Thursday, December 31, 2009

End of Year (2009) Wrap-up

It's been a busy year for me on several fronts;

At home, we've moved into our new house and it's taken quite a bit of work to make it "home". I've been able to observe my kids accepting their new environment and in some cases, I've seen frustrations emerge as either meltdowns or destructive behaviour. They have improved though. I'm not sure how much of that improvement is due to their self-control and how much is due to changes in our parenting methods.

At work, I've mostly been busy on the second year of a six-month project (that's right, it's behind schedule) but I've been slowly making the journey from "super-tech" to project manager without training. I'm just learning from my mistakes (of which there is no shortage). I've also learned a lot about time management and this year is particularly special because it's the first year that I've maintained a corporate calendar for the entire year - normally they stop around March.

I've been busy in scouts too, making the transition from parent helper to leader. I'm learning how to motivate and focus the kids while still maintaining their enjoyment of the programme. I've witnessed meltdowns and bullying and I'm learning how to curb such behaviour in kids. Hopefully the kids will benefit from the positive environment I'm trying to provide. It's also provided me with a lot of firsthand experience of how my own kids cope in group situations.

Online, Facebook seems to have really come into its own this year and I've made quite a few new friends. I'm actually surprised by the depth of friendship and the degree of support that some of these facebook friends can offer and it was great last week to follow Christmas around the world as people posted about their day.

In the blogging world, there have been some amazing discussions and revelations and I feel privileged to have been able to follow them. I'm planning to do a future post to discuss the blogs I follow - and why I find them so interesting. On this blog, I've tackled a whole range of issues and stereotypes with varying degrees of success. Guided by my readers comments, my topics seem to have stayed much closer to "adult relationships" than to aspie children though I hope to cover a wider range of issues next year.

Thank you to all my readers and especially those who have left comments. I do make a point to read all of them even though I don't always reply. Sometimes I feel that comments remain best undiluted by my response - even when they're saying the opposite of what I feel. Sometimes comments cause me to rethink my position. Most importantly, the comments often drive the choice of discussion topics on the blog.

As the first decade of this new millennium draws to a close, I'd like to wish you all a happy new year and hope that 2010 is good to you.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Aspergers and Dreams

I've been asked on a few occasions to do a post on dreams and dreaming, so this is it. It's not an area I'm particularly familiar with because I've never really considered that dreaming may be different for aspies. I guess that any responses to this post will help us to find out.

Remembering Dreams
Some time ago, I did an unstructured and impromptu survey to find out whether aspies tend to remember or forget their dreams. I got a total of 52 responses which were allocated as follows;
  1. I Don't think that I Dream 1% [ 1 ]
  2. I Usually Remember my Dreams 44% [ 23 ]
  3. I know I've had a Dream but lose the details when I wake up 28% [ 15 ]
  4. I Can Remember my Dream for about 2 hours after Waking - then it disappears 25% [ 13]

I've always had fairly vivid dreams and surprisingly, I've remembered quite a few of them. My childhood dreams are still clear as crystal, it's my adult dreams that I don't remember as well.

Night Terrors and Nightmares
As a child, I often woke up with nightmares. These were quite often about being trapped in a cave by falling rocks. I'm not quite sure why this would be the case since I'd never been caving and I can't recall watching any caving films. There were other things too, like falling from the top of buildings but mostly it was to do with imagining things in the darkness of my room. I wonder if I had some issues with reality verus fiction.

In any case, the night terrors and my theory that it's more to do with a poor sense of reality is one of the main reasons I've been so "unrestricted" on censorship with my own children. For the record, although every once in a while the youngest has a bad dream, they certainly don't have night terrors. They're very clear on what's real and what's not.

I eventually overcame the night terrors by;
  1. Adopting my mother's belief that bad dreams were your body's way of waking you for a toilet break.

  2. Getting myself a bed lamp which I could reach out and switch on whenever I got scared.

Epic Dreams
When I wasn't having night terrors, it was simply normal dreaming. The best dreams were "epic dreams. Epic dreams were dreams which were so large and so complex that it took several nights to get the entire dream completed. They weren't always on sensible subjects and I can clearly remember one about a witches gathering (not scary, quite friendly actually) which went on for about a week. I can remember being eager to go to bed so I could see the next part of the dream. I loved dreaming about flying on a broomstick with a coven of witches and I was really sad when the dream ended.

Normal(?) Dreams
My normal dreams were always a bit weird and particularly in my childhood, they didn't focus so much on people as the mechnanics of things. I suspect that this might be one of the ways that aspergers manifests itself in dreaming.

One of the best dreams from my childhood was about going to visit my next door neighbour and discovering quite accidentally that if I made swimming motions with my hands and feet, I would actually be able to float in the air and control my direction. This particular dream was so vivid that I remember being anxious to rush outside and try it, just in case it really worked. (it didn't). It seems strange that so many of my dreams were about flying and falling.

Day Dreams
My mother always used to call me a "daydreamer". She was probably right but I don't see it as a bad thing. I think that a lot of my creativity comes from daydreaming.

My daydreams are very vivid and often I snap out of them wondering which bits were real and which were false. Occasionally, my daydreams turn to day-nightmares and they can seriously "freak me out".

Arguably the worst daydream I'd ever had was one where I clearly saw a nuclear payload drop from a plane. The daydream was so vivid that I felt heat on my face and could clearly remember the arguments my parents had about what to do.

For weeks afterwards, I watched every plane that flew past with something like dread in case it was a premonition. Since then, circumstances have changed (my parents no longer own the house in the dream), so I guess I can presume that it wasn't.

Your say?
There's not really a lot more I can say about my dreams. I've had quite a bit of deja vu but as usual, it's hard to "remember" what actually happens until it does actually happen. I don't see "deja vu" as premonition although I did when I was younger. These days, I believe it's just a feeling that comes from doing similar activities.

If there's anything about dreams which is particular to aspies, I haven't found it yet. Perhaps other people can highlight similarities and differences?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Article: On Living and loving Asperger's Man

I'd like to draw your attention to this (currently untitled) article which is on one of the blogs I read;

The article can be found here

I'm not quite sure if there's a problem with that site but at the moment as it's not accepting comments (I'm sure there would be plenty otherwise).

I guess that's one of the main reasons I'm referring to the article here. It's crying out for comments.

My Thoughts...
These articles really move me. They're one of the main reasons behind the "emotionless" or "empathy-less" aspie myth.

A quick "aside"...
I know that aspergers isn't gender specific and that despite the significantly higher incidence of diagnosed male aspies compared to female, the number isn't to be trusted. Aspergers presents quite differently in females compared to males and although it's obvious that females have just as much difficulty with the condition, it seems much less likely to be recognised.

Nevertheless, I see the male aspie as bringing far worse empathy issues into relationships than females. Ignoring gay relationships, I think that this is because the NT partners in AS/NT relationships have different expectations.

I don't particularly agree with Simon Baron-Cohen's "extreme male brain" theory but I can certainly see where it comes from. As a general rule, in the NT world, females tend to be more emotional and more empathetic than males. I think this is one of the reasons that empathy is less of an issue in AS/NT relationships where the aspie is female. A female with aspergers possibly has a better chance of showing empathy than a male - and a male NT is less likely to notice an absence of empathy in his AS partner than a female.

Moving On...
Ok, having explained (possibly) why men are more likely to be the aspie at the centre of an empathy issue in a mixed AS/NT relationship, I can move on with looking at the blog post itself.

You can often "see" the women who write these sorts of posts crying out for attention and I hope that their partners know about the blogs, read the posts and most importantly, think about what is being said. It's not about laying blame, it's about highlighting needs in the relationship.

If your partner writes a blog, you should become a regular reader. Not just of the posts themselves but also of the comments. I know that some people get upset about what is posted on blogs but really, it will help your relationship - not hinder it.

As for the subject matter; I could recognise quite a bit of myself in there. I've improved in recent years but there's obviously still a long way for me to go. Some of the things which struck chords are;
  • Poorly chosen comments
    Sometimes I think I'm making a quip or an honest comment but it comes out as an insult. It's sometimes because my attention is distracted and more often because I presume that my mind can be read. (I know it can't but I tend to expect other people to have the same frame of reference). Comments about weight may once have been an issue in our house but now the "F" word is recognised as a bad word. Everyone is accepted for who they are.

    I needed to be corrected though. I didn't learn it on my own. I had to be insulted using my own personal weaknesses to learn how it feels. It's not about disrespect, it was simply that (stupid as it may seem) I didn't understand that it hurt.

    Am I cured? No. Sure, I've learned not to make jokes about certain things but I also just sent a Christmas card this year which caused insult. I was thinking one thing and the recipient thought something different entirely. Improvements are still needed.

  • Reactions to the Sick
    When my wife and kids get sick, I'm desperate not to catch it. I don't kiss, I don't hug and I wash my hands after contact. I get out of the room if a coughing fit starts. It's not nice but I have difficulty not doing it because it's a bit of an OCD thing. I have to admit though, I've never really given a second's thought as to how it must feel on the other side.

    My score - Fail. Thanks for highlighting that problem. I'll work on it.

  • TV Shows and Empathy
    Usually I have too much empathy with movies. I find myself with tears in my eyes because of something "cute", it doesn't even take a sad event. Even worse, I'll be sad because of a toy in "Toy Story" or something that happens to Fozzie Bear in one of the muppet films.

    I try to hide this because I'd never hear the end of it if my wife caught me crying in one of those films. It's weird though that I don't have any empathy with death in certain films. For instance, if I watch a horror film, I usually don't have any empathy with characters who die. Similarly, the sudden death of Brad Pitt in Meet Joe Black had me in fits of laughter.

    TV Shows are quite different to films and I get almost no emotion from them because;

    (a). They're often too short for me to get into a character.
    (b). One advertising break will destroy the reality for me.
    (c). TV isn't as engrossing as a film.

    I'll admit to feeling quite weepy over Rose Tyler and Donna Noble in Doctor Who though.
    My score - I think this is a pass, more than a pass... I'm more emotional over films than my wife.

  • Vacuuming the Walls
    I've never done this but I don't think that was the point of the article. I have had these random thoughts on how we could do things better. Particularly; how we could raise our children better. I'll start doing it not realising that it's probably very insulting and implies that I think my wife isn't doing such a great job.

    Of course, I can't keep it up and soon my "new routine" drops in favour of doing other things. These days, when I'm asked about things like this, I try to simply shut up or say "I don't know" because if I don't then whatever I say is likely to be taken as an insult rather than an idea.

    I guess I'll have to take a fail on that one too.
The post concludes with some comments about the need for counselling, which I haven't found to be particularly useful with aspies, and some interesting comments on the longevity of love.

I don't think that love lasts very long at all. It goes off. It needs maintenance and it transforms into something better than love but probably not quite as deep. Whatever the next level is, it needs friendship, companionship, respect, understanding, support and empathy. Most of all, it needs constant maintenance on both sides of the relationship and both partners need to engage in self-improvement (hence my pass/fail comments here about myself).

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

How Brutal Honesty about the Future Affects Aspie Relationships

It's funny but you read quite a bit on the internet and in books about how "aspies cannot lie". As discussed in a previous post, that's simply not true.

Aspies can tell lies - it's just that lies don't come naturally to us. We tend to be truthful, even when the truth hurts - and we expect** others to be truthful to us.

**I don't mean "expect" in the discipline sense but rather literally. We automatically assume that people are telling us the truth without question. That's one of the reasons we seem so naive. It's also the reason that "is it really?" becomes something of a catchphrase for many aspies.

When you read about aspie "brutal truths" and relationships, the books always seem to use the example question, "does this dress make me look fat?". This is very misleading because many aspies do know how to "lie" for this question - and really, if that was the level at which brutal truth operated, we could all live quite happily with it.

It's not this question that is the problem, it's other, deeper questions.

Confusing Questions About the Future
When couples are courting, they often ask confusing questions to which the answers are indeterminate.

They aren't seeking lies but they aren't seeking absolute truths either. As it turns out, these questions are intended to gauge hopes and reactions.

Aspies however tend to answer these sorts of questions with absolute honesty - and with devastating results.

Examples - and wrong answers;

Q. Where do you see us in the future?
A. I don't know

An aspie will often answer this way because he can't see the future. In fact, the asker is asking whether the aspie would like them to be together and whether he is willing to work as part of a "team" to achieve that result. An answer of "I don't know" is misleading for the NT. It makes them think that you're undecided about the relationship and unwilling to commit.

Q. Will we be together forever?
A. No.

Ok, nobody lives forever and most aspies get the fact that "forever is subjective" - although some don't.

The partner question to this one asks if the couple will be together for their lifetime. A lifetime is a long time and aspies may give poor answers which take into account, the possibility of divorce and issues of commitment. Such a response can kill a relationship before it begins.

Q. Do you love me?
A. I don't know.

This is one of the real "relationship killer" questions. Most people struggle with the concept of love but it's a real problem for aspies because there's no clear confirmation that an emotion they're feeling actually is "love". Many aspies have difficulty finding the boundaries between strong friendship and love.

I remember asking one (suspected) aspie if he loved a particular girl. He said, "no, we're just friends". My wife then asked him if he had kissed the girl in question and following confirmation, asked for more details. It turned out that the kissing had been fairly passionate.

The aspie was quite stunned when we pointed out that people who were "just friends" generally didn't engage in such behaviour. That was the domain of love. When we explained to him about the signals he'd been sending to his "friend" and how that impacted her expectations of the relationship, he began to get quite agitated.

It was obvious to us that he didn't have a clear understanding of the boundaries between friendship and courtship.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Individuality and Aspergers

The main crisis of faith I had when diagnosed with aspergers related to my own sense of individuality. Sure, I was happy to be part of a group of like-minded individuals but I was concerened that many of my "unique traits" were no longer unique.

I'd accepted myself as someone who wasn't good a things like social, sports and general "blokey" things on the basis that I was unique. I was an individual who could be at times funny, weird, intellectual and astonishing but now I'd found a group of people who were bad at the same sorts of things as I but who excelled in the same quirkyness as me. It had stopped being "me" and became a question of genetics. I no longer felt special.

Differences amongst Aspies
I've taken comfort over the years since then in the fact that we are in fact, not all alike. We each have our own sets of traits and we each have our own personalities. It has taken a long time for me to re-accept myself and to see those differences but I'm a better person for it.

The Aspergers label is a great handle for describing a group of traits but it shouldn't be taken as an ultimate truth. The label is very much like the term "fruit". It's fair to say that all fruit grow on trees and I'm sure that there are a bunch of other similarities too but there are also big differences. A banana is very different to a bunch of grapes, to an apple, a kiwi fruit a melon or a passionfruit.

In the same way, while aspies have several similarities, we must never lose sight of the fact that they are all individuals. To generalise is to discriminate.

Who are Aspies?
The term aspergers is used to describe someone who meets the specifications in the DSM IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Revision 4). Those specifcations don't always nail down specific traits. In fact they read like multiple choice questions with phrases like;

  • Qualitative impairment in social interaction, as manifested by at least two of the following...
  • Restricted repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests, and activities, as manifested by at least one of the following...

In both cases, it presents four different sets of aspie traits.

I've recently heard of some aspies who claim that other individuals don't have the condition because they "aren't the same as me". This is an incorrect assumption, and it also belittles the person with aspergers. In their own way, they have suffered just as much as you.

Not only does this assumption not take into account changes from one individual to another but it also ignores the major differences in the diagnostic criteria which presents eight possibilities but expects you to only match three.

The idea should not be that all aspies are alike. Instead, it should be that there are similarities between aspies but that these similarities are limited. I'm often surprised at how similar some aspies are because there's no reason at all for them to be the same.

Just be Yourself
I think that I over-use this phrase, particularly when talking to aspies about their romantic lives. Often aspies don't want to hear it.

The Romantic Aspect
Before I go on, I'll clarify the romantic aspect of the phrase "just be yourself". It doesn't mean that you should walk around in your underpants and it doesn't mean that you can't try to impress someone that you're going out with. It simply means that you shouldn't attempt to present a false view of yourself when seeking a long-term relationship. You want to attract someone who will love you for who you are, rather than someone who will leave as soon as you find the "false-you" too hard to maintain in their presence.

The Individual Aspect
The real importance of "just be yourself" isn't romantic at all. It's all about self-acceptance and individuality.

It's easy to maintain a "false face" for short periods and many aspies become great actors over the years because of the way their social issues force them to act when in company. I've discussed in previous posts how I used to craft different personalities for different teachers when I was at school. It was difficult to keep these from clashing particularly when teachers grouped together or visited each other's classrooms.

Trying to be someone that you're not for extended periods is different. It is very hard work. I'm of the opinion that individuality is a beautiful thing and that it shouldn't be suppressed. It's true that you need to moderate your individuality in various settings; in the workplace for example but you should not modify it to the extent that your personality becomes "lost".

Your personality will both win and lose friends for you. There's very little that you can do about this. Instead, it's best to take comfort in the fact that the friends that you do make will like you because of who you are, rather than who you're pretending to be.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, "being yourself" is about self-acceptance and self-love. Aspies have a lot of problems with depression which stem from self-loathing and a lack of self-acceptance. It's hard enough to cope with the pressures of today's society and lack of acceptance amongst members of our family and "friends" without contributing to the problem ourselves.

Individuality is something to be celebrated. We should all be examining the things that make us, "ourselves" and not simply accepting them but also being proud of them. It's the first step on the road to rebuilding our self-esteem.