Thursday, December 31, 2009

End of Year (2009) Wrap-up

It's been a busy year for me on several fronts;

At home, we've moved into our new house and it's taken quite a bit of work to make it "home". I've been able to observe my kids accepting their new environment and in some cases, I've seen frustrations emerge as either meltdowns or destructive behaviour. They have improved though. I'm not sure how much of that improvement is due to their self-control and how much is due to changes in our parenting methods.

At work, I've mostly been busy on the second year of a six-month project (that's right, it's behind schedule) but I've been slowly making the journey from "super-tech" to project manager without training. I'm just learning from my mistakes (of which there is no shortage). I've also learned a lot about time management and this year is particularly special because it's the first year that I've maintained a corporate calendar for the entire year - normally they stop around March.

I've been busy in scouts too, making the transition from parent helper to leader. I'm learning how to motivate and focus the kids while still maintaining their enjoyment of the programme. I've witnessed meltdowns and bullying and I'm learning how to curb such behaviour in kids. Hopefully the kids will benefit from the positive environment I'm trying to provide. It's also provided me with a lot of firsthand experience of how my own kids cope in group situations.

Online, Facebook seems to have really come into its own this year and I've made quite a few new friends. I'm actually surprised by the depth of friendship and the degree of support that some of these facebook friends can offer and it was great last week to follow Christmas around the world as people posted about their day.

In the blogging world, there have been some amazing discussions and revelations and I feel privileged to have been able to follow them. I'm planning to do a future post to discuss the blogs I follow - and why I find them so interesting. On this blog, I've tackled a whole range of issues and stereotypes with varying degrees of success. Guided by my readers comments, my topics seem to have stayed much closer to "adult relationships" than to aspie children though I hope to cover a wider range of issues next year.

Thank you to all my readers and especially those who have left comments. I do make a point to read all of them even though I don't always reply. Sometimes I feel that comments remain best undiluted by my response - even when they're saying the opposite of what I feel. Sometimes comments cause me to rethink my position. Most importantly, the comments often drive the choice of discussion topics on the blog.

As the first decade of this new millennium draws to a close, I'd like to wish you all a happy new year and hope that 2010 is good to you.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Aspergers and Dreams

I've been asked on a few occasions to do a post on dreams and dreaming, so this is it. It's not an area I'm particularly familiar with because I've never really considered that dreaming may be different for aspies. I guess that any responses to this post will help us to find out.

Remembering Dreams
Some time ago, I did an unstructured and impromptu survey to find out whether aspies tend to remember or forget their dreams. I got a total of 52 responses which were allocated as follows;
  1. I Don't think that I Dream 1% [ 1 ]
  2. I Usually Remember my Dreams 44% [ 23 ]
  3. I know I've had a Dream but lose the details when I wake up 28% [ 15 ]
  4. I Can Remember my Dream for about 2 hours after Waking - then it disappears 25% [ 13]

I've always had fairly vivid dreams and surprisingly, I've remembered quite a few of them. My childhood dreams are still clear as crystal, it's my adult dreams that I don't remember as well.

Night Terrors and Nightmares
As a child, I often woke up with nightmares. These were quite often about being trapped in a cave by falling rocks. I'm not quite sure why this would be the case since I'd never been caving and I can't recall watching any caving films. There were other things too, like falling from the top of buildings but mostly it was to do with imagining things in the darkness of my room. I wonder if I had some issues with reality verus fiction.

In any case, the night terrors and my theory that it's more to do with a poor sense of reality is one of the main reasons I've been so "unrestricted" on censorship with my own children. For the record, although every once in a while the youngest has a bad dream, they certainly don't have night terrors. They're very clear on what's real and what's not.

I eventually overcame the night terrors by;
  1. Adopting my mother's belief that bad dreams were your body's way of waking you for a toilet break.

  2. Getting myself a bed lamp which I could reach out and switch on whenever I got scared.

Epic Dreams
When I wasn't having night terrors, it was simply normal dreaming. The best dreams were "epic dreams. Epic dreams were dreams which were so large and so complex that it took several nights to get the entire dream completed. They weren't always on sensible subjects and I can clearly remember one about a witches gathering (not scary, quite friendly actually) which went on for about a week. I can remember being eager to go to bed so I could see the next part of the dream. I loved dreaming about flying on a broomstick with a coven of witches and I was really sad when the dream ended.


Normal(?) Dreams
My normal dreams were always a bit weird and particularly in my childhood, they didn't focus so much on people as the mechnanics of things. I suspect that this might be one of the ways that aspergers manifests itself in dreaming.

One of the best dreams from my childhood was about going to visit my next door neighbour and discovering quite accidentally that if I made swimming motions with my hands and feet, I would actually be able to float in the air and control my direction. This particular dream was so vivid that I remember being anxious to rush outside and try it, just in case it really worked. (it didn't). It seems strange that so many of my dreams were about flying and falling.


Day Dreams
My mother always used to call me a "daydreamer". She was probably right but I don't see it as a bad thing. I think that a lot of my creativity comes from daydreaming.

My daydreams are very vivid and often I snap out of them wondering which bits were real and which were false. Occasionally, my daydreams turn to day-nightmares and they can seriously "freak me out".

Arguably the worst daydream I'd ever had was one where I clearly saw a nuclear payload drop from a plane. The daydream was so vivid that I felt heat on my face and could clearly remember the arguments my parents had about what to do.

For weeks afterwards, I watched every plane that flew past with something like dread in case it was a premonition. Since then, circumstances have changed (my parents no longer own the house in the dream), so I guess I can presume that it wasn't.


Your say?
There's not really a lot more I can say about my dreams. I've had quite a bit of deja vu but as usual, it's hard to "remember" what actually happens until it does actually happen. I don't see "deja vu" as premonition although I did when I was younger. These days, I believe it's just a feeling that comes from doing similar activities.

If there's anything about dreams which is particular to aspies, I haven't found it yet. Perhaps other people can highlight similarities and differences?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Article: On Living and loving Asperger's Man

I'd like to draw your attention to this (currently untitled) article which is on one of the blogs I read;

The article can be found here

http://inlovewithaspergers.blogspot.com/2009/12/my-husband-has-this-phrase-he-uses-to.html

I'm not quite sure if there's a problem with that site but at the moment as it's not accepting comments (I'm sure there would be plenty otherwise).

I guess that's one of the main reasons I'm referring to the article here. It's crying out for comments.


My Thoughts...
These articles really move me. They're one of the main reasons behind the "emotionless" or "empathy-less" aspie myth.

A quick "aside"...
I know that aspergers isn't gender specific and that despite the significantly higher incidence of diagnosed male aspies compared to female, the number isn't to be trusted. Aspergers presents quite differently in females compared to males and although it's obvious that females have just as much difficulty with the condition, it seems much less likely to be recognised.

Nevertheless, I see the male aspie as bringing far worse empathy issues into relationships than females. Ignoring gay relationships, I think that this is because the NT partners in AS/NT relationships have different expectations.

I don't particularly agree with Simon Baron-Cohen's "extreme male brain" theory but I can certainly see where it comes from. As a general rule, in the NT world, females tend to be more emotional and more empathetic than males. I think this is one of the reasons that empathy is less of an issue in AS/NT relationships where the aspie is female. A female with aspergers possibly has a better chance of showing empathy than a male - and a male NT is less likely to notice an absence of empathy in his AS partner than a female.

Moving On...
Ok, having explained (possibly) why men are more likely to be the aspie at the centre of an empathy issue in a mixed AS/NT relationship, I can move on with looking at the blog post itself.

You can often "see" the women who write these sorts of posts crying out for attention and I hope that their partners know about the blogs, read the posts and most importantly, think about what is being said. It's not about laying blame, it's about highlighting needs in the relationship.

If your partner writes a blog, you should become a regular reader. Not just of the posts themselves but also of the comments. I know that some people get upset about what is posted on blogs but really, it will help your relationship - not hinder it.

As for the subject matter; I could recognise quite a bit of myself in there. I've improved in recent years but there's obviously still a long way for me to go. Some of the things which struck chords are;
  • Poorly chosen comments
    Sometimes I think I'm making a quip or an honest comment but it comes out as an insult. It's sometimes because my attention is distracted and more often because I presume that my mind can be read. (I know it can't but I tend to expect other people to have the same frame of reference). Comments about weight may once have been an issue in our house but now the "F" word is recognised as a bad word. Everyone is accepted for who they are.

    I needed to be corrected though. I didn't learn it on my own. I had to be insulted using my own personal weaknesses to learn how it feels. It's not about disrespect, it was simply that (stupid as it may seem) I didn't understand that it hurt.

    Am I cured? No. Sure, I've learned not to make jokes about certain things but I also just sent a Christmas card this year which caused insult. I was thinking one thing and the recipient thought something different entirely. Improvements are still needed.

  • Reactions to the Sick
    When my wife and kids get sick, I'm desperate not to catch it. I don't kiss, I don't hug and I wash my hands after contact. I get out of the room if a coughing fit starts. It's not nice but I have difficulty not doing it because it's a bit of an OCD thing. I have to admit though, I've never really given a second's thought as to how it must feel on the other side.

    My score - Fail. Thanks for highlighting that problem. I'll work on it.

  • TV Shows and Empathy
    Usually I have too much empathy with movies. I find myself with tears in my eyes because of something "cute", it doesn't even take a sad event. Even worse, I'll be sad because of a toy in "Toy Story" or something that happens to Fozzie Bear in one of the muppet films.

    I try to hide this because I'd never hear the end of it if my wife caught me crying in one of those films. It's weird though that I don't have any empathy with death in certain films. For instance, if I watch a horror film, I usually don't have any empathy with characters who die. Similarly, the sudden death of Brad Pitt in Meet Joe Black had me in fits of laughter.

    TV Shows are quite different to films and I get almost no emotion from them because;

    (a). They're often too short for me to get into a character.
    (b). One advertising break will destroy the reality for me.
    (c). TV isn't as engrossing as a film.

    I'll admit to feeling quite weepy over Rose Tyler and Donna Noble in Doctor Who though.
    My score - I think this is a pass, more than a pass... I'm more emotional over films than my wife.

  • Vacuuming the Walls
    I've never done this but I don't think that was the point of the article. I have had these random thoughts on how we could do things better. Particularly; how we could raise our children better. I'll start doing it not realising that it's probably very insulting and implies that I think my wife isn't doing such a great job.

    Of course, I can't keep it up and soon my "new routine" drops in favour of doing other things. These days, when I'm asked about things like this, I try to simply shut up or say "I don't know" because if I don't then whatever I say is likely to be taken as an insult rather than an idea.

    I guess I'll have to take a fail on that one too.
The post concludes with some comments about the need for counselling, which I haven't found to be particularly useful with aspies, and some interesting comments on the longevity of love.

I don't think that love lasts very long at all. It goes off. It needs maintenance and it transforms into something better than love but probably not quite as deep. Whatever the next level is, it needs friendship, companionship, respect, understanding, support and empathy. Most of all, it needs constant maintenance on both sides of the relationship and both partners need to engage in self-improvement (hence my pass/fail comments here about myself).

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

How Brutal Honesty about the Future Affects Aspie Relationships

It's funny but you read quite a bit on the internet and in books about how "aspies cannot lie". As discussed in a previous post, that's simply not true.

Aspies can tell lies - it's just that lies don't come naturally to us. We tend to be truthful, even when the truth hurts - and we expect** others to be truthful to us.

**I don't mean "expect" in the discipline sense but rather literally. We automatically assume that people are telling us the truth without question. That's one of the reasons we seem so naive. It's also the reason that "is it really?" becomes something of a catchphrase for many aspies.

When you read about aspie "brutal truths" and relationships, the books always seem to use the example question, "does this dress make me look fat?". This is very misleading because many aspies do know how to "lie" for this question - and really, if that was the level at which brutal truth operated, we could all live quite happily with it.

It's not this question that is the problem, it's other, deeper questions.


Confusing Questions About the Future
When couples are courting, they often ask confusing questions to which the answers are indeterminate.

They aren't seeking lies but they aren't seeking absolute truths either. As it turns out, these questions are intended to gauge hopes and reactions.

Aspies however tend to answer these sorts of questions with absolute honesty - and with devastating results.

Examples - and wrong answers;

Q. Where do you see us in the future?
A. I don't know

An aspie will often answer this way because he can't see the future. In fact, the asker is asking whether the aspie would like them to be together and whether he is willing to work as part of a "team" to achieve that result. An answer of "I don't know" is misleading for the NT. It makes them think that you're undecided about the relationship and unwilling to commit.

Q. Will we be together forever?
A. No.

Ok, nobody lives forever and most aspies get the fact that "forever is subjective" - although some don't.

The partner question to this one asks if the couple will be together for their lifetime. A lifetime is a long time and aspies may give poor answers which take into account, the possibility of divorce and issues of commitment. Such a response can kill a relationship before it begins.

Q. Do you love me?
A. I don't know.

This is one of the real "relationship killer" questions. Most people struggle with the concept of love but it's a real problem for aspies because there's no clear confirmation that an emotion they're feeling actually is "love". Many aspies have difficulty finding the boundaries between strong friendship and love.

I remember asking one (suspected) aspie if he loved a particular girl. He said, "no, we're just friends". My wife then asked him if he had kissed the girl in question and following confirmation, asked for more details. It turned out that the kissing had been fairly passionate.

The aspie was quite stunned when we pointed out that people who were "just friends" generally didn't engage in such behaviour. That was the domain of love. When we explained to him about the signals he'd been sending to his "friend" and how that impacted her expectations of the relationship, he began to get quite agitated.

It was obvious to us that he didn't have a clear understanding of the boundaries between friendship and courtship.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Individuality and Aspergers

The main crisis of faith I had when diagnosed with aspergers related to my own sense of individuality. Sure, I was happy to be part of a group of like-minded individuals but I was concerened that many of my "unique traits" were no longer unique.

I'd accepted myself as someone who wasn't good a things like social, sports and general "blokey" things on the basis that I was unique. I was an individual who could be at times funny, weird, intellectual and astonishing but now I'd found a group of people who were bad at the same sorts of things as I but who excelled in the same quirkyness as me. It had stopped being "me" and became a question of genetics. I no longer felt special.


Differences amongst Aspies
I've taken comfort over the years since then in the fact that we are in fact, not all alike. We each have our own sets of traits and we each have our own personalities. It has taken a long time for me to re-accept myself and to see those differences but I'm a better person for it.

The Aspergers label is a great handle for describing a group of traits but it shouldn't be taken as an ultimate truth. The label is very much like the term "fruit". It's fair to say that all fruit grow on trees and I'm sure that there are a bunch of other similarities too but there are also big differences. A banana is very different to a bunch of grapes, to an apple, a kiwi fruit a melon or a passionfruit.

In the same way, while aspies have several similarities, we must never lose sight of the fact that they are all individuals. To generalise is to discriminate.


Who are Aspies?
The term aspergers is used to describe someone who meets the specifications in the DSM IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Revision 4). Those specifcations don't always nail down specific traits. In fact they read like multiple choice questions with phrases like;

  • Qualitative impairment in social interaction, as manifested by at least two of the following...
  • Restricted repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests, and activities, as manifested by at least one of the following...

In both cases, it presents four different sets of aspie traits.

I've recently heard of some aspies who claim that other individuals don't have the condition because they "aren't the same as me". This is an incorrect assumption, and it also belittles the person with aspergers. In their own way, they have suffered just as much as you.

Not only does this assumption not take into account changes from one individual to another but it also ignores the major differences in the diagnostic criteria which presents eight possibilities but expects you to only match three.

The idea should not be that all aspies are alike. Instead, it should be that there are similarities between aspies but that these similarities are limited. I'm often surprised at how similar some aspies are because there's no reason at all for them to be the same.


Just be Yourself
I think that I over-use this phrase, particularly when talking to aspies about their romantic lives. Often aspies don't want to hear it.

The Romantic Aspect
Before I go on, I'll clarify the romantic aspect of the phrase "just be yourself". It doesn't mean that you should walk around in your underpants and it doesn't mean that you can't try to impress someone that you're going out with. It simply means that you shouldn't attempt to present a false view of yourself when seeking a long-term relationship. You want to attract someone who will love you for who you are, rather than someone who will leave as soon as you find the "false-you" too hard to maintain in their presence.

The Individual Aspect
The real importance of "just be yourself" isn't romantic at all. It's all about self-acceptance and individuality.

It's easy to maintain a "false face" for short periods and many aspies become great actors over the years because of the way their social issues force them to act when in company. I've discussed in previous posts how I used to craft different personalities for different teachers when I was at school. It was difficult to keep these from clashing particularly when teachers grouped together or visited each other's classrooms.

Trying to be someone that you're not for extended periods is different. It is very hard work. I'm of the opinion that individuality is a beautiful thing and that it shouldn't be suppressed. It's true that you need to moderate your individuality in various settings; in the workplace for example but you should not modify it to the extent that your personality becomes "lost".

Your personality will both win and lose friends for you. There's very little that you can do about this. Instead, it's best to take comfort in the fact that the friends that you do make will like you because of who you are, rather than who you're pretending to be.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, "being yourself" is about self-acceptance and self-love. Aspies have a lot of problems with depression which stem from self-loathing and a lack of self-acceptance. It's hard enough to cope with the pressures of today's society and lack of acceptance amongst members of our family and "friends" without contributing to the problem ourselves.

Individuality is something to be celebrated. We should all be examining the things that make us, "ourselves" and not simply accepting them but also being proud of them. It's the first step on the road to rebuilding our self-esteem.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Book Review: 600 Hours of Edward

I've just finished reading the novel "600 hours of Edward" by Craig Lancaster. I loved it. It was unexpectedly good (because normally I read in a different genre). It was really engaging and very difficult to put down. My only complaint is that there weren't 700 or 800 hours. I was
enjoying it so much that I was sad when it ended.

Craig... I think we need a sequel.


600 Hours of Edward features an Aspie protagonist (Edward). It's the first novel I've read which does so. At first, I wasn't sure exactly how well I'd be able to identify with Edward. After all, he's a fiercely OCD aspie with a fixation on weather and Dragnet. His social issues are also so severe that he's generally unemployable. Since I've never been unemployed, I didn't think that I'd relate all that well.

I was surprised. It's true that in the beginning, I didn't identify with him much at all but as I got further and further into his character, I found myself identifying more and more with him.

To be frank, although the book is about a series of events, it's the character study that is most fascinating. I've seen it compared to "Flowers for Algernon" and in some way, this makes sense since Edward does manage to "grow" as a person. In many ways though, the message it presents is better than "flowers". Edward might grow but he doesn't really change. Acceptance is a better word than change - and more appropriate to aspies of today. The acceptance isn't once-sided either. Everyone needs to grow and adapt.

This book gives you a chance to climb inside the mind of an aspie. Edward's innermost thoughts and motivations are revealed to us. It's funny because I could find myself identifying with many of his motivations. The date scene is particularly funny and I can remember thinking similar things myself on dates. The pull of routine and the need to provide "too much information" is overwhelming at times.

The book is somewhat repetitive, starting almost every chapter with the same phrases. This may be a little annoying for some people but it pulls us firmly into Edward's world. His world is repetitive because OCD and Aspergers are repetitive conditions which require strict routines.

He likes routine and he knows when his routine is disrupted. It causes him great anguish.

I was reading about Edward's OCD issues, particularly his noting down the weather and his waking times. I thought about how time-consuming that particular ritual is and I thought to myself, "Gee, I'm glad that, I don't have those sorts of rituals"...

Then, at some point while reading the book, I went out a bought a DVD and found myself compelled to update it in my catalogue. The need to do so itched at me until I scratched it.

I am exactly like Edward.

His comments on watching Dragnet at exactly 10pm didn't gell with me either. I'm particular about watching Doctor Who but I'm not fixated on times. Not since I got video cassettes. Of course, before the advent of video, I can remember pitching hissy fits or not talking to my parents for a week if they caused me to miss an episode.

Edwards "letter therapy" is also quite interesting. I've always been a bit of a letter writer myself and I must agree, it really does help you to cope with the frustrations of everyday life. It's part of the reason why I, and many other people blog about things that are happening in our day-to-day lives.

600 hours of Edward is an absolutely fascinating book. If you're an aspie, you'll see yourself in it. If you're married to an aspie or if you're caring for one, you'll get a fascinating glimpse of their thought processes.

It's truly recommended reading.



Links
600 Hours of Edward is available on Amazon.
There's a post from Author: Craig Lancaster about writing the character here.
There's another good review here.

This copy was sent to me by Riverbend Publishing for review.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Movie Review: The Black Balloon

I'm branching out a little. I've covered a couple of books about Autism/Aspergers (with more to come) and now I'll be adding the occasional "spectrum" movie review. The movie reviews won't be "remembering" films I've seen, I'll be re-watching things and re-evaluating in the light of my present moods/feelings and also current political/social trends.


Today's review is The Black Balloon, which I watched for the first time last night.

The Black Balloon (2008)
Director: Elissa Down
Writer: Elissa Down, Jimmy Jack
Starring: Rhys Wakefield, Luke Ford, Toni Collette, Erik Thomson, Gemma Ward, Sarah Woods
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 90%

The Black Balloon is an Australian film about a family with a late-teen severely autistic child. The story is told mostly from the point of view of his "normal" brother and covers the problems with fitting into a new area and acceptance both within the family and within the community.

The Good
It's very obvious that the cast and crew are familiar with autism. In fact, writer/director Elissa Down has two brothers on the spectrum (and one NT brother). She mentions in the featurette that some of the more outlandish things in the film actually did happen in her family. Actor Luke Ford spent quite a bit of time with one of Elissa's brothers and I think he's got the performance nailed.

It's good to see that the story doesn't present the hollywood stereotype of the autistic savant. Instead, Charlie is an individual who embodies the majority of the qualities you'd see in anyone in a similar position on the spectrum. He's just as frustrating as most severely autistic people in that he has good and bad periods and that sometimes, for no apparent reason, the good period slides into the bad.

It's also good to see that in between the stimming and generally hyperactive behaviour, Charlie is shown as a person with the full range of emotions - it's a subtle performance but it's there if you look for it. He's shown as loving, particularly to his mother, played by Toni Collette and to his brother. His sense of humour comes out, as does his frustration.

The Bad
If I have any issues with the film, it's mostly that at times it becomes a little saccharine. The family is just too tolerant and too loving. The school friend, played by Gemma Ward is also too understanding to be real. There was also a social worker scene which went nowhere, it looked like it was going to provide an interesting spin on the story but instead, it was just dropped - I wanted more.

The Message
One of the main reasons I want to review films on the subject of Autism and Aspergers is to look at the messages which are being sent out to the general public. In the case of this film, the ultimate message is about acceptance and love.

At times, the film delves into "Autism Speaks" territory giving us an insider's view of the impact of autism on the family. Of course, the film doesn't want us to dwell on the burden and I suspect that this is the reason why the family is portrayed as a little too perfect/understanding. It's painful to watch the impact that Charlie is having on his family but at the same time, his parents and ultimately his brother show us that it's not about tolerance or even simple acceptance, it's about love.

There's so much in this film from it's throw-away lines, such as the father's message to "quitters"....

Thomas Mollison: Dad do you ever wish Charlie was normal.
Simon Mollison: All I know is he's my own, and you're weak if you don't look after your own

To the message for those who see only despair....

Jackie Masters: Close your eyes, what do you see?
Thomas Mollison: Black.
Jackie Masters: Look harder.

It's highly recommended viewing.



Friday, November 20, 2009

Article: Marijuana as a Treatment for Autism?

Here's an interesting article which could spark some debate.

Marijuana as a Treatment for Autism?
by Lisa Jo Rudy

I don't think that there's any doubt that "social lubricants" such as drugs and alcohol can make it easier for aspies to temporarily overcome their social problems. It's also true that sometimes these can help them to relax or function better outside of social situations.

Ritalin itself is a stimulant, as is caffeine and nicotine, marijuana (cannabis) isn't clearly defined as either a stimulant or depressant - it has both qualities.

In fact, it's quite common for children to be given ritalin and/or coffee and coke. Less common I think for parents to actually encourage smoking. Marijuana has been shown to have positive effects on depression.

Both Alcohol and Smoking have greater addicition and provide greater physical harm than marijuana but does that actually suggest that it's worthwhile using? In particular, the article refers to a mother who gives marijuana to her 9 year old son for medicinal purposes. It's hard to make a judgement call on something like that.

One thing that it clear however is that these drugs don't act on the autism itself but rather on the symptoms and co-conditions. Ritalin, for example, has no effect on autism or aspergers but does affect adhd. Similarly anti-depressants don't affect the autistic condition, only the symptom of depression.

Sleeplessness and Achieving Mental "Quiet"

Sleeplessness used to be the bane of my existence. People apparently need more than four hours of quality sleep per night but somehow my aspie brain didn't seem to care.

These days, the problem is mostly "licked". I usually feel tired enough to go to bed somewhere between 11 and 12pm and I wake for work at around 5.15am. I get around 5 and a half hours sleep per night. I'm still tired but it's a good deal better than my previous average of 3-4 hours sleep.

It's the pressures of work and family that get me exhausted enough to get my 5 hours per night. I thought I was "cured" but after being on holidays this week, I know that I'm not.

I've just had three days holiday without the kids. Its the first time since they were born (9 years ago) that my wife and I have had more than one night without them. Furthermore, there was no computer, just the blackberry and no calls from work - although admittedly, I did work through a few emails.

On the first day, we arrived in the afternoon and I fell asleep almost as soon as we arrived. I don't know why I was tired - I wasn't driving. We stayed up to about midnight but slept in until almost 10am. Night 2 was considerably shorter but still appreciable.

Night 3 (last night) was abysmal. I didn't get to sleep until after 1 - and it was fitful with my mind chattering ceaselessly. I awoke several times during the night finally giving up completely at around 4.30 am.

What's strange is that when the artificial tiredness generated by work, family, scouts and general computing etc is gone, my mind can't sleep. My coffee intake is significantly reduced while on holidays but sleep still eludes me.

My brain needs to constantly churn over and arrange facts. It pulls these from my everyday life, from things I see and read and from various ideas that I come into contact with.

Strangely, last night my mind spent ages mulling over the imagery in the film "dumplings" by Fruit Chan. It's a film I've only seen once - and probably more than a year ago. It's not even an English-language film. I'd been reading a book which made a passing mention of it - and the mere mention caused me to lose most of the night's sleep.

Films are a special interest of mine. They're great to think about but sometimes I wish I could just shut my mind off and go to sleep.

Friday, November 13, 2009

eBook A Perfect Gift for a Man - Now FREE!!

I just thought that I'd provide you with an update on "The Perfect Gift for a Man: 30 Stories about reinventing Manhood".


It has now been released in paperback, which means that the book is considerably cheaper. In addition, the Ebook is now free!!!

Since the book is mainly short stories and recollections, it's a very easy read and I encourage everyone to download it and have a look. The only aspergers link is my own set of stories but the book still provides a fascinating and hopeful glimpse into the mind of today's man.

If you decide to purchase a hard copy, all profits are going to the inspire foundation, an organisation which aims to help young people help themselves. We're aiming to reduce the suicide rate amongst men.

You might find some of the facts about suicide in Australia to be rather shocking - here is a factsheet which admittedly is a little out of date. Amongst it's claims are;
  • 2,683 people took their own lives in Australia during 1998
  • This means an average of seven suicides per day.
  • For every completed suicide there are over 30 attempts.
  • 2,150 of these suicides were males.
  • Male suicides outnumber female suicides by a ratio of 4:1
  • Suicide is the leading external cause of death among men.
  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-24 and 25 - 44 year old males
It's a good book and for a worthwhile cause. Buying a copy helps but then, so does passing on the positive stories available in the free PDF.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Why do Aspies Suddenly Back Off in Relationships (Part 3)

Continuing the series, part three deals with people who just don't know how to "behave" in relationships. I'm not talking about misbehaviour. I'm talking about communications problems, misreading the signs, missing the cues and not knowing those things which should come naturally.

This time, instead of trying to cover the topic in a clinical way, I'm going to speak straight from experience.

Communications Problems
I remember in 1984 when the movie "The Woman in Red" came out. I was pretty excited to see it, not only because it had one of my (then) favourite actors in it (Gene Wilder) and a great song "I just called, to say I love you" but also because the critics described it as; "Teddy Pierce has just wooed the woman of his dreams - and now that he's got her, he doesn't know what to do with her". At the time, that seemed to describe my life. I'd just managed to win the love of the girl who would oneday become my wife but apart from giving her a great big kiss, I really didn't know what else to do.

We communicated quite well and quite often via writing. In fact we usually wrote each other about three or more flirtatious love letters per week. Sometimes several in one day - usually during lessons. It's a wonder our school grades didn't suffer - or perhaps they did.

In any case, once the wooing phase was over, much of what was written in the letters was irrelevant and we used to quote lines of songs to each other. I was content to sit and bask in her radiance. Somehow I assumed that she could read my mind - and I never asked her anything.

What I didn't realise was that my starstruck stunned stares communicated nothing. I probably just looked like a frightened rabbit.

Financial Matters
Contrary to what our popular soapies suggest, we don't have cafe's filled with teenagers everywhere. Usually, McDonalds is the best you can manage. I used to take my sweetheart to McDonalds every Thursday after sport. I'd buy us a chocolate thickshake each. They were quite expensive and ate up two thirds of my allowance leaving only a couple of dollars for my developing book collecting habit.

Back then (and even now), I visit many of my potential purchases several times before buying while I save up the money. Often I would hide my intended purchase within the bookshop to prevent other people from buying it. Sometimes, it would disappear before I'd saved the required money. I lost a lot of good books in those years.

Although I was older than my girlfriend, I didn't have a job. I'd tried but in those days, checkout chicks were really "chicks". Generally, no men allowed. It was much easier for females to get jobs. My girlfriend had a good job at KFC. I never told her how much it killed me to buy those drinks. She would ask me to take her out to other places but I couldn't. I wanted to take her to the movies but there's no way I could afford it.

I'd been brought up to believe that the male in the relationship should pay for the romantic nights out. Since I couldn't pay, we didn't go. I didn't discuss my reasons - I'd been brought up "well" on that score too. I didn't realise how my refusals and my silence on the matter would affect things.

Ultimately, after a lot of heartache, we broke up. We tried again to rekindle our relationship after school, when we were both working. This time things went a little better. I had money and so we went places, though mainly to the movies (because that's a special interest of mine). My girlfriend suggested some places but I wasn't terribly receptive. I hated the idea of dances and I disliked clubs - relating them to negative childhood experiences.

I never understood that my "knock-backs" were having a negative effect. It might seem like I wasn't sharing, that I was being greedy but I didn't understand at the time how important these little things were. I'd presumed that if she really wanted something, she'd fight for it - the way my mother always had to fight my father for the things she wanted in life (holiday destinations etc).

Stupid Assumptions
I also had a group of male friends. None of them had girlfriends and we used to go out and watch movies together. I presumed that there was an unspoken rule that females were not welcome at our gatherings and I never challenged it. Often, one of them would call to arrange a get-together. I'd accept and make plans without consulting or even informing my girlfriend. She would call later that night but it was a case of first come, first served.

At the time, I didn't understand why this made her so angry.

I also had a tendency not to ring her. Her mother was a bit too scary for my liking (she still is at times) and I preferred not to have to deal with her.

Again, I didn't understand at the time that this was offensive. It made the communication seem "one-way" from her point of view. Now, of course, I can understand. I guess I could have understood then too if only I'd known that I had to stop and look at it from my girlfriend's point of view.

To make matters worse, I would greet her at the door (if she came to my house) and be eager to leave before my parents said something stupid - particularly my mother who had teasing little songs about our relationship. If I went to her house, I'd grudgingly enter and allow her parents to throw snide negative comments in my direction but secretly wished I could leave as soon as possible. I never took any notice of my girlfriends clothes, makeup, perfume or hair. I just wanted HER - and I wanted us to be away from parents as quickly as possible.

Sure, she was gorgeous but the clothes hardly mattered. To me, she was (and is) always beautiful. Such trimmings as makeup and jewellery were akin to sprinkling gold dust on a rose. Maybe they made it glitter but they were unnecessary - they couldn't possibly add beauty in my eyes.

I never mentioned it to her. I'd always been brought up that it was bad to make any sort of comment about anyone's appearance and in true aspie fashion, I took that rule and made it golden. What an idiot I was! Even today, I have huge problems making comments. I try but they always fall flat because I'm fighting my true nature.

Social Blindness
Then there was the matter of flowers, chocolates and gifts. I'd known my girlfriend since she was in year seven at school and she'd never ever expressed any interest in flowers. I didn't figure that she'd suddenly change because I didn't realise that there was a hidden meaning in giving flowers. I just thought that they were dead plants.

Similarly, I didn't present her with chocolate because we were going out. It didn't make sense to rock up at her door with chocolates, let her put them inside for her parents to eat (and they would), then take her out somewhere. I used to buy chocolates at the movies, choc-tops, malteasers etc. I thought it was the same thing... but it wasn't.

Jewellery too was weird. I knew enough to know that you only gave a girl a ring when it was time to get engaged (or so I then thought). The time for Jewellery was Birthdays and Christmases. Unfortunately, my family has a nasty habit of being thrifty at Christmas and getting things based on price rather than suitability. In those days, I did the same. I'd not been brought up to understand anything else.

In the end, my Christmas presents ranged from copperart pieces to craft kits and when they strayed into jewellery territory, it was usually only for earrings or pendants - often silver. I really had no idea what to spend. I'd only just learned the difference between gold and silver but I still had no idea of carats, plating and appropriate pricing. I was so naive in the purchasing of such things that it took me years of training to get it right.

Happy Endings
Somehow my girlfriend saw through to the real me. We still broke up once again and in fact it was only her discussions about her new boyfriend and what made him "special compared to me" that made me understand where I'd been going wrong all those years.

She talked about flowers, about compromise, about love, respect and listening. I listened, I learned, I "became" and she gave me another chance.

I guess that this post makes me sound like a lousy boyfriend - and I was. I was lucky to meet someone who was willing to persevere. It's not something that many aspies manage to find.

The problem is that we all take our limited experiences into new relationships. You can't change people but you can teach them and help them to accept new ideas. Many aspies completely destroy their relationships by simply applying the wrong sets or rules or forgetting to stop and try to see things from a different point of view. It's not easy - I'm still learning myself - but it is important.

If you're in love with an aspie, please don't assume that your aspie is less fond of you than you are of them. Perhaps they don't know how to express it, perhaps they're following the wrong rules or script and perhaps they just don't know what to do. Give them the benefit of doubt. Teach them what they should be doing - you may find that it brings amazing rewards.

If you're an aspie in love, the key to it all is to try and see things from your partner's point of view. They can't read minds, so make sure that you tell them whatever is on yours.

Also, watch some of these romantic movies. I always assumed that they were B.S. but they're not. Often, it's exactly what your partner wants you to say and do. A little romance takes very little effort but can bring great rewards to your relationship.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Why do Aspies Suddenly Back Off in Relationships (Part 2)

In part one, we looked at the role that Change Resistance plays in causing aspies to suddenly go "cold" in otherwise good relationships. This time, I want to look at self esteem and depression;

Self Esteem
The aspie relationship with themselves is tedious at best. People with Asperger's commonly suffer from low self esteem. As discussed in earlier posts, this low self esteem often results from years of emotional turmoil resulting from their poor social skills.

Aspies are often their own worst enemy. They can over analyze situations and responses in an effort to capture lost nonverbal communication. This often causes them to invent problems and to imagine replies. Everything made up by aspies will tend to be tainted with their own self image.

This is one of reasons that people with Asperger's will sometimes decide that they are not good enough for their partner and that they must let them go. Sometimes, the aspie will develop a notion of chivalry or self-sacrifice and will feel like they need to push their partner away for their own good despite the fact that they personally don't wish to give up the relationship.

Sometimes the aspie feels that they do not deserve the good luck that the relationship is bringing them. Sometimes they feel as if they need to punish themselves.

Several times during the courtship of my (now) wife, I experienced this problem. I had a plan to go to university and I knew that I couldn't spare the time to be with her. I mistakenly assumed that she would not tolerate this separation and kept putting the brakes on our relationship without providing any explanations. Eventually, she did leave me and although I was extremely upset, I figured that I deserved it.

I guess that I was ready to accept that she would find someone else provided that they lived up to my (impossibly high) standards. Discovering that the new man was not treating her as well as I would have was enough to galvanize me into action and I won her back. Self esteem issues can sometimes be conquered simply by realising that you are just as capable as others.

Depression
Going hand in hand with the self esteem issues is depression. Most aspies seem to suffer from depression in one form or another. In fact often they suffer from almost bi-polar emotions, swinging from extreme happiness extreme depression with very little in between. If a new relationship is formed during a period of extreme happiness, the partner will often mistake the depression phase for waning interest.

Depression can also be self-destructive. The aspie may terminate their relationship as a way of punishing themselves or they may begin to self-harm in other ways. Sometimes, it's not the depression but the depression medication itself which is responsible for the strain on the relationship. Sometimes too, it's other medications as many drugs which treat psychological conditions which commonly occur alongside aspergers, have depression as a side-effect.

Fixing the Problems
There's not really a great deal that can be done by the partner in relationships which are affected by self esteem and depression issues. Self-esteem issues can only be resolved with long term therapy. It doesn't have to be with a professional, it can be done as part of the relationship provided that the other partner is patient and considerate enough to do the hard work.

Therapy may also work in cases of depression but sometimes the depression is integral to the aspie condition and no matter how often you ease the aspie through the depression phase and into a happier place, the depression will always return.

Sometimes it's better to simply accept rather than to try and change or to "fix" your aspie. Sometimes, it's the aspie who needs to learn to accept themselves.

Next Time
Next time I'll look at people who just don't know what to do or how to behave in relationships.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Article: A New Novel "600 hours of Edward" by Craig Lancaster

It seems only a few years ago that the word "Aspergers" was virtually unknown outside of universities, schools and special education classrooms.

These days though, we seem to have aspie characters on primetime TV and in movies. In fact, recently we've started to see a movies like "Adam" and "Mary and Max" which are completely centred around their aspie characters.


I'm pleased to announce that Craig Lancaster's new novel "600 hours of Edward", released today is another such work and one that I'm particularly looking forward to because after all, there's only so much you can do in a film or TV series. Novels can get right inside the character's head.

Craig has released an article on the development of his aspie character, Edward along with an excerpt from his book.

The web site states that everyone who leaves a comment before November 6, 2009 will go into the draw to win a copy of the book, so please visit the site, read and comment.

600 Hours of Edward
by Craig Lancaster

oh and btw, you can also obtain and preview the book at Amazon.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Why Do Aspies Suddenly Back-Off in Relationships? (Part 1)

One of the most frequent questions I'm asked is why an aspie (or suspected aspie) suddenly goes "cold" and backs off on an otherwise good relationship.

It's a difficult question and the answers would vary considerably from one person to another and would depend greatly on the circumstances. Nevertheless, I'll try to point out some possibilities.

Negative Reasons
I generally like to stay positive on this blog and assume that people are not necessarily "evil" but simply misguided. Unfortunately, I do have to acknowledge that there are some people out there who take advantage of others.

I read a book a few years ago on "sociopaths in the workplace" and I was stunned by the figures. They suggested that sociopaths were so common that most workplaces (small business) had at least one or two.

The fact is that there are lots of people out there who really feel very little for others and who are very manipulative. I'd like to say that aspies aren't like this but I'm sure there are a few.

One of the problems is that sociopaths and aspies can present similarly on the surface. There's not a huge amount of immediately visible difference between "lack of emotional connection" versus "inability to convey emotion". Similarly, manipulative behaviour can often come across as simply "needy".

Since the aspergers diagnosis is based on purely subjective criteria, it's not unlikely that in some cases, sociopaths may be misdiagnosed as aspies.

You have been warned.

Now let's move onto more genuine and solvable reasons.

Change Resistance
This is one of the biggest reasons. The aspie detects an approaching change in the relationship; perhaps you're talking about moving in, having children or maybe you're simply becoming assertive about routines; tea times, household chores or furniture placement.

Whatever the reason, the aspie change resistance kicks in. As we know, aspies are not the world's best communicators and half of the time they'll be completely unaware that the problem is change resistance. To them, they're just unable to cope with the TV being moved to the opposite side of the room. They don't know why they don't like it but they can think of lots of fancy excuses. The aspie may find it easier to go quiet and say nothing than to speak their mind.

The NT side of the relationship will often take this "quietness" to indicate grudging acceptance and may exacerbate the situation by repeating it (for instance, moving more furniture). By the time the "quietness" is really noticed as a problem, it's often too late and the aspie has gone "cold" on the relationship.

NTs can assist with change resistance problems by becoming aware of unusual "quietness" in their partner and encouraging discussion. Aspies can help by making more efforts to communicate, even if it means resorting to written forms.

Next Time
Next time I want to look at the role that Depression and Self Doubt plays in causing aspies to back off on relationships.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Book: The Perfect Gift for a Man (Released Today!)


Ok, I'll admit up front that this post is a shameless plug but it's for a good cause.


The Book
Long-time readers of this blog may recall that recently, a group of Australian bloggers, myself included, participated in a "man-week" exercise designed to heighten awareness and acceptability of emotions in men.

The man-week initiative resulted in a book containing 30 stories by Australian men, myself included. Some of the material was on various blogs during man-week and some is new.

You can visit the web site for the book at;

The book is available for purchase as softcover or ebook and all proceeds from the book are going to the Inspire Foundation in an effort to reduce the suicide rates among men.

Men and Emotions
Men in our society, and particularly men in Australia are often raised to be the "rock of the family" and our emotions are supressed at an early age.

I can remember being quite young and having been hurt quite badly...

my father was working on his boat trailer lights and asked me to hold some wires for him - they were the wrong wires and I got scorch marks on my hand.

...My father's initial reaction was to tell me that "boys don't cry - only sissies and girls cry".

It's not his fault, that's how he was raised - and it was how I was raised. It's my hope that I can avoid perpetuating the myth of the unemotional male in our family. I'm encouraging my children to love, to laugh, to play and to cry.


Aspie Men and Emotions
The emotional problems that men face are compounded by aspergers diagnosis. Not a day goes by when I don't read some article online which suggests that aspies are "unemotional". In truth, aspies are a turmoil of emotions and the fact that they lack the expression to get these out only adds to the stress. Add this to a society where male emotions are actively discouraged and it's little wonder the suicide rate is so high.


A Personal Note
As I write this, my thoughts can't help but turn once again to fellow aspie blogger, Zach Lassiter, who right now is in a very dark place, and has been for several weeks. His web site and twitter still contain what were intended to be his final posts and other than knowing that he was hospitalised, I've no idea of his current status.

Zach, my hopes and prayers are with you.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

How can a positive diagnosis of Asperger's help an already established adult?

There's no question about it, the majority of Asperger's diagnosis' handed out today go to children. It is also pretty clear that the diagnosis provides access to a lot of ongoing early intervention and is the most successful way of dealing with the problems condition poses.

Some time ago I asked whether or not it made sense to label our children. Although the answers were far from unanimous, the majority seemed to support the label. This was because in most cases, a diagnosis provided obvious benefits.

It's a fairly simple question when aimed at children but it becomes a very different question when aimed at adults. It's difficult to tell whether or not a diagnosis can be useful for an adult who has already become well-established in the world, though not necessarily successful.

A Lack of Obvious Benefits
For a start, the obvious benefits just aren't there. There generally aren't any government handouts for adults with aspergers and revealing your condition to a prospective employer is more likely to hinder rather than help, your chances of success.

In fact, there is an abundance of stories about people who have lost their jobs because of aspergers though many of these relate to the symptoms themselves, rather than individuals "coming out of the closet".

Of course, bringing up the subject of aspergers after you've been berated by your boss for your poor social skills probably does seem like an excuse. It does make sense that some employers would take this the wrong way and terminate ones employment. This is similar to bringing up the subject after you've been accused of a capital crime (see: Martin Bryant or Gary McKinnon).

Cost
The other major factor in not getting diagnosed as an adult is cost. It just doesn't make sense to spend a lot of money on a label which isn't necessarily going to provide you with any material benefits. The high cost is probably the main reason for the huge number of "self-diagnosed" aspies out there.

Depression
Some people just can't handle labels and it's hardly surprising that one of the first reactions that people have to a diagnosis is depression. I can remember my own depression at the time as a sinking feeling that I wasn't as "unique" as I'd always believed. Instead of being a product of "my internal self", many of my creative and intellectual pursuits were driven by a "syndrome". I was fortunate to be able to move on from my depression easily - after all, I reasoned, it was only a label. I'd been myself before the label. I would be "myself" again afterwards.

Other people however don't have it quite so easy. For them, it's about a genetic weakness or about passing their problems onto their children. People who had difficult childhoods are especially prone to this sort of depression because they feel that it's their fault that history will repeat for their children. In reality of course, it's often more likely to be environmental factors which have the greatest impact on the happiness of children. Provide a happy and supportive home and most children will find happiness regardless of other conditions.

Benefits?
Of course, there are benefits to having a diagnosis, but they're much less tangible. For a start, when you discover that you have aspergers, the diagnosis casts your entire life in a different light. You begin to understand why you never felt like you fitted in. You understand the reasons for your depression, your failed social experiences and your obsessions.

I'm not saying that you can change, in fact, I'm suggesting the opposite. You can however more easily accommodate your weaknesses because in accepting them (and yourself), you can stop living in the shadow of your past "mistakes" and move on.

In my case, I was able to accept that there were very good reasons why I hated social events and I stopped "forcing myself to attend". Sure, I'll still go to some social events but these days I don't feel quite so obligated. There's a reason why I'm not good at them and no amount of practice is going to make that reason disappear entirely.

I've accepted myself the way I am and I feel much better for doing so.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

News: Stunning Examples of Autistic Child Abuse

In the news today is an article with some of the worst examples of autistic child abuse I've ever heard of.

Special Education Teachers in Trouble for Autistic Student Abuse

Now I know that there are worse things being done to autistic children (see Observations and Findings of Out-of-State Program Visitation Judge Rotenberg Educational Center) but the difference is that it's fairly obvious what the programme at the JRE is. The abuse reported today was being committed by trusted special education teachers.

If you put your child into a center like JRE, you will (hopefully) have checked the place out and have made a conscious decision to treat the child in that manner. I'm not saying that it's a good thing - far from it - but parents who institutionalise their children should have very good reasons and more importantly, they should feel responsible for supervising their child's treatment.

In the case of the mainstreamed child however, it's more a case of "fire and forget". Parents help their children get ready for school, pack their bags and send them off. For the most part, those children are then out-of-sight, out-of-mind until school finishes.

We trust that the school system will look after our child. Sure, we are responsible for checking the school out but other than that, we can't be responsible for the mood swings or psychopathic tendencies of its staff. Ultimately, we have to trust the school and this kind of trust is akin to the trust placed in doctors, priests and lawyers(?).

From a parent's point of view, it raises some concerns about who you can trust. I'd love to know if the parents had any suspicion that things were going wrong - I suspect not - at least, not in the first two cases. In the third case, the teacher was a repeat offender.


What can we, as parents do?
This is the big question. Obviously we can't go around placing suspicion on every teacher. We have to learn to let go and trust our educators - otherwise we become helicopter parents. Being a helicopter parent isn't just about social perception - it's also harmful to the child, if not academically, then at least socially.

How much contact with the school is too much? How much is too little?

I don't think that there's any sensible benchmark, it would vary from child to child, teacher to teacher and incident to incident. It makes sense to suggest that more time needs to be spent in communication with the teacher in the first term than in the later ones but beyond that, we need to be guided by our (generally uncommunicative) children's feelings and actions.

The Introductory Letter
Here's a method of contact that I'm quite keen on, although I've not been as diligent in the past with my own children as I should have been...

At the start of the school year, write an introductory letter to your child's teacher telling them all about your child, his strengths and weaknesses, both social and educational. Make sure that you include contact information for yourself and your partner and offer your assistance.

Tell the teacher that given reasonable notice, you're happy to be included on excursions with your child.

Even better, consider putting the letter, or a copy of it, permanently in your child's homework diary. Of course, if your child is a teenager, you might have to ask your child for permission.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Book Review: Raising a Left-Brain Child in a Right-Brain World

I'd always intended to do some book reviews on "Life with Aspergers" and since I was sent the following book to review, it seems a good place to start.

Strategies for Helping Bright, Quirky, Socially Awkward Children to Thrive at Home and at School.
by Katharine Beals PhD.


Initial Response
On the face of it, the title of this book would probably not engage my interest - which is unfortunate because it's a really fascinating book. The title isn't wrong either, the book really is about "Left-Brained Children"; it's just that you need a bit more explanation before you read the title.

The Left Brained Child
Katharine Beals has used the label "Left-Brained" in place of other more judgemental labels. She describes the left brained child as the sort of child to whom mathematics comes easy and group work does not. Her definition is quite encompassing but if I have any issues with the book, they're simply that the definition she uses isn't wide enough. In my opinion, the book is just as relevant to children with "left brained" characteristics but better English/History skills than mathematics. Similarly, much of the book is relevant to children who have aspergers but who also have learning difficulties which prevent them from becoming "math wizzes".

What is the Book About?
The book describes three types of "left-brained" children;
  • The Unsocial Child
  • The Analytic Child
  • The Mildly Autistic Child (Aspergers, HFA, PDD-NOS)
There are similarities between all three types of children and you may find, as I did, that things relevant to your child appear in all three sections.

What makes this book fascinating is that instead of providing an overall view of the child like most similar books, it concentrates on the changing school environment and its effects on these children.

It helps that Katharine is both an educator and a mother because her discussions don't stop at the school, they also include socialisation with school children outside of school (playdates), homework and learning at home.

The Changing School
It's strange but I had actually noticed many of the school changes that Katharine talks about. It's just that I'd never considered them together and I hadn't really given much thought as to how they were affecting my children. After reading this book, I've got a lot of questions that I want to ask at our next school meeting - and quite a few changes I'll be suggesting at our next IEP.

The book covers the effects of some radical and "right-brained" changes to the school curriculum many of which have probably already been implemented at your children's schools without your knowledge.

These include reform math, which places greater emphasis on creative and group solutions to problems than on mathematics itself. Examples include exercises such as "measuring the playground" and questions such as "What is your favourite number and why?".

The book covers changes to several other disciplines, including science, writing, foreign language and literature. These changes are all quite frightening and I've recognised a few of the projects cited as things my own children have brought home.

Readability and Practicality
Textbooks are not novels, we don't read them simply for enjoyment. We want to be able to get something out of them. To do this, they need to offer real life examples and good advice.

Interspersed throughout "Raising a Left-Brain Child in a Right-Brain World", are snapshots of our children's world. Some are through the eyes of these children but most are from a parent's point of view. These are offered, usually at the beginnings of chapters, without any initial interpretation. The interpretation is provided when the incidents are referred to in later parts of the chapter. I really liked this approach. It gave me an opportunity to formulate my own ideas as a parent before explaining the real situation. In many ways, this is exactly the "gap" that parents experience between what they see and what their children feel.

Even better, each section concludes with a number of detailed suggestions for working around the problem. They range from the obvious and drastic; "change schools" including what to look for in a new school, to suggestions for inclusion in the IEP, extracurricular activities and even ways of dealing with your child's lecturing or argumentive streaks at home and with friends.

This book was really very interesting and relevant and I urge you to look beyond the title. If you have children, particularly in the early years of primary/elementary school, then this book may be essential reading.

You can read through Katharine Beals' introduction on Amazon. This will give you a better feel for her criteria for "left-brained children.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Aspie Senses - Part 2

Last time I started discussing how senses affect our perception and I looked at hearing which is my weakest sense, and smell which is my second weakest. For me, even these "weaker" senses mix with memories and provoke both positive and negative emotions. In this post, I'll continue the exploration of the senses;


Taste
In my case, taste is the weakest Of the remaining three senses. I know that many people believe in more, in fact, so do I but for the moment, I'm sticking to the classical five. My sense of taste has always been fine but there is such a strong link between taste and smell that my impaired sense of smell obviously affects taste.

There are only two food tastes which I severely dislike; Sultanas and Orange Vegetable (Carrots, Pumpkin and sweet potato). Sultana's are easily the worst affecting me in several other ways, including touch, sight and smell. I can't look at them. I can't eat things that have been stored in the same containers as them and I shiver when I have to touch them (occasionally when the kids spill them all over the inside of their school bags).

Overall, I don't particularly think that taste affects my mood too much. I don't think that this contributes to overstimulation in aspies, though I could be wrong.


Touch
Touch is a really really strong sense. In fact, I'd venture so far as to say that many of my taste dislikes are as much about touch as they are about taste. For instance, carrots and sultanas have a texture that I dislike. Most of my childhood food issues stemmed more from texture than taste. I remember going off rice bubbles for two reasons, texture and sight. There wasn't anything wrong with the taste of them.

I have problems touching certain kinds of surfaces, blackboards for instance, and I have issues with "prickly" clothing. When it comes to romantic encounters, sometimes I have major issues with tongue texture. I always have issues with feather-touch rubbing of a finger across my arms, feet and shoulders. I don't seem to have problems with full on hugs, unless I'm not expecting them but a light touch can leave me scratching a spot for ages.

Many of my childhood meltdowns were solely down to touch. I had a couple of jumpers that my mother had knitted for me and some that my relatives had bought for me. It's obviously quite offensive to them if you refuse to wear them. The problem was that these items were torture for me. I'd be scratching from the moment they were put on until hours after they were removed. I used to try to stand my ground and not wear them but my mother wouldn't listen to my complaints, she'd pick the jumpers up and rub them and tell me how nice they felt. Touch is a very personal thing. Things that irritate one aspie don't necessarily irritate others. Some things can be "worn in" but others never become wearable.

There are other aspects to touch too. At school, other children will want to touch you. In the car, your siblings will use touch to annoy you and then there's tickling. I guess that on some level, tickling may entertain certain victims. I don't think I've met an aspie who likes a random tickling.

It's a safe bet to suggest that a high percentage of childhood aspie meltdowns will be related in some way to touch. One way to reduce this problem is to let your aspie carry their own touch-based calmatives.

As a child, I became very attached to an eiderdown (a sort of blanket). I had several over the years but only got attached to certain ones. Even today, I often like to be wrapped in a doona but I'm quite picky about the texture. My wife bought a blanket about a year ago and suggested that I use it instead of dragging the doona cover around. Unfortunately, she bought it without my being present and despite the fact that it was a beautiful soft thing, it didn't work well with my sensitivities. I prefer simple, smooth and cool (temperature) coverings, not furry or prickly ones. These days, I still prefer the old doona cover.


Sight
Sight is a curious sense. You'd think that sight wouldn't affect an aspie too much - after all, they can always close their eyes or look away - right? Wrong. Some things, once seen, lodge in the mind. I'm not referring to the problem of TMI (too much information) but rather to issues where sight causes annoyances to surface.

My wife and I stayed at a hotel for our twelfth anniversary last weekend. It was a very nice n place but the restaurant area had a wall pattern which annoyed me. They had a feature of about twelve stone roses in the middle of their wall arranged in a pattern but one of the roses in the bottom row was painted gold, not white.

This might have been passable except that it wasn't even in the middle. It was an irritating break in the pattern.

######
#@####

You can get a sense of what the feature wall was like from the pattern above. It wasn't annoying me to a degree which affected my eating but it did irritate me enough to stick in my head. My wife was aware of the pattern and when I remarked on it she said that as soon as she saw it, she knew it would annoy me. It didn't annoy her though, it was art.

Aspies seek patterns and regularity everywhere and these sorts of things irritate us. I remember as a child watching those endless Spock (Leonard Nimoy) presented featurettes on Stonehenge and wishing I could fix those annoying missing blocks.

I didn't cause me meltdowns but sitting an aspie in a room which is visually annoying doesn't help them to remain stress free.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Colour Changes

Just as a side note, I've received a lot of complaints about my white text on a black background - so I changed to black text on a white background - and got a complaint about that on the first day.

I'm not particularly excited about the black text on parchment look but I'm hoping it's a happy medium. Sorry about all the changes.

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Aspie Senses - Part 1

It's a well known fact that people on the spectrum often have sensory issues but it's probably less well known that these sensory issues can trigger both positive and negative feelings. Sensory issues are one of the major reasons why many aspies find it difficult to work. They are also a major contributor to shutdowns, and to a lesser extent, meltdowns.

The Sense of Hearing
I tend to think that one of the main reasons why I've been successful in the workplace is because my own susceptability to sensory issues is reduced by comparison with other aspies. Being deaf has certainly given me much greater tolerance for the sorts of sounds which irritate my peers. I've been reading Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg's recent series of articles with great interest. Here is someone who is actually using earplugs to reduce her sensory issues - and she's not alone. There are many aspies doing exactly the same thing. Rachel even goes so far as to attend sign language classes to learn a language which is better suited to her reduced sensory state.

My own children are an interesting combination. My eldest does quite a bit of verbal stimming and our mornings are often filled with all kinds of annoying repeated sounds. These sounds don't annoy me unless I'm very close to him but they annoy my wife - and even more so, they annoy his younger brother who has particular sensibilities to sound.

I'm very grateful for my deafness. It's saved me a lot of pain over the years.

Of course, there are four more senses and it's some of these others which can disturb me.



The Sense of Smell
You wouldn't think that smell would be such an important factor but in my case, it is. Once again, I had a very "sheltered" childhood because my my nose had been damaged as a baby in a climbing accident. I climbed a chest of drawers but it fell on me. My allergies were also terrible at the time, it's only years of therapy that has cleared my nose enough to allow me to breathe through it occasionally now. Most of the time, I still use my mouth through force of habit. This apparently makes my breathing very loud and irritating to others but I don't know for sure - I can't hear it you see.


Positive smells
Smelling can be a form of stimming and many aspies seek out smells for comfort. My personal favourite is vanilla and I can happily sniff vanilla for ages. I'm the proud owner of several vanilla candles and I've also got various vanilla essesnces and fragrances. I've purchased (twice) vanilla smelling perfumes for my wife and my favourite cake is... yep... vanilla slice.

I'm also quite partial to coconut ice, not the edible kind - just the smell. Once I found a coconut ice candle and didn't buy it but felt withdrawal symptoms after leaving the shop. Less than two Weeks later I was back, looking for the candle but the shop had sold out. I think I made four more trips out to the shop (which was quite a drive from our house) before giving up. The next time I see a coconut ice candle, I'm buying it.

Of course, it's not only food smells that we seek. I also like mint and the smell of freshly cut wood. Some aspies become addicted to their own body smells and this can often have harmful results. I've heard of aspies who stim by sniffing their own crotch or armpits. There are immediate social consequences if they're caught doing this but there are also long-term social problems. Aspies who stim using their own body odours are unaware that these smells can offend others. They're less inclined to cover the smells with deodorant and they often suffer the social consequences of isolation.


Negative Smells
I can't comment on the positive and negative parts of hearing because I don't hear most of the sounds but I'm surprised by the degree to which smells affect me. It's strange because the negative smells aren't necessarily bad ones. I can sit in a car when someone has been excessively flatulent without having too adverse a reaction (sometimes) but I can't stand to be in a house where someone has been cooking cabbage or cauliflower.

I don't have a problem with general body odours from people around me but I do have massive issues with breath. In fact, there are three distinct types of breath that I just can't stand. Hopefully I won't offend anyone here...

  • "Old people breath"
    I'm not really sure how to describe this except that it seems to be most noticeable with the elderly (and with health fanatics). Perhaps it's vitamin tablets or garlic, whatever it is, I have major issues with it. It causes me real problems socially because I've been in conversation with people and had to keep backing off or abruptly ending a conversation because I can't handle the smell. I get very irritated with myself at these times because usually I don't want to have to turn tail and run.

  • "spicy breath"
    Again, I'm not entirely sure what causes this smell but I think it's chilli stored under specific conditions. I've noticed that a lot of Indian culture people have this breath but I've also discovered it in a tin of chilli tuna. Unlike the "old people" breath which makes me gag, the spicy breath instils an almost violent reaction in me. If I encounter this particular smell, I feel like I need to get away before I become aggressive.

  • "Beer Breath"
    No points for guessing where this problem comes from. It's a classic example of how memories can get linked to smells and are triggered upon recurrence of the smell.
Bad breath isn't the extent of my bad smells experience, there are other smells, like licorice, which I can't stand because it smells so similar to a substance used extensively in my first job; "making dog food".

I'm not quite sure where this post is going yet because I tend to write straight from the heart and let the thoughts mature in my head between posts (hence my part 2's are often quite divergent).

In part 2, I'll look at some of the other senses and then... well, I'll see where to topic wants to go.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Defining Ourselves via our Emotional Baggage - Part Two

Last time, I looked at a couple of small examples of how the future actions of aspies are often dictated by their emotional baggage and suggested that the long term memory and inability to let go could be root causes.

This time, I want to look at how that emotional baggage transforms itself into rules and begins to take over our lives.

The Leap from Memory to Rule
If a piece of baggage affects you enough to be constantly in your memory, it soon begins to transform itself into aspie rules. Sometimes these rules are good but sometimes they're too restrictive.

About 16 years ago, when I was only starting my second IT job, I made the mistake of forgetting to back up some address book data when wiping an employee's laptop computer. I did back up everything else but the address book data was in an unexpected location.

Although the employee in question wasn't particularly senior, he complained to management and I was reprimanded. What he didn't realise was that I would stress over that particular set of actions for the remainder of my six years in that company.

I stressed so much that it quickly became a rule to back this data up first. Then the rule expanded to an active "hunt" for data on laptops and finally to network backup options which border on paranoia. I've never since lost data when wiping a laptop - even when the laptop is otherwise inoperable.

My backup before wipe procedures have resulted in increased time being spent on the task and increased storage space being used. I back everything up. Favourites, Icons, Wallpapers... the lot. I'm often told that I don't need to backup internet bookmarks but I do it all the same. It's data and my rule says that it can't be lost.

I once had to leave the room when a junior employee repeated my original mistake. I simply couldn't handle the stress of seeing the mistake repeated even though on that occasion, no complaints were made. Sure, my data safety rule is good but it has its downside too.


Every Waking Moment
Over time, stronger rules and baggage start to pervade your every thought.

My father used to have a saying "if it's worth doing, it's worth doing well". He wasn't a man who accepted imperfection in work. He would tell me that if I wasn't prepared to do something perfectly or correctly, then I shouldn't do it at all.

If I did things wrong, he would take over and redo them.

As a direct result of my father's mantra I've had a drive in my life to do things perfectly - or not at all.

Failure and even minor imperfections trip massive and sometimes near suicidal guilt trips.

I was nearly suicidal when I had my first car crash as a teenager because my nearest rival, my elder sister had - and still has, a near perfect record. Nowadays, I don't drive much ostensibly because I prefer being a passenger but really because I don't feel that I do it well enough (ie:perfectly), so it's not worth doing at all if I can avoid it.

I was even closer to suicide when my marriage looked like breaking up. Thankfully my wife and I managed to find a solution as I have no idea how much worse things might have become if I'd failed in that situation.

Every error I make, from programming glitches at work down to typos on the blog eats away at my self worth. Even worse, some of my rules prevent my errors from being corrected. I have to get it right the first time and many of my errors are doomed to remain as corporate records to haunt me.

Then there's cowardice; I rather doubt that I'd have much fear in a "self-sacrifice for the greater good" situation but show me a tough gardening job and you'll see the real coward emerge. I'm terrified of failure you see. If I can't do a perfect job, then I'm too terrified of failure to do anything.


Blame
I'm not, for a minute blaming my father for this aspect of my condition. I've internalised things from both my parents, my friends, my teachers and my experiences. After all, it's natural that we all internalise things that are said and done in our environment. I like trying to be perfect despite the downside that comes with it - it's tough but it's a good thing.

As a parent though, I now have to be painfully aware that any messages that I repeat constantly are likely to be internalised by my own children to become the emotional baggage that defines them in their adulthood. It's one of the main reasons why I've mostly abandoned any forms of discipline which involve aggressive tendencies such as shouting or spanking.