Saturday, March 25, 2017

Understanding the "unusual gait" part of asperger's syndrome

One of the more bizarre questions on the Asperger's diagnostic forms concepts whether the person has an “unusual gait”. 

I remember reading that and thinking that I certainly didn't fit the profile in that instance.

I think that the first image that popped into my head at that point was John Cleese doing the “Ministry of Silly Walks” sketch.

Of course, the reality of the unusual gait is “completely different”.

Then and Now

It was only later that I remembered that my wife, whom I met at age 14, used to tell everyone to watch out for my “funny running style”; something that clearly amused my schoolmates.

Could this be the famed “unusual gait”.

Fast forward about 33 years and I find that my work colleagues pick up on my “unusual gait” as I pass them on the street. Clearly there's something really different about how I walk. Not “wrong”, just different.

In fact, it's clearly not wrong because I walk more than most people and done random walks of up to 50km (6 hours) without any preparation, not even a drink bottle. It's clearly not an inefficient way to walk.

Why is there a difference?

I think that there are a few reasons why I have an unusual gait. I'm not sure how many of these are applicable to others on the spectrum but I suspect it's more than one.They fall into two major categories;

Low Muscle Tone

Low muscle tone is quite a common trait in people on the autism spectrum and it tends to manifest itself as general “floppiness”, particularly in the limbs.

It's especially visible in the feet. 

Contrary to the way it reads, low muscle tone doesn't mean that people can't be muscular. They most certainly can be. It simply means that the way that the muscles and ligaments are layered means that people with LMT can often “hyper-extend” some limbs a little farther than others.

This has a couple of problematic side-effects;

  • Many people with LMT stand in unusual ways (cross-legged). While this is comfortable for them, prolonged poor stance can lead to hip problems or other issues in the future.It's also common for people with LMT to sit on their feet well into adulthood. This can also cause social issues; particularly in the workplace.
  • The other danger is that hyper-extension increases the risk of sports injuries. It means that the foot can bend just that little bit too far when running or that stretches and weight lifting can more easily dislocate joints. 

If someone has issues with low muscle tone, it's likely that they would be at their most visible in their gait.

Overthinking and Gamification of Walking 

As a kid, I was always overthinking my walking. I would always see patterns in the floor and I’d find way to walk them or rules for specific avoidance, such black tiles or cracked pavement slabs. As a result, my walking was often sporadic and it involved a lot of jumping about.

As an adult, I’ve supposedly grown out of such things but I still find on my walks to and from the station that I make games from, or “gamify” my walks. For example, I have a rule that says that a car should not drive in front of you when you’re crossing a driveway or a street. Sometimes this rule extends to cracked pavers or pavers with access points in them. At the same time, while you can increase or decrease your pace, you can’t actually stop walking.

I don’t do this with normal middle-of-the-day walking, just the walks to and from the station. The streets are fairly quiet and there’s a fair chance that you’ll “win”. It also helps keep me distracted and lowers stress. It gives me a small slice of time when I’m not thinking about work or problem-solving.
I'm sure that it probably looks pretty funny from the outside though.

And now for something completely different...

Finally, if you've never seen John Cleese's silly walks sketch, you've missed something amazing, so here it is;


SF said...

So, this is a bit out there... Background, I've never been diagnosed with Asperger's, but my son has, and I certainly share a lot of traits with him.

This post made me think of a comment I got, oh, 30 years ago. I grew up in the same small town my great-grandfather moved to circa 1900. I was in the local high school talent show, and afterward a little old lady I didn't know came up to me, congratulated me, and told me I walked just like my great-grandfather. I've never known what to make of that.

I don't think of myself having an "unusual gait". But something in how I walk caught the eye of someone who associated it with someone I never met who had been dead nearly 40 years at that point. This feels like the first thing I've ever heard which might make sense of that.

tick said...

I don't have low muscle tone but I still at 45 sit on my feet and I have an odd gait. My mom says I walk like my dad(who I'm nearly certain must have had Aspergers, too) and others comment that I walk "like a guy" or that I walk kinda strange. What ever it is that I do apparently my odd walking style gets even worse(or better depending on how you want to think about it)when I wear a skirt. Anyhoo, I don't know if it's Asperger's or something unconnected. Also I tend to look at my feet as I walk though I think that is mostly to cut down on too much visual stimulation in certain situations.

Ericka Aspiegirl said...

thats so cool! ive heard about the unusual gait, but i never read much about it, or looked into it. i certainly fit into the overextended joints, i could do things i shouldnt have been able to do, and now i realize its not because of flexibility as much as it is about the hyperextensions... kinda frustrating.

ive been reading some things that might point autism and other things to a misfiring MTHRFR gene (or something like that - i know it looked like a swear word abbreviation :P ) and it makes your cells unable to absorb folic acid or something? i wonder if all of this: autism, gut issues, muscle issues, hyperextensions... all connected to that folic acid deficiency..