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.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Aspergers and Eye Contact

There's a lot in the literature about gaze-avoidance or lack of eye contact in Asperger's kids (and adults) but not really a lot from an Asperger's point of view.

What Practitioners and Parents Think
Frequently, it's left up to the reader's imagination to think of reasons - perhaps the child has just not learned that making eye contact is an essential part of spoken communication? Of course, this theory assumes that the condition is eventually treatable by training. It's consistent with the notion that eye contact does improve as the subject gets older but it's from a medical or educational point of view instead of coming from an Aspie.

[btw: apologies for my use of the term aspie - I'll use it through this blog in a familiar sense because it's difficult to keep writing Asperger's Syndrome. It is not intended to be derogatory in any way.]

An Aspie Point of View
Eye contact hurts.. no, not in the painful sense but it's quite uncomfortable. I always feel that I'm revealing more than I want to with eye contact and that I'm receiving more information than I want to know. Of course, I know that eye contact is critical to spoken communication, so often I'll compromise by either of two methods;

Method 1: Making brief eye contact every few seconds.
This is the "roving eye" technique whereby you make eye contact at the very start of each sentence and then drift away as soon as the person you're talking to is reassured that you're listening. There are a few problems with this method.

First of all, people often assume that your concentration is wandering. I'll often get told, "well, I know you're quite busy..." or "I'm probably boring you..." or "I can tell you're not interested..." as a response to using this technique when I really am interested in the conversation. When that happens, I usually have to switch to the other technique.

Method 2: Making eye contact for half of the Conversation
A two-way conversation is made up of two halves. Person 1 speaking while Person 2 listens and vice versa. As a general rule, people like to know that they're being listened to but aren't as worried if you don't make a lot of eye contact while you're talking. The plan with this method is to make reasonably constant eye contact (though you'll probably need to "flit" your eyes away several times during longer diatribes to ease the tension) while they talk to you and rest your eyes while you talk back.

As a partially deaf person I was encouraged to look at lips and I've become quite good at lip-reading. Unfortunately, as an adult, the lips are just too close to breasts and I often find that my female subjects will try to cover themselves during conversations. This is as embarrassing for me as it is for them.

I guess the best rule is to either stare at the face or (cheeks are a good idea) or slightly above and/or to the left or right of their head - never downwards or they'll assume the worst.

Overall, this is a more effective method than the "roving-eye" method but it doesn't work with everybody. In particular, you need to watch out for people who start turning around mid-conversation to see what you're staring at. If this happens, you need to either make more regular eye contact or switch to the other method.

One way of overcoming uncomfortable situations is to be seated at a desk and work during the conversation. I know that this is rude, but if you're doing related work or even turning to take the occasional note on a computer, it can give you a welcome break.

My background is in computers, so I use this to great advantage, often changing screens or adjusting code as the changes are discussed. This gives the impression that I'm just "raring to go" or that I'm prototyping systems (providing examples) to help the conversation, rather than just being rude.

What can parents do to help their children with Aspergers?

  • Place less emphasis on eye contact and more on "participation in conversation".

  • Explain how some people need to see you looking in their direction before they think you're listening.

  • Give your children a few options for controlling gaze avoidance (suggest looking at cheeks) or higher.

  • Encourage "looking at my face" but don't push it - it's really uncomfortable for us.

  • Be understanding when we don't feel like looking - we're not being rude, just feeling insecure.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Taking things Literally

The literature often talks about Aspergers people taking things literally.

The most common example of this being a child who is told to "pull their socks up" actually bending down to do so.

Now, before I go into the whys and wherefores, I'd just like to ask my "normal readers" to stop and think about this line for a minute. What exactly is it telling you to do? What would someone with less familiarity with the English language think?

I'm forever explaining things to my kids as "the English language is really quite silly" and "they shouldn't really do things like this but..." because a lot of the problems stem from the language itself. I'm not sure why normal people pick these things up faster than Aspergers people but I think it's to do with usage. Asperger's kids often have at least one asperger parent and while they've long since learned what these words mean, they don't use them in everyday speech, hence their children don't get used to them.

I certainly choose my words very carefully to increase my chances of being understood.

Fast Learning
I think that Aspergers children quickly learn not to take things so literally but that they do it by assuming that everyone is "kidding". Certainly it's true to say that everything has more than one meaning to an aspergers person and that they tend to quickly evaluate the various options in mid-conversation before choosing the most appropriate answer.

This can also lead to minor delays in conversation, depending upon how fast they evaluate things.

I guess this means that while a normal person probably always takes expressions like "pull your socks up" or "pull your finger out" to mean improve, and hurry up respectively, an aspergers person will always choose from four different definitions.

Literal Jokes
I'm trying not to get into the "not getting jokes bit" - I'll save that for another post, but I do want to cover how Aspergers people use their take on language for joke purposes.

Exhibit A
Last night, we had strawberries and cream for dessert. When I was cleaning up after the meal, my wife pointed to the strawberries saying that since they are greens they should go in the green bin. "oh.. but they're red", I said, with a wry grin. My wife proceeded to give me a reason why they are considered green, then realized that I was joking. I talked to her later and she said that a non-aspergers person wouldn't even consider the colour.

Exhibit B
Also last night... The trial period for scouts is almost over and I asked my son if he was ready to become a Joey. He said yes but that he wouldn't become a real joey. [for the non-Australian - A joey is like a small kangaroo]. He and I thought it was funny, but my wife didn't follow the joke and he had to repeat it before she understood. Once again, non-aspergers people tend to hold only one definition for a given context.

Final Thoughts on Taking Things Literally
Aspergers kids can learn to not take things literally but they don't seem able to let go of one meaning - they need to store both. This isn't necessarily a bad thing but it can cause delays in conversations and may also impact their ability to be understood.

How can you help?
Expose your children to as many "silly english phrases" as possible. Learning them early can save embarrassment later.

In particular, for me, the most embarrassing one was when I was told to bring a plate to a function.

(for my Aspergers readers: bring a plate actually means bring a plate with food on it for sharing - not just bring the plate).

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

So what is this Asperger's thing anyway?

This is a "cheat post" cobbled together from a post on my family blog. I'll try not to cheat like this too much, but in this case, the post is quite relevant.

Two years ago, my son, Kaelan was diagnosed with ADD and with Asperger's Syndrome. At that time although I had my head well and truly around the attention deficit disorder I really couldn't work out the Asperger's side of things. For a start, I couldn't see many of the specified behaviors in Kaelan and I couldn't understand why most of these behaviors were considered to be bad anyway. Now, several books and a lot of thinking later, I have come to the realization that not only does Kaelan have Asperger's, but that he inherited it from me.

Reading the articles on Asperger's, I can't help but think that it sounds like a really good syndrome to have. Sure, there are one or two little drawbacks but on the whole, there seems to be much more good than bad traits associated with it.

Of course, this is just my personal opinion and its well and truly skewed by my condition.

One of the better blow-by-blow descriptions of the Asperger's Condition can be found in the following book.

"The Everything parents guide to children with Asperger's Syndrome" by William Stillman.

I'll provide a quick summary below;

Identifying the Asperger's Condition

Asperger's is grouped under the umbrella of autism but differs significantly in the following ways;

  • It is not responsible for language delays

  • It is not responsible for cognitive development delays

  • It is not responsible for adaptive behaviour delays other than social interaction

  • It is not responsible for delays in curiosity about the environment

Great, now we know what it isn't -- but what exactly is it?

Qualifying criteria (you need to have at least two of these)

  • Problems using non-verbal gestures (eye contact, facial expressions, hand gestures) during social interaction

  • Lack of development of relationships with peers

  • Failure to seek to share enjoyment, interests or achievements with other people (e.g. not showing things that interest him to other people.

  • Failure to reciprocate emotions or social gestures

The Repetitiveness
In addition to these, you need to be shown some restrictive repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behaviour's interests and activities in brackets you need to have at least one of the following)

  • Unusually intense preoccupation with one or more interests

  • Obsessively following specific nonfunctional routines or rituals

  • Repeated motions such as handle finger clubbing or twisting

  • Unusual preoccupation with parts of objects

Obviously, pretty much everybody qualifies for Asperger's under these conditions however the book states that problem behaviors need to be fairly problematic in order to be considered.

Your first reaction to this should be something along the lines of "my child doesn't have facial tics" or "my child doesn't go around finger clubbing etc..". Mine was.

The problem with this description (and all other Asperger's symptom descriptions I've seen thus far) is that they aren't specific enough for you to tie them down to your child - especially a younger child. They're way too clinical.

Anyway - I'll let you think on this and be back with another post later.

The Plan for this Blog

I guess the main plan for this blog is to clear up a lot of the confusion around Asperger's Syndrome by relating it back to real life. I'm a happy, well established person with a family and I don't let the condition get the better of me. I don't let the condition rule me but believe in rolling with it... taking the advantages it brings without getting too caught up in any disadvantages.

If you're a parent with a newly diagnosed child, then you're probably full of worry. Don't be. The ride may not be entirely smooth but it has a fantastic view.

I'm not sure how often I'll be updating this blog as I have two others to worry about, plus several hundred emails and RSS feed entries to read per day. I've also got work to do and a family to support. That said, I'll try to be fairly regular in my posts.

The Usual Disclaimers

I'm not a "legal" person, and I know that most people don't bother reading legal things, so I'm writing this in plain English. Ideally that shouldn't affect the legal potency of this work...

Ownership of Material
Technically I am the owner of all material posted on this blog, however I grant everyone the right to use it in any way they want to (except to bring legal action, abuse or other horrible stuff down onto me). It would be nice if you were to acknowledge the source, but I know that in the connected world, this isn't always possible, so I won't hold you to it.

You can copy it, send it around, change words (on your copy, not on mine) etc...

Insulting Statements etc.
I will be trying hard not to insult people or companies or make libelous statements, but sometimes you do these things without thinking. If I offend anyone, please let me know (there should be some sort of email link on this blog somewhere), and I will remove the offending entry post-haste.

Don't sue me or take any form of legal action (I hate that sort of thing), just let me know, I'll apologize and remove the offending entry and all will be sweet (I hope).

Everybody makes mistakes, so you can't really trust anything I say - hey, I might be trying to con you... Realistically, I don't think anyone will have problems with this blog, but you never know.

I'm disclaiming responsibility to the fullest extent of the law, for anything posted here. Use at your own risk, so if I say that my dog has two heads, you should check it out first before going to the newspapers...

Of course, if you do find something wrong... let me know the right answer and I'll fix it.

Oh and finally, I'm going to discuss a medical condition here - I'm not a doctor, and am probably not likely to be considered an expert. I may also get various conditions mixed up and say that something is a symptom of one when it really is the other.

Kid friendliness: Unlike my other blogs, this one may get a bit detailed and could lose some kid-friendliness. That said, the plan is to post things that I wouldn't be too worried about my kids reading (If they could read - they're too young at the moment). That said, I'm fairly liberal with censorship and my children, so read my articles carefully before letting your kids read them. (Just in case).

Ok now, on with the show?


A bit more disclaiming
This used to be a separate post but it interfered with the flow of the blog, so I've moved it here...

I think that it's fair to say that until you actually start posting to a blog you often don't quite know how it will shape up.

In my last post I made a number of sweeping statements and generalizations based upon my interpretation of my own condition.

I just want to point out that although I feel quite expert, having lived with Aspergers for my entire life, I've only really known that the condition existed for the last 2 or 3. Until then, I just thought I was weird.

I'm also partially deaf, so I always blamed my communications problems on deafness (until recently that is). My eldest son, Kaelan has been diagnosed with ADD as well as Aspergers, so any observations of his behaviour could be either condition (or, in both our conditions, something new entirely).

I guess what I'm trying to say is that everyone is different and that this blog is my understanding of my condition which hopefully will contribute to the sum of all knowledge on the Asperger's condition.

If you feel that your condition is different, don't take offense but please feel free to comment.