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Monthly Archives: September 2011

Asperger’s: The Original Auto-Correct (That’s More Accurate than the iPhone)

You know how your iPhone has an auto-correct button, and sometimes it works and sometimes it fails miserably? (Mind you, I don’t really know this. I have a very unsophisticated mobile.) Well, oddly, that is exactly the experience of an Aspie.  Aspies notice many things an NTs brain seamlessly autocorrects, without ever reaching a level of consciousness or concern. But, they don’t just notice, they are impacted by these seemingly smaller differences that, in their mind, appears zeppelin-like. Take Cody, for instance, it’s not uncommon for him to start 99.9% of his sentences with, “Well, actually….” or “You mean….” or “That’s wrong….” or some other permutation of “You” + “Incorrect” + Grammar/Fact/Punctuation. These are the good moments, really, because there are times when he is stuck in thought, unable to think, act, move due to the processing of some inconsistency in his brain. Cody and I have spent countless hours developing ways for him to: 1. Not make these comments, or 2. Offer these comments more appropriately. We have spent more time, though, discussing impact — why these comments negatively impact his conversational partner despite his intentions to be helpful. Helpful. It is not uncommon for Cody to offer, “I wouldn’t want them to think that. If they did, they could get it wrong on the test. Or, they could share it with someone else who could believe them.” Auto-corrections to divert catastrophic outcomes.

There is an automatic response, a guttural reaction to his corrections — a sense of rudeness at best, egocentricism and narcissism at worst but more typically. Really, these are all synonyms for the omnipresent deficit of perspective-taking, the ability to understand the ways in which our thoughts and actions impact the thoughts and feelings of others. So, there is it, right — remedy the perspective-taking, build the alternative skills, watch the correcting reduce, and the misunderstandings fade away. If you read my blog with any regularity, you have a hunch I dislike and distrust this conclusion.

If we really understand and respect the rationale for the hyper-correctness — beyond the literalism, the rule-following — we see that there is an on-going search for meaning. Inconsistencies alter the very fabric of what a situation, statement, interaction mean. NTs look for inconsistencies to place a judgment, to push that inconsistency back into the hole where it belongs, to belittle it, to ostracize it, to make it change. (Mind you, not every NT is as pejorative as this portrayal.) Aspies are different. They look for differences to learn, to assimilate, to expand their understanding of a situation. There is an inherent irony that they often utter their sightings, usually for further clarification, only to turn the focus on them. NTs quietly stare, ruminate, and escape the label of impropriety. But our thoughts, our reasons for spotting the differences we see are far less altruistic than the Aspie who seeks not to judge, but to learn.

 
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Posted by on September 30, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Asperger’s Isn’t….

The “joke” that the radio deejays portrayed it as today

The “disease” that some parents don’t want their kids to “catch”

Ass-burgers, Asp-burgers, AUH-spbergers

A crutch, an excuse, an “out”

Cure-able, reproachable, defamatory

The “geek syndrome”

Something to be taken lightly

Just diagnosed in males

A social disorder

Your uncle who didn’t hold a job, was a recluse, and collected toy helicopters

A diagnosis for everyone who is socially awkward

In need of change, eradication, alteration, or fixing

So unrecognizable that we are incapable of seeing ourselves

 
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Posted by on September 30, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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How Do We Put the Spotlight on ASD?

How do you teach someone about something that they don’t know about? If you are considering moving on to a different post or different page because of the lack of clarity of that statement, be warned that it is purposefully vague. A few days ago, I asked people to provide me blog topics because I was in a bit of a creative funk. Following my earlier post about my exchange with the Internet guy, a parent asked me to blog about how in the world we explain autism to people who know nothing about it. I’ve been thinking about that topic for quite some time, trying to decide how to think about and how to approach such a topic.

Think about a bookstore. There are hundreds of sections and sub-sections. Photography. Test prep. History. Crosswords. Literature. Children’s literature. Black history. Civil war. Nature. Cooking. Dieting. Self-help. What section do you frequent? I recently began exploring to the photography section, as I have purchased a DSLR and am learning the craft slowly but surely. I noticed the section before, but I never picked up a book, flipped through its pages, or considered learning. Was I interested? Maybe from a pure state of curiosity. Did I need to look in that section? Nope. Didn’t own a camera. What’s more, it’s a complicated endeavor. As a matter of fact, everything is a complicated endeavor with pages and pages of information read on topics both large and small. ASD is no different — a huge topic, with millions of voices, and a lot to learn. So, what tips the scales in the direction of wanting to know more?

Quite frankly I believe it is need. A teacher has a student with AS placed in her classroom. A camp counselor has a camper with autism in his camp group. A parent has a child diagnosed with ASD. Suddenly, this unknown entity becomes pertinent enough to warrant, even necessitate exploration and fact-gathering. Recently, I was asked to serve as an expert witness for a case in which an adult with AS was hit by a train. The lawyer said it best: “I’d heard of it but never thought much about it until now.” So, how do we make ASD not just visible with a puzzle piece but visible with a significant impact that warrants explanation?

 
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Posted by on September 10, 2011 in ASD in the Grand Scheme

 

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Words with Friends…and Asperger’s Disorder

We are two weeks plus into the school year and the honeymoon phase is about over for most of my clients. They’ve made the transition, mostly without incident but not without anxiety and struggle, until this week. The emails and phone calls have started to trickle in with small blips that have sent them to the principal’s office, to the buddy room, to the safe seat. The recurring problem area this year relates to language, specifically what others deem “violent” language, both verbal and nonverbal. “I’m going to kill you”. A fake gun out of three fingers to one’s head. “Shut up or else.”

I know, and Tony Attwood has documented, that individuals with AS tend to use graphic language. Blood, guts, boogers, vomit. I think it relates to their visual strengths, as these words intensify their (and the listener’s) ability to imagine what is happening. NTs use these words for effect, for emphasis, for attention, purposes that are variations on the theme of storytelling.

Aspies use these words initially as echolalia. A video game, a movie, a peer, a parent, a sibling utters “I’m gonna kill you if you…” and the phrase resonates, perhaps with a special interest (i.e. video games, Civil War, combat, guns, the human body), perhaps because of how the words themselves sound, and perhaps due to its efficiency at producing a response. “I’m gonna kill you” immediately can mean so much — “whoa! back off” or “he means business, I better take him seriously” or “this could be dangerous”.

After the initial repetition comes the trial period. We’ve moved past novelty into the world of “Man, this really works.” The complicating factor is not knowing why it works, only seeing the end result. If someone is bullying you relentlessly and suddenly rolling around on the floor while mooing like a cow is an effective strategy, you’re likely not going to stop to analyze the rationale for its effectiveness. Well, not initially, and — what’s more — you have the power to process all of the core elements of a situation (social, nonsocial stimuli) that enable your social and environmental understanding. Our Aspies are not always so endowed. We roll and moo, they turn a phrase, it’s all the same: Mission accomplished. But, we all know it’s not that simple. The fallout indicates that the weight of the words is more than Aspies could ever fathom.

Case in point. I received a call yesterday from a local school with some of my favorite staff in the area. As the story goes, my client was unhappy with the topic of conversation in history class and used a piece of wire he found on the ground to make a pretend gun to pretend shoot at his classmate. He tells it very similarly. So, we have the same basic plot with the same basic ending, but the nuances and the subtle themes that provide the meaning to our story are far less developed. When I asked him “why” this mattered so much, his response was, “It’s mean.” Well, yes. Putting a gun to someone’s head is a mean gesture, but why? “Because I might kill her? But I wouldn’t. I won’t. I’d never.” Interestingly, another group member (who has struggled with this issue himself) said, “But they don’t know that. Our conditions make us vulnerable.”

We could say case closed on this page — the boys recognize that their words carry meaning due to the fear of a threat, due to the possibility of follow through, due to what another group member cynically called “paranoia”. The boys recognize the unfortunate life lesson that Asperger’s, and other “conditions”, bring stigma, judgment, and suspicion. But, I wouldn’t be satisfied with that rendition. It would be like Twilight without Full Moon, Harry Potter without the Deathly Hallows, War without the Peace. It’s not as though they emerge from the womb toting guns, talking like sailors, and ready to take no prisoners. On the contrary, these boys cringe when another says “pissed” or “crap”. These boys apologize for hurting a bug, for breaking a Lego creation, for saying something mean to their parents. They have deeply embedded rules about right and wrong. So, how does a make-shift gun and a threatening phrase sneak past their judgment?

I’m convinced that the answer lies more within the NT world than the ASD world and things get lost in translation. I’ve been asked to verify, “He won’t kill anyone right?” In essence, he says it without intent, right? Talk about a loaded weapon…I mean, question.

At dinner last night, I sat with an old friend and a new acquaintance. I listened to how we described things. “It kills me to think….” “If that doesn’t happen, I’ll have to….” “Shut up!” So, what’s the difference? I think, for now, two things (and I’m sure there are more). The first relates to delivery. We were laughing, joking, sharing, and confiding. Their was no anger, no fear, no suspicion, no concern. We sat in a large restaurant saying these things — just like most middle schools sit in a large cafeteria and say these things — without so much as raising a flag. No one gave us a side-long glance, no one called the manager, no one escorted us out. So, it could lead one to think that if you are joking and happy, these comments become okay. That was my initial thought, and I don’t entirely think it untrue but I think it’s not that simple.

The more important component is one of relationship. A relationship brings history, personal understanding, shared knowledge, and shared experiences. When I hear my friend say, “I’ll kill you if you tell her…” I know that she is not going to pick up her steak knife to stab me, push me down the stairs as we walk about of the restaurant, or try to commit vehicular homicide. As such, I laugh. She laughs. And, the new acquaintance begins to learn, to build a catalogue of how we interact. This catalogue acts as a reference guide letting her know what it “okay” and “not okay” — at their most basic levels. My friend and I have already created this catalogue but we add a new chapter and a new index entry with the new acquaintance. The relationship expands. It does not diminish due to our language. In fact, the language helps it grow.

So, why does this paradoxically simple and complex process fail to happen with Aspies? That is a loaded question that I should erase and revise so as to avoid easy, obvious, needed backlash. Interestingly, though, I would wager most NTs believe that relationships do, in fact, fail for those with ASD. I know better. I’ve seen better. I’ve seen these very boys joke with each other about “killing” and “shutting up” and “bombing” without so much as a blink of an eye, raised blood pressure, red alert. From them or from me. We have that shared history together in which we feel safe, free, and comfortable. Maybe the better question is why does it sometimes succeed, sometimes fail? Maybe it’s an Aspie-NT phenomenon, not an Aspie-Aspie/NT-NT issue. I’d like to think that the chasm between us isn’t so wide, so desolate. As a matter of fact, I know it’s not.

I go ’round and ’round with this issue. Trying to help them push past their impulsivity to utilize a more appropriate phrase, while all the while they hear the echoes of this language in the hallways, the classrooms, the locker rooms, and the lunchrooms. It seems to be simply words with friends…until spoken by an Aspie.

 
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Posted by on September 8, 2011 in NTs on ASD

 

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If You Had 3 Minutes to Explain Autism, What Would You Say?

Lately, I have been confronted with the challenge of perception. How I perceive situations, people, and challenges, and how others — if they were in my shoes — might perceive that same situation. Autism literature talks extensively about Theory of Mind, mindblindness, and perspective talking, which are essentially three names for the idea that individuals with ASD struggle with the very idea of recognizing, adopting, and/or understanding another person’s perceptions. While I could discuss the intracacies and challenges that this deficit presents, I find myself more interested in the ways in which NTs struggle with understanding the lives, perspectives, and perceptions of those with ASD. If an NT can’t don the shoe of someone with ASD, why should an Aspie or Autie want, try, aspire, or bother with doing the same?

Case in point, I had internet installed in my new home yesterday. The gentleman, in making friendly conversation, asked me what I do for a living. Always a fun subject, I shared with him the basic premise of my job — I work with individuals with ASD. The usual, cookie-cutter response did not occur (“Oh, that’s wonderful” or “You must be patient” or “That’s so rewarding”). Instead, he said with honesty: “I just don’t get autism. What is it?”

I have had this question posed to me millions of times (and likely millions more), but yesterday it took the breath from my lungs for some reason. The immensity and gravity of the question and the import of the answer weighed on my shoulders. What did I want this man to know about individuals with ASD when he walked out of my house? What did I want him to remember? I sat in silence for what felt like an eternity. What words could I use? What perception did I want him to leave with? He must have been confused by my silence because he asked, “Well, don’t they just fly off the handle?”

There was my starting point. I wanted to know WHERE that starting point originated. Who gave him that information? Had he read it? Had someone told him? Did he know someone with ASD who is prone to rages or meltdowns? These were all past the scope of my brief window of opportunity. The time that I was afforded was equivalent to cooking — perhaps overcooking — a bag of popcorn in the microwave.

Set the timer folks, I am placing the bag in the microwave.

I shared about the social impact of ASD and how ASD can appear to be “invisible” in some ways, which brings upon scrutiny and judgment when/if they behave “differently” from the “norm”. I pontificated about strengths and about how their differences are both challenges and true blessings for our society.

The popcorn is popping fast, and I have to grab the bag before it burns. Man that three minutes went fast.

As we walked out, he said, “You know, we all have social struggles in one way, shape, or form. My dad wanted me to play sports. I’m just not that guy. I have other talents. It sounds like your clients do, too.” Yes, internet guy, they most certainly do.

What would you share in three minutes?

 
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Posted by on September 6, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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