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.