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.