Subtle Differences: Dismissive Upbringing or Asperger’s Syndrome?

Subtle Differences: Dismissive Upbringing or Asperger’s Syndrome?

Recently I became curious about recognizing Asperger’s Syndrome versus someone with a dismissive attachment style upbringing. Moreover, I wanted to find some factual differences besides just the felt sense.

I took a pretty deep nose dive into the literature and came up with some nice tables that compare and contrast different signifiers of both.

Picture signifying compare and contrast

To start off let’s review what dismissive attachment means.

Adult attachment styles refer to a pretty consistent pattern of relating to others from birth into adulthood. The pattern develops largely based on the predictable way our caregivers care for us-or don’t care for us. (Sue Marriott & Ann Kelley).

For dismissive attachment, folks have learned to not notice that they’re distressed and try to become self-reliant. It’s often a source of pride for them to be independent, but the fact is that we all have needs for connection and security with others. As kids, these folks implicitly learn that they cannot have negative emotions. So their little kid intuition helps them develop a way to be close to their caregivers by not being so needy to the point that the caregiver turns them away. Thus, they are less and less connected with their own needs as time goes on.

Dismissive Attachment Style and Needs

Second, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)/ Asperger’s Syndrome.

Autism is largely thought to be a genetic developmental disorder. Researchers have found differences in regions of the brains of folks with ASD, namely the frontal and temporal regions of the cortex or “social brain.” (Tony Atwood)

Asperger's Syndrome and the Social brain

The first table is a list of similarities between Dismissive Attachment Style and Asperger’s Syndrome.

Where the blue equals sign is meant to signify a solid similarity.

And the yellow “not equal to” symbol signifies that the two are similar but have subtle differences.

Dismissive ASD Similarities table

References: Sue Marriott; Ann Kelley; Tony Attwood; Amir Levine; Rachel Heller

The second table is a list of differences between Dismissive Attachment Style and Asperger’s Syndrome.

The red X sign signifies that the two are solidly different.

After that, the rest of the rows are other characteristics of the two that don’t necessarily contrast.

Dismissive ASD differences table

References: Sue Marriott; Ann Kelley; Tony Attwood; Amir Levine; Rachel Heller

Another way that you might distinguish the two is to reflect on the origins of the patterns of behavior.

origins of Asperger's Syndrome or Dismissive Attachment Style

Autism Spectrum Disorders are genetic developmental disorders; whereas attachment styles are more thought to be based on significant relationships growing up. Noting any family members with an ASD diagnosis or early relational trauma can be a helpful indicator. It brings the classic nature vs. nurture debate to mind.

Can someone be both? Likely.

Does it matter to differentiate? Probably, but it’s also up to the person to decide if they want to own and accept a diagnosis or way of understanding from an attachment lens respectively. Let me know your thoughts on the matter.

Has this entry sparked interest in exploring more about your own patterns? I’m available for individual counseling services in south Austin. I offer a free in-person consultation to help you decide if I’m the right fit for you for mental health counseling.

Julia Stamman, LPC

austin blogger Julia Stamman counseling south austin

Hi, I’m Julia! I’m an LPC (licensed professional counselor) practicing in South Austin. I understand the personal importance of a therapist groking my lifestyle, so I started helping others who identify as geeks, gamers, and/or misfits. Over time, I realized that I’m passionate about attachment-related trauma, social anxiety, and neurodiversity. On this blog, I write on topics like the overlap of alternative culture and mental health, and how to find services catered to these lifestyles.


  • Kelly Helton Posted September 4, 2019 2:43 am

    Wow. This article hit me in more ways than one. I have been curious about the similarities and differences of these two for quite a while. This is very enlightening.

    • jstamman Posted September 12, 2019 2:16 pm

      Hi Kelly,

      I’m glad you found the read enlightening! Let me know if you want any additional resources (:


  • Nicole Anderson Posted May 29, 2020 11:24 pm

    Thank you for this very helpful explainer. I had just learned about attachment styles and a lot of those concepts resonated with my experiences and those of my patients. However I’m also Autistic! So of course my immediate question was how does the autism genetics mesh with the attachment emotional/upbringing formative environment, ie what epigenetic factors produce the response/reaction to various physical/emotional/social etc environments? This brings a much more holistic understanding than genetics vs environment does, albeit a lot less clarity initially due to the multiple influences and outcomes imaginable.

  • Catherine Moody Posted June 4, 2020 3:08 pm

    This was amazing! Very concise and easy to read. Thank you

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