Thursday, October 29, 2009

Why Do Aspies Suddenly Back-Off in Relationships? (Part 1)

One of the most frequent questions I'm asked is why an aspie (or suspected aspie) suddenly goes "cold" and backs off on an otherwise good relationship.

It's a difficult question and the answers would vary considerably from one person to another and would depend greatly on the circumstances. Nevertheless, I'll try to point out some possibilities.

Negative Reasons
I generally like to stay positive on this blog and assume that people are not necessarily "evil" but simply misguided. Unfortunately, I do have to acknowledge that there are some people out there who take advantage of others.

I read a book a few years ago on "sociopaths in the workplace" and I was stunned by the figures. They suggested that sociopaths were so common that most workplaces (small business) had at least one or two.

The fact is that there are lots of people out there who really feel very little for others and who are very manipulative. I'd like to say that aspies aren't like this but I'm sure there are a few.

One of the problems is that sociopaths and aspies can present similarly on the surface. There's not a huge amount of immediately visible difference between "lack of emotional connection" versus "inability to convey emotion". Similarly, manipulative behaviour can often come across as simply "needy".

Since the aspergers diagnosis is based on purely subjective criteria, it's not unlikely that in some cases, sociopaths may be misdiagnosed as aspies.

You have been warned.

Now let's move onto more genuine and solvable reasons.

Change Resistance
This is one of the biggest reasons. The aspie detects an approaching change in the relationship; perhaps you're talking about moving in, having children or maybe you're simply becoming assertive about routines; tea times, household chores or furniture placement.

Whatever the reason, the aspie change resistance kicks in. As we know, aspies are not the world's best communicators and half of the time they'll be completely unaware that the problem is change resistance. To them, they're just unable to cope with the TV being moved to the opposite side of the room. They don't know why they don't like it but they can think of lots of fancy excuses. The aspie may find it easier to go quiet and say nothing than to speak their mind.

The NT side of the relationship will often take this "quietness" to indicate grudging acceptance and may exacerbate the situation by repeating it (for instance, moving more furniture). By the time the "quietness" is really noticed as a problem, it's often too late and the aspie has gone "cold" on the relationship.

NTs can assist with change resistance problems by becoming aware of unusual "quietness" in their partner and encouraging discussion. Aspies can help by making more efforts to communicate, even if it means resorting to written forms.

Next Time
Next time I want to look at the role that Depression and Self Doubt plays in causing aspies to back off on relationships.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Book: The Perfect Gift for a Man (Released Today!)

Ok, I'll admit up front that this post is a shameless plug but it's for a good cause.

The Book
Long-time readers of this blog may recall that recently, a group of Australian bloggers, myself included, participated in a "man-week" exercise designed to heighten awareness and acceptability of emotions in men.

The man-week initiative resulted in a book containing 30 stories by Australian men, myself included. Some of the material was on various blogs during man-week and some is new.

You can visit the web site for the book at;

The book is available for purchase as softcover or ebook and all proceeds from the book are going to the Inspire Foundation in an effort to reduce the suicide rates among men.

Men and Emotions
Men in our society, and particularly men in Australia are often raised to be the "rock of the family" and our emotions are supressed at an early age.

I can remember being quite young and having been hurt quite badly...

my father was working on his boat trailer lights and asked me to hold some wires for him - they were the wrong wires and I got scorch marks on my hand.

...My father's initial reaction was to tell me that "boys don't cry - only sissies and girls cry".

It's not his fault, that's how he was raised - and it was how I was raised. It's my hope that I can avoid perpetuating the myth of the unemotional male in our family. I'm encouraging my children to love, to laugh, to play and to cry.

Aspie Men and Emotions
The emotional problems that men face are compounded by aspergers diagnosis. Not a day goes by when I don't read some article online which suggests that aspies are "unemotional". In truth, aspies are a turmoil of emotions and the fact that they lack the expression to get these out only adds to the stress. Add this to a society where male emotions are actively discouraged and it's little wonder the suicide rate is so high.

A Personal Note
As I write this, my thoughts can't help but turn once again to fellow aspie blogger, Zach Lassiter, who right now is in a very dark place, and has been for several weeks. His web site and twitter still contain what were intended to be his final posts and other than knowing that he was hospitalised, I've no idea of his current status.

Zach, my hopes and prayers are with you.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

How can a positive diagnosis of Asperger's help an already established adult?

There's no question about it, the majority of Asperger's diagnosis' handed out today go to children. It is also pretty clear that the diagnosis provides access to a lot of ongoing early intervention and is the most successful way of dealing with the problems condition poses.

Some time ago I asked whether or not it made sense to label our children. Although the answers were far from unanimous, the majority seemed to support the label. This was because in most cases, a diagnosis provided obvious benefits.

It's a fairly simple question when aimed at children but it becomes a very different question when aimed at adults. It's difficult to tell whether or not a diagnosis can be useful for an adult who has already become well-established in the world, though not necessarily successful.

A Lack of Obvious Benefits
For a start, the obvious benefits just aren't there. There generally aren't any government handouts for adults with aspergers and revealing your condition to a prospective employer is more likely to hinder rather than help, your chances of success.

In fact, there is an abundance of stories about people who have lost their jobs because of aspergers though many of these relate to the symptoms themselves, rather than individuals "coming out of the closet".

Of course, bringing up the subject of aspergers after you've been berated by your boss for your poor social skills probably does seem like an excuse. It does make sense that some employers would take this the wrong way and terminate ones employment. This is similar to bringing up the subject after you've been accused of a capital crime (see: Martin Bryant or Gary McKinnon).

The other major factor in not getting diagnosed as an adult is cost. It just doesn't make sense to spend a lot of money on a label which isn't necessarily going to provide you with any material benefits. The high cost is probably the main reason for the huge number of "self-diagnosed" aspies out there.

Some people just can't handle labels and it's hardly surprising that one of the first reactions that people have to a diagnosis is depression. I can remember my own depression at the time as a sinking feeling that I wasn't as "unique" as I'd always believed. Instead of being a product of "my internal self", many of my creative and intellectual pursuits were driven by a "syndrome". I was fortunate to be able to move on from my depression easily - after all, I reasoned, it was only a label. I'd been myself before the label. I would be "myself" again afterwards.

Other people however don't have it quite so easy. For them, it's about a genetic weakness or about passing their problems onto their children. People who had difficult childhoods are especially prone to this sort of depression because they feel that it's their fault that history will repeat for their children. In reality of course, it's often more likely to be environmental factors which have the greatest impact on the happiness of children. Provide a happy and supportive home and most children will find happiness regardless of other conditions.

Of course, there are benefits to having a diagnosis, but they're much less tangible. For a start, when you discover that you have aspergers, the diagnosis casts your entire life in a different light. You begin to understand why you never felt like you fitted in. You understand the reasons for your depression, your failed social experiences and your obsessions.

I'm not saying that you can change, in fact, I'm suggesting the opposite. You can however more easily accommodate your weaknesses because in accepting them (and yourself), you can stop living in the shadow of your past "mistakes" and move on.

In my case, I was able to accept that there were very good reasons why I hated social events and I stopped "forcing myself to attend". Sure, I'll still go to some social events but these days I don't feel quite so obligated. There's a reason why I'm not good at them and no amount of practice is going to make that reason disappear entirely.

I've accepted myself the way I am and I feel much better for doing so.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

News: Stunning Examples of Autistic Child Abuse

In the news today is an article with some of the worst examples of autistic child abuse I've ever heard of.

Special Education Teachers in Trouble for Autistic Student Abuse

Now I know that there are worse things being done to autistic children (see Observations and Findings of Out-of-State Program Visitation Judge Rotenberg Educational Center) but the difference is that it's fairly obvious what the programme at the JRE is. The abuse reported today was being committed by trusted special education teachers.

If you put your child into a center like JRE, you will (hopefully) have checked the place out and have made a conscious decision to treat the child in that manner. I'm not saying that it's a good thing - far from it - but parents who institutionalise their children should have very good reasons and more importantly, they should feel responsible for supervising their child's treatment.

In the case of the mainstreamed child however, it's more a case of "fire and forget". Parents help their children get ready for school, pack their bags and send them off. For the most part, those children are then out-of-sight, out-of-mind until school finishes.

We trust that the school system will look after our child. Sure, we are responsible for checking the school out but other than that, we can't be responsible for the mood swings or psychopathic tendencies of its staff. Ultimately, we have to trust the school and this kind of trust is akin to the trust placed in doctors, priests and lawyers(?).

From a parent's point of view, it raises some concerns about who you can trust. I'd love to know if the parents had any suspicion that things were going wrong - I suspect not - at least, not in the first two cases. In the third case, the teacher was a repeat offender.

What can we, as parents do?
This is the big question. Obviously we can't go around placing suspicion on every teacher. We have to learn to let go and trust our educators - otherwise we become helicopter parents. Being a helicopter parent isn't just about social perception - it's also harmful to the child, if not academically, then at least socially.

How much contact with the school is too much? How much is too little?

I don't think that there's any sensible benchmark, it would vary from child to child, teacher to teacher and incident to incident. It makes sense to suggest that more time needs to be spent in communication with the teacher in the first term than in the later ones but beyond that, we need to be guided by our (generally uncommunicative) children's feelings and actions.

The Introductory Letter
Here's a method of contact that I'm quite keen on, although I've not been as diligent in the past with my own children as I should have been...

At the start of the school year, write an introductory letter to your child's teacher telling them all about your child, his strengths and weaknesses, both social and educational. Make sure that you include contact information for yourself and your partner and offer your assistance.

Tell the teacher that given reasonable notice, you're happy to be included on excursions with your child.

Even better, consider putting the letter, or a copy of it, permanently in your child's homework diary. Of course, if your child is a teenager, you might have to ask your child for permission.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Book Review: Raising a Left-Brain Child in a Right-Brain World

I'd always intended to do some book reviews on "Life with Aspergers" and since I was sent the following book to review, it seems a good place to start.

Strategies for Helping Bright, Quirky, Socially Awkward Children to Thrive at Home and at School.
by Katharine Beals PhD.

Initial Response
On the face of it, the title of this book would probably not engage my interest - which is unfortunate because it's a really fascinating book. The title isn't wrong either, the book really is about "Left-Brained Children"; it's just that you need a bit more explanation before you read the title.

The Left Brained Child
Katharine Beals has used the label "Left-Brained" in place of other more judgemental labels. She describes the left brained child as the sort of child to whom mathematics comes easy and group work does not. Her definition is quite encompassing but if I have any issues with the book, they're simply that the definition she uses isn't wide enough. In my opinion, the book is just as relevant to children with "left brained" characteristics but better English/History skills than mathematics. Similarly, much of the book is relevant to children who have aspergers but who also have learning difficulties which prevent them from becoming "math wizzes".

What is the Book About?
The book describes three types of "left-brained" children;
  • The Unsocial Child
  • The Analytic Child
  • The Mildly Autistic Child (Aspergers, HFA, PDD-NOS)
There are similarities between all three types of children and you may find, as I did, that things relevant to your child appear in all three sections.

What makes this book fascinating is that instead of providing an overall view of the child like most similar books, it concentrates on the changing school environment and its effects on these children.

It helps that Katharine is both an educator and a mother because her discussions don't stop at the school, they also include socialisation with school children outside of school (playdates), homework and learning at home.

The Changing School
It's strange but I had actually noticed many of the school changes that Katharine talks about. It's just that I'd never considered them together and I hadn't really given much thought as to how they were affecting my children. After reading this book, I've got a lot of questions that I want to ask at our next school meeting - and quite a few changes I'll be suggesting at our next IEP.

The book covers the effects of some radical and "right-brained" changes to the school curriculum many of which have probably already been implemented at your children's schools without your knowledge.

These include reform math, which places greater emphasis on creative and group solutions to problems than on mathematics itself. Examples include exercises such as "measuring the playground" and questions such as "What is your favourite number and why?".

The book covers changes to several other disciplines, including science, writing, foreign language and literature. These changes are all quite frightening and I've recognised a few of the projects cited as things my own children have brought home.

Readability and Practicality
Textbooks are not novels, we don't read them simply for enjoyment. We want to be able to get something out of them. To do this, they need to offer real life examples and good advice.

Interspersed throughout "Raising a Left-Brain Child in a Right-Brain World", are snapshots of our children's world. Some are through the eyes of these children but most are from a parent's point of view. These are offered, usually at the beginnings of chapters, without any initial interpretation. The interpretation is provided when the incidents are referred to in later parts of the chapter. I really liked this approach. It gave me an opportunity to formulate my own ideas as a parent before explaining the real situation. In many ways, this is exactly the "gap" that parents experience between what they see and what their children feel.

Even better, each section concludes with a number of detailed suggestions for working around the problem. They range from the obvious and drastic; "change schools" including what to look for in a new school, to suggestions for inclusion in the IEP, extracurricular activities and even ways of dealing with your child's lecturing or argumentive streaks at home and with friends.

This book was really very interesting and relevant and I urge you to look beyond the title. If you have children, particularly in the early years of primary/elementary school, then this book may be essential reading.

You can read through Katharine Beals' introduction on Amazon. This will give you a better feel for her criteria for "left-brained children.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Aspie Senses - Part 2

Last time I started discussing how senses affect our perception and I looked at hearing which is my weakest sense, and smell which is my second weakest. For me, even these "weaker" senses mix with memories and provoke both positive and negative emotions. In this post, I'll continue the exploration of the senses;

In my case, taste is the weakest Of the remaining three senses. I know that many people believe in more, in fact, so do I but for the moment, I'm sticking to the classical five. My sense of taste has always been fine but there is such a strong link between taste and smell that my impaired sense of smell obviously affects taste.

There are only two food tastes which I severely dislike; Sultanas and Orange Vegetable (Carrots, Pumpkin and sweet potato). Sultana's are easily the worst affecting me in several other ways, including touch, sight and smell. I can't look at them. I can't eat things that have been stored in the same containers as them and I shiver when I have to touch them (occasionally when the kids spill them all over the inside of their school bags).

Overall, I don't particularly think that taste affects my mood too much. I don't think that this contributes to overstimulation in aspies, though I could be wrong.

Touch is a really really strong sense. In fact, I'd venture so far as to say that many of my taste dislikes are as much about touch as they are about taste. For instance, carrots and sultanas have a texture that I dislike. Most of my childhood food issues stemmed more from texture than taste. I remember going off rice bubbles for two reasons, texture and sight. There wasn't anything wrong with the taste of them.

I have problems touching certain kinds of surfaces, blackboards for instance, and I have issues with "prickly" clothing. When it comes to romantic encounters, sometimes I have major issues with tongue texture. I always have issues with feather-touch rubbing of a finger across my arms, feet and shoulders. I don't seem to have problems with full on hugs, unless I'm not expecting them but a light touch can leave me scratching a spot for ages.

Many of my childhood meltdowns were solely down to touch. I had a couple of jumpers that my mother had knitted for me and some that my relatives had bought for me. It's obviously quite offensive to them if you refuse to wear them. The problem was that these items were torture for me. I'd be scratching from the moment they were put on until hours after they were removed. I used to try to stand my ground and not wear them but my mother wouldn't listen to my complaints, she'd pick the jumpers up and rub them and tell me how nice they felt. Touch is a very personal thing. Things that irritate one aspie don't necessarily irritate others. Some things can be "worn in" but others never become wearable.

There are other aspects to touch too. At school, other children will want to touch you. In the car, your siblings will use touch to annoy you and then there's tickling. I guess that on some level, tickling may entertain certain victims. I don't think I've met an aspie who likes a random tickling.

It's a safe bet to suggest that a high percentage of childhood aspie meltdowns will be related in some way to touch. One way to reduce this problem is to let your aspie carry their own touch-based calmatives.

As a child, I became very attached to an eiderdown (a sort of blanket). I had several over the years but only got attached to certain ones. Even today, I often like to be wrapped in a doona but I'm quite picky about the texture. My wife bought a blanket about a year ago and suggested that I use it instead of dragging the doona cover around. Unfortunately, she bought it without my being present and despite the fact that it was a beautiful soft thing, it didn't work well with my sensitivities. I prefer simple, smooth and cool (temperature) coverings, not furry or prickly ones. These days, I still prefer the old doona cover.

Sight is a curious sense. You'd think that sight wouldn't affect an aspie too much - after all, they can always close their eyes or look away - right? Wrong. Some things, once seen, lodge in the mind. I'm not referring to the problem of TMI (too much information) but rather to issues where sight causes annoyances to surface.

My wife and I stayed at a hotel for our twelfth anniversary last weekend. It was a very nice n place but the restaurant area had a wall pattern which annoyed me. They had a feature of about twelve stone roses in the middle of their wall arranged in a pattern but one of the roses in the bottom row was painted gold, not white.

This might have been passable except that it wasn't even in the middle. It was an irritating break in the pattern.


You can get a sense of what the feature wall was like from the pattern above. It wasn't annoying me to a degree which affected my eating but it did irritate me enough to stick in my head. My wife was aware of the pattern and when I remarked on it she said that as soon as she saw it, she knew it would annoy me. It didn't annoy her though, it was art.

Aspies seek patterns and regularity everywhere and these sorts of things irritate us. I remember as a child watching those endless Spock (Leonard Nimoy) presented featurettes on Stonehenge and wishing I could fix those annoying missing blocks.

I didn't cause me meltdowns but sitting an aspie in a room which is visually annoying doesn't help them to remain stress free.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Colour Changes

Just as a side note, I've received a lot of complaints about my white text on a black background - so I changed to black text on a white background - and got a complaint about that on the first day.

I'm not particularly excited about the black text on parchment look but I'm hoping it's a happy medium. Sorry about all the changes.

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Aspie Senses - Part 1

It's a well known fact that people on the spectrum often have sensory issues but it's probably less well known that these sensory issues can trigger both positive and negative feelings. Sensory issues are one of the major reasons why many aspies find it difficult to work. They are also a major contributor to shutdowns, and to a lesser extent, meltdowns.

The Sense of Hearing
I tend to think that one of the main reasons why I've been successful in the workplace is because my own susceptability to sensory issues is reduced by comparison with other aspies. Being deaf has certainly given me much greater tolerance for the sorts of sounds which irritate my peers. I've been reading Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg's recent series of articles with great interest. Here is someone who is actually using earplugs to reduce her sensory issues - and she's not alone. There are many aspies doing exactly the same thing. Rachel even goes so far as to attend sign language classes to learn a language which is better suited to her reduced sensory state.

My own children are an interesting combination. My eldest does quite a bit of verbal stimming and our mornings are often filled with all kinds of annoying repeated sounds. These sounds don't annoy me unless I'm very close to him but they annoy my wife - and even more so, they annoy his younger brother who has particular sensibilities to sound.

I'm very grateful for my deafness. It's saved me a lot of pain over the years.

Of course, there are four more senses and it's some of these others which can disturb me.

The Sense of Smell
You wouldn't think that smell would be such an important factor but in my case, it is. Once again, I had a very "sheltered" childhood because my my nose had been damaged as a baby in a climbing accident. I climbed a chest of drawers but it fell on me. My allergies were also terrible at the time, it's only years of therapy that has cleared my nose enough to allow me to breathe through it occasionally now. Most of the time, I still use my mouth through force of habit. This apparently makes my breathing very loud and irritating to others but I don't know for sure - I can't hear it you see.

Positive smells
Smelling can be a form of stimming and many aspies seek out smells for comfort. My personal favourite is vanilla and I can happily sniff vanilla for ages. I'm the proud owner of several vanilla candles and I've also got various vanilla essesnces and fragrances. I've purchased (twice) vanilla smelling perfumes for my wife and my favourite cake is... yep... vanilla slice.

I'm also quite partial to coconut ice, not the edible kind - just the smell. Once I found a coconut ice candle and didn't buy it but felt withdrawal symptoms after leaving the shop. Less than two Weeks later I was back, looking for the candle but the shop had sold out. I think I made four more trips out to the shop (which was quite a drive from our house) before giving up. The next time I see a coconut ice candle, I'm buying it.

Of course, it's not only food smells that we seek. I also like mint and the smell of freshly cut wood. Some aspies become addicted to their own body smells and this can often have harmful results. I've heard of aspies who stim by sniffing their own crotch or armpits. There are immediate social consequences if they're caught doing this but there are also long-term social problems. Aspies who stim using their own body odours are unaware that these smells can offend others. They're less inclined to cover the smells with deodorant and they often suffer the social consequences of isolation.

Negative Smells
I can't comment on the positive and negative parts of hearing because I don't hear most of the sounds but I'm surprised by the degree to which smells affect me. It's strange because the negative smells aren't necessarily bad ones. I can sit in a car when someone has been excessively flatulent without having too adverse a reaction (sometimes) but I can't stand to be in a house where someone has been cooking cabbage or cauliflower.

I don't have a problem with general body odours from people around me but I do have massive issues with breath. In fact, there are three distinct types of breath that I just can't stand. Hopefully I won't offend anyone here...

  • "Old people breath"
    I'm not really sure how to describe this except that it seems to be most noticeable with the elderly (and with health fanatics). Perhaps it's vitamin tablets or garlic, whatever it is, I have major issues with it. It causes me real problems socially because I've been in conversation with people and had to keep backing off or abruptly ending a conversation because I can't handle the smell. I get very irritated with myself at these times because usually I don't want to have to turn tail and run.

  • "spicy breath"
    Again, I'm not entirely sure what causes this smell but I think it's chilli stored under specific conditions. I've noticed that a lot of Indian culture people have this breath but I've also discovered it in a tin of chilli tuna. Unlike the "old people" breath which makes me gag, the spicy breath instils an almost violent reaction in me. If I encounter this particular smell, I feel like I need to get away before I become aggressive.

  • "Beer Breath"
    No points for guessing where this problem comes from. It's a classic example of how memories can get linked to smells and are triggered upon recurrence of the smell.
Bad breath isn't the extent of my bad smells experience, there are other smells, like licorice, which I can't stand because it smells so similar to a substance used extensively in my first job; "making dog food".

I'm not quite sure where this post is going yet because I tend to write straight from the heart and let the thoughts mature in my head between posts (hence my part 2's are often quite divergent).

In part 2, I'll look at some of the other senses and then... well, I'll see where to topic wants to go.