Sunday, June 25, 2017

Finding Solitude in Crowds - Asperger's and Alone-Time

People with Asperger’s syndrome need “alone-time". It's critical to their continued functioning. 

Without a chance to calm down people with Asperger’s suffer from sensory overload which can make them very irritable and prone to meltdowns. 

"Alone-time" helps them to recover, particularly if they have been engaged in a lot of social activity.

You could be forgiven for thinking that alone time means time spent in a room by yourself with no distractions.

This is certainly a great way to achieve it however alone time can be obtained in a variety of other ways not all of which are silent. This is particularly important if the person with Aspergers is at school or work and cannot easily find a room to themselves.

Removing Stimuli

Since one of the main reasons alone time is to reduce stimuli, the best ways to get the same effect depend upon removing one or more stimuli from your senses. For example, wearing darker glasses or a hoodie will reduce the amount of light entering your eyes. Wearing headphones can remove the babble of speech or general ambient sounds and wearing a scarf can often reduce sensitivity to odours.

Sometimes just choosing extremely low irritant (ie: very comfortable) clothing is enough to reduce overall sensitivity. 

Reducing Stimuli

Sometimes you simply can't remove stimuli and instead need to find a way to seek "solitude in crowded places" by reducing the general volume of stimuli around you.

An alternative to actually blocking out stimuli is to replace it with more regular or more pleasing options.  This is called "habitation".

Key ways to do this include playing music through headphones. This puts you in charge of your ambient environment. While it doesn't necessarily drown out external sounds, your brain follows the familiar beats and this makes it easier to ignore the other sounds around you.

If you have an easily overloaded sense of smell, chewing mints or gum can serve as a form of habitation for these sensitivities.

This is why many schools allow the chewing of gum or the use of headphones in exams.

Sometimes sports, particularly low contact (with others) options such as skating, running, aerobics, bowling and weights can create a "touch habitation" effect where the body becomes less aware of touch sensitivities while the exercise is in progress.

Choosing Low-People Options 

Another way to reduce sensitivity and get alone-time is to engage in non-people activities.

These could be individual activities like computing, pets, reading, crafts or television.

They could also include activities such as swimming, diving or climbing which include groups of people but have very limited options for contact and communication.

Alone time is available even in the most crowded of places. You just need to know how to find and use the opportunities. 


Sunday, June 4, 2017

Negative Emotions are Transferable - Avoid them and Protect Yourselves


One of the more interesting realisations I've reached in the last couple of years is that negative emotions, such as depression are actually transferable feelings.

If you spend a lot of time with very depressed people, watch a lot of depressing news stories, or read a lot of depressing attention-seeking posts on Facebook, you'll eventually start feeling depressed yourself.

It's subtle because the spread of negativity occurs slowly over time but it's there and the changes in you can be detected by neutral people around you -- especially if they’ve not had a lot of recent contact. Unfortunately for you, being on the “inside” means that you’re probably going to be the last person to realise.

This is really important for us, as carers and parents of children with differences and/or as people with differences ourselves. It's a great thing to be empathetic but we have to remember to protect ourselves too. You’re not going to be as much use to those under your care if you’re fighting depression yourself.

Online Attention Seeking Behaviour 

We all have at least one friend who seems to attract every problem imaginable.Chances are, you’ll know several.  You'll usually find yourself wondering what they could possibly have done to “get the universe mad at them” and bring such a run of bad luck down on themselves.


 Attention-seeking facebook friends never miss a post when a family member is in hospital or going to the see a doctor. The posts are nearly always far more urgent and emotional than the problem itself. They post emotional stories on the birthdays and death-days of everyone who has left their lives, including their pets and they somehow manage to make every news story about them; for example making a big deal out of a local fire that has destroyed a shop that they may have visited as a child.

There’s nothing wrong with this kind of behaviour and it’s not intended to be malicious. It’s just that some people feel things more strongly than others -- and some are able to radiate those emotions to touch everyone around them. 

It doesn’t help that the online attention seekers tend to react badly to poorly constructed comments, push the boundaries of friendship and may even allow feelings such as jealousy (over who has the "worst news") to interfere. These traits increase the likelihood of conflict and can cause the wrong reactions in others.

The main problem however is that reading frequent negative posts can have a very negative effect on empathetic people. Particularly people on the autism spectrum. 

News and Television

The other problem is the general media. Television and print and online media grow their audiences by covering emotional stories. This includes stories of people being harmed or starving in war-torn countries, animals in danger from extinction or negligence, people living in poor conditions and even historical stories of torture and pain.

Even the advertising of today often contains deeply emotional messages designed to provoke a response from you.

All of these stories seek to flash images, sounds and ideas at you that will create an emotional response. Sometimes they seek to shame you into buying a product or supporting a cause. Sometimes it’s a means of instilling fear to affect one’s political, economic or social choices. In the case of history television, quite often the aim is to reinforce guilt over the mistakes of the past to ensure that they aren’t repeated.



Even today’s light entertainment shows on cooking, dieting, holidaying and home renovations have turned into emotional contests where there is one clear winner and several “damaged” losers. Our media has become a place where ridicule and emotional abuse are commonplace.

Again, it isn’t all bad and the media still fulfils an important role but it’s important to note that the long term effects of constant exposure can be quite damaging. 

Autism and Empathy

Not long ago, it was believed that people with Asperger’s syndrome and autism were without empathy. The main reason for this was that these people often reacted differently to others in emotional circumstances. For example, they would laugh during traumatic or painful events or they would fail to smile during happy ones.

It’s only been fairly recently that we’ve reached a point where adults with autism were able to connect with each-other and the rest of the world in large groups online. In that short time, we’ve reached an understanding that people on the spectrum struggle with self-expression. They don’t always understand when and why others are sad and they have difficulty conveying their own feelings.

A person on the spectrum may smile during a funeral because they’ve already accepted that a person has passed or because their relationship with that person was not as strong as others. They may be remembering funny things that the person did and this will bring a smile, not a tear. It doesn’t mean that they didn’t love the person or that they won’t miss them terribly -- and it’s unfair to judge the reactions of others purely on face value.

The same person may become lost in a sea of tears during historical TV - or in fact, may be unable to watch at all. For them the pain and emotion of the event is very real and “new”. They may be confused as to why others can watch the same show without being affected. 

Protecting Yourself and Others

The most important thing to remember is that people with autism are very much affected by emotions and often these effects aren’t always visible. 

If you’re the parent or carer of a person with Isms, you need to keep a close eye on what is being watched and and what is being conveyed by friends to ensure that negative emotions such as depression are not being transferred.

If you have autism yourself, you need to frequently ask yourself; “How do I feel and Why do I feel this way?” If you think that outside influences are leading you into depression, you need to limit your interactions with them for your own protection.

This may mean that you need to change your viewing, reading, listening and talking habits. You may need to unfollow or hide friends who try to entice you into their negative worlds and you may need to avoid certain people altogether. 

"see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" - sometimes following the wise monkeys is a good choice.

I’m not sure if positive feelings are transferable but I guess they probably are. If all else fails, perhaps finding some positive people to follow or doing some “positive activities” might help too.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Book Review: Aspertools by Harold Reitman M.D.

Aspertools: The Practical Guide for Understanding and Embracing Asperger’s, Autism Spectrum Disorders and Ñeurodiversity
by Harold Reitman M.D. with Pati Fizzano and Rebecca Reitman
2017 Souvenir Press Ltd 

Aspertools is an unusual book, coming out, proudly displaying references to Asperger’s Syndrome in a post-DSM V world.  That's right; Asperger’s is no longer recognised in its own right but is folded into the general autism spectrum.

Aspertools takes a very different approach.  It's not necessarily a book directed at people with Asperger’s or even those on the general autism spectrum. This is a book that aims at the neurodiverse; the people who different somehow.  Those whose differences have neurological reasons.

It's a great premise and Harold makes it clear from the outset that not all chapters will apply to all people. Just read the book and use what you learn from the chapters that do while ignoring those that don't.

As his daughter,  Rebecca says;  “Brains are like snowflakes - no two are alike”

Aspertools was an absolute pleasure to read with the consistent formatting, great headings, clear text and short chapters making it a book that can be easily picked up or put down at a moment's notice. Perfect for today's busy world.

Each chapter is structured into;

  • A helpful hint (short explanation of the issue)
  • A principle (generally a rule or two related to the issue)
  • Imagine you're an Aspie (the situation from a different point of view)
  • An action plan (ways that you can address or modify the issue)
  • Tip from Pati (the point of view of an experienced special needs life coach)
  • Thought from Rebecca  (Harold's adult daughter's perspective on things)


The chapters cover a variety of topics including; dealing with anxiety, hyper-senses and meltdowns, breaking up complex tasks, routines and transitions, social interactions and executive functioning.

It applies to a wide age range but I feel that it's at its best when dealing with kids and young adults from their teens and upwards.

I particularly loved the sections on “Imagine you’re an Aspie”. While I don’t personally have to imagine this, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to explain my differences to others. Harold does this in a much better way than I’ve seen in any other book.

Aspertools: The Practical Guide for Understanding and Embracing Asperger’s, Autism Spectrum Disorders and Ñeurodiversity by Harold Reitman M.D. with Pati Fizzano and Rebecca Reitman is available from Amazon in Kindle or Paperback format.

Harold is also the writer/producer of the movie, The Square Root of 2 which is about his daughter Rebecca and was filmed before her Asperger’s diagnosis. It looks to be very interesting.


Honesty clause: I was provided with a copy of Aspertools free of charge for review purposes.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Book Review: Joel Suzuki Volume 3: Legend of the Loudstone by Brian Tashima

Joel Suzuki Volume 3: Legend of the Loudstone 
by Brian Tashima

In recent years, it has become more common to add characters with autism to mainstream stories. It's partially about inclusion but it's also the fact that people on the spectrum tend to make more interesting characters.

The Spectraland saga is a young adult series that has been based, from the very beginning, around two characters; Joel and Felicity both of whom are on the autism spectrum.

Spectraland is about two young adults from Earth who find themselves in a fantasy world where their music translates to magic. You can read my reviews of books one and two here. If you haven't read the first two books, in the series, you really need to read them first.

The third book in the series moves away from Spectraland to an adjoining region, the "mono realm" where conformity is a way of life and a rebellion is brewing.

It's interesting to note that while the first two books in the series felt very "fantasy" this one feels like it has a dash of sci-fi and at times, it has a similar feel to the last Hunger Games book.

With this book, author Brian Tashima has renamed the series to "Joel Suzuki". It's a good change and one that feels more consistent, and is much easier to say.

Brian has big plans for the Joel Suzuki series and there's a great interview with him on the spectrums magazine website. There's now a fan club with access to special materials and Brian's Joel Suzuki site at www.joelsuzuki.com is also well worth a visit.

The books are full of great “young adult” moments and as the story progresses, you are privy to Joel’s thoughts on relationships and his interpretation (and misinterpretations) of the behaviour of characters around him.


As usual, Joel and Felicity’s differences are "Front and Centre" but without other "humans" in the story to compare with, they're absolutely "normal".  Their differences are very much a part of their characters rather than being traits that are constantly being discussed. The story moves around, clearly influenced by their perspectives and gifts.

The Joel Suzuki series is a great young adult series and well worth a read.

You can get these books at Amazon in Kindle and Paper format.


Honesty clause: I was provided with a free electronic copy of Joel Suzuki Volume 3: Legend of the Loudstone for review purposes.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Introversion and Asperger's Syndrome


Not all people with Asperger's syndrome are introverted, in fact there are many flamboyant and loud people with Asperger's (and that category deserves a post of its own).

I'd venture to say though, that most of the people I've met with Asperger's have tended to be the shy, quiet type. Of course, that might just be me as being shy and quiet myself. 

After all, I'm far more likely to be open in discussions with introverted individuals. 

There's nothing wrong with Introversion 

In western society, it often feels as if introversion is a problem that needs to be “cured” but it's not.

Introverts, particularly those with Asperger's, are often perfectly capable of “acting” extroverted when a situation calls for it. It's important to remember though that it's just an act and it takes a lot of effort to maintain. We often find ourselves feeling more stressed and grumpier after having had to act that way for a while.

Being introverted or extroverted is a personality trait that we probably have from birth but which is reinforced throughout our lives in every interaction we have with others.

As a parent, you might want your child to be more extroverted but choosing to try to change their personality is not a good parenting decision. Your child will flourish best by being themselves.

Life as an Introvert 

Introverts are all different and there are varying extremes and exceptions. Just like everyone with Asperger's syndrome, no two people are exactly alike.

I find that as an introvert with Asperger's my responses to direct questions tend to be slower and more carefully thought out. This causes a few problems because sometimes people don't wait for an answer and often people speak for me. It can be irritating at times because often others don't say what I was intending to say.

Other introvert problems include getting invited to functions, parties or even just family gatherings and finding it difficult to get into a conversation - especially if you don't know anyone else.

I'll often walk to the edge of a group and stand there smiling until I get tired of not being noticed. After doing this with a few groups, I'll just find a space near a wall and keep to myself.

Unless of course, they have pets. In those situations, I usually become the dog’s best friend.

One thing that I have learned to do recently is to scan the room and look for other people in my situation (against walls by themselves or playing with pets or their phones).

Clearly introverts seem to get on much better with other introverts.

Complaints and Help

As an introvert, I'm not keen on drawing attention to myself and I'll often put up with poor service rather than start a confrontation. This often creates friction between my wife and I as she is not one to hold back. In restaurants with poor service, I often find myself looking down at the table and wishing I was somewhere else while my wife chews out the waiter or management.

Fortunately, my wife has now started to learn to pick her battles because poor service is one thing but fighting with staff can ruin a night out.

In any case, if the service is particularly bad (or good), I’ll leave a review and sometimes I'll send emails to head office. My writing is never too shy to tackle the important points.

It's the same deal when I'm out shopping, particularly for appliances. If I go shopping by myself, the appearance of a salesperson asking if I need help usually hastens my exit from the shop but if I go with my wife or managers from work, it's generally the opposite for them. They'll leave the shop if they don't get attention soon enough.

Hero Syndrome 

“Hero Syndrome” is a made up problem so there's no need to look it up. It's the name I give to some of the behaviour mentioned earlier.

My wife often accuses me of "trying to be a hero" but it's just the introversion talking. The crux of “Hero Syndrome” is that “taking one for the team” without complaint makes it easier to accept a problem than it is to interact with a person in order to get it resolved. You could see this as laziness or conflict avoidance but given that I behave this way in situations which are not confrontational, it's more likely to be simply; "people avoidance".

For example; I was recently in hospital and left in a room with a light on with no way to turn it off. I could have buzzed the nurse at any time but instead I simply tried to sleep with the light on. Eventually a nurse noticed the problem and rectified it. My wife was quite annoyed about this but I didn’t want to make a fuss.

Hero syndrome raises its head at all kinds of odd times, for example, when we’re not given the correct meal, or the meal is not properly cooked, when we’re waiting too long for service or when we’re given the incorrect change.

Most of the time, “hero syndrome” simply makes you into a more patient person but sometimes it makes you a victim. Sometimes being introverted can be a real problem. 

Being Loud When Required 

It’s a myth to say that introverts can’t be loud. It just takes a lot of extra effort. Introverts can be great public speakers but not great on small group interactions. They can be experts on specific topics but find themselves unable to interact in small-talk. Introverts can be good bosses too, particularly if they come from a position of strength, such as the knowledge (special interests) and abilities.  

For example, introverts often find communicating via email works better for them or that empowering other staff members to chair their meetings is more effective. If this works, then there’s no reason not to engage staff members in this manner. Quite often, this makes introverts better teachers and mentors than extroverts.

One thing that introverted people and people with Asperger’s often have in common is the need to find solitude after a particularly “social” period. Effective introverted managers do this by organising their time effectively or organising “low social” recreational activities, such as swimming or climbing.

Introverts are simply a different type of person to extroverts and both types are needed in our society. Neither type of personality is particularly advantageous over the other and it doesn’t make sense to try to push your child to be something they’re not. 

Like all personality differences, introversion is most effective when you’re encouraged to simply “be yourself”. 

Monday, April 17, 2017

Doing better than Light it Up Blue


The month of April is “Light it up blue for autism” month. It's the month where we we embrace exciting concepts like autism “awareness” (ah, so that's the word we use to describe “these people”) and autism “acceptance”, (ok, so I guess we can't stone them to death anymore**).

** That's a joke by the way. 

They might have been started with the best of intentions but I'm really not sure that they help as much as they'd like us to think. In fact, it's just possible that they do more harm than good.

It's not Just Autism 

There are a lot of charities around which gear up on certain months. In particular, there are the yellow cancer charities and the pink breast cancer ones.

The various charities collect funds from the sale of ribbons, bears, chocolates and other goodies. The more established of these charities also partner with grocery stores and manufacturers to produce specific items, such as bread in marked packaging, where a certain percentage of the cost is going to the charity.

What is it all for?

One of the biggest gripes that I have with the cancer groups is that they are always giving out free hats or sunglasses. In fact I've been to a couple of charity runs where I saw them giving free branded hats to people who were already wearing hats. How does that help people with cancer or their families? How is that a good use of money?

The other thing that particularly annoys me about the cancer expenditure is that whenever we see advertising, it gives the impression that cancer comes from the beach, while ignoring the message that needs to be sent to all the shirtless guys on building sites.

What would I do?

Of course, it's easy to complain about things but it's much harder to suggest alternatives.

So here's my wish list for “light it up blue”

Education is Key

Instead of spending money trying to to get people to follow a colour, let's try to get some concepts across;

How about some slogans like;

  • AUTISM: If they're covering their ears in your shop, please turn your ambient music off.
  • AUTISM: Those repetitive movements are called “stimming” and they can help us to relax.
  • People with #Autism make excellent workers.
  • AUTISM: Eye contact can be painful. Don't make us do it. We're still listening.
I’d love to see how much education can be done in just one-liners - and at low cost.

Got a message? Maybe a bumper sticker would be a good way to get it across -- and you can still light it up blue if you really need to.


Low cost means, let's not make billboards or hats or T-Shirts. Lets use the free tools like Twitter and Facebook and lets use our connections to get mentions and interviews on the radio.  What's wrong with getting a large group of kids with autism together to make a big sign in the sand on the beach.

Don't Spend Money on Bureaucracy 

Whenever you are donating to charities, it's important to keep in mind that they all have significant operating costs. The have secretaries and management staff to pay, building management funds, billboards and other forms of advertising to support. By the time your contributions reach the intended target audience, they're very diluted indeed.

Then of course, once they do reach the audience, who's to say that the choices of support that they make, the slogans that they choose are the ones that you would personally choose to support.

Make a Direct Difference if you can

If you own a place, like a theme park, a cafe, a sports club or a movie theatre then you can make a difference by simply offering free or discounted rates for a day or a week or even for the whole month, to families with people who have autism.

One thing that impressed me this years was that the Apple App Store ran some events and reduced the price of a number of apps which are used by people with autism. 

In many ways, this is better than giving to a charity. It will bring attention to your business while helping families who are otherwise unable to go out.

Make a Personal Difference if you can

If you know a family with autism, then you can make a personal difference. Why not offer to take their children for an outing or to "babysit" while the parents go out.  Find a way to be involved in the family. If you have teaching skills, you might want to offer to tutor their child.

If you know adults with autism, you might make special effort to interact with them, particularly if they're socially isolated. For most people with autism, simply spending some time with them on their special interests will make their day.

Every little bit helps and in general, offering your time to an afflicted family is far better than offering money to support the agenda of a faceless organisation. 

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Asperger's Syndrome, Diagnosis and the Genetic Link

I was recently asked about my diagnosis and about the whole genetic link in Asperger's Syndrome. I thought I'd already answered this somewhere on the blog but when I didn't find it, I figured that it was something that I should clarify. 

Yes, I do have Asperger's syndrome. I also have a son, currently aged 16 with Asperger's and NVLD and ADHD(I). I have a second son with HFA but since he's very verbal, even more son than his older brother, it's clearly Asperger's now... or would be if the diagnosis of Asperger's still existed. 

You can find out more about my family and I on the "About page" and you can find out more about me specifically via my four part introduction.

See here for Parts OneTwoThree and Four.
Part four in particular talks about diagnosis.

"This Book is About You"

In a nutshell though, my eldest child was diagnosed at 5. His differences were picked up by his teachers who met with us several times and who kept saying to my wife with pointed looks towards me; "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree".  I had no idea what they were talking about.

Being good parents, we read a lot of books of Asperger's but what was interesting is that we read them completely separately. I read during my transport to and from work, while my wife read at home while I was at work. We didn't talk about it until we were mostly through the books.

I couldn't see anything odd or different about my son. He was very normal to me. In fact, he was "more normal" to me than most kids his age.

He was doing everything that I did at his age. The books described me far more than they described my son and for a little while I wondered if somehow my "wrong" parenting was rubbing off on him and changing him.

When we finally got back to talk about our books, my wife's first words were; "this book is about you". 

We got our son diagnosed but kept reading.

It was another six months or so before I decided to talk to the psychologist. By then I had read a few more books and I was pretty sure of my diagnosis. So, apparently was the psychologist. He'd met me a few times before and said that he'd known from the start.

Genetics

The books made the whole inherited part fairly clear but I couldn't see a family connection at first. After all, my father was just my father and I had more in common with my uncle.  My uncle liked similar (techy) things to me but apart from that he simply didn't fit the profile. I later talked to my parents about my grandfather whom I didn't know well enough because he was older and too unwell by the time I knew him. That was when I realised that he fit the profile of Aspergers. I then re-evaluated my father as a "person" rather than as "my dad".  I watched him meeting new people and I watched him in conversations with family and friends. It was there all along, I'd just never noticed it.

When my youngest was born, we fully expected that he had a chance of being on the spectrum and we recognised the signs from an early age even though he was (and at 13, still is) vastly different from my older son. 

There's absolutely no doubt in my mind that there's a genetic link and that it's a strong one. Over the years, I've met quite a few people on the spectrum, particularly during my five year stint as a scout leader. In those years, I got to know the kids very well before getting to know their parents. I would usually know which kids were on the spectrum long before they were diagnosed and I would nearly always see the signs in one, sometimes both, parents.

Sometimes I'd know that a child was on the spectrum and I'd meet their father and think... "no, he's definitely not on the spectrum" .... and then months or years later, I'd meet their mother, and I'd see the signs immediately. 

Co-conditions make Great Disguises

If you have one person with Asperger's or any other autism spectrum disorder in the family, there's a pretty good chance that there are others. The link isn't always 100% direct but it's there, somewhere.

Co-conditions, particularly ones which aren't "fully-fledged" are very good indicators. If a person has fully-fledged OCD for example, they tend to allow it to rule their lives. It becomes extremely difficult for them to leave the room because there are so many leaving rituals which need to be performed, so many doors which have to be closed a certain way, footsteps which have to be repeated to end on an even number and so on.

A person with an OCD co-condition that isn't fully fledged, can have some disorder in their lives but they will still have rituals.

They may still require specific pockets of order, for example, they may sort their shelves very specifically or alphabetise their collections but OCD doesn't rule their lives. It doesn't prevent them from living their lives normally.

Asperger's rarely travels alone. There are nearly always co-conditions such as ADHD, Dyslexia, OCD and Bi Polar disorder and these are usually what people notice first. It's these co-conditions that make Asperger's particularly difficult to diagnose. 

At the same time, if you look for the co-conditions, you'll quite often find the "aspie".