Monday, March 21, 2016

Do People with Asperger's Syndrome have Difficulty telling Left from Right?

Ever since I was a little kid, I have had problems distinguishing left from right. I always assumed that it was “just me” but recently I've found that a lot of people with Asperger’s have the same problem.  

It might be an Asperger’s thing. It might be an “everyone” thing … or it might be a “nerd thing”. Who knows?

All I know is that although I never actually get my left and right mixed up these days,  if someone asks me to raise my left hand,  there's a noticeable delay between the instruction and my compliance. In fact,  I usually have to mimic writing  (I'm left handed), in order to identify the correct hand.

It's been that way for as long as I can remember.

Growing Up

As a child, I was always the first one to get out in games like “Simon says” but I had always thought that it was something to do with being deaf.  Even when I could hear the teachers perfectly well I still had to look at the other students before I could make a move - and even then,  I'd often copy it wrong.

This was a problem that pretty much disappeared as I reached adulthood and I naturally presumed that I had conquered it. After all, as I said earlier,  I don't get the directions wrong.. just slower and once you’re in real life situations rather than games, reaction times for left and right are less critical.

The problem did crop up a few times during my stint as a cub scout leader but again I put it down to poor hearing and the idea that I'm simply not very good at certain types of games. In any case, as the leader, I wasn't involved in actually “playing” the games very often.

What changed my mind on the whole thing was joining a Karate group and also doing some classes at the gym.


At karate, I can usually hear the sensei when he barks out orders but when they involve left and right, I still have to look at the others when they move in order to get my reaction time up. 

What is interesting though is that I have no problems with the Kata (memorised sequences of moves) because they’re always the same moves. My problems occur when sensei is taking us through stretching exercises and he says stretch your right arm.  Usually it’s not a problem but sometimes he switches the order that he does things, right first, and then left. When he does that he always catches me out. Usually nobody else, just me.

The other interesting thing about Karate is that I've found that the only way I can mimic new moves as the sensei teaches us is to turn my body to face the same direction as his (while he is demonstrating) and then match my arms and legs with his. I can't look at him and easily reverse the movements and I can't do it all in one go.  I have to do each part of the procedure individually - I can’t look once and automatically decide that he has both his right arm and right leg out. It’s a painstaking process that I never see the other karate people doing.

The Gym

The gym class made everything much clearer. I mean it’s obvious that being a newbie at a high intensity class means that you’re going to be slower than everyone around you. It also means that you’re going to put the wrong leg out occasionally… more than occasionally.

In my case, I found that I couldn't match my movements to anyone. By the time I’d identified which leg they put out and put mine out, they had the other leg out. After a while, I started trying to identify the arm or leg that wasn't moving and trying to put that out instead. It worked a little better.

Of course, as things warmed up, I found that I couldn't match the speed of the class but mostly that I couldn't think about my arms and my legs at the same time. When I think about it, I suspect that it was evidence of issues in my vestibular system.  Not so much balance as spatial orientation.

A Test

Since I have two kids with Asperger’s syndrome (and they’re very different), I basically have my own “home laboratory” for  certain kinds of social tests. I decided to run a couple of quick tests with my boys (and with my wife).

  • Throwing an object and saying “catch this with your left hand” - this places a sense of urgency on the test and prevents a delayed but correct response from upsetting the results.
  • Asking the kids to touch their right foot when they’re sitting on their feet (or sitting cross-legged).
  • Asking them to pick something up with their right hand when they were walking past it. 

What was interesting was that my youngest (12) got everything right first go, as did my wife. My eldest son (15) nearly always got things wrong.

There’s clearly something there that’s a clear difference between the two kids. It’s obviously not a core part of Asperger’s syndrome but it’s possible that it’s a co-condition.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Book Review: Living, Loving and Laughing with Asperger's (Volume 1) by Dave Angel

Living, Loving and Laughing with Asperger's: 52 tips, stories and inspirational ideas for parents of children with Asperger's (Volume 1) by Dave Angel is a free ebook which is well worth reading.

At 134 pages, it's fairly light reading and since most articles run for 1 and a half pages, it's very easy to pick up and put down. It makes great reading while You're waiting for someone or using public transport.

The book itself is divided into three sections, the first and in my opinion, the best, section contains 26 tips from Dave. The second section contains another 19 reader-submitted tips and the last section, which is thankfully short contains 7 real life stories.

I can't say that I liked the last section which felt “braggy”, with parents and grandparents basically saying how great their kids are. As a parent of two boys who struggle both socially and academically, I don't really enjoy hearing how great other kids are. The first two sections of the book however are great - and they comprise the bulk of the book.

The book covers a whole range of topics aimed at people of various ages though particularly for parents of pre-teen children. Of course there's some good material here for parents of older children too. It covers a vast array of topics including; social skills, using lists and charts,special interests, mentors, communicating with teachers, advocacy, business, homework, sensory issues, food, meltdowns and vacations.

Dave has been writing about Asperger's since 2006 on his blog at and most of these tips come from his daily emails. If you've been following his site for a while, there's not a lot that's particularly new here but it is very handy to have all the tips collected in a single resource.

If you're new to Dave’s site then this is a great introduction.

Living, Loving and Laughing with Asperger's: 52 tips, stories and inspirational ideas for parents of children with Asperger's (Volume 1) by Dave Angel is available free of charge from Amazon USAmazon UK and Amazon Australia.  It's also available as a direct ePub download from Smashwords.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Anxiety Presents in Different Ways

Anxiety is a constant companion in our family. Both of my kids suffer badly from anxiety and it affects many aspects of their lives. As parents, we do our best to spot potential anxiety-inducing events ahead of time and either avoid them altogether or at least adjust our kids’ perceptions of those events to reduce the impact.

The anxiety that my eldest son reacts most to comes from direct environmental factors which impact his senses. For example, some sounds, sights, smells, touch, taste, texture and spacial awareness.  In particular, anything that could cause pain is a high anxiety event, even if it doesn't actually cause any pain.

As a result, many things are a nightmare, mealtimes for example, where the merest differences in texture (or sign, smell or God forbid, taste) will render even the tastiest of meals inedible.

My son loves McDonalds but is yet to eat a hamburger, he lives off chicken nuggets and fries. Similarly, when it comes to pizza, we're still trying to move past cheese pizzas to ones that actually have toppings on them. He's sixteen by the way.

Don't get me started on dentists or doctors or needles either. These are uncomfortable events for most families but in our case, you'd think we were taking him out for execution. It's only been a few years since we managed to get him to accept the barber’s clippers.

Everything we do needs to take his anxiety into account. Everything is about planning. You might think that he's being “babied” but that's not the case. 

We dig our heels in when things don't matter, for example, on the pizzas. Depending upon how far we go, one of two things happens; if we push lightly, for example, via a pepperoni pizza, he’ll simply pick the top off and discard it. If we push too hard; chicken and mushroom pizza, for example, he’ll simply refuse to eat. I can tell you from experience that nothing will make a sixteen year old eat if they don't want to.

Forcefully pushing through the anxiety is out of the question too. Don't even think about it - or if you do, ask yourself how putting a claustrophobic person in a box would help them - because it amounts to the same thing.

Having two sons of the spectrum affords me many opportunities, some of which I could do without. On the anxiety front, it affords me the privilege of seeing two entirely different types of anxiety.

My younger son, aged 13 experiences anxiety quite differently. He has more “social anxiety” and reacts poorly to groups of people and to changes of schedule.

While most other students look forward to non-academic days, such as sports carnivals, these cause him a great deal of distress. So much so that after he refused to get out of the car a few times, we decided to keep him at home for all (immediate) future events.

Obviously this kind of avoidance can’t go on forever and so, as part of his starting secondary school, he’s been told that he must go to these events - at least to socialise, even if he doesn't participate. So far, this seems to be working out well for us. 

The key of course, to dealing with anxiety is to anticipate, and in so far as is possible, to plan ahead. 

My latest post over at Special-Ism covers this topic in detail, hop over to have a read;