Thursday, December 25, 2008

An Astrological Reason for Aspergers?

A fellow blogger Pink has discussed the Vaccine theory on her blog. One thing that I found interesting was her suggestion that Astrology is about as relevant.

I'm not a great believer in astrology at all but I'm willing to try anything - particularly during the holiday season.

I put my details in and was astounded by the results. No... I'm still not ready to believe but... wow... the results hit a nerve and IMHO, they show that any set of results can be twisted to fit a given situation.

If you want to give it a try, then here's the URL;
http://www.alabe.com/freechart/

The Report
Here's my report. I've highlighted some areas I found interesting.

Name: Gavin

Rising Sign is in 20 Degrees Virgo
You tend to be very shy and not very self-assertive. You are supercritical about how you appear to others. Even though you may think you are uninteresting and dull, you are actually quite soft- spoken, orderly, neat and very likable. You are a perfectionist with high standards, and at times you can be quite tactless in pointing out the faults of others. Very practical, efficient and purposeful, your appearance and bearing reflect your need to appear graceful, sensible and reserved. You have a crisp, no-nonsense approach to dealing with others. Never lazy or self-indulgent, you tend to be dedicated to the work ethic.

Sun is in 22 Degrees Cancer.
Very emotional and sensitive, you have an intuitive understanding of the "vibes" around you. You tend to be quite generous, giving, loving and caring, but only when your own needs for emotional support, love and security have been met. If they are not met, you tend to withdraw into yourself and become very insecure and selfish. Your home and family (especially your mother or the person who played that role for you early on) represent security for you and thus assume a larger-than-life importance. Very sentimental, you have vivid and long- enduring memories of the past. No matter how well adjusted you are, you will always need a secret quiet place of your own in order to feel at peace. Feeding others can give you great pleasure you would enjoy being part of a large family.

Moon is in 26 Degrees Cancer.
For the most part, you are very strong and secure emotionally. You intuitively know what to do to make others feel comfortable, loved, accepted and needed. You naturally enjoy feeding and taking care of others. Be careful that your mothering does not turn into smothering. At times, you tend to feel that those to whom you are attached can never do anything without your assistance and support. Extremely sensitive by nature, it hurts you deeply whenever anyone criticizes you. You have an almost desperate need to be loved and wanted and needed by everyone with whom you come into contact, and you go out of your way to be accommodating to them.

Mercury is in 13 Degrees Cancer.
Your emotions tend to rule your thought processes. You have difficulty seeing life objectively. You have an excellent memory, especially about things to which you have formed an emotional bond. You prefer ideas and thoughts that are known and familiar, and therefore tend to dislike fads or radical ideas. The beliefs and traditions of your family and culture are very important to you. Your thinking becomes quite unclear when you are emotionally shaken -- try not to make major decisions when you are upset. Let things calm down first.
Venus is in 08 Degrees Gemini.
You are friendly, warm, open and tolerant toward others. You love variety in relationships, indeed you may even prefer to maintain more than one relationship at a time! (that bit is definitely not me) Very witty and humorous, you have the ability to amuse and please others. This makes you quite popular. You love to play the field and thus find it difficult to settle down and make any deep emotional commitments. Your innate charm and vivacity makes you welcome most everywhere you go.

Mars is in 02 Degrees Sagittarius.
Your every action is motivated by high moral standards and ideals. You will work very hard to improve the lot of the world at large, but you demand action about it -- you do not like to just sit around and talk about doing it in an abstract manner. You like to be where the real action is. You resist mightily any attempts to limit your freedom and you will assist anyone who feels put down and restricted. You are extremely restless by nature -- physical exercise is very important to you if you would maintain your health. (uh...nope... not that one either)

Jupiter is in 29 Degrees Virgo.
You feel most expansive and at ease with yourself when you are doing something that you consider to be practical or useful. You enjoy being dutiful and carrying out responsibilities. You gladly take on the little tasks that others seem to want to avoid. At times, you carry things to extremes and feel guilty anytime you do something that you consider to be self-indulgent. While it is appropriate for you to demand little for yourself in life, try to loosen up once in a while -- go out on a fling and enjoy yourself!

Saturn is in 07 Degrees Taurus.
Complete freedom of choice makes you ill at ease. You must have a firm, ordered, secure foundation in your life in order to feel comfortable. You do not adapt easily and tend to fear the new and untried. You constantly fear that you do not have enough (love, property, material things, etc.) and this makes you tend toward being selfish, withdrawn and stingy. If you try to surround yourself with supportive people in your environment, you will become more emotionally self-supporting.

Uranus is in 00 Degrees Libra.
You, as well as your entire peer group, have a very free, unstable and unconventional approach to relationships and emotional commitments. You will be attracted to experiments in marriage and shared lifestyles. (nope... wrong again). Personal freedom is more important to you than entangling emotional bonds. In the realm of art and aesthetics, you are attracted to the bizarre, shocking and unusual.

Neptune is in 26 Degrees Scorpio.
You, and your entire generation, are extremely interested in anything deep and mysterious. You will explore and idealize the benefits that can accrue from the study of the occult, healing and psychology. You are willing to experiment with substances like drugs in order to push your understanding of your inner being to the extreme. (not really - though I did experiment with my son's Ritalin on myself because I wanted an answer).

Pluto is in 22 Degrees Virgo.
For your entire generation, this will be a time when profound changes in society's attitude toward work, duty and responsibility will be initiated. Radical changes in attitudes toward personal health and general nutrition will be promulgated and gain wide acceptance and practice.

N. Node is in 22 Degrees Pisces.
You're attracted to others who need your assistance. You seem to go out of your way to form relationships with those who are weak, sick, injured, addicted or troubled in some way or other. At your best you can indeed provide the relief that others need. But at times you can be victimized by those who would prey on your good nature and take advantage of you. This can lead to all sorts of negative situations -- make sure that those you assist are truly worthy of your time, energy and commitment. A little enlightened self-protectiveness on your part can make your life work much, much smoother!

and here's a picture....

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A Very Aspie Christmas

A Quick Thank-You
In all probability, this will be my last post before Christmas, possibly the last for the year so before I start, I'd just like to thank all of my readers and especially the people who left comments. Those comments helped steer this blog in different - and sometimes quite unexpected directions. Your input was greatly appreciated and has ensured that this years journey has been an interesting and relevant one.

The Christmas Pressures
There's a lot to be said for the social pressures of Christmas and in my family this has been a particular problem over the years. There is always a power struggle with my mother-in-law who feels that Christmas lunch is her exclusive domain. Even when, after years of struggling I gave up trying to share (every second year) and moved my immediate family permanently to boxing day, the pressure didn't cease - and this year is no exception.

The pressure may be coming from outside but I've noticed that over the years my wife and I are "short" with each other for most of December. That "outside" pressure certainly rubs off on the "inside" of our marriage.

This is an important point for me because I've noticed that although aspies are said to lack empathy, we're obviously not immune to this kind of pressure. The other thing that I've noticed is that we are sometimes emotional parrots. If someone smiles at us or is nice to us we tend to be nice to others around us. The same is true in reverse.

If you find yourself disagreeing a lot with your partner, it's worthwhile stopping to think about any external pressures which may be exerting themselves on the relationship or any negative feelings which you or they may be subconsciously reciprocating.

Those Overwhelming Christmas Social Events
The lead up to Christmas, and of course, the event itself is full of social events. Christmas parties, visiting relatives, long phone calls and worst of all, unexpected guests.

All of this can take a toll on the aspie who needs time to recharge his social batteries. This is especially true for children who suddenly have to share their bedrooms or even have to give up their beds for other guests.

An aspie who is feeling overwhelmed by social pressures needs to go somewhere "familiar" and private in order to calm down. For many aspies, this is probably their bedroom. As a parent, if your aspie is prone to meltdowns, you need to ensure that he has somewhere relatively isolated that he can retreat to if things seem to be overwhelming him. If you're staying away from home, it's a good idea to introduce him to the "quiet spot" as early as possible.

Christmas Foods
Christmas is full of snacky sugary foods which will tend to negatively affect concentration and sleep. If your aspie child is already quite talkative or otherwise worked up about his special interests, prepare for a major onslaught fueled by these foods and by any new gifts which may occur.

If your child's temperament is particularly affected by these sorts of foods, avoid them or keep a close eye on the levels of consumption.

Christmas Perception
The final thing I want to do is to end on a lighthearted note;

Here are a couple of perception things which I or other aspies (or children with learning difficulties) have said/experienced about Christmas;

  • Making a List
    When I was a child, my mother used to ask my sister and I to go through the toy catalogs and make a list of the things we'd like Santa to bring us. My sister would end up with only a couple of things but I'd quite literally end up with about 100 items on the list. What was funny was that we'd have visitors and they'd see my list and react with distaste. It wasn't until I was an adult that I understood how it could possibly be offensive.

  • A Short Life
    The child of a friend of ours was very upset one Easter. At first, we figured that it was ok for the child to be a little upset - after all, the events of Easter are quite horrific but then, somewhere between cries, the words "he was only a baby" came out. It took a few queries but eventually the real issue came out... He thought that Jesus had only been born a few months previously.

  • Just what I Always Wanted
    When my sister and I were little, we were trained by my mother to not give any clues if we didn't like a present or if we already had one. As an example; my mother said to say "ahh... Just what I always wanted". This quickly became a code-phrase between my sister and I to describe something that we hated. I think it caused my mother even more embarrassment because of the tone of voice we used to say it in.
An Article
Finally; there's an article from 2005 on Aspergers at Christmas time which you may want to read here. It's been reprinted quite a bit but it's still very relevant;

Asperger's Syndrome at Christmas Time
http://www.buzzle.com/editorials/12-7-2005-83416.asp
by Nellie Frances

Thank you all for reading and participating through 2008. Have a safe and happy Christmas and I look forward to communicating with you in 2009.

Friday, December 12, 2008

A Great Series of Aspergers Videos

There's a whole wealth of information about Aspergers on YouTube but sometimes instead of a vast series of unconnected videos, it's nice to watch something that is about the same person.

I've only just noticed that Fiona, an aspie from New Zealand has posted an amazing series of clips which are even more fascinating when taken together than as individual videos.

Please have a look at her videos;
http://au.youtube.com/user/AspergersGirl

Shutdown: A Specific Type of Meltdown

I've talked quite a bit about meltdowns on this blog because they're so integral to the aspie condition but I really haven't given much attention to their poor cousin - the shutdown.

Technically, there aren't too many differences between meltdowns and shutdowns. Both are extreme reactions to everyday stimuli. Both tend to be the result of long term unresolved issues rather than the more obvious triggers and both are almost completely out of the control of the aspie rather than being used by children and adults as a means to an end - that would be either a tantrum or emotional blackmail.

Some aspies are more prone to meltdowns while others lean more towards the shutdown model. It's possible to do both but this depends greatly on the root cause of the problem.

I think that there's a bit of a personality component to the reaction with aspies who are more sure of themselves or more fiercely independent leaning towards meltdowns rather than shutdowns but again there's a wide variance depending upon the feelings brought on by the trigger. Some events can make even the most confident of aspies doubt themselves.

What Exactly is a Shutdown?
While a meltdown could be described as rage against a situation, a meltdown tends to be more of a retreat.

Behaviours which manifest during a shutdown include rolling oneself into a ball or foetal position, crawling under objects or lying face down or completely under the covers on a bed. Gaze avoidance tends to increase significantly during a shutdown and conversation is non-existent.

As with meltdowns, in a shutdown situation, the aspie may act irrationally or dangerously. Unlike a meltdown however, the harmful activities are almost always directed at oneself.

The aspie may attempt self harm and may even be suicidal. They may be more likely to take reckless risks such as walking along a busy road on a dark/rainy night.

Causes
As with meltdowns, the cause of a shutdown tends to be culmulative and the trigger may bear little resemblance to the actual problem.

The real problems associated with shutdowns tend to lean towards depression, lonliness poor self image and poor self worth.

In a small child, a shutdown may be triggered because of a simple breakfast issue (perhaps they were given something they don't like). In this case, the cause may actually have nothing to do with breakfast at all but rather it may be symptomatic of the child's frustration at not being able to make herself understood.

In an adult, shutdowns can result from extreme events such as losing a job or a marriage break-up but they can also have very small triggers which simply "remind" an aspie of a larger pain. Perhaps a small incident at work could provoke some long term insecurities and cause a retreat.

What Do Shutdowns Feel Like?
Since these are extremely rare for me, I'm probably not the best person to answer the question but I'll try.

For me, a shutdown will move my pain to the center of my focus and I'll start thinking "what if" and "if only" scenarios. These are always counter-productive because you can't change the past and they usually only make me feel entrapped by events.

I'm not so much of a foetal position person - I tend to collapse into a heap instead. During a shutdown, I'll generally not have any contact with anyone but I do still hear voices.

As a child I'd often try pathetic ways of self termination, like holding my breath or strangling myself. Note that I didn't do this as attention-seeking behaviour but instead would attempt it unannounced and in solitude. I'd also attempt self harm but usually only by banging my head or pummeling myself with my fists. I know quite a few aspies who have, and in many cases continue to, self harm using sharp instruments. As a parent or friend, you need to keep a close eye on these situations.

I think I've only had two shutdowns in my adult life and in both cases there was no danger during the actual shutdown period but afterward, when I was moving around, my behavior was reckless and could have been self-destructive (depending on chance factors).

The "Cure"
Like all aspergers things, there's not really a cure however self-respect goes a long way towards prevention. If you have children, it's very important to counter any negative messages they're receiving from others. If those negative messages are coming from teachers or family, then you may need to get involved yourself.

Unlike meltdowns, where it's best to leave the aspie alone but in a safe place, it's generally ok to talk in a soothing voice during a shutdown. Just make sure that you're careful what you say and keep things positive. The only thing to remember when soothing during a shutdown is that you're still dealing with a person on the spectrum. Don't try to force eye contact and don't touch without either being invited or being cautious to see the reaction frst.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Silent Scream

I had planned to move away from adult topics for a little while and concentrate on children's issues but the following comment provides such as good opportunity to explain an integral part of the aspie condition that I'll stay with the topic a little longer...

If you feel your wife's smile is like the warmth of the radiating sun (what a lucky woman) do you experience the need to show her that you feel that - in the moment, I mean? In one of your answers to the comments in Part 3 you wrote: "I feel that aspies have a greater strength of emotion than many NTs but that we often lack the means to show it (or we're "afraid" to show it). So where does the emotion go? And what is the fear about in showing it?

You've really hit the nail on the head here and I realise that I have probably left too much unsaid.

As I described in my post, even though aspies aren't all that great at reading facial expression, a simple smile from my wife is enough for her to express her love for me.

The trouble is that I can't do it. There is no "look" from me that I can give in response. Believe me, I've tried but it's as if my features are modeling clay and I can't find the shape. Any expression I give in response is more likely to be "scary" than loving.

I must therefore resort to words and again I've tried. After all, words are very much "my power", particularly the written variety. I try to express myself but my wife simply thinks that I'm waxing poetic. I can say all manner of "pretty things" but ultimately she either doesn't believe me or treats what I say as simply metaphor. My words end up meaning nothing compared to her simple smile. I've long since given up trying verbal expressions of love since I'm so clumsy at it and it as all the subtlety of a mime jumping and waving frantically for attention.

Writing
Where I do excel is in writing and I'll often use special occasions as an excuse to write a poem. My wife and I also write love letters occasionally and I find that these are very successful too. There's something more forgiving about writing; perhaps it's the fact that the little "reading voice" in your head is more able to manage the right tone or perhaps it's being able to re-read the text over and over again.

Whatever the reason, despite my successes, I still find that more than half my message is lost.
In fact, it's worth comparing this text to my last post. Much of what I've said here is actually there but the deeper meanings are buried perhaps too deep. Aspies tend to assume that everyone is a mind reader - and my posts are obviously no exception.

One interesting example was a poem I wrote to my wife when we were going out. We'd been going out for a number of years (on and off since our school days actually) and we were planning an overseas trip. Her parents weren't too keen on the idea believing that we should be married before such a trip. I, of course, had other ideas. As an aspie, I had everything meticulously planned out.

I wrote my wife a poem shortly before our departure. She loved it and read it out to her parents - and to mine. Not one of them twigged on the fact that the poem outlined my plans for the trip. I was stunned. In any case, less than a week after our arrival in Paris, we got engaged on top of the Eiffel Tower. To this day I still get the occasional ribbing about how her parents expected me to ask their permission - it was in the poem - and I was in the room when they both heard it.

Sometimes being an aspie is like shouting in a soundproofed room.

Prevention
Another thing that impacts greatly on the aspie's ability to communicate are the rules. Aspies have rules for everything. They generally develop by themselves and usually due to outside influences. What is important though is that that it's like a "mortal sin" for us to break them. The rules are developed over the course of years and among other things, they prevent aspies from repeatedly making the same social mistakes.

If you think of one of the first rules that your parents instill. "It's naughty/rude to point". This is a very important social rule which can save the aspie from embarrassment in their early years (and prevent them from being bashed up in adult years). Many aspies will generalise that rule over time and will instead nod their head or simply "refer" to an object without pointing. Somehow, it transcends the person and becomes a rule about everything. When that happens, it's almost unbreakable.

In my case, I've got rules about making personal remarks which made it almost impossible to tell my wife how beautiful I found her when we were going out. She'll often mention this in conversation and I'll find myself unable to explain to her why the rule simply couldn't be broken. Over the years, I've made a bit of headway and been able to stretch the boundaries but of course, saying these things for the first time ten to twenty years down the track is just a case of "too little, too late". It's impossible to explain to an NT exactly how much effort it is to break a rule. After all, my wife thinks nothing of breaking her own "rules" much to my annoyance.

Honesty and Absolutes
My wife breaks rules... or is it that she's simply less honest? No... it's neither. It's simply the way that NTs operate. An NT will say "I've had enough of that particular group of people, I'm just a sucker for punishment but.. no more... I'm not going back". Of course, one week later and their "rule" is forgotten and they go back to being punished.

An aspie by comparison will say... "sorry. this resturant has lost three points. It's out. We're not coming back here again". That's it, end of story. We never go back.

I've used two very different examples here because it shows that the NT won't even make a rule about the big things while an aspie will develop rules about the smallest things.

There's other aspects to honesty too. When asked a specific question (eg: Isn't this just the best day ever?), I'll consider it. If I think of a "better day", I'll say no. Romance doesn't deal in absolutes though. An NT male will "score points" by telling his girl that she's the most beautiful thing he's ever seen but an aspie male will know that sunsets are rather pretty too.

We have the same feelings - perhaps even stronger than some of our NT counterparts but our expression is hamstrung by rules. There's just so many barriers to communciation that we can't get the message out.


Wider Repercussions
What these particular examples highlight is the distance between aspie and NT thinking. When my wife hears a song, she'll like the music and possibly the chorus. When I hear a song, I hear layers and layers of metaphor. A song can make me feel sad and in fact, as I've gone through life, I've picked up a wide variety of songs, all of which have special meanings and special memories. A simple tune can make me cry, even when a great loss doesn't.

Everything to aspies seems to have extra meanings but in order to get to those extra meanings, it all needs careful anaylsis. I might have to hear a song or read a poem ten or twenty times before I feel like I understand it. We don't get the same number of chances with conversation as a listener.

On the other side though, as a talker, there are just too many non-verbal things to manage and we don't seem to have control over any of them. Sure, I can control the words, but I can't match my tone, I can't control my facial expression and I've only got marginal control over my hand movements. It's only when I'm writing that I can control all of these things - and that's mainly because there's much less non-verbal stuff in writing.

The silent scream explains a lot of other aspie behaviour too. It's not just a silent scream of love. There's a silent scream for irritation, frustration and agony. It's only when that silent scream has gone on for too long - and it suddently errupts into shouts and rage that it gets noticed. Then the silent scream becomes a meltdown. If we could make ourselves heard and understood, then perhaps they could be avoided.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Finding Conversational Balance - Part 4: love in a restricted touch environment

Introduction
I've already highlighted some of the problems that aspies face in the area of touch, though I haven't yet covered the concept of love.

The fact is however that most relationships are based on love and that touch plays an important part in those relationships. This post is intended to look at some of the compromises and solutions that AS/NT couples can bring to the relationship in these areas.

Defining Love
A few years back, my wife and I were asked (separately) how we defined love. The answers we gave weren't the ones we expected.

My wife's answers all dealt with tangibles (or at least deliverables), such as hugs, kisses, presents, companionship, outings and commitment.

This was in stark contrast to my own answers which were all about feelings and perception. The example I gave was;

"when you look at someone and a simple smile from them carries the warmth of the sun. You find yourself basking in the sunshine of their smile and you feel that life can just pass you by because there's nothing more that you could possibly need that isn't already being conveyed."

At the time, my wife thought that I was waxing poetic and funnily enough I couldn't understand her feelings either. We both tried to argue and correct each other but there was no middle ground to be found.

I walked away from that conversation very depressed and perhaps a little scarred. I've gone over that conversation probably close to a thousand times since then and it's only really started to become clear to me as I write these posts.

I had wondered if I was seeing a male/female difference in perception but now I feel that it's all aspie/nt and that they're two sides of the same coin.

My wife was defining love in terms of what couples need to do to show their love for each other while I was defining it in terms of what it feels like. Both are valid but neither tells the whole story.

Loving Each Other
I'm going to leave my definition for now except to say that this is the feeling we should be striving to attain and that contrary to the public perception of aspies as emotionless robots, we are quite capable of feeling this way.

Loving each other is a much more difficult prospect because unlike simply basking in radiated love, this time we have to put some effort in - and it's not necessarily light work.

There are lots of things that aspies can do to show love;

Complimenting Your Partner
This is so difficult to do because aspies often don't notice "irrelevant" things like clothes. Even when we do notice things, its often for the wrong reasons. It might be a cool geometric pattern on a dress or it might be that the clothes resemble Padme's handmaidens from Star Wars. The "trick" is not only to tell your partner that they look amazing but also to mean it too.

There's a whole lot of problematic non-verbal stuff here too. For example; If your partner has a poor self-image, they probably won't believe you and your attempts at flattery will probably end in an arguement. Many aspies simply say nothing because it avoids the issue but if you don't put any effort into your relationship, it will dissolve.

Compliments need not always be about appearance and you should compliment on good choices, cleverness, art works and cooking as well. Just remember that to a woman, appearance counts for a lot.

From an NT point of view, there's no point in complimenting your aspie partner and hoping that they'll return the favour. They usually won't even notice that they are being complimented. You can help however by deliberately fishing for compliments. Ask your partner which dress is his favourite - and why.

Be Physical
I, like many aspies, probably have a bit of a reputation for being a distant. I've noticed how I sometimes put cousins into a confused state because I don't rush to hug people - and on the odd occasions that I do hug someone, they're usually quite surprised. It's ok to be like this with people outside your immediate family but it's definitely not ok to be like this to your partner.

Aspies generally dislike touch but it's usually only certain types of touch - and it's not all the time. We have good days and bad days. I'm not sure that it's a good idea to present your NT partner with a list of touch do's and don'ts. It may irritate them or leave them feeling unappreciated. There are other ways around the problem.

NT's don't have a problem with touch, in fact they like it and read a lot into it. An aspie partner could use this to teach their NT about the sorts of touch they do like.

Touch can mean a lot of things, not just stroking and cuddling. It can mean a friendly touch on the shoulder or butt as your partner walks by. It can mean a half-hug (sideways) in an emotional moment or while walking. It can mean hand or arm holding or touching your partners hair or face. Even a little rub on the back while they're sitting down watching TV can mean a lot.

If your NT touches you wrong, your first impulse is probably to push them away or to snap or say something to them. Instead, simply grab their hand and turn it into a form of touch that does agree with you. By doing this, you're not only preventing a disagreement in your marriage but you're also showing your partner things that you like.

Touch is a critical part of your relationship and the language of love. It should be part of adult relationship conversation.

Spontanety
Aspies don't like change, or more specifically, we don't like surprises. The problem is that often our NT counterparts feel that "surprising" them or "being spontaneous" is a part of love. There are ways around this problem. For aspies, it's worthwhile keeping a diary (at work or otherwise separated from your NT partner). At the beginning of the year mark (at semi-random intervals) things like flowers, card, night out, etc. You don't need to arrange things to happen on these specific days but they should serve as a reminder to you that some sort of display of affection is needed. For example, if your diary says flowers, then pick some up on the way home. It's much better than only buying flowers when your partner is angry with you. The same goes for other expressions of love, (like getting the kids minded while you go out for dinner). This satisfies your need for planning while still appearing spontaneous to your partner.

On the NT side, you should prepare your aspie for a night out and give an indication of what to wear, what time you'll be out and home etc.. and (obviously) what day. You don't have to go into the specifics of where you are going. This will still enable you to "surprise him" without generating a negative reaction.

Respect and Understanding
Love and understanding go together in all relationships but even more so in an NT/Aspie relationship. A discussion about how you feel can help couples to reach a better understanding of each other's motivations. Sometimes, if you are a bit embarrassed talking about feelings you might want to consider writing your partner a love letter. I blogged on this not that long ago.

You will each have faults and you'll each have up days and down days. These days shouldn't change your love for each other and they need to be met with understanding. Females crave listening and empathy during these times while males tend to prefer solitude. Aspies are generally more like males, which is why it is sometimes referred to as "extreme maleness".

Above all, you must always remember that despite their gender and conditions, all people are individuals and that what works for one person may not necessarily work for another. To further confuse you, people change over time. Love only works when you work at it and when you keep changing dynamically as you and your partner grow.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Finding Conversational Balance - Part 3: Compromises for Alone-Time and Social Time

Building on the last few posts, we have determined that aspies have a few obvious needs;
  • Alone Time
  • Restricted Touch
  • Routine
  • Gentle Encouragement
  • Love and Understanding
  • Less Empathy, more solutions (mainly an aspie male thing)

and that NT's have other needs;
  • Conversation/Listening
  • Affection
  • Spontaneity and Fun
  • Social Time
  • Empathy
  • Love
There is also a different set of needs related to meltdowns but that's a whole different story, and I'll deal with it in a later set of posts.

Many of the aspie needs have a corresponding opposite in the neurotypical world. There's no happy medium - and the compromises you make need to be dynamic with minor adjustments happing on a daily basis as your situations change.

I'll try to cover the balances between these needs individually.

Conversational Compromise
It's no big secret that the answer to the conversational divide between aspie and neurotypical partners is compromise. The real trick is determining what compromises to make. This is a very personal decision since the tolerances of people will vary considerably not only between couples but also over different periods of time.

The Alone-Time and Social Events Balance
The key to getting appropriate alone-time when in a relationship is to find appropriate balance with your partner. This is much easier if the NT partner has a group of friends that they can go out with and if the aspie side of the relationship is supportive enough to allow this to happen.

Unfortunately, particularly in family situations, this isn't always possible. To get around this, the NT should be clear about where and when they need social support. This satisfies the aspies need for structure and planning and makes them less resistant to social events. To get maximum benefit out of your aspie at a a social event, you should let them have some alone-time both before and afterward.

Planning for Conversation
In normal day-to-day conversation, particularly with aspie partners who have a lot of unavoidable social contact at work, it's important to allow for some alone-time. This conflicts with the NT's need for conversation as well as other home duties such as helping with kids, kitchen duties etc. The best way to satisfy both sets of needs is to follow a loose schedule. It doesn't have to be perfect but you really need to respect each others needs a little or it won't work at all.

A good example of such a schedule could be;
  • 6.00pm - Arrive Home - Time with Children (and dinner)
  • 7.30pm - Kids in bed, exclusive time with partner
  • 8.30pm - Alone time

Adjusting and Respecting the Schedules
The schedule should be loose enough to compensate if, for example the "partner time" is interrupted by telephone calls. Alternatively, if you have an answering machine, you could decide not to accept calls during partner time. The important thing is to respect the boundaries. Don't give your aspie 5 minutes of settling into their alone-time and then keep interrupting at regular intervals.

This is a problem I often have at home. My "alone-time" periods are always longer during weekdays than on weekends - because weekdays I have to work in social settings and I need to "recharge my batteries". My wife tends to watch cop shows on TV and I have alone-time by sitting near her and watching a DVD on my portable player. I used to take alone-time on the computer in a different room but my wife explained that this was unhealthy for our relationship. She was right - and we're much closer now because we stay together even during that "alone time".

Unfortunately, my wife tends to want to talk during the advertisements and forgets that the movie I'm watching doesn't have them. I'll put it on pause to listen to her and then start it again when the conversation is finished. Often, things that my wife will want to discuss will bob into her head in five minute intervals. After stopping my movie several times in a row, I'll have an exasperated expression on my face. This doesn't do our relationship any good.

What really should be happening in these periods is that my wife should realise that this is one of those times when she wants to talk to me. It would be better if she turned off the television and asked for my full attention. That way, we can discuss things properly without her feeling like she needs to break things into smaller conversations (to get back to watching her show) and without me getting irritated. We don't have this problem every night but on the nights that we do - it's obvious that our approach needs to be modified.

Listening Problems
Finally, there's the listening problem. As aspies with special interests, we're well aware that our niche subjects are usually uninteresting to others. In particular, our partners have heard more than a lifetime's worth of material on our special interests. The problem works both ways though but most NT's aren't as aware that their subjects are "uninteresting" to aspies because to other NT's, these subjects often are.

Aspies find it very difficult to concentrate on things outside of their immediate interests. Things that seem to be exciting and "real-life" for NTs are just as dull and lifeless to us as our special interests are to you.

The problem is simple - we have two people who have lots to say but are not interested in eachother's conversation. Conversation by definition is a two way street. There's only one fair answer - compromise;

  1. You both have to listen to each other

  2. Aspies need to maintain at least fleeting eye contact as this reassures your NT partner that you're listening to them. By the same token, the NT needs to accept that they won't get 100% eye contact but that their partner is still listening to them. (just make sure that other distractions such as TV and kids are out of sight).

  3. The Talker needs to be aware that repetition is not required.

  4. When the NT is talking, often they are seeking empathy from their partner. Aspies need to learn ways of showing empathy... but that's a different post.

  5. In general, during discussions, men like to hear answers from their partners while women tend to prefer empathy. The problem is that we each give eachother what we ourselves want, instead of what our partners need. (this is a big generalisation but it's suprisingly true - though I suspect that female aspies have more male-type wants - I'd be happy for a clarification though).

    Example: If your female partner had an incident where she spilled coffee on herself before a big meeting, she wants you to say; "Oh you poor thing, that must have been so embarrassing"... "were you ok? did you scald yourself?" and possibly also... "oh... that's happened to me too - I felt so clumsy".

    If this happened to a male partner, he'd be more keen to hear, "oh.. you can get coffee stains out by washing in lemon juice (I made that up - so don't try it)" or "did you buy a new shirt?".

Next time, I'll look at some of the other balances we need to maintain.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Finding Conversational Balance - Part 2: What Aspies Want from a Relationship

Recap
We've already established that aspies not only have difficulty with small talk but also greatly dislike engaging in it.

You can't change people, so there's no point in settling down with an aspie partner and expecting them to suddenly become socialites.

By the same token, there's no reason to expect your aspie partner to suddenly abandon social contact after years of reasonable participation. You're either born with aspergers or you're not and over the years you develop ways to lessen the impact of your condition. Sure, social interaction never becomes exactly comfortable but it can become bearable in small amounts. Having a formal diagnosis isn't a license to "give up".

Mutual Benefit
So where does that leave couples? Well, the whole point of being married (concepts like love aside) is to exist in a mutually beneficial and meaningful relationship. "Mutually Beneficial" can mean a lot of things; it can mean financial, family orientated, secure or any one of a dozen other meanings. The most important interpretation though, is that both parties should benefit from the relationship.

In order that both parties should benefit, we should be aware of each others wants and needs as well as things which make them feel sad, insecure or uncomfortable. These things vary considerably from one individual to another but there are some things which seem true for many aspies.

Here are some less talked about things that aspies want out of our relationships;

Hugs without Hands
Aspies are often quite sensitive to touch. A light touch on the hand or arm (or worse - for me at least, foot) can leave an itchy tingling sensation which can last for hours. On the other hand, we love tight hugs, they're a firm favourite - but play your fingers on our backs or necks while you do it and you ruin the effect. This is the reason why many people with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) ask for "hugs without hands".

Understanding
Then there's kissing. There's a bit of a problem with kissing. After all, it's a type of touch. Sometimes you can handle it and sometimes it just "weirds you out". Aspies love hugs but often don't give them because often all we want is a hug but our NT partners expect a kiss as well. Sometimes when I'm greeted at the door with a kiss, it can make me feel really uncomfortable. I'll break it off abruptly with some mumbled excuse. If I was brutally honest with my wife in one of those moments, she would take it to heart. There's just no way that she could understand that it's not her, it's simply that sometimes, I'm more sensitive to touch than others.

Discussion
It seems silly that a group of people who dislike small talk should crave discussion but it's true. The problem is that we're not good listeners but we expect other people to listen to us. Aspies hate small talk but can usually talk for a little while with family on specific matters of mild interest (such as how little Johnny is going at school). Of course, what we really want to talk about is our special interest.

In fact we'll talk about our special interest incessantly if we can. The trouble is, our special interests usually aren't terribly interesting to our NT partners.

Since movies are a special interest of mine, I'll want to discuss them after we've watched them. Unfortunately, since we tend to watch them late at night, all my wife wants to do is go to sleep afterwards.

Alone Time
When written down, it seems very selfish of us to want "alone time" from our partners as one of the products of our relationships but there it is - it's better that we admit it.

Whenever an aspie puts on a public persona and pretends to be social at an event, it puts them under a lot of strain. So much strain in fact, that we often need a bit of alone time immediately afterward to recharge our batteries.

Aspies who work in jobs which include a lot of social activities such as meetings, are often particularly keen on a bit of solitude when they get home. The more meetings (or the longer a meeting goes), the greater the need for alone-time.

Alone-time can vary greatly depending on the individual and circumstances. Sometimes, complete social isolation is required and we need to go to a room to be by ourselves. At other times, simply listening to music via earphones or watching television without discussion will suffice.

It can be a problem when an aspie is taking a break and the phone rings but at least that can be ignored. A much bigger problem is the fact that our partners, particularly stay-at-home moms, are often starved for adult conversation and their needs are not being met.

Encouragement
As children, aspies are often put into special classes, treated differently and assumed to be generally quite incompetent. This has enormous and long lasting social ramifications which can only worsen the symptoms of aspergers itself.

Aspies quite often have low self confidence and low self esteem. It's not generally admitted but one of the key things that aspies need from their partners is a low stress confidence boost. It is doubtful whether I would have had the confidence to leave my first job were it not for my wife's encouragement. Her words have been inspirational and supportive and they've always encouraged me to stretch my boundaries.

At the same time, I need that "push" to recognise my limits. I've risen quite high in technical circles and I've had a taste of management but found that, similarly to many aspies, the social demands of management cause me too much stress and I'm happiest with a firm technical grounding.

Planning
It's widely acknowledged that aspies don't like change - and to an extent, that's true. We certainly resist change more than many of our NT counterparts. It would be more accurate to say that we don't like surprises - unplanned events.

I often walk around with an unspoken agenda in my head of things I'd like to do on a given day. I'll often ask my wife what she wants to do and the be a little miffed that whatever she says isn't quite what I had in mind.

Similarly, I'll sometimes come home to a suggestion that we go out for dinner or that we have a specific type of food. I'll often not be too keen on the idea because it's "not what I had in mind". Of course if my wife rings or emails around lunchtime with a suggestion, I handle it much better. I'm mentally prepared and have the rest of my time planned out accordingly.

Although sometimes I miss the structure of my mother's dinners (we always had the same thing on the same nights), I don't expect this from my wife - and she'd be horrified by such an idea anyway. No, it doesn't have to be a rigid timetable but a little routine and a lot of forewarning can go a long way.

Summary
In this post, I've looked at some of the things that aspies want from their relationships - though I've deliberately left out the obvious things in order to concentrate on the more aspie-specific things.

NT's obviously have needs too, which I'm not really qualified to discuss - so I'd welcome any feedback on these.

Next time, we'll try to see how some compromises can be made to meet both groups of needs without negatively impacting our relationships. I know I've strayed somewhat from simple conversation but for some reason, these other topics seemed to go well together.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Finding Conversational Balance - Part 1: Changes

In my last post, I talked about how much aspies hate being asked "how was your day". It was entirely from an aspie point of view and I made no apologies for our behaviour but simply told things as they are.

I got a lot of feedback about that post including a few messages from NTs about how much strain this puts on the relationship. I started to think about how this affects my relationship and discussed it with my wife.

She replied that "it's downright rude" and she has a point though I'd probably use the word "direct" rather than "rude".

Who should change?
You may have gotten the idea from my last post that I think the NT should change to accommodate the aspie and if I was speaking only as an aspie, I'd probably agree. From a relationship point of view however, it's obvious that this isn't the answer.

My intention with this series of posts is to try to see both sides of the story.

But first... a bit of a meander...

Changing People
It's my firm belief that you can't change people. In my life, I've seen this demonstrated time and time again and I've come to accept it as a universal truth. Admittedly, there are some heroes out there who can turn their life around by successful avoidance of addictive substances, crash dieting or a change of religion. These people are few and far between.

I first started to think about changing people when I was going out with my wife and she'd say "oh... you won't be doing that after we're married" (usually about spending inordinate amounts of time on the computer). After a few rocky early years though, we both came to accept that we'd married each other because of who we were - not who we could mould each other into.

I still spend inordinate amounts of time on the computer but I accept that it is my wife's role to remind me that there is life outside of it. I find that I compensate by swinging pendulum-like between too much time and too little time. I strive for balance but rarely find it. Computers are in my "blood", they're a special interest and I can't avoid them. The best I can do is fight back against their call.

It's true that people change as they get older. I eat rice now (I hated it when I first got married) and I actually love chilli and curry, which were big no-no's then. Of course, I still won't go near sultanas, grapes, dates or prunes - so I'm not completely changed.


Limiting Change
What really concerned me about the responses to my last post was the suggestion that people "changed" after marriage or changed after their diagnosis. Don't get me wrong... it's impossible to not be changed after big events, such as marriage, children and a diagnosis of a condition but there are limits to be imposed on these changes.

I'm sensing that the catalyst for change isn't so much marriage as diagnosis - or perhaps the acceptance of the diagnosis. It's good to relax into your condition (aspergers) and be yourself for once. It's something that I'm often encouraging aspies to do.

It's good to acknowledge that you don't enjoy a lot of conversations or social gatherings but at the same time, you can't forget family. You should take care not to change so much that you stop being the person your partner married.

Having obtained an aspergers diagnosis at last cannot be an excuse to abandon society.

Now, before you get up in arms about this.. let me explain;


Scenario 1: Aspie Bob.
Aspie Bob has always had a lot of social issues. He never was a particularly well adjusted aspie and he always felt uncomfortable. Luckily for him, he still managed to get married to a girl who loved him for who he was. Of course, he didn't know that he was aspie - he only found that out after he was married.

The diagnosis changed aspie Bob a little. He realised that it was ok to hate social gatherings and he didn't feel so bad about avoiding them. He still spent time with family and friends but now, at least, they understood why he felt so uncomfortable. His diagnosis brought more understanding to his family and ultimately more happiness.


Scenario 2: Aspie Dave.
Aspie Dave was a well-adjusted person. He disliked social gatherings but still attended and would often be the centre of attention when he got there. He was always telling jokes - actually, he was always talking non-stop. Sure, often he'd say the wrong thing and this would cause some friction but most people just said... "oh, that's Dave, he doesn't mean it".

Aspie Dave was married with a family too - and he received a late diagnosis. As he read more and more about his condition, aspie Dave began to act more and more aspie. It was mostly subconscious (hypochondria) (Correction: psychosomatic) but aspie Dave started to attend social gatherings less frequently. He accepted that, as an aspie, he wasn't great at this social thing, and more or less withdrew inwardly. He stopped talking to his family.

Summary
In the second case, the diagnosis itself is a catalyst for change - and not a change for the better. In fact, Aspie Dave's acceptance of the condition caused him to throw away the adjustments he'd made over the years to compensate for the condition.

I'm not for a moment suggesting that aspies shouldn't be themselves. They certainly should. There's no reason to "pretend" to be anything other than what you are around your family. The problem is that it's part of human nature to be a hypochondriac (Correction: psychosomatic). Whenever we watch a documentary about a rash, we find ourselves sub-consciously itching. The same is true for mental conditions - but worse, since the immediate effects aren't always so visible.

In my next post, I'll try to look more on the conversational side of things without getting side-tracked (I hope).

Friday, November 14, 2008

Article: How was your day?

I'd like to draw your attention to yet another aspergers article;

How was your day?
on Asperger Square 8
http://aspergersquare8.blogspot.com/2008/11/how-was-your-day.html

I can really relate to this one. It's the bane of my existence.

My wife and I have discussed this question over and over. It's the subject of a lot of pain for us - and silent resistance.

Problems with the Question
There are a lot of problems with this question. For a start, how do you describe a day. It wasn't my day... it was everyone's day. We all shared it. Then of course, there's the problem of "what answer could actually fit the question?". The best one word answer I can find is; "Good."

The problem with this answer is that it often provokes further open-ended questions; "oh..., what was good about it" or even worse, it encourages the initial "how was your day?" question to be asked several more times during the course of the afternoon, or dinner.

Problems with my Day
Most days, are unremarkable for me. I go to work, do mostly dull work and come home. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy my job. It's just that the things I find interesting or funny (an unexpected pattern in computer code, a silly comment by a Microsoft reviewer or a passer by whose umbrella blows inside out) aren't funny or interesting to most other people.

Sometimes I'll say something about my day, expecting it to be dull and lifeless and my wife will give this little excited response. I'll look at her quizzically (not so that she'd notice) and then expand on what I've said, realising that she actually found something interesting. The problem is, that I really don't know which parts of my day are interesting to people and which aren't. All I can say for certain is that most of what I find interesting - isn't and some of what I find uninteresting - is.

Conflict
Then there's the bad days. If I have a bad day, I just want to shrink inside myself and forget about it. The last thing I want to do is talk about a bad experience. The problem is that I can't reply "terrible" if I've had a bad day. That will only invite lots more questions.

There's a myth around that says that aspies can't lie. We can. The problem is though that lying preys on our minds. We can't do it well because we're always conscious of the conflict it causes.

So... on the one hand, I've had a terrible day and I'm really depressed about it. It's the sort of problem that will take me days to analyse, rebuild and recover from. I certainly don't need any more mental stress and in fact, my mind is churning away on it but in the background. I'm trying not to think about it directly.

On the other hand, I've been asked how my day was. If I answer truthfully, then I'll be badgered to provide all the details (and it will come back to the front of my mind again). If I answer dishonestly, then I'll be adding stress to my mind because I'll be creating a "lie complex" which will torture me for days. Whichever answer I give will cause pain.

So I just grunt...

or I give a non-committal answer... "oh... same toilet different sh***" (this answer doesn't go down particularly well).

or I pretend the question wasn't asked and try to change the subject...

and hope that the question won't be asked again today.


Conversational Keywords versus the Chronological Discussion
If I've got something to talk about or something of interest, I don't need a trite phrase to convince me to say it. I just blurt it out (usually regardless of how off-topic it may be). Sometimes when my wife is talking to me about something, she'll say a key-word which trips a memory. She could be telling me about her day at the shops and mention a washing powder. This will remind me to tell her about a funny incident that happened at work with the photocopier toner spilling (and hence washing being required).

I'll hold up my hand to interrupt her for a second and tell her to ask me about toner when she's finished and then I'll apologise for interrupting and let her continue.

Ten minutes later, she'll ask me about toner and I'll tell her the story. It will be good that she'd asked specifically because I'd have forgotten that I was going to tell her by then.

If she'd asked how my day was, the incident wouldn't have been mentioned because it was an afternoon incident and my memory is strictly chronological (unless I have a keyword to jump to). She'll ask how my day was and I'll often start thinking about getting up, showering, catching the bus etc... (not saying anything because I know that stuff is all boring). I'll often get to the point of making my morning coffee at work - which is where my first social activity occurs. I'll telll her all of the conversations that occurred and then stop.

There's too much to review, and most of it's boring. So, my wife never hears about the afternoon.

Expectations of Counter-Questioning
The flip side of all of this is that I'm often told in argumentative tones... "You don't care because you never ask how my day has been". That's right. I don't.

Just as I blurt things out when I've got something to say - I don't expect to have to invite anyone else to say things. I shouldn't have to ask how her day has been. After all, if something interesting happened, then it should be a "given" that it will be "blurted out" at me.

Similarly, since being prompted to talk about my day is so uncomfortable, I don't see why I should be trying to make other people uncomfortable by asking them. It certainly doesn't come naturally to me - so there's no chance that I'll think to ask about someone's day without prompting.

These days, I have a rule that says. "when asked about your day, respond as briefly as possible then ask about their day because that's what they really want". It's kind of like when someone asks how your meal is, not because they care but because they want you to offer them some. (and that's a whole different discussion).

Article: 12 Steps to Better IEP Meetings

I just want to draw your attention to an article in AdditudeMag (an online journal for parents of children with ADHD and/or Learning Difficulties).

12 Steps to Better IEP Meetings
by Karen Sunderhaft
in AdditudeMag
http://www.additudemag.com/adhd/article/4628.html

I'm not 100% certain that I agree with all of the tips presented (the presentation idea sounds way over the top) but I feel that they are mostly good advice.

Just be aware that an IEP is only as good as the team behind it. If you ask for too much, they might agree without actually putting anything into place. The amount of work that a school is willing to put in will vary considerably and it doesn't always bear a resemblance to the amount of funding they receive.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Article: Are Aspergians really rude and inconsiderate?

I just wanted to draw your attention to another article in Psychology Today.

It's an essay by John Elder Robison, the Author of "Look me in the Eye". A great book on aspergers which I'd strongly recommend if you haven't already read it.

Are Aspergians really rude and inconsiderate?
By John Elder Robison on November 10, 2008 in My Life With Asperger's
http://blogs.psychologytoday.com/blog/my-life-with-asperger039s/200811/are-aspergians-really-rude-and-inconsiderate#new

The essay contains a great scenario where John talks about his reaction when his wife takes a tumble. I could really relate to that problem. My wife took a tumble almost a year ago and I remember that at the time I found it very difficult. The problem was that she was quite badly hurt and she was making a lot of noise.

Since I'm very deaf in one ear and more than a little deaf in the other - and since it was quite dark at the time. I have no sound localisation and found it almost impossible to locate her. I really needed her to shut up with the screaming and tell me where she was and I said something to that effect. After about a minute, she realised what she needed to do and I was able to rescue her.

It might sound callous, and to a casual observer it probably would have seemed so. It wasn't that I was unconcerned or without empathy, it was simply that I judged that the best way to help her was to locate her.

I'd also suggest checking out John Elder's blog;

My Life With Asperger's
http://jerobison.blogspot.com/

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Article: Joe and the Mega Sized Smoothie - Language and Aspergers

I just want to draw your attention to a fascinating article on Psychology Today.

It's called

Joe and the Mega Sized Smoothie - Language and Aspergers

http://blogs.psychologytoday.com/blog/asperger039s-diary/200811/joe-and-the-mega-sized-smoothie-language-and-aspergers#new

The article provides a lot of insight into some differences between aspies and neurotypicals. Though the be fair, the aspie stuff was all "normal" to me. I actually found the neurotypical responses to be more fascinating and "different".

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Finding the Boundaries of Borderline Aspergers

Reminder
Just a quick reminder that although I'm knowledgeable about Aspergers, I'm not a medical professional. I can only apply what I know and see to my own, my childrens and my friends/acquaintances conditions.

The Question
This post is in response to an interesting question I received via comment.

I am confused by the list in the DSM - IV that describes this condition a bit. I know aspergers is on a spectrum, so it doesn't look the same in everyone. Yet in the DSM -- IV it states that the traits which people have when they have aspergers have to significantly detract from a persons ability to thrive in social situations.

So assuming a case is borderline, where would asperger's end and a neurotypical person with a lot of aspie traits begin?

The DSM and Diagnosis
The DSM by itself is very confusing and opinions vary greatly from one doctor to another. Unlike diseases or physical problems, aspergers is still undetectable by electronic means such as X-rays, CAT scans etc. (Although I believe that some amazing results are starting to come through). This makes any diagnosis extremely subjective.

Some doctors don't actually believe in the condition, while others have very fixed ideas about the condition, for example; dismissing any children who make even the most rudimentary eye contact despite the fact that the DSM quite openly states in its criteria that you need not display all symptoms.

The other thing to remember about the traits of aspergers is that they aren't necessarily impossible for NTs. There are some NT people who dislike eye contact, some who have specific social interests and many who stim in one way or another. At this point, the only guide we have is the DSM which requires that you meet certain minimum criteria - all of which can be determined subjectively.

We are all still learning about Aspergers and nobody is quite sure where the boundaries lie.

There are two major schools of thought;

  1. Those who feel that aspergers is a base-level difference. A difference in the very wiring of the brain.

  2. People who feel that aspergers is simply a difference of characteristics. (the curebie approach).
Personally, I fall into the former category. I also think this is the majority opinion. though I know some people who support the second.

The Curebie Approach
If we look at the second option for a moment, it suggests that the difference is simply in the presence and strengths of the characteristics. In this model, there would be a sliding scale where at one end, there would be low functioning autism, while at the other, neurotypicality.

The benefit (and the problem) with this approach is that it gives parents false hope. It suggests that if you can eliminate the characteristics, then the child will "become" neurotypical. This is the basis on which a lot of (in my opinon, "crackpot and unsafe") therapies, such as behaviour modification, chelation, shock treatment and confinement are tried.

In this world, there are cases of varying degrees and it is possible to "learn how to be neurotypical". A borderline case in this world would be a child who is "mostly normal".

The Evolutionary Approach
The evolutionary approach is quite different. Put simply, it suggests that the brains of aspies are "wired differently". In this world, it is quite impossible for an aspie to become neurotypical but it doesn't mean that they can't learn to "present as NTs" when called for.

There are a number of reasons for my belief in this theory including the fact that the symptoms of aspergers spread far beyond mental characteristics and into the realm of muscluature. Aspies are often described as hyptonic (having low muscle tone) and this has very little to do with their mental state. It points to a wider genetic issue.

In this world, there would be no "borderline" aspergers cases. Simply cases where some aspies have learned to hide/control their symptoms better than others. All would think differently.

The Deer Example
I thought I might finish up with an example from the animal kingdom. About three years ago, I heard a doctor talking about ADHD (but it could just as well have been aspergers). He cited a BBC animal documentary that he'd been watching. There were a group of deer grazing in grasslands where a lion was prowling. All of the deer were happily eating - all that is, except for one. There was one deer who couldn't hold it's focus on the grass for very long. It kept lifting it's head an looking around. The slightest sound would distract it.

The distracted "ADHD" deer was the one who first spotted the lion. Although it wasn't a fast runner compared to the other deer, it had an advantage. It started running first. This deer was also particularly important to the herd as it acted as a lookout.

The documentary crew followed that particular herd of deer for a long period. They found that the particular "ADHD" deer repeated the pattern over and over again. It wasn't a designated lookout and the task wasn't "shared" with other deer. I think, that they hinted that the behaviour continued in the deer's offspring suggesting either "training" or more likely, a genetic difference.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Simple Real-Life Example of Aspie Awkwardness in a Social Situation

We often hear about aspie awkwardness in social situations but the diagnostic criteria doesn't give parents and supporters much to go on. I've decided to give you a very simple example;

The Setup
Yesterday was Melbourne cup day. For overseas people, Melbourne cup day is the day in which the entire of Australia stops to celebrate a horse race in Melbourne. For the people of Melbourne, it is actually a holiday however the other States in Australia simply get a break around time the race is run and perhaps a few other celebrations.

At my workplace, we celebrate by wearing silly hats to a luncheon and then watching the race on TV together. This year, although I was looking very hard for a propeller hat, I ended up wearing a London bobby helmet.

Being in IT, I am always late to these functions due to last-minute helpdesk calls etc. This usually means that I end up sitting next to the CEO who is often also late.

On this occasion, the CEO wore a pointed wizards hat. A few other people around the table wore funny hats but most were too "sad"? To wear anything that wasn't strictly normal.

A Bit of Background
Last year, the CEO wore a jester's hat and it was a great hit. 1 month later, at the Kris Kringle (where we buy each other presents and secretly swap), the CEO received a clown's wig. He was not amused. At the time, I thought it was a pretty bizarre present and I could understand why he wasn't impressed. The CEO followed his musings up with a statement to the effect that the present must have been chosen because of his "comedy trendsetting" at the Melbourne cup.

Being an aspie, all of this is recorded in my memory in full detail and feels like yesterday. I might not necessarily expect everybody to remember the details but since it happened to the CEO, I would have expected him to remember it perfectly.

Forced Conversation
One of the things that I really hate about social occasions is the fact that you are expected to converse, even though there is not much to talk about. The aim of this conversation is small talk where you are supposed to talk about all manner of disconnected and non-relevant things such as the weather and you are supposed to comment on things that are unusual at the table - though not personal features.

Melbourne cup day hats fall very much into this category as great objects for discussion. I commented to the CEO that his was a cool hat but suggested that he would need to be careful as whatever he wore could conceivably influence his Christmas present in the Kris Kringle.

I figured that it was a fairly plain way to remind him, with humorous intent and without going into too much detail. As it turned out, the CEO looked at me strangely and said that he had no idea what I had just said. I had to elaborate four times and after each time he'd say, "no, I'm still not quite following you".

Eventually I had to tell the entire story which, to be honest is a fairly boring one. I couldn't just drop the matter since the CEO was now taking this as a personal comment.

After a while, the CEO and the other people at the table started to remember however it confused me that they didn't already know - they were all there after all.

They thought that I had purchased the clown hair since I was the only person who remembered it well. Although I dissuaded them, I wonder whether or not they believe that.

Results
The result of all of this was that I ended up having to talk more than I wanted to, got blamed for something I didn't do and ended coming across as a very boring person because I had to spend a long while explaining a quip. I also felt pretty stupid because I wasn't able to get my point across without having to repeat it four times.

It just becomes yet another social discouragement for me and encourages me to keep my mouth shut in future. I'm not blaming the people involved, their own lack of memory isn't their fault. I'm simply using the incident to demonstrate how differently the aspie mind works and why it makes conversation so painful for us.

This was a very small incident but the point I'm trying to make here is that this sort of thing happens nearly every single time an aspie tries to be involved in a social event. Social events become extremely trying for us as well as significantly reducing our self-esteem.

I don't know what the answer is. I don't think that there really is one.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Visual Stimming - One of the Reasons why your Aspie child is pulling faces

Stimming is a repetitive behaviour performed by aspergers and autistic children because it "feels good" or calms them. I've covered stimming before (see: What is Stimming and what does it feel like). In today's post, I'm going to cover a very specific type of stimming - visual stimming.

Visual stimming can often confuse parents and lead them in the wrong direction - to optometrists for eye examinations or to other specialists to discuss facial tics. Instead, a few well aimed questions at your child may put the record straight.

My History
When I was a child, I used to engage in visual stimming quite a bit. It wasn't until much later, after I had been doing it increasingly for years, that my mother asked me what was going on. Until that time, I was not aware that when engaging in the activity, I presented anything at all to the outside world.

In reality however, my visual Stimming made me look like I had a very bad squint or like my eyesight was very poor. Accompanying the stimming was a rocking of the head which apparently was very noticeable.

Once I had become aware of how I presented, I gradually did it less and less. These days I hardly do it at all though there are still times when I catch myself doing it subconsciously.

Visual stimming takes a lot of different forms - only some of which are discussed below;

The Squint
In this form of stimming, you half close your eyes and all the lights take on a funny appearance. Sometimes they form stars or smears and sometimes little rainbows appear within the light Tilting your head one way or another would make those those lights "dance".

It was this stimming which worried my mother most and she first brought it to my attention after church where I'd been an altar boy. You can imagine how embarrassing it must have been to have your son, a squinting, rocking altar boy sitting facing the crowd for all to see. In any case, church was a really great place for this form of stimming because there were so many bright lights around.

I also used to do this stim quite a bit in the car at night, when I was younger - obviously not when I was driving. The squint works best in dark surrounds with lots of lights.

The Fade
Unlike the squint which relies on eye closure and head movement, the fade is more of a stare. I found that if you looked very closely at an object, you could get the surrounding areas to fade to grey. It's hard to achieve a complete fadeout because the slightest movement will cause the picture to return. During this form of stimming, your eyes will gradually dry out and become itchy - eventually you find that you have to blink.

The fade presents as a child who seems to be starring, unmoving into empty space. If you find that your child is doing this often, then returning to normal without any readjustment period, then it's possible that he's doing this stim.

Locating Shapes within Patterns
This sort of stimming occurs very frequently when you have tiles on the walls or floor. The child may stare at the tiles and begin to visually draw shapes using the boundaries of the tiles. This particular form of stimming presents as a fascination with tiles but eye movement will vary considerably from one person to another. It may depend on the age of the child - whether or not they need to move the eyes around the borders of the pattern or whether they can do the entire thing in their head

Tracing Shapes.
This presents as a child who looks at objects and revolves the eyes around considerably. What is actually happening here is that the child is following the lines of the object with their eyes. Effectively, they are tracing it. I often find that I go one step further and view the world through a mentally generated wireframe. I'm not sure how this presents in me, but it's probably not a great look - as I tend to do it while walking on busy streets.

Concentrating on Movement
This is probably the most reported form of stimming. There are two types of movement. Movement where an object itself is moving, such as a ball or a spinning object and movement where the movement of the person creates the illusion of movement on objects.

Watching spinning or rolling objects is extremely common in children with all forms of autism. Watching spinning objects is more widely reported though not necessarily because it occurs more frequently. It may simply be that watching a thrown object can appear more natural to the casual observer, while the observation of a spinning object can often cause the autistic child to stare.

Movement by illusion is often accomplished by a rocking of the upper body, a classic autism stim, or by simple movements of the head. Sometimes the child will spin themselves. In more complex forms, the rocking can be combined with watching a spinning object. Note that this isn't purely a visual stim and that the aspie or autistic person may actually derive a lot of pleasure/calm from their own bodily movement.

Dealing with Stimming
I've read some articles which suggest that you should "block your child's view of the objects on which they are stimming". I'm really not a fan of this approach.

Your child will always find things to stim on and blocking an object will simply lead them to a different object - or perhaps even a worse form of stimming. At the very least, it could trigger a meltdown if they can't relax.

Unless the behaviour is causing problems, you shouldn't try to change it.

If you are concerned about how your child presents in class or to his peers, then you might want to videotape his stimming and then replay it for him. In most cases, your child probably isn't aware of how he presents.

Don't accuse your child - or hassle them about the "problem". A "buddy" approach to correction might be more appropriate. Ask your child what he is doing when he acts that way - ask him how it feels and what the effect is like. Perhaps you, your child and his teacher could agree on a particular word or phrase to remind him when he's stimming in class.


Summary
I'm sure that there are a lot of other forms of visual stimming and in particular, that there are stims related to colour. I'll try to discuss the affects of colour on aspies in a different post - that's an entire topic on its own.

Stimming is a normal thing which everyone engages in to some extent. It's just that people on the spectrum tend to do it much more frequently. Stimming does not harm the child and may in many cases be beneficial and stress-reducing.


The Blue Ball Machine
One last thing related to this post. If you want to keep your aspie occupied for hours, show them this animated gif. The Blue Ball Machine - it's the ultimate computer stim.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Article: How Far Should You Chase The "Impossible" Dream?

I was reading this article today;

How Far Should You Chase The "Impossible" Dream?
By Lynne Soraya on July 22, 2008 in Asperger's Diary

http://blogs.psychologytoday.com/blog/asperger039s-diary/200807/how-far-should-you-chase-the-impossible-dream

It's an interesting article about the problems aspies face when rising through the ranks (at work) to management positions.

It questions Temple Grandin's repeated statements that "people with autism or Asperger's should never allow themselves to be promoted into a management role, due to the social demands." and asks not only whether this is possible but whether or not aspies should actively pursue such careers.

The article also mentions John Elder Robison, author of "Look Me In The Eye". If you've read that book, then you'll know how John Elder had a lot of difficulties in management and that it stifled an otherwise brilliant technical career.

I think the article raises two very interesting questions;

1. Can an aspie make it to Upper Management.
The answer here is, quite obviously a resounding "Yes". As to whether or not an aspie can actually be effective in management... I'm not so sure about that. Come to think of it, I wonder if upper management itself is ever effective?

The other question is;

2. Should an Aspie try to make it to upper management?
This is a much harder question since there is pain in both approaches.

If you stay put...
It's quite painful and demeaning to be "bypassed" by younger and less effective colleagues who move to management positions while you remain as you are. Once in upper management, those same colleagues are able to impose their will upon you and may even take revenge for things which may have occurred while they were your junior. It's also quite frustrating to miss out on the salary hikes given to people who move up in the corporate world.

If you move up.
On the other hand, the route to upper management is frustrating for aspies. There's a lot more emphasis put on social skills and social situations and there's less need for technical solutions. I've found nothing to enjoy about my interactions with upper management. The positions bring considerably more stress while significantly reducing your ability to provide technical input.

I've sat in meetings steaming internally because of the mediocrity of some of the decisions being made but knowing that I'm powerless to change them. If I'd been in a lower position, I'd have been blissfully unaware of how close to "functioning", the company had become. Often, in a lower position, I'd be able to implement a change by pretending not to understand it's ramifications. In upper management however, with all of the responsibility that the positions entail, this is not usually possible.

A Happy Medium
I'm convinced that aspies should always be following their special interests. If those special interests include management, then you should move upwards. If not, then the ideal position is the last bastion of technical work and the first rung of management.

To move above this rung is to risk major job dissatisfaction which can often only be resolved by leaving the company.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Article: BitTorrent's Bram Cohen and Aspergers

Here's yet another good aspie tech story which once again demonstrates that while Aspies can make it to CEO positions, they're actually at their best working as techs. In particular, I liked the bit about how he fidgets during meetings (even taking a rubik's cube to them) and how his fellow workers learned not to sugar-coat things with him. Just tell him straight.

A worthwhile read.

BitTorrent's Bram Cohen Isn't Limited by Asperger's
By Susan Berfield
Business Week, October 16, 2008.
http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/08_43/b4105046863317.htm

The Dangers of Over-Interpretation and Over-Analysis

A reader highlighted this problem in a comment on my recent "Letter Writing in Relationships" articles. At the time, the comment was aimed mainly at letters but I feel that it applies in a lot of other areas of aspie communication.

Note: As is often the case, my initial writing of this particular blog went off-topic and instead spends most of it's time exploring a completely different aspie trait. I've decided to leave it intact though as I think it provides some interesting reading.

Its a well known fact that aspies miss quite a lot of the nuances of non-verbal communication such as tone, expression, body language and innuendo. What is often less documented is that these things can often be determined by aspies with good coping mechanisms, though not without significant delay.

Event Recording as a Coping Mechanism
One of the most effective coping mechanisms I employ is "conversation recording" where I attempt to remember an event in its entirety for later analysis.

In aspies with particularly well-developed coping mechanisms (typically, older aspies), event recording is virtually "second nature". It often occurs without any conscious decision on our part.

When an event is "recorded", a lot of things, particularly tone and body language which are not accessible at the time are retained. The funny thing about this type of retention is that although a lot of input is captured, it usually isn't available to me until I review the "recording". Something I may not do until hours or days later - and often, unless I have a reason to do so, not at all.

Late Interpretation
I'm in the habit of reviewing "recordings" whenever I get an unexpected response from people or whenever I deem that a conversation is important and could be carrying more information than is immediately obvious.

Often this works in my favour. Certainly an apology for a lack of empathy or a misguided "off the wall" remark is better being a few days late than not being offered at all.

At work a post-meeting interpretation can help me to understand exactly what is really being asked of me. It also uncovers a lot of my embarrassing on-the-spot answers.

Over-Analysis
While event recording is certainly useful in understanding relationship issues there are a few critical problems with using it in this context;

  • Over interpretation
    When people are having an unrehearsed conversation, there's a certain amount of non-verbal language that creeps in - but there's also a limit to this.

    Reinterpreting the same scene 10 times over usually won't reveal any additional information and anything new that does appear after several reviews is more likely to have been introduced by the "reviewer" than the original conversationalist.

  • Frame of Reference
    Men and women have vastly different frames of reference and will often interpret the same scenarios quite differently - particularly from an emotional standpoint. Sometimes "no interpretation" is better than a completely wrong or"insensitive" one.

  • Emotional Interference
    Where the emotions of couples are concerned, there can often be a significant difference between what someone says and what they really mean.

    Tone and body language can be an important clue here but sometimes constant replaying of the conversation can cause you to focus entirely on the words,rather than on the message.

Written Communication
often, as a way of making up for the shortcomings in our normal conversation, aspies will expend quite a bit of effort in the interpretation of written communication.

This is great when it comes to poetry which can be full of hidden meanings but it's not good when a letter is meant as a "heart to heart" because the aspie can fill it up with their own interpretations and leave no room for the writer to get their point across.

The only solution here is to try to encourage the aspie to read without interpreting but it's more difficult than it sounds.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Article: Using Lego Therapy to Help Aspergers Children with their Social Skills

This article appeared in the UK Times Yesterday

Here's how to build your hopes
Parents of autistic children need not despair. It has been proved that therapies using Lego can be an enormous help
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/health/child_health/article4876937.ece

The article doesn't say anything particularly new but reaffirms the fact that when a group of children are collaborating on a project which is of interest to them - and when there are firmly set boundaries of responsibility which enforce the need to communicate, then the children will communicate.

And of course, practice makes perfect.

You could easily adapt the instructions in the article for siblings or very small groups;
One child acted as the “engineer” and described the instructions, another as the “supplier” finding the correct pieces, and the “builder” put the pieces together. After a time, they would swap roles.
I might try this at home - it could stop the fighting over lego between my children.

Computer Games
The article hints a bit but stops short of citing other cases where such interaction would promote communication. Here's a good one I've discovered with my own children - computer games.

In particular, I've found that the "team" (co-op) games where players have to help each other, are much better at fostering communications between children than games where they compete against each other. The best of these types of games are the lego series; Lego Star Wars, Lego Indiana Jones and Lego Batman (all of which are particularly suitable for younger children). There are also good examples in the more "grown up games" like Eragon, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Lord of the Rings: Return of the King.

Some Positives
The article goes on to say a few positive things, including one thing I've been saying all the time about the importance of obsessions;
“In the past, it was believed that obsessions got in the way of learning. Now, if a child is preoccupied with a system of learning, like maths, music or Lego, we say they should take it as far as they can, because they might be the passport to a job or a friendship. So we're turning that idea on its head and using the interest or obsession to help the child,” he says.
You really need to be building on the child's strengths and obsessions (special interests) to overcome any weaknesses. Sure, a lot of obsessions seem useless at first;

For example: Star Wars
It's fiction, so what could a child possibly learn from it?

  1. English : Have the child write about Star Wars; eg: "How would Luke have felt when he returned to his homestead?"

  2. Maths: This can be much more than simply "count the spaceships" - in later years, you can adjust a child's work to do trigonometry

  3. Science: More than simply space. You can teach about ecology (what would grow on tatoonie), chemisty, geology and physics.

  4. Art: Drawing spacships, people and landscapes.
There's a lot more you could do but since this is only an example, I'll leave it there.

Am I suggesting that schools change the curriculum for one student? No, of course not. However teachers and parents can suggest to children that they look at things differently - particularly when the child is struggling or disinterested.

To ignore the obsession is to ignore the greatest source of potential in the child.