Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Changing Yourself - Part 1 Be Adventurous, Become Independent

I often find myself writing articles aimed at promoting understanding between people with Asperger's syndrome and people without. Usually my posts explain a particular reaction or an expression and nearly always, I'm asking for partners to be more understanding of differences rather than to make changes to themselves.

Today is going to be different. Today I want to talk to you, to people with Asperger's Syndrome, about how some personal changes can make a real difference to your life.

Asperger's syndrome can present many challenges. In particular, sensitivities to noise, smell and light can make it very difficult to perform "normal everyday" tasks. Parenting and teaching styles can also impact how children interact with their peers and their environment on a permanent basis.

A child who is "mollycoddled" may grow up to be less adventurous than his peers. He may be less inclined to take risks and more inclined to follow routines. He may even begin to develop dependencies on objects, for example a "medical kit" and may become unable to leave the house without following a specific routine and taking specific objects.

In children with Asperger's syndrome, this reliance upon routine is much stronger and has a good chance of following them into adulthood.

This results in fearful and often "housebound" adults.

Obviously, adults with these issues tend to find it difficult to work and to relate to others. They may also need to take more time off than others in the same jobs and they may be unable to cope with even low amounts of stress. This in turn makes it harder for them to find a job, or to keep one. Of course, in the long run, money problems often lead to independence problems.

It's a vicious cycle.

A Little Disclaiming 
I think it would be very easy for someone to read between the lines here and assume that I'm suggesting that I'm talking about causation. That parenting a certain way "causes autism". It doesn't. There was a theory for this called "refrigerator mothers". It's wrong. I'm not saying that anything causes anything.  

I'm trying to suggest that we may be able to reduce the intensity of some of these issues with a little "exercise". I don't expect that this will work in all cases but surely it's worth a try.

Making Changes
If you're a parent and the person with increasing anxiety is a child then you're in a good position to intervene and make a lasting positive change. Some of the things that you can do to help the change are to encourage your child to use public transport to get home from school  (ideally for kids aged 13 and older), join a club with similarly aged individuals, for example;  scouts or join groups who share similar interests such as computing, chess, reading, drama or cinema. It doesn't matter if your child doesn't seem to learn anything from the group,  it's all about developing social skills and the confidence to mingle with others. Of course, if you detect that your child is receiving negative feedback, such as bullying, from the mingling, then should not force them to continue. It has to be a positive experience.

These options are good if you're an adult too. If you're not ready for work then at least get involved in either volunteer or educational opportunities. If you're strapped for cash, remember that taking a walk around your neighbourhood costs nothing.  The worst thing that you can do is to stay at home and avoid contact with others. 

Confidence and social contact are like muscles. once you stop exercising them, they quickly grow weaker.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Book Review: Temple Talks... about Autism and Sensory Issues by Temple Grandin

Temple Grandin is essentially the "mother" of modern autism. She's arguably the person most responsible for the recognition of autism as a condition which can not only be "lived with" but which provides benefits not otherwise found in society.

Who is Temple Grandin?
If you're wondering who Temple Grandin is, I'd like to direct your attention to the excellent 2010 HBO film starring Claire Danes. It's well worth a watch and will give you a great understanding and appreciation of Temple's place in the world of autism. You can watch the Trailer for the film here.

Temple Talks
You can't get very far in autism research without discovering Temple Grandin and I think it's only fair to say that everyone connected to autism, to Asperger's syndrome or to Sensory processing difficulty should read at least one Temple Grandin book.

Of course, not everyone is a reader and even among avid readers, it's not always easy to find the time to sit down and read, particularly if you're also a carer for a child on the autism spectrum.

That's where this book comes in handy. At 45 pages of text followed by 75 pages of short questions and answers, this book is a breeze to read and very easy to pick up and put down at a moments notice.

If you have already read one of Temple's other books, such as the excellent "Temple Grandin: The Way I See it" then you probably won't learn anything new here (although this is a handy reference and much easier to carry).

If you haven't read one of Temple's books before then this one is a great place to start. It's packed with information and tips all geared towards helping your child to make the most of the opportunities that life presents. It's mainly aimed at children between the ages of five and about sixteen but there is still information which is relevant to younger children and some discussions, such as driving and working are relevant to adults.

The only quibbles I have are that Temple is very much a product of her time and sometimes her age seems to show with an aversion to technology, and possibly too much focus on "manners" for the modern world. 

These more dated tips are admittedly, given for the right reasons but as Temple hasn't raised kids herself she doesn't anticipate the "backlash" that kids of today have or the lack of modern options for dealing with it.

Quibbles aside, this is an excellent book, which is particularly well suited to busy parents and those less enthusiastic about reading.

It's also one of those books that belongs in the waiting rooms of developmental paediatricians everywhere because the layout and wonderfully indexed front pages mean that it can be read so quickly or used to randomly jump from one topic to another. It will also answer so many of the most common questions that parent have about raising a child with autism.

Temple Talks... about Autism and Sensory Issues: The World's Leading Expert on Autism Shares Her Advice and Experiences by Dr. Temple Grandin is available from Sensory World and either a paperback or an eBook.

It's a great "first" Temple book.

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