Friday, December 28, 2007

Re-doing the Aspie Quiz

I decided to redo the Aspie Quiz because I wanted to get a copy of the nice diagram that goes with it. My results were as follows;

Your Aspie score: 168 of 200
Your neurotypical (non-autistic) score: 33 of 200
You are very likely an Aspie

A tiny bit higher than last time (161), probably changes depending on mood.

Anyway, this is the picture I was after.

Aspies and Pain Tolerance

Much has been said about aspies & feelings and aspies being able to tolerate higher amounts of pain. I don't think I've gone into either topic in any real depth yet.

In short, Aspies aren't supermen and superwomen... They can be hurt and often are in pain, whether it shows on their faces or not. They just complain about it less than some people I guess.

Emotional Pain
While it's true that sometimes an aspie will lack empathy and won't feel anything for a given situation. I'll discuss that in a later post (sorry). It isn't true to say that the feelings of aspies can't be hurt. They can. Sometimes the aspie will show a reaction to their hurt feelings and sometimes they'll lash out. More often though, aspies will simply remain silent and impassive despite internal turmoil.

Physical Pain
Wouldn't it be wonderful to be in a world without physical pain? Everyone feels pain to some degree - including aspies. It doesn't have to be a huge pain to be felt, a paper cut or scraped knees will always bring tears out in an aspie child.

So where does the "no-pain" idea fit in?

Aspies are very good at ignoring pain, particularly if they're engaged in their special interest. The sorts of pain most commonly "ignored" by aspies are things such as muscular/nervous pain, rather than wounds. Although wounds can also be ignored.

Why is this a problem?
Pain is our body's way of telling us to stop what we're doing and have a rest or seek medical assistance.

You can imagine the long term effects of ignoring a toothache or a muscular/nerve problem like RSI.

In fact, I can speak firsthand about the RSI problem, since I have it. It's strange, when I go to physio for my injured hands, it hurts when they work on them. I take my mind off the hurt but then they ask me whether I can feel "this" (as they squeeze a nerve or something) all the way down my arm to my hand. I can't tell them and it takes a little while to become "switched on" to the pain again.

It's not that the pain is gone, just dulled.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Why is Aspergers associated with Autism?

I was always going to do this post but until two days ago when my youngest son was diagnosed with high functioning autism, the words were going to be different and this was going to be a rant.

Since then, I've spent a while trying to figure out his condition. Now I can see the link.

The Usual Reaction
I've always considered Aspergers to be quite different from Autism - I was certainly different to most of the autistic people I'd met, many of whom couldn't function in society because of the nature of their condition.

I think that my reaction is pretty much the same as most of the population. Like other "popular" conditions, such as schizophrenia, autism has been spoilt by a mis-representation in the movies. Movies only show the very worst and most sensational cases and even then, they make a lot up.

Sure, I knew that at least some forms autism actually resulted in "smarter" people who had no social skills. That happened in Mercury Rising with Bruce Willis right? It might also have been in "a beautiful mind" but I never got to see the film so I can't be sure.

If you are after a complete and accurate description of autism, you should refer to the Wikipedia article since I intend to only cover a small area;

Some Brief Facts
Autism is a mental condition which you are born with. Despite spammer/scam artist claims to the contrary, it can never be cured although in time, the "sufferers" may learn to hide some of the worst symptoms.

There is a split in autism that, separates "High Functioning Autism" from Low Functioning Autism. The main characteristics that set high functioning autism apart are an IQ of 80 or above and the ability to speak, read, and write. People with mild HFA have minimal problems getting (and keeping) employment and many are employed in highly technical environments.

Autism is grouped with four other pervasive developmental disorders (PDD), all of which have problems of social interactions and communication, restricted interests and repetitive behavior. Of the other four, Asperger's is closest to Autism in symptoms (and probably cause). Unlike Autism, Asperger's has no substantial delay in language development.

So What does it all Mean?
Basically, this means that there could be NO other differences between a child with Aspergers and a Child with High Functioning Autism other than a language delay. The cut off point for the language delay is 4 years of age. If the child is not capable of carrying out an "independent" conversation by the age of four, then they will be considered autistic. Note that the emphasis is on conversation, not on knowing the words, being able to read or being able to write. In my Son's case, you can ask him about preschool and he'll tell you a whole heap of facts and one-liners about what happened. It's generally a one way conversation.

This sounds a bit pedantic, and I guess the diagnosis is, but that's currently how it's done.

So, will this improve? It is difficult to say however in HFA, it is very likely that conversational skills will improve with practice, age and use. Eye contact could always be a problem, but there are other ways around that. The ability to hold conversations however will not necessarily "upgrade" a diagnosis to Aspergers, though I'm a little skeptical myself about that one.

The Spectrum
It is important to realize that there is a whole spectrum for autism, not just a few labels and that this means that there is almost infinite variation. The diagram below is very simple and does not cover much at all but it may give you some idea. In reality, the diagnosis would look much more like a star with various branches indicating IQ, communication ability, empathy, motor control etc. Each type of autism would have various characteristics and would define a certain shape on the star. The lines between one shape and another would be very blurred.

<--- Normal ------ Aspergers ----- HFA -------------------- LFA ---->

One Last Point
Whenever anyone is told about an autism diagnosis, their first reaction is usually something along the lines of " that can't be it because he shows empathy or has emotions". I'm going to quote from Wikipedia since I can't think of a better way to end this point.

They do not lack empathy (although they may have difficulty expressing it), and can thus enjoy films and stories with emotional content. Some may gain the bulk of their insight into why people behave the way they do through watching movies that provide a forceful and musically-cued "capsule lesson" in human emotions (e.g. melodramas).

Sunday, December 16, 2007

How the whole Asperger's thing can be Detrimental to your Health

There are a few things about the Asperger's condition which can seriously affect the health of the individuals concerned.

This obviously won't be an exhaustive list, but it's a few things to consider.

Undereating in Children
While it is true to say that no child has ever starved itself willingly with food in easy reach, it is probably also true to say that no Aspie child has eaten healthy food when there are unhealthy alternatives available.

Aspies have a lot of problems with the texture of food as well as the taste. For some reason, the junk food manufacturers seem to have figured out a way of giving their foods fairly good textures since junk foods, such as lollies and ice cream rarely pose a problem to the aspie.

Aspie adults can take responsibility for their own healthy eating habits however aspie children need to be carefully monitored.

The other eating problem that aspie children have is that they seem to be much slower at eating than other children. This is probably a result of their susceptibility to distraction. As a result, aspie children often do not manage to eat their school lunches in time. I am not really sure what you can do to overcome this problem however I remember from my school days that I didn't eat lunch but often had six slices of bread immediately on walking in the door at home. It never seemed to prevent me from eating my dinner.

One last point about eating... Remember that the side-effects of medications such as Ritalin can sometimes worsen the eating problems by suppressing appetite.

Problems of Perfection
While perfection-related problems do affect aspie children (particularly in the later school years), they are far worse in aspie adults.

The problem is that Aspies tend to work on things until they reach a level of perfection that they are comfortable with. This means that they are often working harder and longer hours than their colleagues.

Obviously this can lead to workplace injuries and in particular overuse injury. I have first-hand experience of this because I work in the computing field and do so much keyboarding and mousing that sometimes my arms ache for weeks. Since so many aspies work with computers, it's a common problem.

Ignoring Pain
I plan to do a full post on how aspies can ignore pain so I wont go into a great deal of detail here. What I will say is that ignoring (or being able to ignore) the human body's signals of pain can result in longer term injuries. Sometimes, we aren't even aware that we are blocking pain out. This can be quite dangerous.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Asperger's and Ritalin

This post is bound to be a little controversial - sorry.

Technically, there is no medication that helps aspergers in general however Ritalin can relieve some of the symptoms. In this post, I'll attempt to explain what Ritalin does, which symptoms it addresses and how it affects youinger children.

Our experience
We have a seven-year-old son on Ritalin. Sometimes, we forget to give it to him. When this happens, we almost always get a phone call or a note from the school asking if we have forgotten to give him the medication. I think they have only ever asked once when we have actually given him the medication. It is therefore obvious that Ritalin provides a positive benefit in his behaviour and ability to work in class.

Interestingly enough, these comments come from teachers who were initially very resistant to the introduction of Ritalin. Such a turnaround implies obvious benefit.

The Ritalin does not suppress all of the aspie traits but instead allows him to think before acting. This reduces his impulsive behaviour while also preventing him from being distracted by everything around him.
It allows for better concentration and reduces his tendency to irritate his friends. We have asked our son how he feels on the medication and he has told us that he feels better. At age 7, there is not really a lot of information he can give us but we'll continue asking in case the situation changes.

We haven't seen any of the reported side-effects.

Is it safe? and What about the Side-Effects?
This is the question everyone wants answered before they give drugs to their child. In our case, we deliberated for about 6 months before starting and spent quite a while looking up the side-effects etc. We also looked at dietary changes and tried some natural remedies, like fish oil.

Ritalin has been in use since the 1960's as a treatment for ADHD. There have been lots of studies of its use. The most commonly reported side effects lack of sleep and lack of appetite. There have also been reports of stomach ache. Strangely enough, our son already had a reduced need for sleep and lack of hunger. I've had the same thing for most of my life (I once had a nickname of "sparrow" because of my eating habits). I've "normalised" in the last few years.

I think that the eating and sleeping may be aspie traits, which means that the Ritalin research could be flawed.

So far, research does not seem to have found anything too disturbing about Ritalin. There is evidence that it has minor effects on growth (in the early years but apparently kids catch up in the teen years). There is also evidence to suggest that it positively supports brain development.

There were also a lot of claims made that Ritalin, because of a similarity to cocaine, could lead to drug abuse. These claims have since been discredited. You can read a lot more about Ritalin on wikipedia.

Some people also report sweaty palms and a racing heart. There's a whole list of possible side-effects. I guess the best advice is: "If you notice any side-effects in your child - stop them taking the medication and see your pediatrician".

The other side-effect to look out for is "dopeyness". This indicates that the child is on too high a dose. The medication needs to be reduced.

Why does the need for medication increase?
This was a question I asked myself about a year ago. It turns out that the required dosage of ritalin depends on body weight. As the child grows, so does the required dosage.

Which symptoms does Ritalin Affect?
Ritalin is a stimulant which has a "calming effect reducing impulsive behavior, and facilitates concentration on work and other tasks".

Ritalin and Statistics
There are a lot of statistics around about Ritalin and all sorts of side effects. In pretty much every case I have seen, the studies don't have appropriate control groups. This means that the data in their statistics is meaningless. This lets us right into the Anti-Ritalin groups.

Anti Ritalin groups
There are two major anti-ritalin camps to be aware of;

1. Parents against drugs in Children
2. Scientologists

In both cases, the objection isn't specifically against Ritalin, it's against almost every drug used with children. The suggestion being that dieting or meditation is a better option.

I know of some people who swear by dieting but I'm yet to see compelling evidence to support it. As far as meditation is concerned, I'm not going there... especially not with a 7 year old.

If you find an article in the paper or on the internet, or if you see a programme on TV that raises specific concerns about Ritalin, you should always check to see if one of these Anti-Ritalin groups are behind it. Otherwise, you may find yourself needlessly worrying about things.

Of course, when all is said and done... remember, it's your child and you have a responsibility for their wellbeing. If the medication affects them adversely or if they don't show immediate improvement (say within 2 weeks of use) then you should discontinue.

I'll do another post on Ritalin at a later date to cover things like the effects of coming off the drug, school holidays and weekends and the difference between morning and afternoon effects.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Life Repeats Itself

We are currently on holiday in a resort with a pool and we had an incident today which would have confounded me as a kid and still does from an adult point of view.

I'm not certain how much easier this situation might be for an NT but for an aspie, it was very challenging.

The Scenario
We bought my two children a swimming tyre each and they went down to the pool without their floaties. Fully reliant on the tyre for floatation should they drift into a deeper part of the pool.

My younger son (4) was ok but my older son (7) was hounded by two other kids for his tube. Their parents were nearby and watching but did nothing to stop the hounding.

Reluctant to berate someone elses child, I was unable to assist.

The Child's. Perspective
Watching the scenario play out, I was reminded of countless similar situations in my childhood. In my opinion, the other kids and their parents were at fault but the situation was unwinnable.

I'd either do one of two things;

1. Give the toy over.
I often simply gave the agressors what they wanted simply to avoid problems. They would take the item and not involve me in it's play. Not a good scenario. In some cases, I'd even get the toy back at the end of the day. Once, I took a brand new soccer ball to school and had to give it to "hasslers" just prior to my first class. I wasn't picked for teams at lunch time and didn't get my ball back until after school when it was well and truly dirtied and scuffed.

2. Fight
The second option is simply to argue and fight. Sometimes it becomes physical but most times you just lose "friends".

Neither option really works.

The Adult Perspective
In the pool toy case, the problem was with the adults too. I was surprised to find it just as insoluble.

I offered my son some advice, telling him that since it was his toy and it was the only thing keeping him afloat he didn't have to share. He told the kids that but still they came on.

I moved him away from the kids but they followed. I asked the kids to leave him alone but still they came on.

As the kids pushed my son closer and closer to a meltdown, I started calling to my NT wife. She spoke sternly to the kids and they listened for about 5 minutes but went back again.

She caught their eyes and made some threatening gestures (and shot an evil glance at them). That bought us another 5 minutes with one kid.

In the meantime, I got Kaelan (my son) who was getting into a heated arguement with the other kid, to start saying "talk to the hand" - an Americanism - surprisingly, it worked.

By "attacking" their kids, we finally galvanised their parents into action and they pulled their kids out of the pool.

I guess the point of this post is to say that social skills don't seem to improve, even on the adult side of the age barrier when the problem isn't the aspie but NTs.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Aspies and Perfection

Aspies are often their own worst enemies in the area of self worth. They often set themselves unattainable or inappropriate levels of perfection.

It is not uncommon for an aspie to consider a B- mark, or anything below it to be a failure. They will often berate themselves severely after such a "failure", usually calling themselves failures etc, and sometimes resorting to self-harm.

On the positive side, this means that aspies are very hard workers who strive not only to do impossible amouints of work but also to do it perfecly.

The downsides of employing an aspie are that;

Sometimes they introduce so many steps into a process (striving for perfection), that the process ends up being overly long and complicated.

They will work themselves into the ground. Personally, I tend to clock 9 to 10 hours per day and have tripped off overuse injuries on more than one occasion.

They find it impossibly hard to delegate work because although they generally don't apply the same perfectionist standards to others, they are still responsible for delegated work and often find themselves completely redoing the work during the checking phase.

They are hopeless on team assignments and group work and often find themselves doing the work of the whole team.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Do Aspies Make Good Liars?

Don't ask me where I get these topics from (sigh). They usually come up because I read someone's comments about something in a forum and start applying them to myself to see if they fit.

The answer is;

Amongst People who don't know them very well - NO
Amongst Friends - YES.

Why is this?
There are a lot of social cues that people use to determine whether or not someone is lying. These include;
  • Eye Contact (which aspies have trouble doing)
  • Certain "nervous" body gestures like clasping hands (which aspies do naturally)
  • Differences in vocal tone (which aspies don't vary as much)
  • Facial Tics or twitches (which aspies often have naturally)

This means that when someone who doesn't know the aspie well is talking to them, they often interpret the aspie as lying even when they're telling the truth.

Conversely, when someone who knows the aspie and their behavior very well is talking to them, they won't be able to use these things as clues. They know that their friend does this all the time. Of course, if the person has reason to suspect that the aspie is lying, they may well be able to look further.

One strange thing is that NT's think that they can say "Look me in the eye and say....". The thing is, that whether we're lying or being truthful, it's pretty much impossible to look anyone in the eye for long. NT's only ask you to do that when they're suspicious of something but I don't think it helps either way. They'll always interpret it as a lie.

The other thing that I think aspies can do, certainly I can do, is...

Rewriting Memories
This is where you take an existing memory that you want to forget/erase and you spend time creating a replacement false memory. You then join it to the existing surrounding memories (ie: memories that occur just before and just after the event you want to forget) and replay those memories together over and over again in your head. This effectively changes the "extraction keys" to the new memory.

It takes a little time but eventually the new memory takes root and the old one fades. It doesn't fade entirely and it's possible for someone with a clear memory of the event to break though by discussing details. This can be quite painful for the aspie since they're usually painful memories anyway (things they want to forget) and it's a bit like re-living the experience in fast forward.

I've included rewriting memories here mainly because it's associated with falsifying information. I'm not really sure how useful it would be in an outright lying situation.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Asperger's and Depression - Part 4

Please note: This post has some deeper adult concepts in it and may be unsuitable for children.

Continuing the discussion on depression (how depressing)...

Difficulty reading other people's body language expressions and tone
I think that I have already covered this one in other posts but I'll just go over a few important points to be sure.

Conversation is a lot more than words. It includes hand gestures, body movements and facial expressions. It includes a variety of different vocal tones and it includes a lot of metaphors, colloquialisms, polite rephrasing and nonsense words and phrases. To interpret the full meaning of somebody's conversation you need to be able to read and process all of these cues at the same time. You also need to be able to understand how these cues inter-relate with each other.

Aspies are well known for being very "single process" orientated in conversation. It seems that although we do take everything in, we are unable to process it all simultaneously. Processing of conversation often continues long after the conversation has ended. For this reason, aspies often miss out on important clues which would otherwise change the meaning of a conversation. Often we cannot tell the difference between somebody been serious and somebody joking. It is possible that this is one of the reasons for the myth that aspies cannot understand jokes.

At best, aspies often return from conversations feeling unhappy with their performance. At worst, they can return very depressed. The depression can be related to misunderstandings as discussed in part 2 or it can stem from from the sadness/loneliness or disappointment in oneself due to inadequate social skills. Aspies are often misunderstood during conversation because we either haven't mastered social protocol (are too direct and are considered rude or tactless) or because we tend to assume that other people are mind readers and switch topics in mid-conversation without warning.

Being misunderstood all the time can be pretty depressing.

Unusual World View/Paradigm
Aspies see the world very differently from NTs. They will often take a longer term view of things but concentrate more on the past than on the future. This concentration is probably due to the long-term memory.

If an Aspie has a bad day or if an emotionally painful event is likely to reoccur (or is continuing longer than it should), the aspie may experience suicidal feelings. They may think "I would not have to worry about this if I was dead". Of course, this is subjective, it might just be something associated with me but my forum readings indicate that this is common amongst aspies in varying degrees.

It's unusual for me to go more than two or three days without considering my demise but unless my life actually does go to hell, I'm in no danger. The important thing to note is that I will often ponder death in relation to something as mundane as a computer program not working the way it is supposed to - thinking "I wouldn't have to finish this if I was dead".

How do you stop this becoming an issue? Counselling? Nope... I don't think so. Aspies need to be reassured that there are things to live for. In my case, my family is top. If something were to happen to them, my "rock" would disappear.

Sometimes it's the small things too, especially in childhood. For example; wanting to survive until the last Harry Potter book etc.. The problem with short term goals like this is that they end and you need to find another goal to replace them before they end. You're much better off with a long term goal.

Then there's religion. I'm grateful that I'm not deeply religious - sure I have beliefs etc, but my life isn't centered around religion. This is important because some religions, notably Christianity with the belief in Heaven could persuade Aspies that there is value in dying. Luckily, most religions which profess to an afterlife also treat suicide as a major sin. The exception of course, being martyrdom.

Put a religious aspie in a martyrdom situation (eg: in the middle of a bank robbery) and there's a good chance that they will take the initiative. Not just because of the current situation but also because of the long-term view.

Overwhelming Feelings and Thoughts
I've accidentally covered most of this under the last topic, so I'll only add a little. Depressing thoughts often creep up on the aspie for no obvious reason. I have no idea why this is.

The other time that feelings and thoughts creep up on the aspie are when they are emoting with things. Sure, I know that there's a myth out there that says that Aspies aren't emotional. That's crap. Aspies emote with everything, human and non-human, living and non-living. Just because we don't always show emotions (or show them in the same way as NT's) doesn't mean that they aren't there.

When our emotional targets are depressed, so are we.

Anxiety and Panic Attacks
I think everyone gets panic attacks at some point or another and I'm not sure how tied to Aspie traits they are. I certainly don't seem to get many but then I may be uncertain in my definitions as I do get overwhelming feelings when walking in crowded situations (I often walk through the carpark in shops rather than go back to the car via the shopping centre) and when I can't do as my aspie brain dictates.

For example; suppose I'm looking at DVDs in a shop and they're arranged alphabetically. I have someone standing next to me, so I can't move to the next set of shelves. Often, I can just move on to the shelf after that but sometimes I can't. Sometimes, even if I skip a bay of shelves, I have to go back. If the person is still in my way... I get overwhelming feelings.

How do I deal with this... well, I tend to imagine having a lightsaber and visualise myself bringing it down on the offender. Yes, it's childish, but it's better than imagining punching or having a gun (ie: a fictional weapon is safer). This buys me a minute or two of calm and hopefully the person in my way has felt my eyes boring into their back long enough to move away.

I don't know if that's the start of a panic attack or something else entirely. Like I said, I don't feel comfortable with the concepts. Unfortunately, I feel that I don't know enough about this topic to post with any confidence. If anyone has any useful experience, please comment. I'd love to hear from you.

From the aspies I know who have regular panic attacks, it seems that they get depressed because they're scared of having another attack. This leads to being scared to go out in public etc.

Well, this concludes the depression topic (Yay!!). Sorry it was so long (especially this post - I just wanted to get the topic finished).

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Asperger's and Depression - Part 3

Continuing the discussion about how Asperger's traits can directly cause depression, I'll be working through the list from the end of my last post.

Very good long Term Memory
How can a having a good long-term memory be responsible for depression?

The key to understanding this is to approach it from the point of view of an NT. Most of the time, it seems to me that detailed memories just aren't available for NTs without external assistance. By external assistance, I mean the use of video cameras or photo albums.

In the movie One Hour Photo, Robin William's character says, while looking at birthday snaps, "Nobody takes a picture of something they want to forget". I think that this is particularly relevant to the issue because it means that NT's tend only to remember the good things in any detail.

The Aspie however, with their long term memory often has perfect recall of past events and conversations. They will spend hours analyzing a conversation that occurred years ago and will often take negative feedback on board even if it was provided in the heat of the moment.

The long term memory of the Aspie therefore can be their worst enemy for dredging up guilt and other negative emotions.

Obsessive Compulsion
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I'm not entirely where the lines are drawn between Asperger's and Obsessive Compulsion. It is obvious that people can suffer from Obsessive Compulsion without having Asperger's Syndrome but I'm not convinced that it works the other way around. To be specific, I think that the Asperger's condition carries with it certain obsessive compulsive influences which manifest themselves in different ways.

At this stage, I don't believe that the obsessive-compulsive part of Asperger's is the same as obsessive compulsion in the normal clinical sense.

I think that people with Asperger's who follow patterns on the ground or who feel the need to collect, arrange or categorize items in their special-interest don't have obsessive compulsion but simply displayed traits commonly associated with the condition.

Since in this post, I am describing Asperger's only conditions leading to depression, the obsessive-compulsive drive I'm talking about relates specifically to that found in Asperger's. While I'm sure that some Aspies obsess about things like handwashing, I'll only be considering collectibles and patterns here as these things do affect me.

Obsessive Compulsive drives only seem to lead to depression in Aspies when they are blocked or are unable to be fulfilled. This happens more often than you would expect.

Examples include;

Packaging Changes
When collecting books, DVDs or other items in a series, the publishers of those items decide to make packaging changes which break the pattern. Good examples of this being Stephen King's "The Dark Tower" series which continued for such a long time that the original publishers (in Australia at least) stopped publishing. It is extremely irritating to have these books next to each other on a bookshelf with mis-matching covers as they grate on my mind whenever I see them.

This can be as simple as a mark on the wall, an off-center picture or a scratch on the cover of a book. often, these imperfections cannot be fixed and are a source of constant annoyance for the Aspie independing on the degree of daily contact they have with the imperfection.

Aspies can also become quite obsessed with the order of things; eg: putting collections into alphabetical order (My CDs & DVDs are Alphabetical). Sometimes the order is Genre based (like my books) and sometimes it is date based. Lots of things can happen to upset the order but the most common is unintentional "messing up" by the people who live with the Aspie.

Aspies are often become quite obsessive about food. Sometimes they become obsessive about germs. A good example of this being the fact that I went through a stage where I could not even bear people to look at my food when it was on the table.

Aspies can also become obsessive about particular ingredients. These could range from an inability to eat anything that has come anywhere near contact with sultanas. (I'm still not over that one). Although I love biscuits (cookies), I cannot eat any which have been stored in the same jar as those with sultanas in them.

My eldest son (7) has a problem with potato salad. If potato salad has been put on his plate he can survive by simply not eating it. If however, it touches any of the other things on his plate he will have a meltdown - guaranteed.

The Obsessive Compulsion part of Aspergers is an obsession with completeness, order and patterns. If those patterns cannot be completed or if the order is being jumbled this will stress out the Aspie. They may seem like small things to others, but with enough stress, the Aspie will become depressed.

More to come
Once again, this post is getting long so I will stop here. I'll try to cover the following in my next post.

  • Difficulty reading of other people's body language expressions and tone
  • Unusual world view/Paradigm
  • Overwhelming feelings and thoughts
  • Anxiety and Panic Attacks

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Asperger's and Depression - Part 2

In my last post, I introduced the idea of depression in Asperger's, made a few lists and cited a little bit of research. My apologies if I became a bit clinical. To the people who have told me to keep this blog personal rather then following established research, I am listening.

In this post, I will be explaining some of the entries in the lists of the previous post.

Social Troubles related to fitting in.
This should be fairly self explanatory. Despite the appearance of being loners, Aspies often suffer from loneliness. Their poor conversational skills often make it more difficult for them to make and keep friends and to have a social life in general. This leads to loneliness and loneliness leads to depression.

Guilt or Regret over Past Actions
There is some truth to the phrase "this is going to hurt me more than it will hurt you". When an Aspie is stirred to the point of outburst and/or meltdown, they can temporarily lose control. When this happens, invariably something is broken, or something best left unsaid is said. At worst, someone may get hurt or a friendship may be damaged.

The aspie will agonize over this for a long period, often years after the event. The event does not have to be particularly nasty or even large to warrant long term Aspie guilt. often, I will continue to blame myself for conflicts which others, particularly the victims or aggressors, have long forgotten. It is quite a surprise to me that they no longer think about the event however it still usually isn't enough to make me lose the guilt. Carrying an ever increasing amount of guilt around constantly is a fast road to depression.

Miscommunications and Misunderstandings
Aside from the obvious connection with loneliness, miscommunication has the ability to provide the aspie with a great deal of depression. This has happened to me quite often in the workplace, particularly during discussions with the CEO or upper management.

The problem is that people in upper management roles tend to joke quite a bit at other people's expense. This isn't just true for my current employer, it is true for just about every employer I have ever had. I think it's probably a management thing rather than a person thing.

In one recent case, my employer stated that he "did not like paying for services we had not received". Unfortunately, since my employer at the time was fully responsible for preventing those services from being provided, it was a catch 22 and I was powerless to act. I took this to mean that my employer was very displeased with my handling of the whole affair and was blaming me for the problems. Naturally, being something of a perfectionist, I became very depressed.

My employer later corrected me claiming that they had not blamed me. They then use pretty much exactly the same words and unfortunately I couldn't discern any new meaning (despite my employer's obvious belief that they'd fixed the issue).

To this day, the incident still causes me great internal issues despite my employer having completely forgotten it.

Fatigue or Tiredness
Aspies often have sleeping issues because their minds are in constant turmoil thinking over (and translating) the events, gestures and cues of the day. Despite claims to the opposite, aspies do in fact read non-verbal cues but they don't tend to process them until well after the conversation.

Sleeping problems can be worsened by the use of medications to control the Asperger's condition. in particular, drugs such as Ritalin are known for side effects which include sleep deprivation. I'm not going to come down either side with medications - there's no clear winners or losers. If you need them and if they work for you, great. If they have side-effects that you can live with... fine... just make sure that you consider the less visible side-effects (ie: sleep deprivation is a visible side effect but it could lead to depression - which isn't immediately "visible").

More to come
There's still a lot to be covered, but again this post is getting long.

For those keeping a list, I'll try to cover the following in my next post.

  • Very good long term memory

  • Obsessive compulsion

  • Obsession with completeness, order and patterns

  • Difficulty reading of other people's body language expressions and tone

  • Unusual world view/Paradigm

  • Overwhelming feelings and thoughts

  • Anxiety and Panic Attacks

Friday, November 16, 2007

Aspergers and Depression

Like all mental conditions which cause people to behave differently from the norm, Aspergers is associated with depression. Depression can be caused by a number of things including;
  • Social troubles because you do not seem to fit in

  • Guilt or regret over past actions/outburst/meltdowns

  • Overwhelming feelings and thoughts

  • Anxiety and Panic Attacks

  • Miscommunications / Misunderstandings

  • Fatigue or Tiredness due either to the condition that all to the treatment of the condition (eg: Ritalin)

There is a lot of research into the depression and ADHD or ADD (a common condition which exists alongside Aspergers)

There's not nearly as much information on depression from an Aspergers only standpoint.

Recent research...

(Tantam, D. (2000). Psychological disorder in adolescents and adults with Asperger syndrome. Autism)

...suggests that depression is common in individuals with Asperger syndrome with about 1 in 15 people with Asperger syndrome experiencing such symptoms. Personally, I think this figure is much, much higher and that the differences are related to how depression is seen by others (particularly the researchers) and how it handled by those who suffer from it. Remember that Aspies aren't always easy to read.

The aim of this post is to look at depression that is directly related to the Aperger's condition only. It's obviously going to take more than one post to get through this.

There are a number of factors an which are part of aspergers which would influence the onset of depression. These include as follows;
  • Very good long term memory

  • Obsessive compulsion - (I wonder if this is simply be one of my conditions or if it really belongs in the core Aspergers definitions)**

  • Obsession with completeness, order and patterns

  • Difficulty reading of other people's body language expressions and tone (leading to misunderstandings)

  • Unusual world view/Paradigm

Unfortunately, this post is already getting long, so I'll discuss these lists in the next post.

In the meantime, here are some links which may be of interest;

**Szatmari et al (1989) studied a group of 24 children. He discovered that 8% of the children with Asperger syndrome and 10% of the children with high-functioning autism were diagnosed with OCD. This compared to 5 per cent of the control group of children without autism but with social problems. Thomsen el at (1994) found that in the children he studied, the OCD continued into adulthood.

Towards Success in Tertiary Study with Asperger's Syndrome

Accidentally found this while doing a search;

The University of Melbourne and the Australian Catholic University have produced a very useful e-booklet called "Towards Success In Tertiary Study with Asperger's syndrome and other autistic spectrum disorders", which can be downloaded for free from

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Aspie Meltdown - An Insiders Point of View - Part 2

Following directly on from part one, this entry will try to look at meltdowns in adults.

How long do meltdowns usually last?
Most meltdowns in children last between five and 15 minutes though I have heard of some lasting 45. The lower end of this range is probably due to the amount of energy that an Aspie expends on the meltdown itself. Older and stronger children would obviously be able to continue their meltdown behavior for a longer period than younger ones.

How then, do meltdowns manifest themselves in adults who obviously are much stronger than children.

This one is quite difficult for me to answer because any sense of time disappears during a meltdown. I believe however that I have not gone over the 45 minute mark. I am not sure whether meltdowns are sustainable over a longer period.

The violent adult meltdown
Although there is some suggestion that the violent adult meltdown could lead to mass murderous tendencies (Port Arthur Massacre - Australia 1996), there is much to suggest that this incident can not be blamed solely on the Asperger's condition. In particular, Martin Bryant's Aspergers diagnosis was disputed by a forensic psychiatrist working with his defense team and there were obviously other mental factors at work, including a sub-normal IQ (estimated at 66). Low IQ's are not associated with the Aspergers condition.

Turning a normal meltdown violent
There have been very few occasions where I personally have had a violent meltdown and although furniture or walls would generally be the main victims, there have been times when I've struck people.

What makes an adult aspie in meltdown lash out at people?

  • Other adults being physical first

  • Other adults throwing objects first

  • Adults hurling abuse at the aspie in meltdown

  • Adults taunting or laughing at an aspie in meltdown

  • Adults refusing to leave the personal space of an aspie in meltdown

I think it should be fairly obvious from this list that if other adults behave irresponsibly around an aspie in meltdown, they can escalate the problem.

What can/should the Aspie in Meltdown do?
Leave the vicinity of any non-tolerant adults. Preferably retiring to a lockable (by the aspie) isolated room. If the aspie is engaged in an activity which brings on a meltdown (ie: malfunctioning computer). They should leave the activity for that day and resume fresh on the following day instead.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Aspie Meltdown - An Insiders Point of View - Part 1

What is a Meltdown?
A meltdown is a condition where the Aspie temporarily loses control due to emotional responses to environmental factors.

It generally appears that the aspie has lost control over a single and specific issue however this is very rarely the case. Usually, the problem is the cumulation of a number of irritations which could span a fairly long period of time, particularly given the strong long-term memory facilities of the aspie.

Why the Problems Seem Hidden
Aspies don't tend to give a lot of clues that they are very irritated;
  • their facial expressions very often will not convey the irritation

  • their vocal tones will often remain flat even when they are fairly annoyed.

  • Some things which annoy aspies would not be considered annoying to neurotypicals. This makes NT's less likely to pick up on a potential problem.

  • Often Aspie grievances are aired as part of their normal conversation and may even be interpreted by NTs as part of their standard whinge.

What happens during a Meltdown
The meltdown appears to most people as a tantrum or dummy spit. There are marked differences between adults and children.

Children tend to flop onto the ground and shout, scream or cry. Quite often, they will display violent behaviour such as hitting or kicking.

In adults, due to social pressures, violent behaviour in public is less common. Shouting outbursts or emotional displays however can occur. More often though, it leads to depression and the aspie simply retreats into themselves and abandons social contact.

Some aspies describe the meltdown as a red or grey band across the eyes. I've certainly experienced this. There is a loss of control and a feeling of being a powerless observer outside the body. This can be dangerous as the aspie may strike out, particularly if the instigator is nearby or if they are taunted during a meltdown.

Sometimes, depression is the only outward visible sign of a meltdown. At other times, depression results when the aspie leaves their meltdown state and confronts the results of the meltdown. The depression is a result of guilt over abusive, shouting or violent behaviour. I will cover depression in a different post.

Dealing with Meltdowns in Children
There's not a great deal of that you can do when a meltdown occurs in a very young child. Probably the very best thing that you can do at their youngest ages is to train yourself to recognize a meltdown before it happens and take steps to avoid it.

Example: Aspies are quite possessive about their food and my youngest will sometimes decide that he does not want his meat to be cut up for him. When this happens, taking his plate from him and cutting his meat could cause a tantrum. The best way to deal with this is to avoid touching it for the first part of the meal until he starts to want your involvement. When this occurs, instead of taking his plate from him, it is more effective to lean over and help him to cut the first piece. Once he has cut the first piece with help, he will often allow the remaining pieces to be cut for him though I would still recommend that his plate not be moved.

Once the child reaches an age where they can understand, probably around seven years give or take a few. You can work on explaining the situation. One way you could do this would be to discreetly videotape a meltdown and allow them to watch it at a later date. You could then discuss the incident, explain why it isn't socially acceptable and give them some alternatives.

When I was little, I remember that the single best motivation for keeping control was once, when my mother called me in after play and talked about the day. In particular, she highlighted an incident where I had fallen over and hurt myself. She said, "did you see how your friend started to go home as soon as you fell over because they were scared that you were going to have a tantrum". She went on to say, "When you got up and laughed, they were so happy that they came racing back. I'm proud of you for not losing your temper".

I carried this with me for years later and would always strive to contain myself. I wouldn't always succeed but at least I was trying.

Meltdowns and Punishment
One of the most important things to realize is that Meltdowns are part of the Aspergers condition. They can't avoid them, merely try to reduce the damage. Punishing an aspie for a meltdown is like punishing someone for swearing when they hit their thumb with a hammer. It won't do any good whatsoever and can only serve to increase the distance between you and your child.

In addition, meltdowns aren't wholly caused by the current scenario but are usually the result of an overwhelming number of other issues. The one which "causes" the meltdown is the "straw that breaks the camels back". Unless you're a mind reader, you won't necessarily know what the other factors are and your aspie child may not be able to fully communicate the problem.

Meltdowns are part and parcel of Aspergers - they are NOT the result of poor parenting.

In my next meltdown post, I'll try to cover coping in adults.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Aspie Barriers to Social Interaction

Social interaction is very difficult for people with aspergers for a number of reasons including;

  • Difficulty Achieving and Maintaining Eye Contact

  • Difficulty reading body-language and tone

  • Problems using non-verbal gestures and tone

  • Intrusions from the Special Interest (Disinterest in other topics)

  • Difficulty keeping away from Detail

  • Short Term Memory Issues

  • Language Issues

I've already covered eye contact in earlier posts, so I won't cover it again here.

Body Language and Tone
I don't think that the aspie has any trouble determining when someone is annoyed. That sort of body language and tone is usually strong enough. Most of the time, the problematic body language seems to come from humor or generalizations.

For example; I have terrible problems when someone insults me with a smile on their face. I'm never sure if it's a genuine insult or "just mucking around". If I assume it's a genuine insult and retaliate, I could start a fight. If I assume that it's not an insult (when it is) I could be badly hurt physically or emotionally. Usually I assume it's a joke and just smile weakly back.

Another time when this can be a problem is when you're engaged in a conversation and someone says "too much information" or "no more". Is the person telling you to stop or is this just an expression? It's little wonder that Aspies get confused and don't know when someone isn't interested or wants them to stop.

The key to all of this is body language and tone. People with Asperger's generally haven't mastered either of these in themselves, so they're hardly likely to be able to interpret them in others.

The Special Interests
It's hard for the aspie to talk too far away from their special interests and especially not in a level of detail. We're just not terribly interested in other topics. Sure, we can discuss other things for a while but we're usually only pretending to be interested.

Attention to Detail
Aspies generally like to examine things in detail. Too much detail. This is especially true of anything that touches the special interest.

At work, I find that whenever I write a report, I end up providing way too much information. This is also true for when I explain things verbally.

Short Term Memory Issues
There's no conversation killer quite like forgetting someone's name within a few minutes of being introduced. The same goes for forgetting everything you've just heard about an "uninteresting" topic.

Language Issues
The language issue I'm referring to is the tendency to use archaic language. People either get the wrong idea and think that you're being snooty/snobbish or they have to keep interrupting you to get you to explain words.

I guess the point of this post is simply to lay a foundation for non-aspies to understand why conversation is so difficult for us. In later posts, I'll see what I can do to provide strategies for overcoming these problems.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Aspergers and Rules

Much has been made in the literature about the rigidity of the Aspie. A good example of this is their "resistance to change". Often the observed behavior isn't a resistance to change, but a binding to a particular rule or rule set.

The aspie is, to a certain extent, controlled by rules. The impact of these invisible rules on their behavior should not be underestimated. It is often a source of conflict and can also be the source of aspie depression.

Where do these Rules come from?
The majority of the aspie's rules come from their own environment. They can be communicated directly or implied. In some cases, the aspie will completely misunderstand directions and create an internal rule that isn't necessarily in their best interests. Changing these rules is difficult, especially when they've been in force for an extended period.

An example
When I was quite young, a grandparent saw a boy give me a "suck" on his chupa-chop (a lolly on a stick). Obviously, to an adult, this is quite disgusting. I was called inside immediately and lectured at length about germs and sharing food. As a direct result of this discussion, food non-sharing rules came into being and over time they grew in strength.

This caused quite a number of social problems at school. The other kids would ask me for food if my mother had given me lunch money. I was unable to even share chips. I would point out to the other kids that I never ever asked them for anything but it still caused a lot of problems and I lost quite a few "friends" because of it.

The longer the rule stayed in force and unchallenged, the stronger it got. I quickly got to the point where I couldn't eat food from someone else's plate (I still have great difficulty doing this). Worst of all, it kick-started a period where I couldn't eat my food if it had been "looked at" by a sibling. My mother told my poor sister that she wasn't allowed to look at my food at breakfast.

The worst of these rules disappeared after a couple of years, but I still struggle with the oldest parts of them. I still have difficulty if one of children tries to take something from my plate.

Rules in the Adult Aspie
Adult aspies who are aware of their condition can use their rules to great advantage.

For example; if there is a need to lose weight and the adult aspie creates sensible rules about eating, they will not be able to break them easily. Note: This can be dangerous if the rules aren't well thought out and malnutrition could result.

Other rules could include priorities at work. These are the sorts of rules which are seen by practitioners as "resistance to change". Contrary to opinion, they're not a result of the aspie clinging to the old ways because they want to.

What can Parents do?
Recognize the power of rules and help your aspie children to recognize them too. Understanding these rules is the key to using them wisely.

Try to figure out what rules are in place. This must usually be done by observation as the younger aspie child probably won't realize that they are following rules. Even aspie adults don't have a list of rules handy.

Foster a belief that rules sometimes need to change.

Watch rules carefully to determine if they are "tightening" and challenge them if they appear to be having any negative impact. If possible, try to redefine the boundaries of the existing rule.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

What is Stimming and what does it feel like?

According to wikipedia, stimming is;

"a jargon term for a particular form of stereotypy, a repetitive body movement (often done unconsciously) that self-stimulates one or more senses in a regulated manner. It is shorthand for self-stimulation, and a stereotypy is referred to as stimming under the hypothesis that it has a function related to sensory input."

The wikipedia article then goes on to propose some theories about the function of stimming and how it is designed to provide nervous system arousal. The theory being that it helps autistic people "normalize".

I'm not sure how much I believe that theory - I helps us relax and it feels good... but normalize?? Not sure.

The most commonly cited form of stimming is body rocking. Such is the prevalence of this form of stimming in Hollywood films concerning autism that you could be forgiven for thinking that autistic people stim by rocking most of the time.

How far does stimming go?
Stimming is much more than just rocking. It also includes;
  • Hand Clasping

  • Flapping

  • Knee bobbing

  • Finger Tapping or Drumming

  • Spinning Toys

I'm going to go out on a limb on this one and suggest that stimming should also include a few other behaviors. The wikipedia article has already suggested that in some cases, stimming includes deliberate self-harm, such as cutting oneself and head banging.

I believe that stimming also includes the following;
  • Making funny noises

  • Facial Tics and expressions

  • Certain types of singing, talking or babbling

  • Nail (and finger) Biting

My eldest child is particularly bad with the vocal stimming. Especially first thing in the morning on a weekend when you're trying to get a little extra sleep.

How does it feel?
Stimming is often an involuntary thing and we aren't always aware that we're doing it. Personally, stimming by rocking is quite uncommon for me because this is socially unacceptable. I don't think I ever really needed this form of stimming much anyhow.

At its simplest, the stimming allows you to concentrate on sensitivity and relax the thinking parts of the brain. In an Aspie, being able to stop thinking, even for a short while, is bliss.

Stimming is a very good relaxant and this probably explains why it is more often seen in stressful situations.

Of course, it also feels good.

As a parent, should you try to stop stimming?
Not really... No. (well, sometimes).

I think it's fair to say that stopping stimming could lead to stress in a child and also that it could cause them to change to a less visible means of stimming, such as self-harm.

It's probably worthwhile videoing your child while stimming and letting them see what the undesirable behavior is. Perhaps you can get them to be more discreet. Remember though, that they won't always be aware that they're doing it at first.

If stimming behaviors are causing your children harm then you should discuss them with your paediatrician.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Aspies and their friends

There is a phrase which I have heard practitioners use to describe ADHD and which I believe they would probably use to describe Asperger's too;

"known by all but liked by none"

Although I know a number of people with Asperger's who feel this applies to them, I am are not convinced that a blanket definition such as this is appropriate for the condition.

It is true that the Asperger's child has a great deal more difficulty making and keeping friends than neurotypical children but I don't think it is true to suggest that they end up with no friends. If anything, the aspie is more likely to end up with a very small band of very close and very dedicated friends.

Primary School
The literature suggests that Aspie boys tend to prefer playing with the girls in their primary years. I would agree with this. As a child, I found that I was unsuited to sports, always the last to be picked and never at all interested in the sport itself. For the most part, girls were less interested in sport and more into talking. I found this much more to my taste.

I have no idea how this would have continued past primary school because at the end of year four, I had to leave my primary school to start at a secondary school. My secondary school was boys only.

Secondary School
I have very few memories of "playing" in the first year of my secondary school. I have a lot of memories of standing on the edge of the playground waiting for lunch to finish. By the end of winter of my first year (winter, in Australia finishes in the last third of the school year) I had met a new friend.

I met this friend while at soccer. Note, I did not say while playing soccer although we were both on the soccer field at the time and it was a reasonable expectation of our parents that we would join in the game. After all, we were on the team. I was amazed to find that this boy was as bad at soccer as I was. He was a social pariah in other ways as well, though I suspect he displayed more ADHD or more ADD qualities than Asperger's.

Nevertheless, we became very good friends and he introduced me to his other friends. None of them were in my class that year (or for the next three years - sigh... if only the teachers had been paying attention) but all of them are still my very best friends (25 years later).

The Library
When I got to year seven at school, the teachers were asking for students who wanted to become library monitors. Without even considering my new found friends, I immediately signed up. Luckily, all of them followed me. We all stayed library monitors until about a year 11 and we were probably longest lasting and most dedicated group of monitors the school library had ever seen.

I think that being a library monitor was the main thing that prevented me from being bullied. I was out of sight and therefore out of mind. By the time we left the library in year 11, our classmates had matured enough to bullying was a rarity.

One Girl in Particular
Over the years my school had turned co-ed, (girls were introduced) The first exposure we had to girls in our classrooms was in year 11 but the girls had been introduced in younger classes and in year 9, I met the girl I would marry.

I am often told that I am very lucky to have met this girl. I know that I am - she's one in a million.

Aspies have difficulty with normal conversations let alone sustaining relationships and especially relationships with people of the opposite gender. At school ages, even normal boys have problems with this. I think one of the things that helped me to get married was meeting someone who would be one of my best friends (and still is) at such a young age.

What can parents do to help
  1. Be aware, aspies attract (and socialize best) with other aspies or other children with disorders or drawbacks such as a language difficulties (ethnicity etc).

  2. The best thing that parents could do to help their aspie children make friends would be to locate groups at the school which are most likely to contain other aspies. Chess clubs, library monitoring and other non-sport groups would be the a good starting point.

  3. Parents also need to be aware that if the child is being bullied, it may be best to move the child to alternative lunchtime programmes such as library duties. Schools only have a certain amount of power to prevent bullying and they can only stop that which they observe.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Aspie Memory

One of the defining traits of aspergers syndrome is the "photographic-memory" whereby aspies can recall with precision events and conversations that are years old and forgotten by the other participants. As with all aspie traits, they differ from one person to another. Indeed some aspies claim to not have this memory - this could be true or it could be the result of misleading information in the Asperger's books which don't really describe the condition well.

The Filmographic, not Photographic Memory
First of all, I want to redefine the terminology. It is more correct to say that the aspie has a filmographic rather than photographic memory. This means that the memory is more like watching a film than recounting items in a picture.

I'm not convinced that an aspie would do especially well in those psychological tests where they remove objects behind a screen. In fact, because we're talking about short term memory there, I think an aspie would do considerably worse.

What Aspies can't easily Remember
The aspie has trouble with short-term memory and with non-visual memory. In particular, the aspie has trouble remembering the things that people tend to tell them in mid-conversation.
  • Names

  • Birthdays

  • Dates and Times of Events

  • Shopping Lists

  • Specific Lists of Items (eg: Periodic Table)

Of course, any lists associated with special interests seem quite easy to learn.

The Mysterious Disappearing Short-Term Memory
Things that seem to be in the aspie's memory have a way of disappearing suddenly until they make it to long term memory. Quite frequently (more than usual as I get older), my words are disappearing mid-sentence and I have to say - "nope, sorry ... it's gone". It's quite embarrassing.

It's not age though (I'm 38), this has happened throughout my life. In particular at school, I remember losing teachers names. I'd always be too embarrassed to tell the teacher that I had no idea of their name, so I'd keep quiet in the hope that I'd catch it at some point.

My eldest son (7) is in first class. He knew his teacher's name before he started first term because we drilled it into him. He knew her name for the first few weeks. Then, suddenly he lost it and had to ask her on several occasions what her name was. Luckily now, he seems to have got it again.

I'm not sure if this phenomena is associated only with names and lists or whether it applies to other types of learning, such as pencil grip, letter writing and swimming. There are signs that it could be (my son will get his letters and numbers perfect for a while but then will slip back into writing things backward). Sometimes he forgets how to write his name too.

I'll have to have a rethink before I can confirm either way.

Recording and Playback
This is where the aspie memory really comes into its own...

During activities, even those where the aspie doesn't appear to be concentrating, they're taking everything in. Not just words, but expressions, feelings, touch, temperature, the whole lot. Those memories are then easily accessible and can be played back "in the aspie's head".

At university I used to sit in lectures and draw pictures instead of taking notes. People used to ask to borrow my notes only to discover that I didn't have any - well, not notes that they could understand at any rate. The funny thing was, that when I got to an exam, all I had to do was to think of the drawing and it would bring the whole lecture back. I could look at (or just remember) certain parts of the drawing and this would open up the memory of what the lecturer was covering at the time.

I did very well in University and got a few High Distinctions, so obviously the method worked. Of course, by that that stage I was old enough to have a pretty good handle on how my memory worked. It wasn't quite so easy in school.

How young does it start?
Well strangely enough it starts in the pre-talking years. I know this for two reasons, firstly because I have some vague memories of my own babyhood and secondly (more importantly) we had an incident with my son which proved the point.

When you're a new parent with a child below talking age, you have a lot of one-sided conversations where you talk "AT" your child in the hope that they will retain some information and explanations. I had quite a few such conversations with Kaelan (my eldest).

Looking at him immediately afterwards, I thought he hadn't taken anything in. For a start, he didn't seem to remember objects (eg: didn't know where to point when I asked "Where is the Television?") after a long conversation about it.

Imagine my surprise when more than a year later, when he had developed enough language skills to talk; he repeated our conversation almost verbatim.

Closing thoughts
I could go on about memory, but this post is getting long. In a future post, I'll cover ways in which aspies can use their memory. What works for me to get things into long-term storage and how aspies can become convincing liars or cover up emotional sore-points by planting false memories on top of true ones.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Organisation and the Aspie

The words that really drive my wife up the wall are;

  • What are we doing today?

  • What are we doing now/next?

  • What's on the Agenda?

  • What's the Plan?

They're obviously annoying to Neurotypicals, but they're part of a well developed aspie defence mechanism for change control.

I'll be talking more about change and resistance to change in Aspergers in another post. Right now, I want to focus on what daily planning organisation means to Aspies.

What is Change Resistance?
Aspies are quite resistant to change.

It's funny, because when I first read that, I thought... "no I'm not, I'm always one of the first people to upgrade to new software etc...".

That's not what the line means.

It means that aspies resist changes in their lifestyles and daily routines.

In my software example; sure, I'll upgrade my software but I'll still use it to do the same things, and do things mostly the same way and in the same order.

Aspies are more likely to resist changes which;

a. Impact on the long term (eg: Moving house)
b. Impact their immediate plans for the day.

The long term changes should be fairly obvious, so I want to concentrate on the impact of changes to daily plans.

Daily Changes which are irritating...
Weekdays have long been a favourite for me. I know that I get to do more enjoyable things on the weekend, but the great thing about weekdays is that they're almost auto-pilot.

Years ago it was breakfast-transport-school-transport-homework-dinner-tv-bed
every day.

These days, school has been replaced by work and the homework and TV bits have been replaced by less stable activities revolving around my wife and children and household chores.

So, what are the worst things that can happen in this pattern (what stresses me out the most)?
  • Very delayed transport

  • Work issues affecting the way I work

  • Unexpected meetings and last minute projects

  • Problems when I arrive home (Family issues etc)

I'm often praised at work for the way I handle difficult people, constant interruptions and unexpected system outages. Those sorts of things don't cause me stress because they're not "changes" to my routine. They're my job.

It should be obvious why the weekends and especially holidays, with their unstable routines are a major causes of aspie change-stress (at least for me).

Getting Organized
Getting organized is certainly a good solution to the weekend problems. The plan being that you block out weekends on the calendar so that you can see well in advance of time what's going on.

The same would apply to meetings at work.

Ideally, that means that aspies should be the most organized people in the world - Right??


Very Wrong...

For some reason, calendars and diaries don't work for me at all. I will occasionally remember to put things in them but I never remember to look at them. I don't know if this is just me or if it's an aspie trait.

Funnily enough though, since I got my Blackberry phone (which synchronizes with my calendar at work), things are changing and I'm at least getting 30 minutes warning for things I've entered. Of course, I only remember to enter about 10% of my family things (work things are up to about 60% because other people add them to my calendar).

The Daily Plan Method
Because planning doesn't work for me, I need my plans served on a daily basis. Hence my frequent question of "what's the plan".

I tend to ask this every morning when I'm either on holiday or on a weekend. I only ask it in the middle of the day if some part of the plan seems to have changed.

The Aspie Short-Term Memory
My kids have routine activities on Saturday, including Swimming but do you think I could remember the time? Nope. My poor wife needs to tell me every week. It's getting to a standard arrangement that I can at least remember that Swimming Lessons are every Saturday just after lunch... but the time keeps on eluding me. I'm sure I'll learn eventually.

This is quite bizarre really since aspies are well known for their memory abilities... but that's long term, not short term.

So, What's the Answer?
I read somewhere quite recently that in order to be organized, the aspie needs an executive secretary and that the secretary is usually mum. I'll add to that... "grown aspies often require executive secretaries called spouses".

Certainly a beeping/buzzing/vibrating reminder mechanism will help the aspie but someone has to put those dates and times in first. The other job the secretary will probably have well into the future is the answering of the big question...

... so, what's the plan?

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Aspie and Empathy

A little while ago, when I was being particularly difficult, my wife said to me "that's right, you're an aspie, so you can't empathize". In fact, nothing could be further from the truth - so Empathy is the focus of this post.

It's a well documented fact that women are empathic creatures while men are problem-solvers. You can read all about this in "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" by John Gray. This isn't an aspie book but it is good reading for aspies because it contains a lot of useful information about how and why people react the way they do. It's also a good book for anyone in a long-term relationship because you fall into traps and stereotypes after a few years.

Now... back to the point.

When I was a kid, I couldn't really empathize well. Without realizing it, I would say things that hurt people's feelings (I still do). The aspie doesn't really "think on the fly" during conversations. There's a delay and we often don't pick up on non-verbal or non-obvious cues that we're hurting someone.

That said, aspies are the first to notice when people are obviously upset or hurt.

Obvious and Physical Hurt
When people are physically rather than verbally hurt, aspies tend to be quite concerned. I've seen that behaviour in my eldest child (7) at school and at play. I've also seen it in myself. It's not that we don't understand emotional hurt but rather that we have more difficulty determining that it has happened.

In adult and teenage aspies, there's an extra dimension to concern for others and the aspie needs to learn that there are times when they should not become involved.

This is particularly important when, for example, the aspie is displaying obvious concern for other adults, particularly those of the opposite gender.

Such concern could easily be misinterpreted as romantic interest and this could lead to unintended entanglements, or if either person is already "entangled", open hostility from partners arising from jealousy.

"Empathy" in its Truest form.
When an aspie is listening/concentrating or deliberately trying to be emphatic, they achieve a level of empathy well beyond what neurotypical people experience.

For example, when watching a movie, I find myself emoting with the characters to a huge degree, even when they're CGI, Cartoons or fluffy muppets. I can't help it. Often when I'm explaining things to my kids, I'll get a lump in my throat because I'll suddenly remember something about my childhood that links to the moment.

Empathy with the non-human and non-living
This is where it gets weird... but I wouldn't trade the gifts of aspergers for anything.

In aspergers, empathy doesn't just mean "put yourself in my shoes" it means "become me", "feel as I feel" and "see as I see". I'm sure that this is at least part of the reason why aspies are often good at acting.

When I have a reason to (usually in problem-solving). I can see and feel as the non-human and non-living objects do. Rather than using one of my own examples for non-human empathy, I'll direct you to Dr. Temple Grandin's Web Site.

Dr Grandin's Asperger's condition helped her to design a revolutionary and humane cattle handling system.

My Example of Non-Living Empathy
Non-Living empathy may seem bizarre at first but I have a good example.

I'm in the information technology field and I do a lot of development and troubleshooting with computers. One way in which my aspergers helps me is in the determination of what is "visible" or "known" to the code.

In problem-solving situations, I'm frequently telling my colleagues. "Hang on, lets just walk this one through". I then pretend to be a piece of computer code and say "ok,... now we're going through subroutine x and at this point I don't know about y".

Invariably, it results in a change to the computer code to make the application work.

I used to have problems understanding why my colleagues would look at me strangely instead of joining me on the trip but now that I understand my aspergers condition, I just take this as a gift and run with it.

Closing Comments...
Aspies don't lack empathy, we have oodles of it and not just the human kind either. If an aspie has trouble understanding your emotional state it's probably because it's not visible enough for them to start looking deeper.

Perhaps some hints would help at this stage?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Patterns and Lining things up in Aspergers

Patterns are the Asperger's child's dream come true. We see patterns everywhere, even when others don't notice them. Aspie behaviour is, to some extent, governed by patterns.

Parents of aspies often think that their children don't show Asperger's tendencies towards patterns. Sometimes, you just need to know where to look...

Example 1. My 7 year-old son seems to wander all over the place when we're walking in the shops. My non-aspie (NT) wife just thought he was mucking around but when I went with him, I immediately became aware that he was walking in patterns on the tiles. Since the coloured pattern zig-zagged across the shopping center and he was following it, he seemed to be all over the place.

It should be noted that this is very similar to the notion that Asperger's children cannot "step on a crack". Of course, that reasoning is quite flawed and asperger's people can quite comfortably step on cracks depending upon the pattern that they're following at the time. Indeed, occasionally the pattern will be step ONLY on cracks. I don't know where the rules for which pattern is in effect at any given time come from, they just "exist".

Example 2. My 4 year-old son was playing with some puzzle pieces. At one point he stopped putting them in the puzzle and started collecting them together in groups. It quickly became obvious that he was building a pile of red pieces, one of yellow, one of blue etc..

Another thing that my 4 year-old does is line his matchbox cars up in neat little rows. I remember doing that when I was a kid. Somehow, it just seemed to be the natural order.

Adult aspie behaviour includes things like, Matching the colour pegs when hanging out the washing (ie: two pegs of the same colour per item). I used to go to the extreme of hanging my wife's clothes out on one quarter of the line with red pegs, mine with blue, household items (blankets etc) with yellow, and so on. There's too many clothes and not enough pegs for me to do that now but I still tend to match my peg colours on the same garment.

Can an aspie cope with something that is out of pattern or not lined up?
In general, yes. Obviously they prefer things to be lined up, properly sequenced and in pattern. Lack of order does irritate the aspie but at least by adulthood, they've learned that perfection is an unattainable ideal.

When I was younger, I'd be forever fixing my bookcase so that the books stayed lined up neatly, not pushed in. As an adult however, I'm not so worried about that. I do however get annoyed when books in a series have covers that just don't line up properly or when a publisher changes styles halfway through. (Stephen King's Dark Tower Sequence is a good example of this).

What can parents do?
Other than help your child get over the fact that things won't be perfect no matter how hard they try, there's nothing else you need to do.

Use Patterns for Learning!
Patterns are the basic building blocks of the universe. Patterns can be found almost anywhere and since aspies are excited by them, they can be used to help them to learn.

At school, my mathematics would always improve whenever I could see a pattern in the type of equations we were studying. The same goes for English and spelling, where similar sounding words have patterns in them.

The one thing that I had lots of problems with at school was Chemistry. I noticed years later than I'd even written in my exercise book that the subject "sucked" because they kept changing the rules and there was not obvious pattern. If something doesn't seem to have an obvious pattern (the periodic table for one), you should work towards helping your children to find one. Even if you have to add something unrelated yourself.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Dreaded Special Interest

One of the defining criteria for Asperger's is the presence of the special interest.

I'm going to write this post like a question and answer page to help me stay on topic. Once again, remember that generalizations are based on my experience and may differ from one aspie to the next.

Is it Forever?
Usually no, but it seems to be the case that some special interests will last a lifetime (or in my case, at least 35 years - the length of time (so far) of my "love affair" with Dr Who). Lifelong special interests will ebb and flow depending upon other factors, such as availability of new material and other concurrent interests. Sometimes they're quite subdued but they're always there.

Is it only one?
No - There are definitely multiple special interests running throughout an apsie's life, but they usually concentrate on one or two at a time. Eventually life-long interests fade to the background to such an extent that the aspie will be able to pick up another special interest without entirely dropping the first.

What happens when a Short-Term Special Interest Ends?

As a general rule, they end quickly. One day the special interest is there, the next it isn't and the aspie is left with all kinds of memorabilia which no longer fits their special interest.

At first, the aspie won't want to get rid of that stuff, after all, it may have cost a bit, or still have some significance but eventually, as the clutter gets too much they may reach a snap decision to get rid of it all.

About 5 years ago, I went through a cocktails making phase which lasted a couple of years. I ended up with a lot of bottles of various substances, many of which are unopened. I've still got a lot them at home because I find it difficult to just throw them out. Eventually I'll bite the bullet though.

(For a funny story about how I disposed of one, click here)

Is there a medical reason for the Special Interest
It seems so, there's research suggesting that aspie's are only able to concentrate on one thing at at time. This is normally for day-to-day processing but it seems to me that the whole special interest thing is a larger version of "one thing at a time).

What can I do as a Parent if I don't like the Special Interest?
Not much I'm afraid, just hope it will go away. If you nag about it, you're more likely to reinforce it or provoke other negative things (extra collecting, for instance).

When I was in 6th Grade, I was always borrowing Dr Who novelizations from the school library. The librarian and teachers got concerned about "formula fiction" and forbade me to borrow them anymore. This got me started on purchasing and collecting them instead. I now have hundreds (and I still buy and read them).

Occasionally a special interest will be obviously quite unhealthy, collecting scabs for instance. No.. I never did this but I know some kids who did. One in particular had a whole lunchbox full of them - yuck!

If the special interest is unhealthy, then as a parent, you shouldn't register distaste etc.. Just try to be neutral and disinterested. If possible, find something else and try to get your kids interested in that. Develop a "special interest" of your own and talk about it, get books about it etc... It sometimes rubs off.

Why don't Aspies Realize that I'm not interested?
The special interest is all-consuming. Young aspies don't realize that you're not interested - it sounds very interesting to them. Older aspies do realize and often they'll try not to discuss them. The trouble is, that aspies tend to think out loud and often talk to themselves, particularly about their interests.

They will often talk incessantly about things knowing that the other person has no interest. This will either be because they want to hear about it - even if it is only their own words out loud or because they feel that it's important for other people to know about the subject.

I frequently tell my poor wife about what's coming up in the movies, who a particular writer or director is and where they get their inspiration. She's not interested and will often talk over me. This makes me annoyed and resentful but I do understand that she's long-suffering and has little patience. Luckily for me, aspies tend to attract aspie friends or friends with similar interests.

Why won't my Aspie listen to me? I listen to them...
Aspies have a lot of trouble listening to things outside their special interests. If I'm at a party and someone starts discussing football, I feel left out and tend to walk away. If my wife starts talking about renovating, moving house or real estate, I also tend to switch off. At work, I'm fine while looking at most of our systems but I can't look at our financial systems without feeling out of depth because of the words.

Sorry, I don't really have an answer for you. The best I can suggest is that if you really need to discuss an off-topic idea with an aspie, give it to them in simple terms and preferably in writing. Give them a chance to digest it (and make sure they have a deadline).

If you have to be verbal, make sure it's "planned" - ie: that the aspie knows the topic will be discussed and that the area is generally quiet and free from distractions. Good luck...

What Can Parents Do?
First of all, learn to recognize a change in special interest when it hits and use these interests to your advantage.

For example; If you child develops an interest in spiders and insects, then you can do the following;

  • Math Homework to: "If five flies were flying and two got caught in a web, how many flies would be left"

  • English Homework: Use sentences like: "The Beetle WENT up the tree" - then get the child to read/spell certain words - That sentence had four of Kaelan's sight-words in it.

There's plenty more examples, but I wont waste space since I think I've got my point across.

What you need to teach your Children
Above all, try to teach your children;
  • "not everyone likes transformers" (or whatever the interest is)

  • How to read signs that people aren't interested.
    - Rolling or rubbing of eyes
    - Glancing away at other conversations, their watch etc.
    - Going back to pre-conversation activities - newspaper etc.
    - Shifting/Shuffling of feet
    - Disinterest key words "well, I'm happy for you" etc..
    - Statements of disinterest "well, I never got into that"

  • How to give people a chance to change the topic during conversation if you notice that they're bored
    - "Well, enough about me, what have you been up to?"
    - "Anyway, enough about frogs, what do you do in your spare time?"
    - "damn.. it's warm in here, what about the weather* isn't it crazy"

*assuming that weather ISN'T a special interest.

What can spouses do?
Put up with it mainly I guess... (sorry)

One thing my wife does to me, when I go out with a group is say "you're not allowed to talk about computers,religion or movies". It never works but it does remind me that I need to steer the subjects a bit to make sure everyone feels included. Religion, by the way, isn't a special interest of mine, but is an interest of a good friend.

Giving an aspie a rule sometimes helps in a big way.

Sometimes when the conversation stays too long on a special interest, my wife will give me a certain look, or signal. This is usually enough to get me to start steering the conversation away.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

An online Asperger's Quiz

Wondering if you've got Asperger's, well, wonder no more...

I was directed to an online Aspie Quiz which is quite good.

I scored 161

The quiz is at

I had a look at the other scores and based on rough estimates, I'm in the top 15% of people with Aspergers. 100 is still aspergers, so 161 is reasonably high.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Taking things Literally - Part 2 An Adult Perspective

In my last post on taking things literally, I covered things that were mainly from a child's perspective but this time I want to cover a more adult view.

Wordplay and Jokes
There seems to be a widespread belief amongst doctors and related practitioners that asperger's people don't get jokes, don't understand metaphors, and don't read body-language. This is wrong, very wrong.

From what I can gather, based on my own experiences and on reading posts from a lot of other aspies, wordplay is fun and we definitely understand it. Also surprisingly, aspie children understand it too. My earlier post with my son talking about becoming a joey illustrates that.

I'm inclined to say that not only do aspies understand wordplay but that they may often be better at it than non-aspies. Due, at least in part, to their need/ability to consider multiple-meanings for phrases. I touched on this in my earlier post.

So, where's the problem then?

It seems that the problem is based mainly around the time taken to interpret a conversation.

In terms of jokes, the problem can be in the time taken to "switch modes" from serious to humorous interpretation. Note that aspergers people often have no problems watching comedy television because they're expecting a comic slant on words and phrases.

The Delay in Action
Conversations aren't designed for pauses. You're not given much time to consider the meaning of something you here. I know that often I feel pressured to respond to a comment made by someone in a "timely fashion". All too frequently, a few seconds later, I'll become aware of something that changes the entire meaning of what was just said.

It may be that the tone suggested something else, or that there was a dual-meaning word or that the person was using some sort of mannerism or gesture. Whatever the source, the new information completely changes the context of the person's statement and I feel like an idiot.

[An Aside: There's some research (apparently) which suggests that Aspergers people gather data first, then interpret - compared to non-aspergers who do both simultaneously. I haven't seen that research yet, but will keep a lookout for it]

Writing versus Talking
Talking face-to-face or via telephone presents the aspie with two problems. First of all, it makes it possible for the other party to introduce variations in speaking tone or body language/gestures. Secondly, it introduces a timeliness element, whereby the aspie needs to interpret the conversation and respond within a very short time frame.

Until very recently, I thought my over-reliance on the written medium (writing / email / Chatting / SMS-ing) was due to my deafness. It's now becoming obvious that this is an aspie trait.

Personality Labels on Aspergers People
This is probably a whole topic in itself but I just want to touch on it briefly now - I'll discuss it a length some other time.

Parents take note - this topic does concern your children

The way in which an aspie deals with the problems of their language interpretation delay will shape them as an adult. This typically happens during their school years.

  • If your child responds in a completely off-the-wall mode, (misinterpretations can cause funny results), then that child is more likely to become a class clown. I fell into that category. The social label tends to be that they're a loony / crazy, funny etc.

  • If your child tends to get annoyed when they misinterpret something they're more likely to be classified as arrogant or crabby. I've read posts from a lot of people who have unfortunately been given this social label.

  • If your child persists in trying to correct his or her mistakes, they get classified as pedantic, serious or square.

I don't know if there's a middle road to this or not. I haven't found one yet.