her work.  Sometimes she says she is useless at art and that she is no good at anything.  It’s sad to see her struggling like this but I understand her frustration because I had similar issues when I was younger.

As a teenager I loved to write.  The problem was I was never satisfied with what I wrote and my work would often end up in the bin.  Similar difficulties existed at school.  I hated getting things wrong.  I hated messing up my book with errors and blobs of ink from those leaky fountain pens.  I hated the crossings out and comments by teachers and above all I hated getting bad grades.  Often I would give up as it was easier not to do something than to risk getting it wrong and face criticism.  It had a huge knock on effect on my confidence and I eventually left school feeling like a failure (though this was as much to do with my education than me).  Even though I had done reasonably well in my leaving exams,  for years I was frightened of studying even though part of me was keen to learn.

During  my working years  I didn’t suffer so much from my perfectionist ways because I was fortunate to have an office management job where I had a reasonable amount of  responsibility.  However, when I eventually found the courage to pick up my academic studies again the same old difficulties reappeared.  Tutor assessed assignments and exams were horrendous; anything below a certain mark was deemed in my head as a total disaster even if it was a respectable mark.  Of course there were the times when I did really well and I used to love those euphoric moments but unfortunately there were also the times when marks did not reach my expectations and I ended up in a low mood as a result.  It was horrible roller-coaster at times but slowly I got used to it and forced myself  through my studies.  Of course maturity was helping.  I had learnt to remind myself that what was unacceptable to me may be acceptable to others and often this was proven right.  I was also more determined to get the education that I missed.  It wasn’t easy; as someone who sought the top marks I set my own ridiculously high goals which needed a huge amount of hard work.

As for my daughter, aware of my difficulties makes me particularly worried for her as I don’t want her to experience the awful low self esteem that I had (and still have to some degree).  Mindful of my own experiences I am concentrating on helping her to see what she has achieved and to acknowledge her achievements as often as possible.  I am also trying to encourage her to complete her work because we’ve noticed that non-completion is equally stressful for her.  She can become quite bothered about any incomplete work particularly in school when she lags behind the rest of the class.  Attempts by the educational psychologist to get the school to support her difficulties has not materialised into anything but I’m hoping that this issue can be written into her future assessment report and (fingers crossed) a statement.

It’s not going to be easy to help my daughter’s perfectionism as her attention to detail and pattern will always mean she will spot the slightest imperfection.  But I want her to grow up to become a confident woman and not one blighted by low self-esteem.  I also want her to see just how wonderful her artwork is.

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6 Responses to Aspergers and perfectionism

  1. Jazzygal says:

    I think you’re right to push this issue with your daughter’s psychologist. Don’t let it go. It seems to be an issue for many Aspie children. It’s not a big issue for my boy but it has been noted that he really seems to need constant praise that he’s ‘doing good’ ‘getting it right’ etc. The good thing is that he responds really well to praise. The downside is when others (his peers) pick on or criticize him.

    xx Jazzy

  2. Deb Johnson says:

    Good luck with keeping her on course to finish things. It’s never easy, but yes satisfying when you do.

  3. Lizbeth says:

    Oh, we are in the same boat. On both levels. I see my son struggling and I so much want to tell him he’s just fine the way he is and I know how hard he’s trying. I think the thing we have going for us is that we truly understand what they are going through.

  4. Jim Reeve says:

    I know exactly what you are talking about Deb. My son is also a perfectionist, especially when he’s trying to explain something. We’re glad that he isn’t into art like your daughter because it could pose some serious difficulty. On the bright side, it’s that quest for perfection, that often leads to Aspies’s being such good students. I’m sure your daughter will be great at many things as she gets older.

  5. Gemma says:

    Hello Deb,

    Thank you for your comment on my blog – which I shall be answering shortly. I just wanted to let you know that I’ve nominated you for the Blog On Fire Award. Please see my latest blog post for more details –

  6. Tania says:

    I’m sure she will, with such a thoughtful parent.
    My older boy never wants to be seen to be trying too hard in case he fails – so he can say he didn’t care anyway. My younger son would often rather not try if he has no chance of being the best.
    My husband, an incredibly talented person, constantly doubts himself and I’m such a perfectionist that people who’ve just me me, think I’m scary… and most of the time feel like a fraud because there’s always someone who can do something better or knows more than me.
    What a family! But I think there’s a little bit of all these things in most of us. It’s recognising it and learning that the best you can do, is the best you can do – that is the key to happiness. This is what you are clearly teaching you daughter

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