Saturday, January 21, 2017

How the Fitbit can help people with Special Needs

Only a few years back, I remember saying that I'd never need to wear a watch again because the date and time was on my phone, which I carry everywhere. About two years ago I picked up a Fitbit Charge HR on a whim and it's been my faithful companion ever since. 

Recently I had an issue with it and I was without the device for a couple of weeks. I was surprised by how much I missed it while it was gone. 

It got me thinking about how exactly it was adding value to my life.

What I Use

The fitbit I use is one of the smallest and cheapest devices, the Fitbit Charge HR. I got it because I was interested in a fitbit and because my family has a history of heart disease. I chose the model just above the base because it supported heart rate monitoring.

The device is paired to my home computer and to my apple iPhone (I personally prefer android but my work phone is currently apple).

We also have a phone system at work which can be set to ring your mobile and desk phone at the same time. That's turned on for me permanently.

Benefits for the Hearing Impaired

One of the most unexpected benefits of the fitbit was to do with my hearing loss.

I can't hear my mobile phone ringing and often I'm so absorbed in tasks at work that I can't hear my desk phone ringing either. I used to miss a lot of phone calls. I ended up putting the phone on vibrate only since there's no point in annoying my co-workers with sounds that I can't hear. Of course, unless I have the phone in direct contact with my skin, I usually don't notice it vibrating on the table.

That all changed once I got the fitbit. What I discovered was that when I paired the fitbit with my iphone, it vibrates on my wrist whenever the phone rings. What's more, it displays the identity (name or phone number) of the caller. It means that I don't miss calls now and on the odd occasion that I do (like when my phone is buried under a pile of paper somewhere), I usually know who called me because their name displayed on my wrist.

Even better, since my desk and mobile phones ring at the same time, I now find that I pick up my desk phone seconds before it actually rings because I've felt it on my wrist.

It's a feature that I really can't live without now. 

The other feature I love are the silent alarms. You can set the alarm to go off (vibrate) on just specific days of the week. In my case, I have an alarm in the mornings but only on weekdays. I love this feature because sometimes I sleep through the noise of my alarm.

My wife however is the biggest fan of this feature because it means that she doesn't get woken up by a super-loud alarm designed for my poor hearing. 

Benefits for people on the Autism Spectrum.

The fitbit has a lot of benefits designed for everyone but I feel that a few of these are particularly suitable for people on the autism spectrum.

I love the way the device provides encouragement and rewards to exercise. It makes exercise fun and challenging without necessarily making it a team effort. Given that many people on the spectrum are loners, having a way to get rewarded for individual behaviours is good.

Being able to set five day exercise goals as well as daily goals is good too because I find it gives me something to strive for. If I have one bad day, I feel like I can try to make it up on the other days. 

People on the autism spectrum often get so absorbed by their special interests that they forget to exercise. The fitbit counters this nicely.

Then there's the band. It's rubber but I find it (and the clock-face) much lighter than other watches. I'm also less inclined to bang into things or get it caught on things as I walk - I have killed a lot of watches in the past just by misjudging the size of entryways.

One thing that isn't too clear in the manuals is that you're not supposed to wear the fitbit tightly. You're supposed to give your skin room to breathe. Like many people on the spectrum, I've got a high sensitivity to touch and this looseness works particularly well for me. 

The silent alarms feature means that you can trigger alarms while in busy areas.  This means that they good for reminders, for example; to take medications or even as "reminders to concentrate in class".

If your child on the spectrum has a "sleepy period" in the afternoons, consider setting a silent alarm to remind them wake up and concentrate. 

There's a lot of other things that you can do with the fitbit, such as tracking food and water consumption. It all meshes quite nicely with the phone and internet control panels.  For the most part, I don't personally use those extended features but it's good to know that they're available should I need them.

Why Fitbit?

Actually, this is quite a good question for which I have no answer. I bought the device to encourage myself to do more walking. I chose the fitbit because two years ago, it was probably the best known of the cheaper brands of device.

As far as I'm concerned, it's a great product and it works extremely well. I haven't tried devices from other vendors but I'm very happy with Fitbit and with their support team who helped me when I had problems.

Would I buy a fitbit again?  Absolutely. I'm eyeing up the waterproof models already.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Elastic Style Asperger’s and Neurotypical Relationships

Early relationships with people who have Asperger's syndrome quite often take on some very “elastic” properties. Sometimes they're really close and at other times they're quite distant. Sometimes it seems that the closer their neurotypical partner gets, the more the partner with Aspergers pulls away.

In this post, I want to look at the reasons for this behaviour.

Establishing the initial relationship 

For the most part people with Aspergers tend to be more introverted or at least, less comfortable around others. This makes it very difficult to establish the relationship.

Dropping hints generally won't work and person with Aspergers is likely to either completely miss any “signals” or alternatively, interpret literally everything as some kind of signal.

The best way to get the attention of someone with Aspergers is to “say what you want”. State your intentions clearly and concisely, leaving no room for error or misinterpretation. If you find it difficult to be open and honest about what you want in a relationship, write it down. 

The Honeymoon Stage

All relationships tend to start with a glorious “honeymoon period” which is when everything is new and interesting - and where both partners put everything that they possibly can into making the relationship work.

The honeymoon period is a very important part of any relationship because it lets both partners see what is possible under the very best of circumstances.

Of course, if things don't go well in the honeymoon stage, it's a good sign that the relationship isn't meant to be. Relationships settle but rarely show drastic improvements after the first few months - at least not without significant personal change.

In Aspergers relationships, the honeymoon period is doubly important because despite the “fakery” which is common in neurotypical relationships, this is often the best, and sometimes only, glimpse that their partners get of their “true selves”.

That's not to suggest that there's no fakery involved. The partner with Aspergers is usually doing their best to be as “social” as possible and it usually takes quite a bit of effort. It's not a level of social activity that they can maintain for long periods but it is the time when they’re the most communicative.

When Reality Takes Hold 

After the honeymoon period is over, both partners will usually be deeply in love and the relationship will seem to need less work. It's common for all partners to back off a little and the flaws in the relationship and their partners become more visible.

If your partner has Asperger’s, this is the time when they will be trying to recover from “social overload”. It means that they may completely “back off” and may try to avoid all social contact.

Often due to the stress of maintaining the relationship, they will lose confidence in their ability to continue. This is mainly because they're unable to find a way to meet their partners expectations due to exhaustion.

One of the big problems here is that they're generally responsible for the unrealistic expectations of their partners due to their “pretense” during the honeymoon period. Of course, their partners might be more understanding if they knew what was going on.

Unfortunately it's rare that people with Asperger's fully understand the reasons for their own defensive responses. It takes many years of experience and inward focus to really understand how Asperger’s affects oneself. It's very unlikely that a partner with Asperger’s could explain these feelings and motivations to someone else.

Solidifying the Relationship 

The way forward in the relationship is via discussion, compromise and understanding but it's a journey that only works if both partners are willing to adapt and change.

One of the first things to do is to establish regular and open relationship communication. There are two important things here;

  1. Regular communication: You must communicate regularly. It doesn’t have to be daily but it certainly should be at least more than once per week. If you both lead busy lives, then set aside some time when you know that both of you will be available, for example, 7pm - 8pm Monday, Wednesday and Friday.  Make sure that you take it in turns to be the one to initiate a phone call during that time and make sure that you are available. Don’t take other people’s calls or commitments on during your “couples time”.
  2. Open communication. You must be open to any kind of discussion during your communication period. If a sore topic comes up, you must be able to at least say why it’s a sore topic and why you don’t feel like talking about it.  Remember that you can also reschedule topics that you need time to think about, (for example, “can we discuss this one on Friday?”).  If you find verbal communication on some topics to be too scary or embarrassing, then agree to write a love letter or email instead. 

You need to also be thinking about your partner and your own role in the relatonship and you need to be willing to adapt and change and compromise.  For example, if your partner wants more social contact with you but you don’t feel that you can “face the world”, agree to have a “quiet night” where you go to their place (or they come to yours) and you have take-out and watch a movie at home. This is good quality couple time but it’s also low stress.

It doesn't end there though. The nature of relationships are that they are constantly changing as people and their environments change. In order to survive in the long term, relationships need to be re-evaluated regularly. They need constant work, communication and compromise.