Sunday, October 21, 2018

Some people just want a Reaction


It's a funny old world that we live in and it's full of people that I just don't understand. For the most part, I get along really well with just about everybody but every now and then I encounter "rogue people" who just want to attack me for reason unknown. 

It's something I've noticed since I was a kid and I've never felt that I had a very good handle on why this happens. I don't read people terribly well. I'm improving but I've got a long way to go.

Recently, it's been suggested that it's something to do with the way I present as emotionally unreactive. I thought I'd use this post to explore this.

The Unreactive Child

When I was growing up, it was very much the norm for parents to say "boys don't cry" or "boys have to be tough". Of course, I did cry, especially when I injured myself but after an early life of tantrums and meltdowns and I learned to suppress my emotional responses.

There's also the idea that bullies attack people to get a response and that the best responses for bullies were "no response at all".

At some point in my primary school years, I stopped reacting badly to things that weren't pain -- and I stopped responding to a lot of pain in itself. It wasn't total stoppage of course, if people kept at me, eventually they'd break me but it meant that for the most part, words stopped having any visible effect on me.

Controlling your emotions to such an extent when you're barely into double-digit ages creates a lot of internal stress and torment. I quickly learned that being around people made things so much more difficult and at every possible moment, I retreated to the world of books instead. 

Bullying Doesn't Stop if you Ignore it

At age 12, I was moved in class to sit next to one of the worst of the bullies of our year group. I sat next to him all day, every day and I used to come home with lots of bruises on my arms because he enjoyed punching my shoulder. Eventually, after months of copping abuse, my parents announced that they had to go to a parent-teacher night and they asked me if there was anything I wanted to say.  I asked if I could be moved to sit with someone else.

When my parents got home, they told me that they'd mentioned it to the teacher and that the teacher had said that he'd moved me there because I was the only one who could stand up to the bully. Unlike other people he'd been seated next to, I didn't cry and I didn't seem to be emotionally affected by him. The teacher couldn't move me because nobody else would sit next to the bully.

It seems ridiculous to think about this now because essentially it meant that I, the victim, was suffering on account of the bully's bad behaviour. Regardless, I finished out the year in that position. 


Restoring Emotions

I was sixteen before I gave myself permission to cry again over non-physical issues and when I finally did, It felt like a dam had burst and I cried, out of sight of others, for weeks. It was a big turning point in my life and I emerged a very different person.

Unfortunately by then most of the damage was done. My reactions were numbed and while I'm now able to convey my feelings to a small group of very trusted friends and family, my general reactions in day to day life are those of nonchalance - unless it's an issue of huge proportions.

People often used to say to me, aren't you happy about this (insert whatever happy event), why aren't you smiling?  I don't know exactly what it is but I guess my face has a "resting blank look". Yes I was happy but it just wasn't showing on my face.

The same goes for sad events. Just because my face or my voice don't show issues, it doesn't mean that I'm not drowning in a sea of unhappiness or self-criticism. 

This is me in 1994, It's my ecstatic face. I'd found a Doctor Who museum during a trip to Wales.

Pushing for a Response

Recently I was talking to my wife about an issue in which a colleague was taking every opportunity to pick on me. I was putting on my usual "brave face" but was having some very dark thoughts. I was stunned when my wife turned to me and said, "perhaps she keeps attacking you because you're not reacting".

When it became clear to her that I had no idea what she was talking about, she elaborated; telling me that sometimes in the past, if we had disagreed on something and I was dismissive or didn't put up a fight, she would be so angry with me that she'd push me as hard as she could trying to get a response.

This was news to me but it certainly explained some of her "rogue" behaviour.  Perhaps it was the explanation for others too?

Selecting Responses - Or Not

In exasperation, I asked my wife what I was supposed to do for a response, cry, shout, somehow look dejected?

I've kept my emotions in check for so long that I really wouldn't feel comfortable letting them out, particularly not in the workplace. As for displaying emotional responses on my face, I doubt that I'd be able to figure out how exactly to place my face and in those situations, I'm too stressed and upset to try acting.

We talked about alternative coping strategies or other ways in which I could let people know when their responses hurt me. There are certainly some options available, such as telling someone that their behaviour is hurting you but I don't think I'll be using them. I know enough about bullying to know that showing any sign of weakness can make things so much worse.

I also feel that no matter what I did, I'd still end up being the victim. 

The best I can do is add this person to my mental list of rogue people and limit my interactions whenever possible. After all, it's worked in all other areas of my life.

Sometimes nonchalance is actually the brave face. 

Just a quick final note: Burying your feelings or suppressing your emotions is actually very poor advice but controlling outbursts and being choosy about who to show your feelings to is not. Make sure that you have an outlet. Make sure that you have people that you can talk to. It's okay to hide from bullies but it's not okay to hide from family and friends. 

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Autism and Crime


There's a lot of news about autism and crime these days and I think it's worth some open discussion because the reasons are varied but the blame seems to be quite singular. 

I don't believe that the amount of crime among individuals on the autism spectrum is any higher than the crime rate for the general population. In fact, many of the attributes of autism such as a preference for isolation, should contribute to it being lower. Nevertheless, there are criminals on the spectrum and there are some attributes which are common to autism which could make an individual more likely to commit a crime.

"Us and THEM"

There's no doubt about it, people on the autism spectrum often seem different to the general population. This difference in itself creates some issues;

The "Us and them" divide often leads to ostracisation within school, workplaces and social groups with people on the spectrum being clearly in the minority. In schools, it can lead to physical bullying, name calling and exclusion. In the workplace, it can lead to harrassment, manipulation, rejection or simply to a lack of advancement. Whatever the details, the effect on the individual is often the same; envy and resentment.

Envy and resentment are strong emotions which together could tempt an individual into to criminal activity. 

The other way in which the "us and them" divide is responsible for autism being linked to crime is that when a particularly horrific crime is committed, people want to distance themselves from it. One of the ways they do this is to find a way to make the perpetrator seem "different from the rest of us". 

Obviously having a perpetrator with a clear defect, like blindness or deafness simply doesn't work. These things are quantifiable. You can simulate these conditions by putting your hands over your eyes or your fingers in your ears.

To make a person truly different, you have to choose something that is considerably less well understood. Asperger's syndrome and Autism fits that bill rather well and the media is very much complicit.

I've lost count of the number of times I've read about people with massive gun collections and ties to Nazi groups who go on a shooting spree. Rather than bring up the two most significant elements, the media fixates on a "possible" diagnosis of autism.

This gives society a way to say, it's not guns, it's not Nazi's, it's just this kid or worse, it's just THESE people. 

The result of this is that the true causes of these crimes are covered up and people with autism are even further ostracised.


Emotions

For years, people with autism have been described as having "no emotions" or "no empathy" when, as I've mentioned many times before, the truth is that people with autism fail to communicate their feelings well. It's very common for people with autism to have facial expressions which don't match circumstances or to find themselves accused of being amused when things are sad. 

A person with autism may choose to ignore some sad news and go about their daily routine or may throw themselves into their special interest rather than deal with an issue. This doesn't mean that they don't care. In fact, often it means that they're trying to distance themselves from feelings which are simply too strong for them to handle.

This seeming "lack of emotion" often means that people with autism are judged as "stone cold killers" in what are really crimes of passion. They may seem to show no remorse for their victims but just because you can't see an emotion on someone's face, it doesn't mean that the emotion is not present.

If you look at the vast majority of high profile autism crime, it seems that there's a bit of a revenge "vibe" to it. Often it's about giving bullies payback or it's about unrequited love. I'm not for a minute saying that it's right, simply that these aren't cold blooded crimes, they're crimes of passion.

Black and White Thinking

Issues of Justice go hand in hand with those of emotion and in particular, of revenge.

People with autism tend to be bound by rules which are very black and white. The problem of course, is that our world is governed by situations of grey.



This means that when it comes to situations like "payback" or "revenge" a person with autism may feel justified in carrying out an act of violence against an aggressor -- even if the transgressions in question happened many years ago.

The fact that people with autism find it difficult to let go of painful situations, have long memories and find communication quite difficult exacerbates the situations. While other people in similar situations will try to talk through an issue, a person with autism may decide that actions speak louder than words.

Generalisation

Does this mean that all people with autism are bad or that all are criminals? Of course not. Everyone has within them the ability to commit criminal activities and people with autism in particular, with their black and white thinking and their generally honest natures are probably less likely to commit petty crimes.

When it comes to crimes of the heart however, it's important to note that the emotional nature of people with autism and the possibility of meltdowns can make them a more volatile person. Additionally, their status as a person who is different can make them more of a target and their naivety may make them vulnerable to undesirable social groups. 


Most people with autism are unlikely to commit crimes but their upbringing most certainly will have an impact on this. Interactions with negative people and proximity to dangerous weapons while dangerous for most people, are particularly dangerous to people on the autism spectrum. 

Expose anyone to a violent upbringing and you'll significantly increase the chances of them becoming violent themselves. 

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Mansplaining and other Conversation Breakers


Of all of the bad things that men do to women, Mansplaining is the one that terrifies me the most on a personal level. This is because I believe that I'm essentially a good person and I'm in control of myself. I know that I can easily avoid most mistakes but mansplaining is different. 

It's not so simple to avoid and it is something that sneaks up on me. Sometimes I don't realise that I'm doing it until I'm right in the middle of a conversation -- and then I suddenly feel like I want to run away.

Mansplaining is certainly not "an autism spectrum thing" -- it's not even a "man-only" thing. I think however, that being on the spectrum may increase the likelihood of our conversations being interpreted as "mansplaining". I certainly don't mansplain for a "power trip". If and when I do it, it's  usually because I'm so poor at conversation and because I'm partially deaf.

Regardless of the reasons, I'm determined to make this a thing of the past... 


What is Mansplaining?

Although the term is at least three years old, I only became acquainted with it earlier this year when I saw a comedy show doing a skit on it. (You can ask that: Mansplaining) If you do a YouTube search on the term, you'll find plenty of skits. Sometimes having a laugh about something is also the best way to learn something new. I feel that when you're laughing, you're open to new experiences and new understanding.

The videos on YouTube tend to show extreme examples of mansplaining in which there's no doubt that it's happening. It's important to realise however that standard and generally respectful conversations could still be perceived by others as mansplaining because it's not always our behaviour so much as the perception of our behaviour that is important.

There seems to be two major parts to mansplaining;

• Being Condescending
• Interrupting

The worst part of mansplaining is that the person doing the explaining feels that their opinion deserves to be heard more than those being "explained to".  This may be because they feel that theirs is the only correct (or fully correct) answer or because they simply don't have enough respect for the other people in the conversation.

When it comes to interrupting, mansplaining often happens because one person in the conversation "shuts down" or talks over the other. Since male voices tend to be deeper and louder than female voices, it's obviously much easier for a man to do this to a woman than it is the other way around. 

Is this a Sexist Term?

I'd love to be able to say that this is absolutely a sexist term and that being condescending and interrupting others in conversation with the aim of power-tripping or silencing unwanted voices is something that happens with both genders. Unfortunately, the term is what it is and it was coined because it's more commonly a male behaviour directed towards women.

That doesn't mean that women don't "mansplain" -- they do. It's just that usually when a women "mansplains" she's more likely to be doing it for reasons of power over an individual rather than "power over a gender".  The other thing of course is that from childhood, men are conditioned to have their voice heard more than women. Hopefully that's changing now...

In any case, regardless of who is doing it to who, it's not a good behaviour in any conversation.

From: https://thenib.com/mansplaining-explained
(a very informative page, highly recommended).

Being Condescending

These days, I don't feel like I'm condescending but I know for sure that in my youth I was. In my teenage years especially, when, like all teenagers, I felt that I knew everything, I would often explain things to my parents and girlfriend in a condescending way.

It's something I regret and also something that I'm now very careful to avoid. I don't talk down to people. I try to respect them for giving up their time to listen to me.  

Sometimes it's not easy. Sometimes my head starts racing and I'm thinking further ahead or more deeply in a conversation than the person I'm talking to. People with autism do this a lot, especially when a conversation touches on one of their special interests. When that happens, you have only a couple of choices, try to re-explain your thoughts in a slower, simpler manner, or drop the conversation.

These days, I'll mentally ask myself whether or not someone needs to know what I'm telling them (to the level of detail I'm telling it in) and if I think they don't, I'll trail off and end the conversation. If they're truly interested, they'll ask for more detail -- they almost always don't.

Interrupting 

This is by far my biggest problem. I find that I interrupt people for various reasons;


  • Not realising that they're still talking: This is 100% my hearing loss problem -- and it does happen much more frequently when I'm talking to women than men due to their softer voices. Sometimes I can stand next to someone and have no idea that they're talking.  I have to watch their mouths to see if they're moving.

    Of course, if I can't hear them, I'm not getting much out of the conversation and it's rude to "be there" and not "be listening", so whenever possible, I'll take that as my cue to leave a conversation.

  • Not reading body language:
    People with autism often have problems participating in group discussions because they can't always tell when it's their turn to speak. It's such a common problem that it's included in the diagnostic questions of many autism/Asperger's tests. 

    When this happens, it's a genuine mistake. To avoid mansplaining, simply stop your conversation, apologise to the person you were talking with "oh I'm sorry, you were talking" and allow them to continue.

    A person mansplaining for a "power trip" won't be apologetic and won't stop their conversation to allow others to continue. If you're apologetic, others in your conversation will usually be understanding of your mistake.

  • Getting too excited about a topic:
    This is a huge deal for people on the spectrum. You've spent ten minutes hanging on the fringe of an impenetrable conversation when suddenly out of the blue, someone mentions something related to your special interest. Suddenly you have a way in -- and you dive in babbling furiously.

    If you're sitting down with a group of people who are mostly excluding you from the conversation, then it's okay to give this one a shot. After all, they're being rude to you too. If you've walked up to a group who is already deep in conversation and you're on the outside, it's less okay, particularly if you have to talk over someone to be noticed.

    In these circumstances, it's important to sense the mood of the conversation as best you can. If people start changing the topic, they're obviously not interested in your contribution. It's painful but it's better to walk away.

    I've often made a quick getaway in these circumstances by faking a phone call (my phone is always only on vibrate). All you have to do is stiffen, reach for your pocket and put the phone against your ear as quickly as possible so that nobody sees the display … and then walk away from the group saying "hello" or "sorry, it's a bit noisy in here". People will excuse you and you'll be able to make an escape on the pretext of moving to a quieter area.

    It's little wonder that people on the spectrum are often referred to as the people who befriend the pets at parties. 
    If you're struggling in groups, you're better off to talk to others who are alone at parties -- or simply not attend. It's better than constantly being rejected by groups or getting a reputation as a person who talks about themselves but never listens.

  • Preventing others from talking: This is the key to mansplaining, the idea that your conversation is more important than someone else's. Occasionally there's a good reason for talking over someone, for example to prevent them from saying something that will get themselves or someone else into trouble. Most of the time though the reasons are trivial.

    Perhaps they're telling a story wrong or they've left out an important detail. Perhaps they've said that "you" did something that you didn't or they've cited a fact wrong. Whatever it is, they're entitled to finish their conversation. You're not "the boss of them". If you still feel strongly about an issue after they've spoken and you think that it will add to the conversation while not making them feel inferior, then by all means, add your "two cents" at the end.

If there's any chance that your words will hurt. It's best not to say anything. We can all be better conversationalists but only if we think about others when we speak.  



Sunday, July 8, 2018

Teaching Teens with Autism about Budgeting

Money is the key to freedom and it's essential that all teens know how to work within the confines of a budget before they reach an age where adult intervention becomes difficult. Don't forget, as new payment methods emerge, physical cash is disappearing and this makes it more difficult for teens to understand how quickly they can go through their funds, or even worse, rack up debt.

For many teens, simply having a good grasp of mathematics is enough but what if your teen is on the autism spectrum. They could be brilliant at maths but it might not translate into the real world -- or they could have learning difficulties. 

How do we get these concepts understood and accepted? How do we make budgeting an automatic part of your teen's spending habits?

Start young

The earlier you start getting your kids to purchase things on their own, the better. With my boys, we were giving them money before they'd even started at school. It wasn't pocket money then but we'd be sitting in a food court and we'd say that he could have a doughnut if he went to get it himself.

We'd give him the exact amount of money (sometimes more) and watch from the table as he toddled off to buy one. Sometimes he'd try to buy a more expensive one. Sometimes he'd have the money for his new choice and sometimes he wouldn't. Occasionally we'd have to bail him out but only after he'd tried his hand at negotiation.

It was also great for his communication skills.  The lady in the doughnut shop was very patient with him (we couldn't have done it in a crowded shop) and she'd often cast a glance in our direction to make sure that we were okay with his choice.

Child looking at Doughnuts

As he got older, we'd tell him to go and decide which doughnut he wanted and them come back and tell us how much he needed. Food was a great motivator.

All kids will benefit from starting young but kids on the spectrum especially will benefit both from interactions with others and from handling real money rather than mathematical concepts.

Operate "Pocket Money" like a workplace

When your kids get older you'll want to give them pocket money. Whether or not you make them work for it is up to you. It's a good idea if you can but sometimes this just doesn't work. One alternative is to give them a "base salary" which they get regardless of whether or not they do work and "bonuses" for doing jobs.  As you increase the amount you're giving them, consider leaving the base as it is and increasing only the bonus part. You might either add more jobs or expect higher standards of cleanliness for the extra money.

We found that money had no effect on our kids until they reached about thirteen years of age. Even then, laziness would often win out against getting more money. The balance has been slowly shifting for a few years now and they're much more likely to complete their household chores.

Even if it looks like it's not working, keep doing it. Eventually it will. 

Receiving Pocket Money


The other thing we did was make sure that any regular money that our kids had to pay the school was built-in to their "wages".

At first, we'd give them a portion of money every morning in an envelope. It was quite problematic because we'd need to make sure that we had the right amounts of change. The benefit of this was that we could ensure that they had enough money for sports day (when they had to pay extra for buses). As they got older and more responsible with their wallets -- and as it got more difficult to get the right change, we changed to giving them one pay out per week.

Start with simple budgeting and slowly work your way towards more complex choices.

Allow Failures

The budget that you set for your kids should be generous enough to allow for them to pay for lunch (if required), snacks, school activities and a small amount of external spending or saving. You'll want to keep the essentials in the "standard wage zone" and put anything extra in the "bonus zone" so that they don't start the week short -- at least not until they're a little older.

Your kids are going to have failures. They're going to go through times where they spend all of their money on Monday and have to complete the week with nothing. You can't be there to rescue them all the time and you have to let them fail in order for them to learn.

For example, if they have sports activities on Fridays for which they need $10, you might "give them an advance" from the next week's money if they've spent their entire week's money already.  If that happens, make sure that you give them $10 less the following week. If it happens several weeks in a row, you'll want to do one of two things;

  • Withhold $10 until the day that it's needed and give it to them.
  • Let them attend sports day without the money and let their teachers show them the consequences.
My kids will still stretch things at times especially if they're saving up for something. My youngest will often say, "It's okay, I'll just have starve days for the rest of the week". 

It's okay. Your kids won't starve especially if you have snacks for them when they get home -- and chances are, they'll learn those lessons about spending all their money really quickly. 



I'm particularly proud of my eldest son (now 17) because he's stopped buying lunch at school and has started preparing for his week by purchasing from the supermarket. This not only leaves him with more money for other things it has also had the side effect of getting him to plan out his week. 

Kids on the autism spectrum often struggle with executive functioning so planning for the week represents a major step forward. 

Don't forget, this is their choice, not yours. If you keep rescuing them, they'll never learn. 

Encourage Saving

Sit down with your kids and explain how they can save their money for a few weeks to buy something that they really want later. If your kids struggle with the maths, consider demonstrating with actual money by putting it into piles on the table. 

Having shopping catalogues handy will help this process as you'll be able to show them different items with marked prices and say that "this item is three weeks of saving, while this one is five weeks". Catalogues also make it easy for your kids to learn about shopping for a better deal and how prices change during sales. 


Dealing with the Abstract

Kids on the spectrum often take longer than their peers to deal with abstract concepts such as credit or money that they can't hold. These are important concepts though and they need to get exposure to banks including fees and interest -- and most importantly to cards and credit because at some point in their lifetime, chances are that cash will be gone forever.

It's probably best to start your kids off with a bank account and perhaps a withdrawal only card. From here, the best way to get them used to cards is to provide them with store bought cards, such as those from iTunes, Steam, Google Play or department stores.  You can even buy Visa debit cards.



When your teen is a little older and has been able to demonstrate a reasonable amount of self-control over their store cards, you might consider adjusting their bank account to use a debit card.

I'd avoid a credit card for as long as you can but it's important to remember that you need to have "socialised them" with these cards before they reach an age where they can arrange these things without your help. 

Widen your Teens' Exposure

Once your teen is successfully dealing with their weekly budget you'll want to widen their exposure to finance. This means that you'll want to show them newspapers or store fronts which have televisions, game consoles, cars and eventually houses in them. It's important that they get an understanding of how much things cost and how not everything can be saved up for. Some things have to be bought and paid off.

You'll need to explain the concept of interest to them as well as how some places will have hidden fees.

Your kids are going to get ripped off at some point too. There's no doubt about that.  Sometimes you'll want to let them simply learn from the experience. For example, they'll need to learn to read reviews before buying online and they'll need to learn to choose reputable sellers.

At other times, people will simply take advantage of them and this will lead directly into consumer rights. You'll need to go with your teens when they return items and you'll probably need to take the lead on the first few occasions but eventually you'll be able to hang back from a distance and watch them negotiate their way to a refund. It's very much like an adult version of the doughnut store experience I described earlier.

If you go travelling anywhere, particularly where there are multiple foreign currencies being used, this is a great time to talk about exchange rates and to have your teens tell you whether something is cheaper in one country or another.  It's okay if they use an app on their phone to help.  It's not the maths that's important, it's the concept.

Help your Teen to Save

When your teen finally leaves school, you'll need to encourage them to start earning for themselves. One of the best ways to do this is to cut funding. 

If they don't have a job and they're not on unemployment benefits, you obviously can't charge them board for staying at your house. You can however significantly reduce the amount of available snacks and/or services.

Most modern game consoles need internet to work, so if your teen starts to become a couch potato, removing the internet and TV subscription services may be enough to get them to start taking control of their lives. It's tough love but sometimes it's necessary.

If your teen does have a job, you should charge board. Don't feel guilty about this. It's for their benefit.

Of course, you don't have to keep the board money. You'll most likely be using it to provide for their needs anyway as teenagers can "eat you out of house and home".  Even better you could save for a family holiday or special occasions such as Christmas, special birthdays, weddings or even a first home.

Of course, it's best not to let your kids know if you're doing anything like this for them -- after all, their future landlords certainly won't be doing anything like that.  It's all tough love but it's well worth the effort. 

Monday, June 11, 2018

Autistic Burnout - Causes and Prevention



In some of my other posts, I've talked about meltdowns, which are when people on the autism spectrum lose control. I've also talked about the quieter form of meltdown; the "shutdown" where an individual is unable to connect with the outside world. 

Meltdowns and shutdowns are transitory things, they happen and they pass. They're also usually quite short, lasting at most, for a few hours.

When a person with autism experiences a condition similar to a shutdown that lasts for days or even for the rest of their life, it's something else.  It's called autistic burnout. 

The symptoms

The symptoms of autistic burnout will vary significantly from person to person but there are a few common signs;

Inability to cope with daily life

Autistic burnout is often compared with a mental breakdown for good reason. They're very similar. A person may be coping well with the pressures of family or working life and then may suddenly become incapable of continuing. This may mean that they're incapable of leaving the house, going to work or doing even the simplest of tasks.

A person going through autistic burnout may find it impossible to engage with anyone but their closest and most understanding friends and family. Even then, they may find that they can't interact for long. Activities that they once loved, such as reading or even watching television or playing computer games may simply be too much effort for them.

Regression

In younger children, autistic burnout can lead to a regression of abilities. A child who is toilet trained may regress to the point where they are no longer able to use the toilet. Similarly, a child who has reasonable language development for their age may regress to a point where they lose speech entirely.  Autistic burnout at a young age may be one of the reasons that immunisation was once suspected as being a cause of autism.

The Causes 

Autistic burnout is generally caused by someone trying to do more than they're physically or mentally able to.  By constantly overstretching themselves, people with autism can push themselves to the limit -- and beyond. 

It's something that could happen to anyone but people with autism are particularly prone to the issue for a number of reasons;

Go Hard or Go Home

One of the traits that people with autism have, particularly when it comes to their special interests, is that they don't know when to stop. It's quite common for people with autism to work to the point where they injure themselves because they attempt to overachieve. They'll commit to achieving major amounts of work in a short space of time (and they'll hit those targets) or they'll master a new skill in an incredibly short period of time by cutting out other essential activities such as eating or sleeping.

Sensory Issues

Most people with autism have at least a few sensory issues. Some don't like touch, some are sensitive to smells, others have difficulty with sounds or taste. Many people with autism are sensitive to several senses at once which makes daily life a struggle.  It means that things that take little effort from other people often require a much greater effort from them.

Anxiety

Anxiety is arguably the most common of the autistic traits. People with autism battle many forms of anxiety daily; these can include social anxiety, separation anxiety, change anxiety, general anxiety or specific forms of anxiety such as obsessive compulsive disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder or phobias including agoraphobia. Navigating life with these anxieties is difficult and stressful -- and it takes a toll on the individual.

Pretending to be "normal"

People usually expect others to behave "normally". This is particularly the case in the workplace. Pretending to be normal involves suppressing your natural urges and responses and trying to fit in.

It means that at times, you need to push your anxiety deep down and do the things that make you anxious without appearing anxious. It means that if a colleague comes up and touches you, and you have issues with touch, you need to suppress any reactions you might have. The same goes for changes in the workplace. Pretending to be normal is an exhausting process and people with autism often need to seek some time-out before they can rejoin the fray.

Lack of Downtime

People with autism tend to exhaust themselves in interactions with others but can regain some of their capabilities with a little alone-time. Sometimes that alone-time is in a room by themselves and sometimes it takes the form of a walk or other exercise where they're cut off from the rest of the world. 

Some of the recent changes in workplace practices, particularly "lunch and learn" where employees are expected to bring their lunch to meetings instead of seeking lunchtime solitude can really play havoc with this downtime.

Other changes in the workplace include longer working hours and "always-on" contactability via mobile calls, emails on the go and video meetings via technologies such as Skype and FaceTime make downtime difficult to maintain.

Downtime is critical to continued functioning


Prevention and Living on the Edge

Autistic burnout can take a person with autism out of the workplace (or away from their family) for a week, a month, for years or even permanently. It's something that needs to be avoided at all costs. It's very much a case of prevention being much better than a cure.

People with autism need to be aware of the risks of autistic burnout and the things that they need to do to reduce the chances of it happening to them. Here's a few do's and don'ts to get you  started;


  • Don't try to be "normal", be yourself and let people accept who you are.
  • Don't climb too high on the corporate ladder at work; the higher you are the more people interactions you need to have.
  • Don't let work push you into constant contact or constant meetings. Everyone is entitled to breaks; it's the law.


  • Do be mindful when you're head and shoulders above the rest, chances are that you're putting too much effort into something.
  • Do educate yourself (and your colleagues) on spoon theory. It's a great way to illustrate to your friends and colleagues how effort can leave you depleted.
  • Do accept help (and do delegate tasks) at home and at work. Sure, people won't meet your standards of "perfection" but you won't burn out either. 
  • Do be aware of sensory challenges around you and take steps (eg: earphones) to reduce their impact on you. 

If you're already affected by autistic burnout. You really need to seek some assistance to get back on your feet. It's not something that you can do alone. 

Sunday, May 20, 2018

When should parents stop pushing their children with Asperger's syndrome?

If you're the parent of a young adult with Asperger's syndrome you'll be very familiar with the need to keep educating and pushing your child. You'll probably be an expert at it and you'll most certainly be very tired of all the work involved. 

The question is; should you continue to push your young adults past their twenties or should you back off and allow them to find their own way forward?


We Never Stop Pushing 

Regardless of whether or not we should give our kids more space, one thing is clear.  As parents, we never stop caring for our children and their future. We simply can't help ourselves - and that's okay.

It's okay that we're always concerned for their welfare and that we want what's best for them but there are big differences between trying to help and trying to control.  We need to make sure that we stay on the right side of the line.

The Impetus to Move

One of the biggest areas of contention between parents and young adults on the spectrum is the impetus to move.

Left unchecked, many adults on the spectrum will retreat into the world of their special interests, particularly if they're television or computer game related.  There's not a lot that you can do about this but at the very least, you should not make it a "free ride".

All life decisions have consequences and everyone needs to be able to support themselves. If your young adult is living with you, they should be paying board. It could be coming out of their wages or out of entitlements or benefits they receive. 

Of course we all care about our kids and we don't want to charge them for living with us but board is an important part of growing up and learning money management.

You can use that money to support them in other ways, such as saving it for special occasions, holidays or gifts.  For added incentive, you might also want to tie board into real world consequences. For example, if they don't pay board one week, you might not buy their favourite snacks, or there may be no internet.

If you do take board from their benefits, you can give them "jobs" around the house and pay them for the work. This allow them to earn back money that they need while contributing towards the good of the household.

Either way, getting them off their devices for a short while and contributing to family life is a worthwhile goal that will prepare them for the challenges of the future. 

Computer Slobs

While we're on the subject of retreating to the computer room, it's important to make the distinction between "gaming for fun" and "living with gaming". As a parent, you need to assess the mess and if necessary "ban food from the computer/games room".  Meals should never be eaten in front of the computer and preferably should be eaten around the table with the entire family present to encourage conversation.

All mess around the computer or games areas should be cleared away by the end of the day.

Do not enable the computer slob scenario. Remember, you have the power to "evict your tenant" for poor cleanliness if you need to -- and sometimes these things need to be done for their own personal growth. 

Sometimes you have to accept that your child has limitations but you can never accept violent or abusive behaviour from them.  They need to respect you and the home at all times and this includes keeping it tidy and being respectful in the way that they talk to you.




Education and Social opportunities 

The other thing that parents need to provide for their kids is continuing exposure to social opportunities.  This means that your stay at home twenty-something son or daughter needs to be helping you with the shopping or going out with you or otherwise engaging in activities that will expose them to others.

It's okay to leave your adult kids at home regularly but if they're not leaving the house at all, then you need to take them with you a few times per week. If you have a particularly unmotivated person living with you, then taking them to a gym class, a movie or just a dinner out will help with positive change.

In the natural order, children outlive their parents, so they need to make friends with people their own age.

Hand-in-hand with social opportunities comes continuing social education. You need to be able to say, "that person was showing interest in you" or "let's try dressing up for tonight's outing" or "here's the money, can you go and order our food". With each social interaction comes learning and self confidence.

You might want to encourage your kids to reconnect with school friends or to visit special interest groups to meet similar individuals. The "meetup" app/site is particularly good for this.  There are Asperger's groups in most cities too, so it's worth taking the trouble to find them.

There's also online education to consider. If you have an older kid at home, consider getting them some online course - especially if they're into computers. These courses provide a means of getting certificates which may increase their chances of getting a job -- or at least open other avenues of interest.

Acceptance and Letting go 

When all is said and done though, the old adage comes to mind; "You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink". That's true of our kids.  We can expose them to as many social activities as we want but if they can't or won't engage, then we're just pushing them into uncomfortable situations and increasing family tension.



Sometimes you just have to accept that they've moved as far as they can in a particular direction and that the next steps are up to them.

Push.... but not too hard. Make sure that home is always a place where they can go to relax without being judged. 

Sunday, May 13, 2018

A Mother's Day Poem

My Parents; Bill and Doris holding me
at Hornsby Heights, NSW 1969
Today is Mother's Day in Australia and apart from presents and food, one of the traditions I have is to put a bit of effort into the card that I give my mother. Often they're hand-made but even when they're not, they usually have a poem inside. They're always intended to be funny because my mother has the best laugh in the world. 

I'm not a brilliant poet and like my blog posts, I don't spend much time editing my work. I prefer things to be original.  As such, there's probably only 10 minutes of work in here - so don't expect Shakespeare.

My mother and I with my sister Maree.

A Mother's Day Poem

Thank you for being there for me,
T'was not an easy thing to be.

When to the shops you would go,
My eiderdown would be in tow

My hands would wander to every shelf
Especially glass - I couldn't help myself

And when I sneeze everything was game.
My sleeves would never be the same.

And then you'd cook and I would scowl,
She looked at it. I can't eat it now.

Then Sunday came and we'd go to mass
The embarrassing altar boy, What an ass

And if I missed my Doctor Who.
You'd have to deal with tantrums too.

When I was angry, I'd just disappear
and leave you paralyzed with fear.

I'd come home with tales of snakes
and bombs and bees, for goodness sakes.

But I survived, you did so well
Dear mother, you were my angel.

I'm here because of all you did.
Yes I am, your cow of a kid.

The Explanation

I wrote this poem intending to just cover a few of the things that I made my poor mother put up with. There were so many more to choose from because I was quite a trying child. It was only when I read it back that I realised how you could almost diagnose autism straight from the poem.

Pretty much all of the verses have a connection to autism in some way but for the sake of brevity, I'll be skipping a few of them.

My eiderdown would be in tow

This was a reference to my security blanket which I held onto for far, far longer than most kids. In my early days, it would need to come to the shops with us but eventually it just lived on my bed. I would fret mightily if it was in the wash and there were major tears whenever it got worn out and had to be disposed of. It was reclaimed from the bin on several occasions. Eventually I had a whole "security blanket family", each with names -- so that when one blanked was unavailable, two could take its place.

It's well documented that kids with autism often form attachments to objects and having security blankets and a bed full of stuffed animals is quite common, well into the teenage years. 
My Parents at my University Graduation

"She looked at It"

As a child, I had major issues with food texture and taste. At that young age, I couldn't understand it myself, so of course, there was no way that I was going to be able to explain it to anyone else.

I'd be happily eating away when suddenly I'd hit something that created a texture problem for me. Suddenly I'd feel like I wanted to gag. Certainly I wouldn't be able to eat anything else. A good example of this was rice bubbles or coco pops which we'd have for breakfast. They're crispy and wonderful when you first put milk on them but as you eat them, the milk soaks into the lower ones in the bowl and they become soggy. That creates a totally different texture.

Since I couldn't explain the reason why my food suddenly when "bad" when nobody had gone near it, I decided that it was because someone, usually my poor sister, had "looked at it".  It got so bad that my mother would tell her not to look at me or she'd put the cereal box between us.  Eventually the problem stopped ... because I started skipping breakfast.

Doctor Who

This is my lifelong special interest and luckily the show is still going 56 years after it started. I started watching aged four and I very quickly became obsessed. In the days before video recording, if you missed a show, it was gone. So of course, I would be desperate not to miss it.

Being young and mostly unaware of the passage of time, this mean't that from Sunday morning, I'd begin to obsess and worry about missing that 6.30pm timeslot. If we were out somewhere, I'd be fretting and wanting to go home before lunch.

... and of course, if I missed an episode, it was as if the world had collapsed.
My Mother, amused by my lack of hair
when I returned from my honeymoon in 1997.

Disappearing Acts

My main response to any kind of strong emotions was to disappear. While many kids simply hide out in their rooms (and I did spend a bit of time in the closet), the main thing that I used to do was disappear down the bush for hours without telling anyone. Going by myself meant that I had a lot of adventures with Australian wildlife and it's a wonder I wasn't seriously bitten, stung or otherwise harmed.

It used to drive my poor mother mad with worry.

Being a "Cow of a Kid"

That last line is just a reference to my mother's favourite trite phrase. She would say "you're a cow of a kid" whenever she was annoyed with me (which was often). Being deaf, I often wondered if I was hearing it wrong but no... that's it. I've never heard anyone else use the phrase and it's certainly a more pleasant turn of phrase than I've heard from other parents. 

Thanks for being such a great mum.