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;


Sunday, March 12, 2017

Sometimes Autism and/or Aspergers is very Detectable

Throughout my life, I've had people reacting to me in a fairly protective manner.

If I was a different type of person, I'd probably find it quite patronising but in my case, I don't mind it and I even find it helpful at times. I know a lot of people on the spectrum who react quite differently, greeting this type of treatment with anger.

Getting frustrated with this treatment is more or less the same as being a feminist and being frustrated with men who open doors for you. You may find it offensive but the people who are doing these things for you generally mean positive things. 

How are we detectable?

When I was younger, I used to assume that people knew about my hearing loss and were simply helping out. I remember having to say to my teachers at school, “I'm deaf, I'm not dumb”.

Recently it's begun to dawn on me that this isn't deafness, it's not even knowledge of my place on the autism spectrum.

It's simply the “vibes” that I put out. The social ineptitude, my poor co-ordination and my introverted body language.

Detectable body language

As I’m always repeating, “everyone on the autism spectrum is an individual”. Things which are particular for me may manifest quite differently for others - if at all. 

In my case, I came to the conclusion that people were adjusting differently for me during “boxing”..

I've been doing kickboxing once or twice per week for the past four months. Prior to that I did three years of karate so I'm no stranger to contact sports. In also quite a tall person and at forty seven it's safe to say that I don't look like a kid anymore.

Last week I was boxing with someone who was obviously pretty good and someone else who was clearly a beginner. None of us had spoken to each other prior to the boxing so the only clues that we had about each other were from observation.

I noticed that the inexperienced boxer was often missing his cues or hitting with less than perfect form. Mine was better but of course, the experienced boxer was extremely good. What was interesting though was the that the experienced boxer started to help me out, giving me cues, tips and nods while he ignored our very inexperienced companion.

I’ve also noticed, over the weeks that I’ve been doing boxing, the instructor has been much more encouraging and interacting with me than with my peers. I’ve noticed this in other classes at the gym and in other areas of life itself.

There’s something in my body language that says that I'm naive or perhaps “different”. I don’t know what it is but I know for sure that it’s there. 

Saturday, March 4, 2017

He doesn't look autistic to me...

He doesn't look autistic to me... 

It's a phrase that every parent of a child on the autism spectrum dreads. Apparently it's meant as a compliment but in reality it's a fairly impressive bit of “multiple insulting“.

Disclaimer: Nick Cage doesn't necessarily have autism but I used this photo because it has the right kind of "weird face" required to match the offending phrase.

Why is this so insulting?

On the one hand,  it's insulting to all people with autism because it suggests that all children with autism can be identified by presumably defective physical traits making them “inferior” to their neurotypical counterparts in yet another way.

On the other hand, it's insulting to the person who has autism and their carers because it belittles their struggle and challenges the idea that they have anything to complain about. People often use the offending phrase to suggest that a child or adult doesn't need special treatment or support services.

It often leads into a discussion about the removal of services or the reduction of financial support.

What "comeback should you use"?

As a parent, I know that there are a million witty comebacks for this line but the question is less about which to use and more about whether to bother with a reply at all.

I usually make my decision based upon whether or not I think that the person can learn from the experience.

If I think that learning is possible, I usually fall back on one of my favourite quotations; “if you’ve met one person on the spectrum, then you've met ONE person on the spectrum”.

There's no rule that says that people with autism should look or act in any way similar to each other”. 

Usually people who want to learn will begin to understand at this point.

People who don't want to learn will never change their minds regardless of anything that you say or do. If the person you're talking to doesn't seem to be trying to understand, then it's time to break off the conversation.

Is there any truth at all to this statement?

As far as whether it's possible to tell if someone it autistic simply by looking at them is concerned, the answer is "no".  Close observation however is a different thing and if you were to observe a person in their natural environment for long enough or under the right conditions, it's possible that you'd pick up their differences.

People who are very familiar with autism, particularly people with autism themselves, can often pick up on similar differences in others.

I've noticed that this occurs even if the person observing is completely oblivious to their own differences. It's one of the reasons why children with autism in mainstreamed schools often find friends on the spectrum.  It's also the reason that people with autism often discover years later that their partners are either on the spectrum or have genetic links to someone else, for example brothers or cousins, on the spectrum.

In autism, like more often than not, attracts like. 


Experts are everywhere -- but they won't approach you

While many teachers, child therapists and doctors are pretty good at spotting people with autism, it's fairly unlikely that you'd encounter someone with a talent for detection at your local shopping centre or at a social gathering not related to autism.

More importantly though, if you did, they would generally have the experience and training required to know not to approach you and offer their unsolicited opinion on your child.