Sunday, July 14, 2019

Forget "Normal" - Set Personal Goals for a Happier Life

There's no doubt about it, autism, Asperger's syndrome and all of the associated co-conditions including ADHD/ADD, anxiety, OCD, ODD, Bi-Polar disorder and BPD can really make it difficult to live "normally".

People seem to be obsessed with living a "normal" life instead of trying to live a happy one. Sometimes these things can co-exist but most of the time they do not.

In this post, I want to go over some of the ways you can adjust your life goals to find happiness.

The Trouble with being "Normal"

Unless you fit a certain restricted set of cultural, racial, sexual, economic and medical criteria, you're not "normal". This is a sad fact of life and one that's usually beyond our control to change. I'm not here to talk about most of these restrictions. I acknowledge that they're important but I'm just here to talk about the neurological part of being "normal".

These neurological differences make it difficult to find work and keep it. To build relationships and keep them and to find happiness and keep it. It's not impossible but sometimes the amount of work required to do these things is so insurmountable as to be too difficult for everyday living.

Often it drives us to the edge -- and sometimes it drives us over. 

While it's clear that society itself needs to change, history has shown that these changes can take several lifetimes to have the desired effect.

Source: Bloomberg This is how fast America Changes its Mind (2015)

Personal change however is something that you have much more control over. It's achievable and if done with care and purpose, it can lead to a happier life.

Define the new "Normal"

Advocates love using the phrase "normal is just a dryer setting" but what does it really mean?

It means that "normal" is as individual as the self.  You need to stop worrying about what is "normal" for other people and work out what is normal for you.

If you ask them, most people will define "normal" lives in terms of a bunch of stages;
  • Birth
  • School, High School
  • College / University
  • Work
  • Marriage and Family 
  • Retirement
  • Death
Apart from the first and last of these stages, there's nothing that says that these steps need to be your personal life-goals or that they have to occur in the order that's specified.

As a general rule, I'd start by amending these goals to simply;
  • Birth
  • Happiness
  • Death
You'll want to flesh out what happiness actually means to you but now at least the pressure is off and the main goal in life is to happy. 

Be Realistic about your Goals

Happiness by itself is a great thing to strive for but as a lifetime goal, it's a little too vague. You need to determine what it is that you need in order to be happy.

We all have similar overall "needs"; education, relationships, housing, work, assets and leisure.


Education is a fairly common need and most of us will have completed at least the basics in the "normal" way, at school. Depending upon socio-economic circumstances and academic prowess, you may or may not have advanced beyond this. It doesn't matter. Throughout our lives, we never stop learning. You can pick up new skills at any point during your life. You really can teach an old dog new tricks. 

Age is no barrier to education
There are two very important factors to keep in mind with regards to education;

  • Education isn't simply a career step:  If you're doing a class simply because you think it will "get you a job" then think again. If your heart isn't in it, you won't do well. Education does not guarantee work.  If work is a critical goal, then consider trying to get work before worrying about further education.
  • Certifications aren't always important: Don't let worries about your performance in exams prevent you from trying new things. The end result is not as important as the journey. If you're open to this, you'll find plenty of FREE education online and plenty of low-cost courses at community colleges. 
Find your special interests and study the things you love.  It may not make you rich but it will make you happy.


In today/s society, there's a lot of pressure on young people to get boyfriends/girlfriends and to pass through the various stages of relationships which ultimately end up in procreation. What people don't tell you is that not everyone needs to be a parent. Not every relationship needs to be between a boy and a girl and that not being "with someone" is not the same as being unable to have a relationship.

Some people, particularly men, place far too much emphasis on the sexual side of relationships to the point where they become so "needy" that they're actually dangerous to others.  A good example of one of these dangerous groups is the "incel" group; the "involuntary celibate" group who don't seem to realize that the "creepiness" of their nature and intent is the very reason why they can't find a date.

Groups like this can be very dangerous.

Be clear about what you are seeking. If you're looking for sex, you may not actually be looking for a relationship. Instead of focusing on what everyone else has, or on what a group of others think is an idea, concentrate on what you as a person want, how much you're willing to contribute to a relationship and whether your goals in this area are realistic. 

You'll find that people who are generally happy and fun to be around will attract others who are seeking happiness.

Housing and Living Conditions

Housing is one of the basic needs of life. Everyone needs a place where they can feel safe, store their belongings and sleep without worrying that they'll suddenly have to defend themselves against attack.

Basic housing and living is a human right -- and in most (western) circumstances, it should be achievable depending upon the amount of government support available in your area. Unfortunately, you can't control other people in sometimes other residents do not respect your boundaries.

While many people dream of living in a giant spaciously furnished house, the reality is that this lifestyle is often completely out of reach. Your goals in terms of housing should start off simple;

  1. Safety for you and your possessions, 
  2. Access to things you need, such as power, water, communications, transport, food and shops.

If you're living anywhere in the western world, chances are that you're already living a more comfortable life than most of the world's population. 

Group homes can be a good option for people on the autism spectrum who find that they can't fully support themselves but they need to be selected carefully. Individuals who don't respect the privacy and possessions of others should not stay in these places and there needs to be someone who can oversee and resolve any of these kinds of disputes before they get "ugly".


There are two major reasons why we work. The first is to earn enough money to support ourselves in life and the pursuit of our interests. The second is to get the feeling that we're contributing back to society.

"Normal" work is not always possible for people on the spectrum. Sometimes the various social or sensory issues that come with autism get in the way and sometimes there just aren't enough jobs to go around.

One of the most common challenges of work in the western world is the issue of being "over-qualified". People with autism can sometimes be particularly skilled in their special interest areas but may find it impossible to get a job. It's very important to realize that qualifications alone will not get you a job. You can however significantly increase your chances of getting a job by working in the field while you're doing your degree or certificate.
It's been widely reported that people on the autism spectrum often find employment impossible. In the western world, where there's a degree of government support, this will place a cap on your lifestyle but will not make life impossible. In other parts of the world however, the consequences can be more severe.

If you find yourself supported but without paid employment, don't let this stop you from contributing to society. People without employment who retreat from society risk making their other issues unmanageable. You'll feel much better if you have a regular routine, contribute and feel valued by others. 

To do this, follow your special interests and where possible join local groups which in some way border on your special interests. Volunteer work will go a long way towards giving you a feeling of purpose and it may lead on to real job opportunities.

Assets and Leisure 

The last needs which drive happiness are the freedom to do things that you enjoy. This may be in the form of assets, such as collecting or owning items that you desire or in the ability to do activities that you want to do.

Once again, the problems of autism can reduce your capabilities in this area. This may be because you don't earn enough to buy what you want, don't have a safe place to store it or can't go to places because of various sensitivities or executive functioning issues.

It's important that you don't strive for things that are obviously far out of your reach (strive for a car, not a Porsche) but that you continue to strive for things that you want. The more you strive, the more you'll find your reach will extend and the closer you'll get to your goals.

Be flexible and allow for those goals to change -- and remember to celebrate the little victories too.

Keeping Happy

The things that give you happiness will change over the years, so you'll want to revise your goals accordingly.  In your younger years, you might be more concerned with assets but you may find that this shifts towards family as you get older.

Think about what you can achieve rather than what you can't and try to take opportunities as they arise. If you miss a good opportunity, don't berate yourself. This happens to everyone. Just make a deal with yourself to jump on the next opportunity when it arises.

If you find that general life stories are getting you down, you'll discover that it helps to shield yourself from bad news. Personally, I find that reading news stories about social injustice only makes me annoyed. If I'm already in a bad mood, I avoid the news entirely. 

Remember that this is your path, not the path of others. You must walk it differently and not try to compare your progress with your peers. If you find that the good fortunes of others weigh upon you heavily, consider getting off social media like Facebook as people mainly post positive (and fake) news about themselves there. Sometimes it can become very distracting.

No matter what happens, we only get one shot at life, so if you experience a little failure, keep trying and remember, there's always someone out there who's willing to help but sometimes you have to ask before they realize that they're in a position to give it. 

Monday, June 10, 2019

Teaching Responsibility to kids with Autism

When you have kids at school, it's fairly common for them to go on overnight excursions and come home with many of the wrong items in their luggage or without phones, chargers backpacks etc. 

This sort of behaviour should be well and truly disappearing by about age 15 but some kids particularly those with autism, may carry it on much later in life. Sometimes into their twenties and beyond. 

In this post, I want to look at some of the techniques for reducing this behaviour.

The Three Categories

When travelling, kids generally fall into three broad categories;

  • The ones who never actually unpack their bags
    These kids will live, sleep and sometimes even swim in the same clothes while on an excursion or camp. They're usually oblivious to the smell and will say that their mother forgot to pack items without ever having unzipped their bags to check.  They rarely leave anything behind.
  • The ones who are excessively neat
    These kids will fold everything sharply and put it back into their bags. On paper, they sound like the best kids in the world. Unfortunately, this excessive neatness can often be a warning sign of other neuroses.
  • The kids who throw their gear everywhere
    These kids make a giant mess and it's little wonder that their clothes eventually end up missing under the bed, tangled up in blankets or in the luggage of other kids. They don't actually know or care about which clothes are theirs. When packing, they simply shove everything in sight back into their bags. These are the kids who always lose clothes and who always bring a whole heap of clothes home which aren’t theirs.

Losing Clothes

Regardless of behaviour modification, putting your child’s name and phone number on everything will significantly increase the return rate but there’s also a few things you can teach your kids so that things don’t get lost in the first place. 

It’s in your best interest to drum into them, a procedure for getting changed at an early age. At home this is easy, you simply put a washing basket in their bedroom and teach them to put clothes in it when they take them off. It sounds easy but it's at least six months of daily teaching.

When they're on a camp, it's not so easy but if you've already got the basket concept working, you can lean on this by providing a small bag that is brightly coloured and telling them that this is their "washing basket" when they're away from home. It's even better if the bag can be attached to their bed where it's in plain sight all the time.  It's somewhat more difficult in tents.

If you can, switch to the coloured bag at home for a few weeks before their trip just to get them used to the idea. 

Losing Objects

When kids go away camping, they tend to lose objects like phones, watches, chargers, torches, video games, scouting gear such as compasses etc.

Obviously again, putting their name on everything is the very best first step.

Aside from that however you need to ask yourself what they really need.  If you child is going on a school or scout camp, it’s best NOT to let them take phones, games or expensive watches. Not only are these usually unsuited for rough, wet environments but they also tend to interfere with the development of social skills. You'll also find that on well-run camps, the program is so active that it leaves little time for playing with technology.

Unless it’s specifically a technology camp, try to leave the technology at home. 

Of course, you still have to teach your kids to look after technology and their general non-clothing items on a day-to-day basis. One of the techniques that seems to have worked with my son is to teach him that the phrase “have you got everything” means “instant audit”.

The Instant Audit

If we say "have you got everything", it means do a check for;
  • Wallet, Watch
  • Phone/Tablet and chargers
  • Hats, sunscreen, glasses etc. 

If you find that your kids are automatically saying “yes” when asked “have you got everything”, then the next question is; 

What should you have?

They should respond with a list;

  • My watch, which is on my wrist.
  • My wallet which is in my pocket.
  • My phone which is in my hand,
  • The charger for the phone which I put in my bag just before I put it in the car today. 
  • I didn’t bring my tablet, so I don’t need to pack it. 

You may need to prompt.

Parent: "Do you have your watch?"
Child: "Yes"
Parent: "Where is it?"
Child: "On my wrist, see"

Parent: "Do you have your wallet?"
Child: "Yes"
Parent: "Where is it?"
Child: "I don't know. It might be in my bag."
Parent: "Well, that means that you don't have it do you?"
Child: "Er... No"
Parent: "Go and find it."

The teaching process takes a long time. Sometimes years.  I you persist however, it will work.


The final component in teaching kids about being responsible is to teach consequences. For example, if they left their phone at Grandma’s house, you don’t go back and get it -- especially if it’s miles away. They’ll have to get it at the next opportunity, perhaps next week.

This will lead to tantrums however it will also ensure that they don’t forget again. 

The same goes for kids who take their electronic devices on camps when they’ve specifically been told not to take them.  If the devices are damaged, don’t go out and replace them immediately, even if they’re insured or needed for school.  In particular don’t replace them with a newer/better model. You’ll only reinforce the bad behaviour.

If the device is insured and/or a new model is a possibility, introduce delays or penalties.  Perhaps they need to give up some pocket money or do some extra chores to earn the “excess”.  Whatever you do, it can’t be a smooth transition and it needs to be memorable.

You won’t be there to save your kids in every situation so it’s very important that they learn that being irresponsible has consequences -- even if the damage wasn’t strictly their fault. 

If you make a mistake and there's consequences for you, be sure to talk to your kids about it. Make sure that they understand that you're not immune to either mistakes or consequences. It's important that they see good behaviour in the way that you handle these issues.

Results in this area are not easy and they certainly aren't "instant" but over time, with age, love and persistence, it’s possible to change behaviours to make kids more responsible.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Relationship Traits that couples with Autism can learn from

I was reading an article a few weeks back on the psychological reasons why some marriages last the distance when so many others fail. 

It was a brilliant article and it suggested that there were two key traits that successful married couples display;

1. Both partners stay cool calm and collected during conversations
2. Both partners respond to their partner's bids for emotional connection

I was thinking about how good this advice was for couples in Asperger's relationships when I suddenly realised that those traits need to operate on a wider scale than simply relationships. These are key traits that affect our interactions with everyone on a day-to-day basis. 

Marriage Failures

The statistics tell an alarming story on the increasing number of failing marriages. These days, we don't seem to have enough time to even listen to each other properly, let alone work on relationship building.

In terms of global statistics, couples in Rome are most likely to stay together the longest (with an average marriage life of 18 years despite a national divorce rate of 31%).  In the US and Australia, average married life is around 12 years and the national divorce rate is just over 40%.  In Doha, the average is 5.5 years with many apparently not even consummating the marriage. It's a shocker.

It's not just about divorce though. Even couples which do manage to "stay together" often find that their marriages have devolved into "untrusting angry messes".

Many people stay together for religious reasons, or out of fear or loneliness. Sometimes they stay for their passports or for their children.  Staying together doesn't necessarily mean that the marriage is a successful one. 

In the research I was reading, the researchers did two tests on the same groups, six years apart. They divivded the later groups into "Masters" and "Disasters". The disasters group included divorced couples and those who were in chronically unhappy marriages.

Staying Cool, Calm and Collected

It's not always easy to remain cool, calm and collected through conversations. There are so many triggers that can rile people up.  I'm not suggesting that people with autism are more likely to be annoyed during conversations, only that sometimes we're under more pressure than others. Sometimes our triggers are closer to the surface.

It's been well documented that autistic people struggle with social contact and that conversations place a great many hardships upon us. These include issues of eye contact, difficulty translating body language, difficulty dealing with multiple incoming stimulus, difficulties keeping up with conversations and difficulties being "heard" or getting their responses together on time.

I've had neurotypical (normal) people tell me that conversations with autistic individuals feel too awkward and that they simply want to disengage and go talk to someone else. 

It's little wonder then that people with autism are easily provoked during conversations.There's not a lot that we can do about this when it happens but if nothing else, we can try to learn from our failures.

In the research, it was observed that;

"The problem was that the disasters showed all the signs of arousal — of being in fight-or-flight mode — in their relationships. Having a conversation sitting next to their spouse was, to their bodies, like facing off with a saber-toothed tiger."

The conversations weren't mutual sharing of thoughts and ideas but were instead attacks and counter-attacks. I've also seen this online in autism communities particularly when people get pedantic about things like "person-first" language or about aspects of their special interest.

I've seen it in the workplace where some people, not necessarily bosses, will start a conversation in a deliberately condescending tone.

There's also the matter of politics and religion. If those sorts of topics are discussed, conversations quickly devolve into attack and defence mode.

The studies also observed that the "masters had created a climate of trust and intimacy that made both of them more emotionally and thus physically comfortable."

It's so important to remember that whenever you're in a conversation with someone, you need to listen to them, engage with them and give them trust, space and freedom in order to help them to relax.

People aren't always going to say the right things -- and you're not always going to agree. Occasionally it's worth fighting about but most of the time, a cool and reasoned conversation can help you to find a middle ground that's comfortable to everyone. If nothing else, then it's okay to agree to disagree. The world would be a very boring place if we all had the same thoughts about everything. 

Bids for Emotional Connection must be met with Intimacy

Another aspect of the relationship study involved inviting couples to a bed and breakfast for an "observed holiday". The findings here were equally interesting with the relationship "masters" responding to each other's conversations with interest and intimacy. The "disasters" simply brushed off their partner's feelings or ignored them altogether.

This is a pretty common occurrence in couples where at least one is on the spectrum. It's an issue that  appears at some point in every single AS/NT (Asperger's/autism and neurotypical/normal) relationship. It's something that you need to recognise, stop and change.

On the one hand, you have partners who have Asperger's or autism and who become obsessed by special interests and routines to the point where they talk about little else. 

I can remember my mother telling my sister and I; "your father won't engage in a conversation with anyone unless it's about planes or boats". It used to be a bit of a game for us to watch his conversations and see how quickly he'd manage to steer the conversation back to his special interests. If he failed to do that, he'd quickly lose interest and leave the conversation.

The problem with this is that if you're in a long-term relationship with someone, you need to be able to talk to them about practically anything. You need to be able to respect their need for other topics of discussion -- and you need to give them time and attention. To not do so, is to be disrespectful. 

The other side of the coin is the neurotypical partner, in most cases the wife, who simply can't handle another conversation about the special interest.

There are two important points here;

1. The person on the spectrum has to work on talking about other things.
2. You married them. You knew that the special interest was part of it. You have to live with it.

You'll never stop your partner from talking about their special interest and if you close yourself off to those conversations, you're closing yourself off to your partner. If that happens, you have to acknowledge your part in the relationship breakdown. 

Of course, it's not fair for your partner to only talk to you about their special interest, so you need to make sure that you do talk about other things. Sometimes you'll need to let your partner know that they're hogging a conversation or that you're not quite up to talking about it but when you do, be gentle. Eventually they'll get the message.

Remember, if your partner thinks that something is important enough to bring up in conversation, you need to engage them by giving them attention and emotional, considered responses. This is how you show that you acknowledge and respects them.

The research showed that couples who had "turn-toward bids" 33 percent of the time were divorced after six years while those who were still together acknowledged each other in conversation 87% of the time.

Intimacy isn't just about touching and sex, it's about being there for your partner in conversations.

The "disasters" responded to only three in ten bids of intimacy from their partners, while the masters responded nine times out of ten.

Is your Impact Positive?

The study went further than simply responses to one's partner. I feel that it made some bold observations on the nature of positive and negative people;

"There's a habit of mind that the masters have, which is this: they are scanning the social environment for things they can appreciate and say thank you for. They are building this culture of respect and appreciation very purposefully. Disasters are scanning the social environment for partners' mistakes."
- John Gottman

If you're seeking relationship success, you need to focus on being a positive person. 

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Why Autistic People need to be Encouraged to "Give things a Go"

If you're the parent of a child with autism or if you work with an autistic individual, you'll often find that they're very resistant to trying new things, even if they seem to be very safe or "easy" to you. 

In this post, I want to look at why people with autism are so resistant to trying new things and why it's important to keep trying to push the barriers. The strategies that you use to push the barriers are important too and it's critical that you know when to back off and when to add a little push. 

Fear of Failure

We all have a fear of failure. Sometimes it's a very real fear of injury or embarrassment but sometimes it's just the fear of failure itself. Many people on the autism spectrum try very hard to achieve "perfection" in their lives and what might seem a simple failure to most people can become a very big deal to them.

Some people with autism torture will themselves for decades with thoughts and regrets of "failures" which others have long since forgotten. 

There's also the issues of bullying that arise from failure. People with autism are frequently victims of bullying and any public failures on their part are often remembered, or worse, filmed, by bullies for later "torture". These threats are very real.

Increased Chances of Failure (Sensory)

In some ways, people with autism may have an increased likelihood of failure when attempting something new because of their sensory issues and their low muscle tone. If a new activity relies upon strength or some other aspect of physicality, then the hyper-flexibility that some autistic individuals have can lead to easy injury as limbs bend further than they should.

If the new activity involves a lot of sensory data, including heights, problem noises or vibrations and touch, their sensory issues can make it more challenging and thus increase the likelihood of failure.

With pressure like this, it's little wonder that so many people on the spectrum simply choose not to participate.

Take a logical approach

While it's tempting to simply "not participate", this isn't really possible in our society and even when it is possible, it's not a very healthy approach. We need to work hard to get ourselves, our children and our friends on the spectrum to expand their horizons and to try new things.

The best way to do this is to take a logical approach because people on the spectrum tend to be a little more logical than most and often respond well to reasoned arguments.

These are some of the questions that need to be asked;

  1. Will doing this activity benefit me? 
  2. What are the risks? Are they excessive? Are they likely?
  3. What are the consequences of failure?
  4. What parts of the activity do I fear (all? some?)
  5. What steps can I take to remove or reduce the fear issues?
  6. What happens if I don't do this?

Reject Overly Risky Activities

You'll find that if you follow this checklist, it will be easy to reject an overly risky activity.
For example; Bungee Jumping
  1. Will doing this activity benefit me?
  2. What are the risks? Are they excessive? Are they likely? 
    Very high risk but low likelihood of accident (unless it's at an unsafe site).
  3. What are the consequences of failure?
  4. What parts of the activity do I fear (all? some?)
  5. What steps can I take to remove or reduce the fear issues?
    Nothing - Bungee Jumping is all about heights.
  6. What happens if I don't do this?
It's very clear that bungee jumping is a risky activity that provides no benefits and no consequences. If you want to do it, it's fine but if you don't want to do it, you really shouldn't feel obligated to.

Accept Necessary or Beneficial Activities

Similarly, the checklist will help you to identify activities that are beneficial to you, for example, learning to drive a forklift if you work in a warehouse.
  1. Will doing this activity benefit me?
    Yes, because I will be able to apply for a promotion and/or different duties.
  2. What are the risks? Are they excessive? Are they likely?
    Crashing, possible injury. They're not excessive but there's a reasonable likelihood (at least until you become proficient). 
  3. What are the consequences of failure?
    Most likely some broken pallets or damaged goods. Work will generally accept this.
  4. What parts of the activity do I fear (all? some?)
    Going fast and moving very large loads.
  5. What steps can I take to remove or reduce the fear issues?
    Keep to a slow speed and only lift small items until you feel confident.
  6. What happens if I don't do this?
    Depending on the job, you may not be able to work or you may not be able to advance. 
In this case, the risks are somewhat lower, though they're also more likely.  There's a clear benefit to the activity and consequences if you don't do it.  You've got ways to reduce your stress when learning the activity, so it's a worthwhile pursuit. 

Remove the consequences

In order to make an activity appear less threatening, you need to look at removing or reducing the consequences. For example, instead of a "test" being about whether or not you get a promotion at work, you need to be doing the test merely for your own satisfaction.

If the test is something that is normally done in front of peers or colleagues, then talk to your supervisor or teacher about whether or not you can "have a go" without being watched by all of those people.  It probably won't count as the "final result" but it will allow you to fail or succeed on your own terms without having to worry about onlookers or mockery from others. 

If you succeed, then you'll gain a lot of confidence. Hopefully enough to repeat the "test" in front of others if required. 

Push yourself, gently

In order to do anything new, you need to push yourself just a little into your "anxiety zone". You'll usually know how hard you can push yourself, but the aim is to take on a little bit of discomfort, not to trigger a full-scale meltdown.

You always need to have a meltdown plan in place, in case your anxiety levels get the better of you. For most things, this will simply be "stop" if it gets too much. If you can find someone who is familiar with autism and will support you if you need to stop or take a break, this is better. If not, make sure that your supervisor or teacher knows that you're stepping outside of your comfort zone and that you might not be able to complete the activity.

It's always easier to back down if you have someone on your side who understands your situation. 

Learn from mistakes

Your forays into new territory won't always be successful. In fact, there's every chance that you'll end up with a few spectacular failures along the way. You need to anticipate these and accept them for what they are.

Every failure is an opportunity for learning. 

Failures aren't necessarily a reason to give up. Sometimes, they're a reason for you to reassess a situation and think about what you could do better or differently. Sometimes, they're a sign that more preparation is needed or that additional supports are required.

Most of all, failures need to be recognised as a mark of pride, an indication that you attempted to do something that was incredibly difficult and outside of your comfort zone. Give yourself some credit for trying. 

Failures shouldn't become barriers and you shouldn't torture yourself by overthinking them. Just decide if and when you're ready to give it another shot and what you need in order to be more effective next time.

Celebrate your successes

Surprisingly, success isn't quite as important as failure. When you succeed at something, it simply works and you can give yourself a pat on the back. You don't learn nearly as much as you do from a failure. 

Nevertheless, celebrate your successes. Every little success means that you've clawed back a little of the ground on which people say "you can't do that". 

Remember; there's no such thing as can't.  There's only "not yet". You can do things on your own terms when you're ready. 

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Are we "all a little bit Autistic"?

It's a phrase which seems to really infuriate a lot of members of the autism community, "we're all a little bit autistic" and yet, there's perhaps some truth to it.  In this post, we look at what it really means, where the dividing lines are and why it can be considered offensive. 

The Autism Diagnosis

Autism is diagnosed based on a specific set of criteria from the DSM, currently version 5. You can read this criteria in its correct form all over the web and you really should follow this. In fact, you should be diagnosed by an expert.

In a "nutshell" though, autism is defined by the following;

A Communications issues;
Reductions in; back & forth conversation, eye contact, emotional communication, non-verbal communication, understanding of relationships, capability to make friends.

B Behavioural issues;
Stimming movements, echolia, resistance to change, fixed all-consuming special interests, sensory issues.

C Removing Misdiagnosis
To make sure that the right things are being diagnosed, the symptoms must;

  • Be present from an early age
  • Cause significant social impairment 
  • Not be explained by other disabilities. 

Essentially, if you have all of A and all of B and these pass the test of C, then you have autism. If you don't have all of these or if you fail the test of C, then you don't. 

Clearly we're NOT "all a little bit autistic" because you either ARE or you AREN'T. 

What People Really Mean

When people say that we're all a little bit autistic, what they really mean is that they have some of the communication issues of A or the behavioural issues of B. They generally won't have ALL of the symptoms and they won't pass the misdiagnosis tests of C.

What they're really trying to say is that everyone shares some of the traits of autism -- and that at least is true. 

The most common symptoms that non-autistic people have are;

  • Restricted and Special Interests
  • Restricted communications abilities
  • Echolia
  • Resistance to change
  • Sensory issues
Even when people have similar traits, it doesn't follow that these traits affect them to the same extent as those same traits affect people with autism. 

Lets have a closer look at some of those "shared traits".

Restricted and special interests

This trait is particularly common among of science geeks and history buffs who become so engrossed in their areas of expertise that they can talk about nothing else. It's also common to sportsmen, gamers, movie and television fandom and computer geeks. 

Many people have the odd obsession or two but people who aren't on the spectrum don't wake up and start thinking about their special interests all day. They're often not driven to obsessively collect and constantly reorganise objects relating to their interests and they don't find it almost impossible to shut those interests off when they need to do something else.

In my case, one of my driving interests is Doctor Who -- and it has been an obsession for 45 years. It's 8am on a Sunday morning as I write this, sitting in my Doctor Who pyjamas (one of several sets).  Yesterday I watched two episodes of Doctor Who and listened to another couple of audio episodes while I was hanging out the washing and doing the shopping. The topic will also have come up more than once with my wife and kids even though I consciously try to avoid it. There's probably another dozen or so other interactions with that special interest that I could mention from yesterday. 

The special interest is so all-consuming that I consciously have to work hard to not drive others insane with it.  

Restricted communications abilities

As a general rule, people with autism actually want to communicate with others but simply can't. They give off a strange "vibe" at functions which often makes others avoid them. They're too direct, too honest and too nervous. People with autism often avoid eye contact because it's actually "painful" and they have to concentrate so hard on what people are saying in order to stay in a conversation that they miss all the non-verbal cues. They miss tone, jokes, gestures and facial expressions and they quickly become tired from the exertions of "peopleing".

People with autism will often avoid conversations or gatherings but not because they don't want to be there. They avoid them because they know that it will only end in tears. No matter what they do, many types of social gatherings are simply too much for them. 

People who say that we're all a little autistic when referring to social communication usually mean that they have difficulties fitting into groups but more often, they're saying that they simply don't want to be around other people. This is quite a different thing altogether. 


A person with Echolia will find themselves stimming with noise. This could be a humming sound, it could be repeated movie or TV quotes or it could be animal noises, whistling or chanting. Echolia in autism is not simply the repetition of noise, it's the use of that motion to provide a calming influence over oneself. 

Movie and TV buffs will often repeat lines from films during conversations. People often hum or whistle while they work. These are forms of echolia but they're not quite the same as echolia in autism. They're not done so much out of the need to calm oneself but out of choice. 

Resistance to Change

Just about everyone has difficulty letting go of some things, whether it's moving office or dealing with a software upgrade where all of the menu items have changed. These are normal issues. 

Resistance to change in autism isn't about these simple problems though they can certainly contribute to the issues faced. Resistance to change in the "autism sense of the word" is about when changes that would simply annoy most people cause overwhelming waves of anger or depression which can trigger suicidal thoughts or meltdowns. 

An autistic person who experiences resistance to change may find themselves in a meltdown situation simply because their schedule has changed. This isn't a "tantrum", it's simply an uncontrolled change in their circumstances.

Sensory issues 

Everyone experiences sensory issues at one point or another. People who aren't on the autism spectrum can have sensory experiences with the strongest of inputs such as very pungent odours or a loud noise. 

Sensory issues, such as a fart in an elevator or construction noises while you're trying to sleep can be difficult to bear but they're significantly different from the full range of sensory issues experienced by a person with autism. 

Sensory issues on the autism spectrum can be strong enough to trigger a fight or flight reaction, which essentially translates to either a meltdown or a shutdown. Sometimes the "flight reaction" can cause a young child on the spectrum to flee the scene and rush headlong into danger, for example a line of traffic. 

When my eldest was about five, he was still having serious sensory issues with fans of all kinds. It was extremely dangerous to take him into a public rest room as they often had hand driers and no amount of warning could prevent others from using them. If someone turned a hand drier on in the room, he would immediately flee the scene, sometimes getting lost, sometimes running headfirst into walls or tapware. 

Neurotypical (normal) people experience sensory issues as "uncomfortable" but for a person on the spectrum, those sensory issues can very dangerous - even life threatening.

Why it can be Offensive

Personally, I rarely take offence to anyone saying the wrong things about autism. I see these moments as opportunities to educate the wider public and help my peers on the spectrum. There are exceptions of course, vaccination people and curebies being good examples.  Others however will find the phrase "we're all a little bit autistic" to be very offensive.

So, why is this offensive? 

Well as you can see, the traits that neurotypical (normal) people generally associate in themselves as being similar to those of autistic people really aren't all that similar at all.

It's akin to sitting on your leg for a while until it goes numb, then trying to stand on it, failing and saying to a person in a wheelchair, "we're all a bit disabled really". 

Yeah. Put like that it is a bit offensive. 

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Asperger's and Bullying - Running Away isn't the Answer

Like many bloggers I have a stash of topics that I keep for later because they're too raw, too "popular" or too difficult to think about at the time. I often look back at these to see if they gel with my experiences of the week. In this case, I looked back over an article about the bullying and savage attack of a boy with Asperger's Syndrome in Melbourne, Australia.

This struck a chord with me because this week, I responded to a post from a mother who was talking about moving to a different city because her son was being bullied. 

I've talked about bullying quite a bit on this blog before but this time I want to talk about why running from the problem is counter-productive and go over some options for dealing with bullies in their own environment.

Why Running is Futile

Short term running is fine. If your life actually is in danger, or if you're about to be physically assaulted, then by all means, run away from that current situation.

The best places to run to are crowded places with plenty of responsible adults around. Never run and hide in an isolated place.

While running away from an immediate problem is generally an appropriate reaction (unless you're running towards other dangers), it's never a good long term fix.

Metaphoric "running away" is worse. Changing schools or states does little to help the victims of bullying and does nothing to address the problems. 

Bullying is Everywhere

Unfortunately despite all the best intentions in our society, bullying is a pervasive, insidious activity that is present nearly everywhere. No amount of running will ever put enough space between you and the nearest bully.

Bullying occurs in schools, scout halls, sporting fields, places of worship, workplaces and even family gatherings. You'll always be faced with bullies and it's important to know how to recognise and protect yourself from them.

Running from one bullying situation to another is not going to teach you anything. 

Bullying is Targeted

Bullies don't attack everyone. They may start out with some generalised bullying but what they're really looking for are potential targets. Once you become a bullies "target" they'll focus all of their attention on you.

The easiest way to become a target is simply to be "different", particularly if you're "visually different". You might have different racial characteristics or a visible disability. You might have clothing or behaviour that is required by your religion or you may have gender or sexual differences that come out your behaviour or clothing.

People often say to the parents of kids with autism; "but your son/daughter doesn't look autistic". It's actually a bit of a sore point with people on the spectrum because we don't "look" any different from everybody.

To be fair however, when it comes to kids on the autism spectrum, the visible differences are usually quite obvious in clothing and behaviour. These differences can include;

  • Clothing supporting the special interests but which is out of step with the rest of the class (for example older kids wearing Spongebob T-Shirts). 
  • Frequent "Nerdish" or "Fanboy" behaviour, for example; doing "Yoda" voices in senior years.
  • Sensory issues with texture, foods, noises, smells, lights 
  • Misinterpretations of social cues which are "amusing" to other students.
  • A "nerdish" level of knowledge on a subject such as comic books.
  • Socially awkward behaviour around others and an inability to "fit in" to the normal groups. 
  • Meltdowns or Shutdowns, "Rage Fits" etc. in front of the class
Bullies always work with targets. If you're on the autism spectrum; no matter where you go or what you do, the differences in your behaviour will alert bullies to your potential as a target. Running is simply not the answer. 

Options for the Prevention of Bullying

There's a lot of discussion on bullying out there in the social world and it seems that everyone has an opinion or a childhood story. Many of these revolve around violent solutions, such as learning karate or attacking the bully in some way. 

Violent options might have worked in the past but they won't work in today's world. At best, you'll land yourself in disciplinary or legal trouble and at worst, you could suffer injuries or get yourself incarcerated. You'll have to try other methods.

Talk to People in Authority

Usually the first thing that you should do is go talk to someone in authority. The exceptions to this rule are;

  • When the person in authority has a strong relationship to the bully
  • When your position is unsafe (for example, if your workplace is more likely to support the bully)

If either of these things are the case, then you can continue to fight but you need to realise that you have an unreasonably high chance of losing. In these situations, bureaucracy almost always wins out unless you have a strong group of supporters who can verify your experience.

If you can't find a strong group of supporters you my be better off cutting your losses and leaving because it means that you're really not in a safe environment. 

If you do speak with someone in authority, remember that you have a lot of control over the situation.  If you're not ready for a confrontation, you can ask that they do not confront the bully but instead;

  • be more vigilant when you're required to interact with the bully.
  • provide you with alternative interactions (ie: group work with different people).
  • provide you with a safe space to retreat to if you feel threatened.
Don't be afraid to tell people exactly what you need from them. 

One of the most important things is to get bullying documented early because one of the main parts of the bullying definition is that the activity has to be sustained and repeated.  

It will also help if you start keeping a diary of the dates, times and locations of behaviours that are affecting you -- but do not show the diary to the bully, don't mention the diary to them and don't make notes in the diary in front of them. 

If you find yourself getting on well with the person in authority, you might want to take them on as your bullying counsellor. Ask them for help and advice in resolving the situation. 

Join or Form an Anti-Bullying Group

If you don't feel that your support person is providing adequate support, the alternatives are to either escalate the problem to someone who can or join a group of people in a similar situation.

Forming or joining a group is usually the easiest option.

Pay special attention to the behaviour of your bully(s). In order to form a group, you need to find others who are being bullied, ideally by the same bully but not necessarily. Make friends with these people but don't talk about bullying to start with. Find as many people in a similar situation to you as  possible -- even if they're in different year groups. Try to spend lunch times with them.

When bullies turn up, be sure to support each other. If the bullies manage to catch any of you by yourselves, you need to report it as a group.

Once the bullies realise that they're dealing with a group instead of an individual, you'll find that their attacks drop off and they'll look for smaller, easier targets. 

Escalate Problems to the Community

The autism community is a loyal one and we take bullying very seriously. If you're being bullied and you're unable to find a workable solution, then check online. Look for autism communities in your area who will lend support.

Older members will often happily act as mentors and will guide you through traumatic events.

Younger members can provide "real-life" friendship and support.  You probably won't find anyone to actually "fight off" the bullies but you will find people who are willing to intervene on your behalf, people who can advise you on what to do and qualified people who, if necessary will talk to those in authority. 

The best places to start looking for help are autism groups on Facebook and forums such as  Make sure that you join private or hidden groups rather than public ones as you need to know that your posts are not being shared on your home page.

Links to my other posts on bullying;

I hope this post has helped you to get a perspective on why running away isn't the answer and has provided you with some viable options.  Here are some of my other posts on bullying; 

Monday, April 1, 2019

Pressuring people with Autism outside their Comfort Space can lead to Issues

A few months ago, my youngest (15) went on a school camp. There was an incident at the camp which occurred because of his differences. It wasn't handled very well and it spiralled out of control. We finally got a resolution this week and I feel that now is the time to look at the bigger picture and talk about how things could have been handled better. 

I would expect this post to be useful for all teachers who have kids on the spectrum in their classes, camp "controllers" and parents in general. 

What Happened

As a boy with autism, my son is always nervous about trying new things. New places and disruptions to his normal routine, such as camps can really mess with his head. He works hard to push himself to try things, even if he's a little afraid of them.

This particular camp had a high ropes experience and he was quite nervous about it but once he saw the ropes he decided that he would be able to do it. He did very well on the course until he reached a part where the course changed from rope walking to a flying fox. At that point, he decided that he couldn't do it and asked to come down.

The camp employee told him that he was not permitted to come down and when this was not accepted he was threatened. The camp employee said "If I have to come up there, I'm going to push you off".  My son began screaming for the teachers who were nearby but they paid him no attention.

The camp employee climbed a nearby ladder to the point where my son was and started trying to drag him off the pole to which he clung. Another boy was instructed to assist by prising his fingers off. Fortunately my son is quite strong and he managed to hang on but he was still reduced to tears in front of his peers.

Eventually the camp instructor gave up and went to get the backpack of tools he needed to get my son off the ropes and all was resolved. Later in the camp, the other boy who was asked to help came up to my son and apologised. 

After the Incident

We knew there had been an issue because my son sent a message to his brother via social media. The camp finished the next morning but we were never informed by the school. My son was quite agitated throughout the weekend after he came home and was reluctant to go back to school on the Monday.

My wife and I went to see the principal on the Monday. We learned that the incident hadn't been reported and the principal promised that there would be an investigation and that the teachers concerned would apologise to my son for having ignored his cries for help.

After almost three months we received a letter that simply told us that, "The investigation has concluded." There was no apology. My wife made a call to the "Manager of Child Protection" but was told that no more information was forthcoming.

We followed this up with a strongly worded letter and finally, our son received an apology. He could at last put it behind him and move on. 

Take Aways

There's a few things I wanted to discuss about this incident;
  • People will change their Minds
  • Duty of Care
  • Reporting is Important
  • Apologies are meaningful

People will change their Minds

Everyone is entitled to change their mind when doing something uncomfortable or unknown. This is especially true for people on the autism spectrum as the unknown can trigger phobias or strong feelings without warning.

In this particular case, the issue was that the agreed upon activity morphed into something less comfortable. It's entirely possible that with careful coaxing and some accommodations, such as a rope to slow the descent of the flying fox, my son may have attempted the final stage of the activity.

If that doesn't work, there needs to be a way out. Trapping a fearful individual in an activity is dangerous for the individual and for people around them. This is the same reason that rides at the funfair stop the minute that someone raises an objection. 

Duty of Care

All individuals who are looking after adults and children accept a "duty of care" for their charges in their areas of expertise. In the case of the camp instructors, that duty of care includes safety on their activities, hence they need to be on hand for things such as harnessing.

In the case of teachers, they have a duty of care to look after the physical and emotional well being of the children on their camp. If a child is showing signs of distress, the signals for which include fear, shouting and screaming, then it is their duty to intervene.

When parents sign forms for camps and excursions, they're signing the "duty of care" over to the "known" individuals on the forms. These could be teachers, scout leaders or friends. You can't expect a camp worker to be skilled in handling a child with "differences" but you can expect teachers to know your child well and to have a least a smattering of special needs care experience.

It's rare that parents engage directly in a care-contract with the camp instructors. It's nearly always with a person who is already well known to your child. 

Reporting is Important

When an incident occurs with a child on the autism spectrum, the repercussions can continue for a long time. Sometimes they develop into full-fledged phobias which result in a child who refuses to attend a camp again, doesn't want to go to school or refuses to participate in any similar activities, for example swimming or activities involving heights. 

It's critical that when an incident occurs, a report is written and parents and school officials are informed immediately. Phobias can become much stronger if they're not addressed early on as children on the spectrum obsess over the problem and replay incidents over and over in their minds. 

In our case, there was a loss of trust in the teachers responsible and there was humiliation because the our son had broken down in front of his peers. 

Sometimes there are no outward signs that these issues exist and the child may simply present as a little more angry, weepy or withdrawn. We were lucky that my other son knew that something had happened and we could dig carefully for the truth of the matter. 

Apologies are Meaningful

Our son attends a Catholic school. There are a few reasons for this but one of them is that we hope that he will learn some of the good "Christian" behaviours.  In particular, I'm talking about the acknowledgement of failures and the seeking of forgiveness.

Unfortunately, too many people and institutions these days are hamstrung by legal red-tape to practice what they preach.  The legal system tells us to "never admit to anything" even if you know that you're in the wrong.

I find this idea very offensive. 

People with Asperger's can most certainly tell lies but they don't generally feel comfortable doing it -- and they usually don't lie very well. Covering up your misdeeds is lying and it's deeply offensive to a person on the spectrum. It can lead to a complete loss of trust.

It's much better to simply acknowledge that you've made a mistake, attempt to correct it as best that you can and promise to try not to repeat the mistake in future.

Acknowledging your own failings doesn't make you a weaker person. It makes you a stronger one.


I think we all feel better now that this particular incident is resolved. My letter asked the school to acknowledge that the inaction of the teachers was wrong and to get them to apologise to my son.

Thanks to my wife's careful forethought, my son had been instructed to accept any apologies with grace and to allow everything to calm down. This meant that when his teachers apologised to him, he didn't respond with some kind of "slap in the face comment" but accepted with grace and humility.

It makes him a better person and it means that the teachers won't feel bad about the whole thing. If anything, it's built a bridge and it means that they'll be there to support him in the future.

He feels satisfied that he has been understood and that the pattern is unlikely to repeat with other students. He is also able to accept that his breakdown in front of his peers was due to pressure that shouldn't have been placed upon his shoulders.

Receiving an apology has enabled him to move on. 

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Over-Parenting kids on the Autism Spectrum

I've been watching a TV series on Netflix recently called Atypical. It's about Sam, a young man with autism and the way in which his family, school, work and relationships interact and grow.  It's a very good series and I'd highly recommend it.  I expect that I'll review it at some point. 

Like all media about autism, it gets a few things wrong and exaggerates others. That's okay. It's fiction and it's taking a little poetic licence. At the same time though, it raises a lot of interesting points.

One of the most interesting aspects of the show is the behaviour of Sam's mother, played brilliantly by Jennifer Jason Leigh. It shows an over-parenting (and in this case, over-mothering) instinct that is all too familiar with kids on the spectrum.

In this post, I want to look at a how over-parenting happens and why it's harmful.

What is Over-Parenting?

Over-parenting tends to happen much more frequently on the mother's side of parenting but that's probably because mothers are usually the primary caregivers of children.  Over-mothering is most common but it's certainly possible to over-father as well.

Over-parenting may feel a bit like helicopter parenting but it's far more invasive. Helicopter parenting is about wanting to keep an eye on your children at all times. Over-parenting on the autism spectrum is about pushing your children away from the already established "boundaries".

It's more pervasive, more needy and more damaging. 

For example; At a high school dance, a helicopter parent will want to escort their child to and from the dance hall. They may even want to stay and keep an eye on things while the dance is in progress. This in itself is stifling.

An over-parenting autism parent on the other hand will want to intervene to make sure that no foods are touching on their child's play when the meal is served. They may try to completely change the way the dance works to accommodate the specific needs of their child or they may simply say that their child won't go (without giving them an opportunity to say yes).

While these are signs of great care and protection, they're also very harmful to your child's development.  

Why Boundaries Need to be Pushed

Autism comes with so many boundaries. There are sensory boundaries of sound, texture, taste, smell and sight. There are boundaries set by arbitrary fears, by rules and by routines. All of these boundaries make life on the spectrum very difficult indeed.

We all start our parenting journeys as novices but end up as experts skilled in our children's abilities and boundaries. We become predictors of their reactions, their meltdowns and their sensory difficulties.

We know for instance, to remove their plate the instant that someone, for example a visitor, touches some of their food. We  know instinctively that they won't want to go to a crowded or loud place and we're experts at manipulating guests to reduce the likelihood that our children will get an unexpected hug, kiss or pat on the back.

The problem is that without constantly pushing these boundaries, they'll become set in stone and they'll reduce the ability of our children to cope without modifications. 

It's important to teach your kids to continually try to push their own boundaries. If a place is noisy, they should give it a go with noise cancelling headphones. If there's a high probability of skin contact, they should try wearing clothes with long sleeves. If you're serving a meal, particularly if it's a favourite, you should encourage them to try foods which have been in contact.

Tastes change as you get older but if you limit your young adult to only the tastes that they liked as a child, you'll deprive them of the opportunity to grow and change.

If your child only eats chicken nuggets, you need to every now and then contrive a situation in which they have to choose something else. Pushing boundaries is the only way you'll expand their world. 

Why Failure is just as important as Success

We place a whole lot of emphasis on success and it's very important to celebrate our successes; the times that our kids on the spectrum manage to avoid a meltdown, the times where they spend time with a visitor without a diatribe about their special interests, the times when they manage to eat foods of unusual flavour or texture.

Sometimes it feels that success is so elusive for our kids on the spectrum that we need to celebrate every little achievement as if it's a major victory. It's easy to forget how much of a part failure plays in success. 

Every success is usually preceded by multiple failures, even if they're years apart. Every failure is a learning opportunity, a chance for you and your child to discuss what went wrong, why things fell apart, what the alternatives were and how things might still be salvaged.

Success is where we celebrate but failure is where we learn. 

Over-Parenting is essentially "planning for failure". People who over-parent their children on the spectrum remove the potential for failure before it happens without realising that they're also removing the opportunity for your child to learn.

It's something that starts when they're young. We know that our kids are going to knock our favourite vases or statuettes over so we lock them up, out of sight. We know that their cup of juice will be spilled on the table, so we invest in an underlay or change their cup to a sippy cup or juicebox with a straw.

We know that their friends will overwhelm them so we take great pains to only invite them over for play dates one at a time. As our kids get older, we know that they can't play happily in groups so we simply decline birthday invitations to avoid meltdowns.  Eventually, one day, the invitations stop coming and we wonder why our kids can't seem to make friends.

By planning to remove failure from our kids lives, we stop the learning process and reduce their chances of success. 

Why Parents Need to let go for their own Sake

There are a lot of articles out there which talk about the 80% divorce rate when there are children on the autism spectrum. I'd recommend that you don't pay too much attention to these articles or these statistics. Your marriage isn't under the control of your children. It's entirely up to the adults to find their way through and too often these articles place blame where they shouldn't.

Marriages fail for a wide variety of reasons but they rarely fail when couples are devoted to keeping each other as priority number one.

This is where the link to over-parenting comes in. Sometimes parents can become so focused on their children on the spectrum that they build their whole world around them. They devote all of their time to their children and very little to their own needs or to those of their partners.

When one or both partners in a relationship feel under appreciated or under-needed, it makes sense that they'll respond to anyone else who offers those qualities. Marriages often break up not because couples dislike each other but because they don't make time for each other.

Children on the spectrum crave order and structure. If your focus on satisfying their immediate needs costs you your marriage, then you're not considering their long-term needs. Unless the relationship is violent, angry or devoid of love, it's usually in your child's best interests to stay together. 

As a parent, you always have to remember that at some point, you won't be as necessary for your child as you were in the past. At some point, in most relationships, you and your partner will be alone when your kids have departed. As your kids get older, you need to be planning for this. You need to make sure that you and your partner are more focused on each-other than on the kids.

Where to from here?

There's no doubt about it. All of us over-parent in one form or another. Even entirely neurotypical families suffer from over-parenting. From the fathers who are too terrified to let their daughters date, to the mothers who would rather keep their kids at home, for their own company, than let them go to school.

Our fears and overprotective instincts towards our children on the spectrum lead autism parents particularly towards over-parenting and put our relationships and our children's futures at risk.

Why not take some time to think about how you could make your child a little more independent and how you and your partner can find a little more quality time together. Your lives will be all the richer for it. 

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Audio Book Review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon
Unabridged AudioBook Read by Jeff Woodman 

I used to be able to read quite a lot of books but these days, I find myself to be quite "time-poor" and I've switched to audio books instead. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time has been on my "list of books I want to read for years".  I finally got around to "reading" it last week.

Autism in the Book

While autism is never actually mentioned in the book, the protagonist, fifteen year old Christopher Boone is very clearly on the spectrum. A lot of people have said that he has Asperger's syndrome but it's hard to tell. Little is revealed about Christopher's very early life and while he's clearly "Asperger's" by the time we meet him, there's more than a few lower functioning traits in his behaviour too.

The author, Mark Haddon, has said on a number of occasions that he did little to no research on autism because it's not really intended to be a book on autism.  This is very clear from his character, Christopher and in the behaviour of other characters around him.

Christopher is a fifteen year old from the UK who among other things, loves trains (timetables) and yet he doesn't know that the words tube and underground refer to the trains of London.  He's brilliant at complex mathematics puzzles and able to talk to strangers when interviewing them but is unable to tell his fellow passenger that he needs to use a toilet on a train.

These things simply don't add up. 

The story is interesting and well told but it's not a book about autism. Christopher is just a two-dimensional autism-like character (actually a caricature) and from a certain point of view, this could be considered quite offensive.


While the phraseology in the book is quite simple, it's not a book for the very young as it has some very adult themes and strong language.

As I mentioned earlier, it's also a book which treats the subject of autism, albeit undisclosed, in an offensive manner.

Readability and Story

In terms of the actual story, "the curious incident of the dog in the night time" is quite a good read.  It takes a while for the story to start to unfold but when it does, it holds your interest. Christopher's monologues are sometimes interesting but also border on rants at times.

The mystery itself isn't all that difficult to figure out and most people will guess it well before the revelation. The point of interest lies in watching the main character, Christopher, trying to solve the mystery while satisfying all of his own needs and phobias.

Mark Haddon's attempts to explain "autistic behaviours" from the inside are well-intentioned and sometimes touch upon truths but most of the time they feel out of place. The interactions between other characters feel fairly genuine however and while the book never quite manages to be funny, it raises a smile every now and then.

The Audio Book

The AudioBook that I listened to was read by Jeff Woodman, an accomplished narrator with several other books under his belt. He was very clear and easy to listen to and for the most part his vocal inflections from one character to another made the book much more enjoyable than it might have been in print.

There are no special effects or music but in this book they're not really a requirement. The audio recording lasts for about 6 hours.


The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon is an interesting read which will provide you with a short, fun low-key detective story with some interesting and colourful characters. It may tell you a lot about autism but you'll find it hard to separate the truth from fiction, so it can't be relied upon as a source of truth.

Remember; if you've met one person on the spectrum.... you've met ONE person on the spectrum.  

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon is available in most bookshops and online as a book; including Goodreads, Amazon and Google Play.  Amazon also has it as a Kindle book or an Audio Book.

You can also get the Audio Book on or Kobo.  The print book is available on the Apple store but the Apple audio book appears to be read by someone else. There's also a play version of the book around, so make sure that the author actually is Mark Haddon.

Honesty Clause

Nobody provided me with this book for review. I had to get it myself -- so no influences there at all.