Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Problems of Completeness and Perfection in School-Aged Aspies

I've already discussed perfection in a previous post. This post is intended to provide a bit more background.
We already know that aspies can be obsessed with patterns. In many cases, particularly school work, patterns only make sense when something is perfect and/or complete. It therefore follows that aspies often have major hang-ups about perfection and completeness at school and at work.

This obsession with impossible levels of perfection and completion can cause a lot of stress, particularly in young aspies at school and particularly where other factors, such as learning difficulties, writing problems or other forms of work-impairment are present.

For example; An aspie with poor writing skills may find that he is constantly crossing out and redoing entire paragraphs of work because it doesn't meet his or her standards. Often they will tear out a page in their exercise books rather than leave imperfect work on the page.

This isn't limited to writing and can happen during mathematics, science experiments and craft activities. In fact, the perfection issue can pervade all aspects of the aspies life from school, to sport and even solitary play.

Parents need to watch their children closely for signs of perfectionism.

In some careers, such as programming where code only works when it is correct, perfectionism is a bonus. Usually though, perfectionism is not good. In the workplace, perfection can lead to employer cricism for slowness and in school perfectionism is particularly harmful.

In cases where school children have other difficulties, perfectionism can cause students to become stressed, lose confidence in themselves and take considerably longer to complete set tasks.

Completeness is also a form of perfection. Aspie students may become very irritated if they are required to stop working on projects before they are complete.

I have a particularly vivid memory/irritation surrounding a poster I did in Kindergarten. We did a poster with the word Halloween stuck on it. I managed to cut out the last N but was not permitted to stick it on because time had run out. I kept the N for months and constantly pleaded with my teacher to let me put the N on. Instead, the poster was hung up with all the others - and with the irritating misspelling. I still feel irritated about it now, and I'm 38.

My point is simple; not allowing aspies to complete work can lead to stress, fixations and anguish. There are two ways in which work may not be completed;

  1. You don't allow them enough time - in which case, they should be permitted to take extra time, or perhaps take work home to complete.

  2. Issues of perfection prevent them from completing the work. In this case, the teachers and parents need to give the child a little "push" to move on to the next stage of the work. (eg: "That first paragraph is fine, now start on the next paragraph").

Friday, May 16, 2008

Another YouTube Video on Aspergers

I had my attention drawn to this video recently. It's actually a year old (possibly older) but I think it's still quite relevant and interesting.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

News Article: Asperger's and IT: Dark secret or open secret?

I just found this news article on ComputerWorld and thought I'd bring it to your attention. It's dated 2 April 2008, so it's a little over a month old.

Asperger's and IT: Dark secret or open secret?

Aspergers and Introversion

A lot of the more common behaviours and feelings associated with Aspergers seem to lend themselves to a definition of Introversion and it's tempting to see aspies as simply "introverts" but this clearly isn't the case. It is true however, to suggest that there are more introverted aspies than extroverted ones.

Most aspies feel very much like "a fish out of water" at social gatherings. Often, we don't care for a lot of social contact and we need a lot of "alone-time" particularly following intense social gatherings like school, work and parties.

It's fairly accurate to describe aspies as "nerds" but that shouldn't imply that we are all scientifically minded and boring dressers.

Can Aspies be Extroverts?
Many aspies will do extroverted things to their appearance, like get a tattoo, dye their hair or wear "loud" or colourful clothing. Unlike NTs though, they'll do this because they personally like a particular look (or want to "be" a certain fictional or historical character) rather than because they want to fit into a particular group of people. In this way, even an outrageous punk or goth appearance can still qualify one as a "nerd" in much the same way as wearing a Star Trek costume can.

The point here is that loud and colourful people are generally interpreted by society as extroverted. Aspies too can be extroverts.

I saw a recent non-scientific survey of 100 aspies which put introversion amongst aspies at 85%. This figure is possibly a little high but is probably reasonably representative.

Is there a danger that young introverts are being incorrectly classified as aspies?
I think that while there's always a danger of over-diagnosis, aspergers is growing in our society because;

  1. It was always more widespread and is only now being more easily detected

  2. Aspergers is now more "fit" for our current lifestyle (in the Darwinian sense) resulting in an increase in numbers.

Most paediatricians who diagnose aspergers look for more than introvert characteristics. They're using the DSM IV criteria which contains things which aren't necessarily the result of introversion. Provided that your child is diagnosed by a practitioner who gives the criteria due consideration, the risk is minimal.

A bit of fun
For a bit of fun, you'll find a link to a quick online quiz for introversion below;

Online Introvert vs Extrovert Quiz

You may find that your results differ significantly from one visit to another because introversion/extroversion changes somewhat with your mood.

Friday, May 2, 2008

What does Ritalin Really Feel Like? (A Personal Experience)

First of all, I'm not intending to cover this from a "medical" perspective. If you want to know this look it up in a medical journal or on wikipedia.

Ritalin is a medication which has had 50 years of field testing in children, it's therefore generally considered to be safe and to have minimal side-effects.

Of course, being a parent and giving my child a daily drug which is deemed safe isn't quite enough for me. I need to know what's really going on. Since my child doesn't communicate in any detail about the effects of the drug, I decided that I should give it a go myself. Since my genes are closest to his, I expect it's the next best thing to testing it on him (and getting decent reporting).

He's currently 7 years of age and is on 1.5 tablets in the morning and 1 at midday of Ritalin 10.

I did two tests, which gave me a good indication of the short term effects. I don't intend to do any further testing - not because of any side-effects but simply because I don't want to be using up my son's supplies. I guess that means that it's not immediately addictive. It also means that I'm only going to be discussing short-term effects.

The first test I did (at home) had minimal effects because I took exactly the same dose as him (despite my weight being probably 3x his). I noted some symptoms here but wasn't positive until I did the second test (at work). Ritalin is obviously still effective in small doses.

For the second test, I took 3 tablets (double his dose and still probably low for my relative weight).

The effects I noticed were as follows;

Slightly strange taste in mouth and loss of taste.
This was not complete loss, but was enough to give me a good understanding of why Ritalin supresses appetite. Even though I became hungry, I didn't feel the urge to eat much while "under the influence" because things didn't taste as good as they normally do.

Clear Feeling
This feeling didn't start until 20 minutes after taking the tablets but when it did, it increased quickly. In particular, the backchat in my head died down a bit and I found that it was much easier to concentrate on things. I felt less distracted by wayward thoughts (not people/object distractions as much but thoughts). I did get considerably more work done. The other thing to note about being "clear" was that it became much easier to keep track of where I was up to in several tasks while multitasking.

Nose clearer/drier
I've always had a "sniffly" nose which was described by my childhood doctor as looking like a jelly inside. It's not often that I am able to breathe freely and without noises (whistling etc) though it and I'm primarily a mouth breather. Under Ritalin however, I found my nose and mouth to be considerably drier and for a time I was able to breathe freely and without excessive noise.

After about 30 minutes I started to get a tingling feeling. I'd had this before on my lower dosage and it feels a bit like an electrical current is running through your skin. I found myself to be more touch-sensitive than usual. Although it didn't distract me too much, the feeling remained for several hours. I don't think I was in 100% health on my first dose and the tingling then was far worse than when I took the larger dose. My thinking - ritalin would be hard to bear if you had a fever at the same time.

Along with the tingling sensation (or perhaps because of it), I felt a certain degree of queasiness in my stomache. The queasiness continued for several hours - even after most of the other Ritalin effects had worn off. As a result, I didn't feel too interested in eating.

During my time under the influence of Ritalin, we had a meeting. I'm normally a bit talkative at these things but this time I found myself being even more "with it" - as a result, I talked even more. We were reviewing a development specification and I stopped the meeting at several points to question decisions. I felt much more in control of the situation and much more focussed. Towards the end of the meeting I started to feel as if I was annoying my colleagues by pointing out things (which they'd missed) and I attempted, not terribly successfully, to quieten down. I can see this being a double-edged sword for my son in class.

Increase in stamina and co-ordination
I noticed this the first time I tested Ritalin on the lower dosage but wasn't sure. The first time I went out to mow the lawn and ended up doing the lawn, the whipper-snipping, the edging and a huge amount of weeding without becoming tired. I only stopped when (after stomping in it) the bin was so full of grass that I couldn't get the lid down. While on the stronger dose, which definately lasted a little longer, I went to the Gym. I normally only use the exercise bike for about 15 minutes - and this time I was still tired from all that lawn mowing. Nevertheless, I still managed to do 30 minutes. I also followed the bike up with some weight lifting without feeling too much tiredness. I also felt much more co-ordinated and was almost going to try the dreaded cross-trainer (which I normally fall off). I eventually decided that there were too many people around to make falling off (again) discreet, so I didn't test this facility.

While on the bike, I tested my heart rate because I've heard that Ritalin can affect it. It started off slightly slower than usual and didn't go up as high as it normally does despite a significant increase in exercise.

I also ran through a memory exercise while on the bike... In this case, mentally reciting the name of every Dr Who story (in order) from An Unearthly Child 1963 to the Sontaran Stategem (2008). It's a special interest thing and a very long and difficult list. I found that I was able to move through the list faster without becoming distracted by my surroundings but compared to a non-ritalin test which I did two days later, I missed out a few items and got several stories in the wrong place. On Ritalin, I was faster, but slightly less accurate.

As far as depressive feelings, I looked out for them but didn't notice any. If anything I felt considerably more bouyant while on Ritalin. I also looked carefully for changes in feelings while "coming off" the drug. I didn't notice anything unusual.

I'm sure that the effects of Ritalin vary widely from one person to another but I figured it was worth sharing my experience.