Tuesday, April 29, 2008

An Aspie Video made by an Aspie

Today I want to talk about a you tube video made by an aspie, Alex Olinkiewicz.

Have a look at it, it's embedded below.

It's insightful, the way it talks about aspergers as a kind of half-autism. There are several places in the video where Alex talks about a kind of "split-personality". Aspergers isn't schizophrenia and I don't think that Alex is suggesting that. He's simply making a point that sometimes we "switch gears" and act in quite different ways.

He talks about having adult maturity combined with childlike behaviour. While it's a good analogy, I think that the childlike behaviour is probably more impulsiveness than anything else. I certainly don't seen any reason why a normal (NT) teenager couldn't or wouldn't watch cartoons like Spongebob. Of course, being obsessed with Spongebob would be different.

Alex also talks about not fitting in, which is a major part of Aspergers. Most aspies don't feel like they fit into society or even into aspie groups. Aspies are very solitary creatures and tend to like it that way. Of course, they're also often lonely and depressed as a result.

The key in the keyhole analogy is good, but he gives the impression that it is only a "music" thing. In truth it's all kinds of stimuli. Being deaf myself, I don't have such an issue with music, though I have problems with certain vibrations and I have issues with things that I see. Some of my greatest visual issues are with things like a book appearing upside down, or with a mismatching (not lined up) label or logo. I like order.

The "mind like a table" analogy is very good. Spot on, in fact. Alex is right in suggesting that it sounds like a plea for watching more TV instead of doing homework but unfortunately, this is how the aspie brain works.

Recently, when discussing my son's learning with my wife, I said; you concentrate on the English and Maths, and leave learning about things like Science and History to me. That's not to say that I won't help with the English and Maths, obviously I'll need to be involved, particularly when he reaches more difficult levels. The problem as I see it, is that subjects such as Religion, History and Science are mostly just exercises in English and Maths with a bit of "flavour" thrown in.

I firmly believe that TV/Movies can provide better history and religion lessons for aspies than written materials. In the case of science and geography there are some TV series which could help but practical experience (experiments and observations) are also quite effective.

Some things, like languages really aren't suitable for aspie learning while others, like art (not art history) would benefit from leaving the aspie to their own devices with only a "technique hint" here and there.

Finally, a lovely finish from Alex. He's happy being himself and wouldn't "cure" Aspergers. A sentiment echoed by most aspies I've spoken to.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Are there 8 Different Types of Aspergers?

I was recently directed to an interesting video on Youtube (embedded below this article). Basically it suggests that there are eight major types of Aspergers and that aspies are usually a mix of one, two or three of these.

Note: This is not accepted research - just a set of ideas that someone put forward to help those who were self-diagnosed.

The types are named after people. I'm not sure that I agree with the list or with the descriptions. I'm even less sure that these people are definitely aspies but it is still good food for thought. I've reproduced a lot of the content and added some of my own thoughts;

1. Spielberg (Based on Steven Spielberg)
A sociable, sporty, extroverted aspie with average IQ but poor spelling and grammar.

Of all the types, this is the one I disagree with the most - the traits aren't very aspie at all. In fact, I really can't see any commonality with this and other forms of Aspergers.

2. Einstein (Obviously based on Albert Einstein)
An Intellectual with a high IQ and excellent spelling/grammar. They're an expert in their special interest, often good with computers and usually quite argumentative - especially in areas of special interest.

I can relate quite well to this type. Probably too well in fact - though, unfortunately, I'm no "Einstein".

3. Powell (Possibly? based on Enoch Powell
An agressive/hostile/violent and intelligent aspie who is often bullied and may use drugs for stress. Possibly also having Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).

I have met a few aspies who seem to be "fighters" or who see the world as "out to get them". I'm not sure where the drug bits came in but I can see how PTSD could have affected Enoch. I just don't see that it has much to do with Aspergers.

4. Numan (I think based on Gary Numan)
A spaced out daydreamer type who finds it difficult to understand others and is often misunderstood in return. Likely to have bonding issues and possibly bipolar.

I'm often spaced out... but not that spaced out.

5. Morrissey (Presumably the singer )
A unique, artistic and creative aspie who feels separated from people and is possibly schizophrenic. These people don't fit in well with society and often feel alien or like they belong in a different time period.

Yes, I can relate rather well to this though I'm not sure if I'm an alien or a time traveller. :-)

6. Nicholls (Presumably Aussie Craig Nicholls
A hyperactive, energetic and extroverted aspie who has no problems making friends - just problems keeping them. These aspies are often considered to be irritating, immature and childish. Unlike many aspies, they don't have much social fear and like to talk to people. They may also have Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD). In Nicholl's case, he claims to be a compulsive liar which goes against the general honesty normally associated with aspies.

Again, this description goes against a lot of well-documented aspie traits and personally, I'm not convinced that this is a type of Aspergers.

7. Carroll (It could only be Lewis Carroll)
A passive and very introverted aspie. Quiet, shy and deeply involved in their special interest. For these aspies, friends and relationships are secondary to their special interests. They're very passive, and show little emotion externally but are often very anxious inside. They're quite likely to be bullied.

I can relate a bit to this one too. Those special interests get you every time.

8. Warhol (From the description, this obviously Andy Warhol - not that there are any other famous Warhols anyway).
A confident and egocentric aspie who is full of ideas but feels that the world misunderstands them. While friendly in formal settings, the Warhol type can become revengeful and bitter when problems occur. They could also have Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) traits.

This looks to me to be simply a blending of several of the other types of aspie.

Finally, a credit, and an apology to Amy Nelson. The YouTube video, and probably the entire idea, is hers. I attempted to get permission to use these but was unable to contact her. Amy, if you're reading, I hope you don't mind.

The Video in Question

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

What does "low muscle tone" (Hypotonia) mean for Aspies?

Although it's not part of the official diagnostic criteria for Aspergers, low muscle tone is nevertheless an condition strongly associated with Aspergers.

Why is it so Confusing?
When most people hear about "low muscle tone" they assume that it has something to do with bodybuilding - I certainly did at first. This is particularly confusing since many newly diagnosed aspies are children and it's quite uncommon to see any child with a well-developed set of muscles. Most parents will either simply ignore the condition or assume that a bit of outdoor activity, eg: playing soccer, is required.

The other confusing thing is that there are adult aspies out there who regularly attend the gym and who have "better" muscles than many NT people. How do they fit the criteria?

I saw a great line on a web site discussing Hypotonia. "Your kid seems perfectly good with their muscles - they are strong, they run round with boundless energy, but they have trouble doing things. You have likely been given the standard explanation about your kid's muscles being floppy and you just cannot see it in your kid."

Defining Low Muscle Tone
Low muscle tone refers mainly to the distribution of muscles on the body, their initial state, speed and stamina. The affected muscles can be "trained" but that training won't come from sport or from and normal gym/weight training. It comes from some very specialized training - and it won't be 100% effective. In young children, the problems of low muscle tone will reduce in severity as they get older - up to about the age of 10, though aspies will likely continue to adjust and compensate for the rest of their lives.

Low muscle tone is often described as "floppiness". This is because the muscles are supposed to help support the skeleton and are supposed to prevent certain types of movement. Since the muscles aren't particularly tight, people with low muscle tone often experience "hypermobility", the ability to move limbs into awkward positions.

As children, aspies often find that they are able to easily perform feats which require flexibility but not strength or balance, such as splits, backbending and shoulder rotation. They may display unusual flexibility in other joints such as fingers.

The Bad News about Low Muscle Tone
Such flexibility comes with a price and aspies are usually quite uncoordinated and clumsy. In running, this contributes to the famed "unusual gait". It's easy to imagine that low muscle tone only affects the big muscles but this isn't the case, it affects all activities requiring muscles including most notably, speech, pencil grip and writing.

When sitting or standing for long periods, aspies tend to slump quite a bit. Sometimes, they will stand with their legs crossed in what appears to be an uncomfortable fashion. My mother was constantly trying to correct this stance and while I'm reasonably aware of it at work, I still find myself standing that way regularly. I'll point out now that although this looks uncomfortable, this is actually a very comfortable stance for aspies.

Aspies often sit with their head and shoulders rolled forward and will frequently lean on walls, furniture, door frames and desks. Parents of aspie children will probably be very familiar with being "leant on".

Low muscle tone does not prevent aspie children from enjoying themselves, they can run and play with other children without feeling any ill effects. The problem is that, they're a bit slower and they tire easily. This means that team sports, like soccer are often not well suited to aspies. In the case of my son, we turned to scouting as an alternative to soccer.

Dangers inherent in Low Muscle Tone
While the slumping and leaning behaviours aren't necessarily great posture, they're not particularly dangerous to the aspie unless the position is adopted for very long periods without proper breaks.

I have first-hand experience with this problem as I've had episodes of "overuse syndrome", a kind of RSI, with my hands, arms and shoulders from sitting at my computer for too long. It took quite a while for OH&S to work out that the issue wasn't with my hands, or even with my workspace. It was simply due to excessive time spent in an unsupported position.

Fixing the Problem
As I said earlier, the fix isn't normal weight training, it's physiotherapy and specialized muscle training. There is also a need for awareness and constant correction of one's position. In my case, the muscles most needing training were small ones high on my back. Correcting my keyboard "slump"moved my arms and shoulders back into less damaging positions. I have to be constantly aware of my position and correct it thoughout the day. I also do a bit of stretching and strengthening work on them at the gym.

Friday, April 11, 2008

On Aspie Courtship

As I mentioned in my last post, many of the problems with aspie love stem from the aspie's inability to find love or to receive and interpret appropriate signals from partners. There are a number of factors influencing aspie courtship and these include;

General Shyness
Aspies are usually fairly "shy" beings - not just with the opposite sex but with everyone. This shyness is even more problematic with people in whom they have an interest. Often, the aspie will simply look or smile at their intended partner and assume that this is enough to "call" the other person's attention. If the aspie stares too long without proper conversation, it becomes "creepy" and they will lose any opportunity they may have had. Aspies generally need to be approached since they'll rarely do any approaching of their own.

The Naive Mind
Aspies tend to appear very naieve and sometimes, we are. More often however, while we are well aware of the scope of human endeavors, it is our ability to read expressions that lets us down. An aspie will usually not know if someone is "coming onto" them and will not respond as expected. Similarly, aspies often get themselves into trouble by mistaking approaches by others as simply friendly gestures. In female aspies, the latter can lead to particularly dangerous situations.

Invisible Rulesets
An aspie's life is governed by a complex series of rules. Most of the time, these rules apply only to the aspie themselves and are "invisible" to other participants. Aspies act on these rules constantly, auto-create additional rules constantly and usually assume that other people are mind-reading their rules and require no explanations whatsoever.

Aspies are often genuinely quite surprised when people around them break rules, particularly deep-seated moralistic ones. Often a simple action, like an NT taking a "sick day" at work when they aren't really sick, can cause an aspie great distress because of the way it breaks a rule. Such rule-breaking in their partner can cause an aspie to doubt their morals or honesty.

The rules applying to courtship are often overly complex and can be anything from "the number of smiles I get" through to how someone answers a given question. From the NT's point of view, you can't win but if you often ask the aspie direct questions, you might be able to glean just a few of the rules.

The Need to be Explicit
Many NTs who date aspies complain that the aspie doesn't know how to do anything by themselves or that they don't think before they act. In reality, aspies are often so oblivious to unspoken social rules that their partners need to provide them in the form of "aspie rules".

For example;
  1. "Whenever you are asked to go over to someone's house for dinner, you should bring a wine - or if they're not alcohol drinkers, some other drink"

  2. If you're visiting someone for lunch, bring a cake
The same sort of rules should be made explicit regarding courtship. These rules include something along the lines of; From a female to a male: "You need to provide one or two compliments to me when we go out; either about my clothes, hair, looks, personality etc.". Yes, I know that an NT wouldn't need to be told, but an aspie not only needs telling, they also need it created as a rule.

In order to get past the telling stage and into the "rule" stage, you need to repeat it a bit until it starts happening.

One rule that my wife successfully managed to instill into me was the idea that "I'll only go out with someone very seriously for 2 years - after that, I'd expect to see an engagement ring". She mentioned this rule a few times right at the start of our "serious" relationship (never mind that we'd been going out less seriously for about 6 years prior). This was particularly useful to me because it made me plan without feeling threatened (since I had two years to decide).

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

A Redirect to an Aspie Employment Article

Just thought I'd post a link to an article on Aspie Employment which was posted on the Parenting Aspergers Blog today. It reinforces a lot of what I've been saying about the importance of the special interest.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Are Aspies Capable of Love?

Although the answer to this question may seem simple, it recurs with alarming regularity on aspie forums everywhere. Often, it is confused with the aspie's ability to find a partner or the famous aspie empathy problems - these are different things altogether which I'll hopefully discuss in follow-up posts.

Emotional Behavior in Aspies
Aspies are very capable of loving but they often confuse the issue by adopting an altogether too rigid view of love. Despite popular mis-belief, aspies are generally fairly emotional beings. We have intense feelings of happiness and even more intense feelings of sadness. The smallest triggers can produce huge emotional responses in us. While a bad day at work may make an NT grumpy, it could make an aspie feel suicidal. Similarly, when something good happens an aspie may seem to be over-reacting or overly happy. Most aspie adults have long since learned to control excessive displays of happiness but it's very apparent in aspie children with jumping, shouting and singing.

Aspies seem to categorize love as one of those mostly unattainable permanent states of extreme happiness directed at a single person. Such a state is not attainable with all partners and certainly isn't sustainable over long periods.

Expectations of Love
When an aspie who has experienced love in this manner discusses the question of "what is love" with his or her NT partner, they may be quite disappointed with the response. To an NT, love is more about respect, commitment and other semi-tangibles, while an aspie may respond that it's the feeling you get when you look at your partner's smile and it warms your face like when the sun is shining on it. To an NT, this is just poetry but to an aspie it's reality.

The sad thing about this is that in an NT/Aspie relationship, since neither partner has the same view of love, they give eachother what they need, instead of what their partner needs. Aspies don't need unwavering respect and commitment, they need smiles and hugs. Of course, when the aspie greets/reassures his or her partner with a smile and a hug instead of words/promises and kisses they're likely to offend. The same is true for NT partners who shout or scowl a lot.

Measuring up to Expectations
Aspies who have been in love but have become separated from their lovers are often so fixated on the feelings of the previous relationship that they can't move on and won't give anyone else a chance to get close to them. They may declare that the previous partner was the only one for them or that they're only looking for a new partner who is "exactly the same".

Similarly, as mature relationships cool off, the aspie may mistake the loss of the "constant euphoria" sensation as a withdrawal of love. When this happens, they will need a lot of reassurance. This is particularly important when you have your first child. There are widely documented cases of partners (husbands particularly) who feel "squeezed out" of the relationship with the birth of children and subsequent change of focus to concentrate on the child. For an aspie, this change of focus is even more extreme.

Summing up
I guess the main point of this post is that aspies can certainly give and receive love but that their expectations are often too high or too focussed to enable them to be properly receptive. It also takes a very special kind of NT to give an aspie the sort of love they need.