Friday, April 26, 2013

Jobs for Aspies: Acting

People with Aspergers Syndrome often spend their whole lives trying to fit into society.  They copy mannerisms, accents, expressions and dialogue.  They also often enjoy making noises such hums, clicks, whirs and other sounds.  It's a stimming thing.

In short, people with Asperger's syndrome often spend their lives practising acting and they can become very good at it.

There are many people in Hollywood with Asperger's Syndrome or suspected Asperger's Syndrome. The lists includes; Daryl Hannah, Dan Aykroyd, Tim Burton, Woody Allen, Michael Palin, Alfred Hitchcock, Jim Henson and Michael Jackson. I doubt that we'll ever know the truth about these actors for sure but one thing is clear, children with Asperger's syndrome often make good actors and they can benefit significantly from acting classes;

There's a video on YouTube where a boy with Asperger's Syndrome; Zach Henry and his family discuss the impact that acting has had on his life.

It's well worth a watch.

Click here to watch the video

Other Posts in this Series
Jobs for Aspies - Project Management

Related Posts
How does Aspergers Affect Employment Prospects?
Improving Employment Prospects for Aspies - Part 1
Improving Employment Prospects for Aspies - Part 2 (What the Aspie can do)
Improving Employment Prospects for Aspies - Part 3 (What the Employer can do)
Aspergers Syndrome and Acting

Book Review: Plan B: Empowering the Single Parent by Karra Barber-Wada

Plan B: Empowering the Single Parent! 
... To benefit their Child with Autism 
by Karra Barber-Wada.
Published by Future Horizons
ISBN 978-1-935274-79-7

Plan B is a book with a well defined and very specific target; single parents with children who have autism. It's written in a very positive way and contains a lot of very good advice, all of which falls neatly under a very clever strategy; called "plan B".

The book is very well laid out and is easy to read with lots of clear sub-chapters. There are regular tips sections and some great real life story asides which show the techniques in action and put a human face to the book.

Some chapters have minor exercises designed to get you to focus on your priorities, budget or wants and needs.

The book seems to be geared more towards the "higher functioning" types of autism, such as Asperger's syndrome but I have no doubt that the techniques within it are more or less universally applicable. It also spends most of the time dealing with single parenting due to divorce but it has a section dealing with the death of a spouse. It's a book which comprehensively covers its subject area.

The main sections of the book are a long  introductory area which sets up many of the key concepts, then chapters focussing on effective co-parenting, finances, life balance and preparing your child for adult life. That last chapter is very good and covers some things I haven't seen in an autism book before, particularly the use of social mentors. The book concludes with an excellent "frequently asked questions" section.

It's pretty clear to me that every parent in the target group should read this book but I think it's useful for married couples too, especially if you're in a situation where one parent is considerably less engaged in raising the child than they should be.

I have no hesitation in recommending this book to people in these circumstances or to those who support them.

"Plan B: Empowering the Single Parent! ... To benefit their Child with Autism" by Karra Barber-Wada is available from Future Horizons and from Amazon.

Honesty Clause: I was provided with a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

In order to Receive Empathy, we must first Teach it - Part 2

Following on from my previous post on teaching empathy, my wife had taught me to help, without being asked when a person with a pram obviously needed help. I was able to generalise this to helping people who clearly need help in all kinds of situations.  

It took me years but I consider myself mostly reformed in that area now and I'll help people who stumble, who get wheelchairs stuck or who can't reach items on the top shelf of the supermarket. All without being asked.  I've even reached the point where I can anticipate a problem and will watch an unsteady person, or a toddler near a road in case they suddenly need intervention. 

My wife did a very good job of reforming me in that regard.

Unfortunately, even though I widened the scope of the "help" intervention considerably, it doesn't automatically put me into a good empathetic state. There are still so many situations to learn about and each time I manage to choose the wrong option. It's simply because I haven't learned to deal with these different situations and I need to be taught.

Being There
My next really big lesson on empathetic reactions came with the birth of our first child.  I'd done my bit of the work (impregnation) and I thought I was doing pretty well by attending birth classes and reading books.  It was certainly more than most of the men in my life had done.  I left the obstetrician appointments apart from a couple to my wife becauase I thought there wasn't a whole lot I could contribute.

I'm also a bit of a workaholic and truth be told, I'm generally too scared to ask for any time off.  At the time I'd only just started a new job too.

The birth of our first child ended up being a very traumatic event in which nearly everything went wrong. It wasn't helped by the fact that I didn't have a good rapport with the obstetrician or that the right questions hadn't been asked in the visits because my wife was too emotional at the time and her "rock" was at work instead of by her side where he needed to be.

Things improved significantly when it came to our second child and I made pretty much every appointment (though usually only by minutes).  We also changed obstetricians as we pretty much realised that our first one was not right for us.

How is this empathy?
Empathy has many meanings, all of which are valid and none of which are comprehensive enough to properly cover this elusive topic.  In order to show empathy, one must interpret a person's actions and infer their emotional state, identify any needs (such as my wife being emotional and needing a person to be there to listen and ask questions) and then act upon those needs - actually be there.

It's a complex set of tasks.

This is a difficult one to generalise but essentially the rule is that if your partner, friend or family needs you to be somewhere for them, then the correct empathetic response is for you to be there.  Work is secondary.

I know that we all have to earn a livelihood and I know that some employers are less tolerant than others but as employees, we have certain rights and those rights are there to allow us to provide support in times of need.

This brings me neatly to the reason I started these posts in the first place (see my introductory post). We had a sudden very urgent need for child-minding and my own family gave me excuses.  It's a let-down which we still haven't recovered from but I do understand.  Sometimes when we're put on the spot, we make the wrong choices.

It was this wrong choice which got me thinking about how I learned the correct empathetic responses and who I learned them from.  It helped me to understand that empathy is not something we're born with, it's something we've been taught.

Anticipating and Reacting
The clue that you've not been empathetic when you should have been usually comes in the form of an extreme emotional reaction from the other person.  If you get this reaction, then you should probably spend some time thinking about what the other person expected/needed and why what you gave them did not address those needs. This is the crux of empathy.

When you've figured out what needs to be done, then you should try to re-establish contact with the person (if it's a family member or friend) and offer what is needed.  Don't make excuses, just offer what is needed.

Remember, as a parent, it's your duty to teach your children to empathise and the best way to do this is by example.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Replying to a Parent's concern about the Traits of Asperger's Syndrome

Normally, I don't post correspondence here as I like to keep those things private and individual but I recently got an email from a parent who was concerned about a number of traits her son was showing.  I've replied to her questions in prose and as I was reading it back I thought it might be a useful thing to post, so... all identifying information removed and lots of extra links added, here it is.

Eye Contact

Inconsistent eye contact is generally a sign of "gaze avoidance" - ie: lack of eye contact. Darting ones eyes around the room during a conversation is a great avoidance tactic as it gives a person a break from being totally focused on the speaker - something which is quite painful at times. Some children with Asperger's syndrome give good eye contact but most do not.  You might want to encourage your son to look at mouths instead as this keeps his head pointing in the right direction and reduces eye-darting without making uncomfortable eye contact.

If he does have problems with eye contact, you shouldn't attempt to push him towards it.  It's a very uncomfortable thing.


Contrary to popular opinion people with Asperger's syndrome do actually have empathy and in many cases have far more empathy than neurotypical people. The problems lie in communication.

1. Understanding that someone is feeling different
2. Communicating empathy.

You described an incident where your son showed empathy by hugging.  This is not unusual.  If your other son showed an obvious sign of pain (crying for example) and there was an obvious reason, such as a fall or wound, then giving him a hug is a clear and obvious response.  My children do this all the time. The most obvious "lack of empathy" comes when children don't show empathy if, for example, someone is feeling "down" for an "invisible" reason.


These are common with all kids but much more so with people with Asperger's syndrome.  I've spoken to psychologists about Minecraft specifically and everyone I've spoken to has noted a massive increase in obsession.  Something about the minecraft game appeals directly to many people with Asperger's syndrome.  Obviously being on the computer all the time is unhealthy and you'll need to find ways to moderate it.  In our case, we send our boys to scouts as this gives them some necessary life skills while also putting them into social contact with a group of kids who aren't from the same school.


Monologues are a part of obsession and again Minecraft is a very common topic. We've had many. Too many.  Not wanting to be interrupted is common too and it's hard for children with Asperger's syndrome to understand that not everyone shares the same level of interest and enthusiasm.  Of course, nobody speaks in monologues all the time and children with Asperger's engage in "normal" back and forth conversation too.

Monotone voices are common too and I can't really explain what the reason is for them. I suspect it has something to do with the fatigue generated by incessant talking.  Your son should be capable of talking with various inflections but probably not during monologues about minecraft.


Friendships and Solitude
People with Asperger's syndrome often have difficulty paying attention to multiple sources.  This means that when they're in a group, there are "too many voices". They have difficulty relating to large groups of people and will often shun social occasions such as parties.  Small-talk is also difficult, so having a single friend with which you have both a good rapport and shared interests is much better.  I have three friends who I went to school with. They are my best friends and really my only true friends. We've known each other for nearly 30 years.  Throughout my working life, I've made acquaintances but I'm always confused when they want to be friends.

Alone-time is a well documented Aspie need and often the best friend a person with Asperger's has is himself. It's quite common to talk to yourself, particularly about your interests. The idea of the conversation is not to impart information but to enjoy the sensation of talking about an interest and to explore new ideas and concepts.  In time, your son will learn to keep much of than conversation internal to avoid public scrutiny but it won't stop - it will just become less visible.


Sensory Issues
These are extremely common in everyone with Asperger's syndrome.  Some will reduce over time but others will last forever.  There are two types of sensory issues, and you've noticed both but probably don't realize that they are two sides of the same coin.  Some sensory experiences detract while other attract. This means that some things, such as labels, noises, smells and lights will cause your son discomfort while others will actually be enjoyed - and sought out. This "enjoyment" of sensations is called stimming and it's where rocking comes into autism. You might not realize it but echolia (repeating phrases from TV and movies - or prior conversations) is actually an enjoyed sensation, a form of stimming.


There are many co-conditions with Asperger's syndrome and OCD is one of the most common. Change resistance and the need for a rigid schedule are different facets of OCD and it's very normal for them to occur together.


Social Issues
People with Asperger's syndrome have lots of social issues. These are mainly due to miscommunication such as misunderstanding of "common" trite phrases, misreading of facial expressions and tones and missing other social cues such as dress codes.

At the same time, there are problems caused by a misunderstanding of social behavior  For example; it's a nice day, the sun is shining and the birds are singing - and yet most conversations start with a pathetic statement of the obvious; "It's a beautiful day isn't it?" or "lovely weather we're having". Your son will eventually learn that most conversations start this way but he won't understand why.  He will most likely consider this to be "silly behavior  and even though he understands the reason, will not engage people that way.  After all, it makes sense to him to get to the interesting part of the conversation, minecraft for instance.

Finally there are those little white social lies that we tell each other every day.  "How are you?" we are asked, to which the general answer is "fine." - even if you're not fine.  Then there's the question, "What are you thinking about?".  There are many answers to this but "nothing" is usually a preferable answer to "minecraft" particularly if you're in a social, emotional or religious situation.  People with Asperger's syndrome often find lying very uncomfortable because it goes against a major rule "no lying".  This often means them to act like they have "no filter" and tell everyone, everything.


Depression and Anxiety.
Depression is a common trait in people with Asperger's syndrome. How could they not be depressed when the world doesn't understand them, doesn't connect emotionally to them and doesn't understand the things which drive them. Your son will be finding that for some reason he registers as "different" to his classmates and that he's often excluded or considered "annoying" for reasons he doesn't understand.  He may like the academic side of school but hate the social interaction of his peers.

Depression often goes hand-in-hand with anxiety, for the same reasons.  If you're dreading an interaction with your peers or a particular class or lunchtime social, then you become anxious even thinking about it.  Fleeing from the school may even become an attractive option.


Don't be too concerned about Asperger's Syndrome as it's not necessarily bad news. Most of the greatest thinkers and innovators in history have had Aspergers Syndrome - and plenty more people whom you haven't heard of have made spectacular contributions to society or to their workplace.


The important thing to remember is that your son is unchanged by any label you apply to him. He's still the boy you've raised. A label will simply help him to get more funding and support - and eventually, to better understand himself.


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

That "Blue" Day

Today is April 2nd. It's the international "Autism Awareness Day". People are encouraged to wear blue to show their support of this "awareness" and many bloggers will post every single day throughout the month to raise "awareness".

I'm not one of those bloggers.

My posts will come out as and when I have relevant and useful material to contribute.  

It's rare that I interrupt a series of  posts for a specific event but I thought I should talk about the whole Autism Awareness thing.

I'm all for the world understanding and accepting and loving people with autism - in fact, I'd extend the whole courtesy to people without autism too. To cats, dogs, mice, lizards and plants.  I suppose that it's a nice gesture but to me, the whole blue thing is as irritating as those "baby on board" signs. You know the signs on cars that make you wonder what you're supposed to do?  Cooo as you go past? Offer milk?

The problem with the whole "Autism Awareness" thing (and it's called other names too; Autism Appreciation, Autism Acceptance, Autism Bubble Day etc), is that it's all about the condition - not the people.  No, I'm  not suggesting that we call it; "Person with Autism Awareness Day" because that would be both pedantic and superflous.

Instead, I'm suggesting that we make it more useful. Why not make it "Do a deed for a person with Autism" month. Just one deed, that would nice.

Ideas could include;

  • Encouraging or motivating a person with autism.
  • Giving someone a chance in a job interview
  • If you're a teacher, maybe talking to the class about the positives of autism
  • Providing support to a family with a member with autism
  • Spending some time as a friend with someone with autism
  • Listening to someone with autism

Instead of spending the day telling the world that if a person has autism, others have to "grit their teeth and just accept it", why not spend the day helping a person with autism forget that they live in a world in which they are considered an underdog.