Xanthippa on Aspergers

Tools to help Aspies conquer the World!

Aspergers, reading faces and cultural differences regarding ‘smiling’

One of the questions get asked most often when I reveal I am an Aspie is when/how did I get diagnosed with Aspergers’, as I am of a generation when this was not a commonly known about thing.  As a matter of fact, growing up on the other side of the Iron Curtain, I am pretty sure this was not recognized as a physical thing.

Completely irrelevant factoid:  From a very early early age, I used to suffer from crippling migraines.  My mom took me to specialists and they told her that unofficially, these are migraines, but that because ‘migraine headaches’ have been ruled by the Communist Party to be ‘something capitalist rich ladies with nothing better to do make up to be interesting’, so they are no longer permitted to diagnose or treat this condition.  So,  I highly doubt ‘Aspergers’ Syndrome’ was something that anyone was willing to even mention…

To answer that question, I explain that my older was always an atypical learner.  For example, when he was 4 years old and I was pregnant with his brother, as per the advice of the parenting books and with my obstetrician’s permission, I brought him to one of the pre-natal ‘well-baby’ checkups.  When the obstetrician walked in, he pointed to the big poster on the exam-room’s wall and asked my son:

“Do you know what this is?”

My 4-year-old looked him seriously in the eyes and replied:

“That is the female reproductive system.  Would you like me to explain it to you?”

As a matter of fact, when he was just about 18 months old, we took him to the Science and Tech museum – he loved trains.  He would go into the room displaying train engines and, whether anyone was listening or not, would point to parts of the steam engine and explain, in detail, how the machines worked (using half-baby, half scientific language).  He was mobbed by a large group of camera-wielding Japanese tourists, who were convinced he was part of the museum exhibit…

Yes, he is a genius:  after all, he IS your humble blogger’s son!!!

(Explanation: from selecting a mate to timing the pregnancy to choosing rearing techniques, I had optimized primarily for intelligence, so the proven fact that my sons have both scored in the ‘genius’ range ought not be a surprise.  The fact that they are not emotionally damaged beyond repair is just a lucky bonus!!!)

What I am trying to establish is that he was both a smart kid and an atypical learner.  So, it took until grade 2 that he hit the metaphorical wall – until then, he could use his intelligence to hide the depth of his difficulties.  But, by grade 2, his cognitive skills were so high, and his ability to express them in writing so low, because here, in Canada (unlike where I grew up where it’s half-and-half written and oral testing), marks are awarded ONLY for written testing and that just kills young Aspies’ spirit.   He turned out to be above the 99.98% range of his peers in cognition, but below the 40% range of his peers in ability to express it in writing…  So, the gulf between what he knew and what he could produce in school was so huge that he began to fall into a deep depression.

Thus, when he was in grade 2, we sought help.  Luckily, there was a very well respected psychologist who had office hours once a week at my son’s school and we sought her help.  Frightened by his depression at such a young age, we got the ‘deluxe’ package of evaluation.  (This was not an indulgence, we just did not want to take any risks with 50% of our retirement plan.)

So, he went for many hours of tests.

And, so did we – the family.

Each one of us, parents, went for a 3-hour evaluation and then we had an ‘all 4 family members interacting’ evaluation session.

I don’t know what went on in the other sessions, but when it came to my evaluation, they gave me a series of totally messed-up tests.  Like – 150 ‘facial expressions’ where I had to say what the person in question was ‘feeling’!  Like – who CARES what they were feeling – that’s involuntary and thus irrational and thus, obviously, irrelevant.  I’m only interested in what people are thinking because I respect other people enough to presume them to reign in their in their irrationality and show me the respect of acting logically and rationally!!!

Isn’t that obvious?!?!?!?

After all, I do this for them – and I have been told that reciprocity is the cornerstone of civilization!  So, why would they not reciprocate and do this for me?

RIGHT?!?!?

Ok, ok, I did not do so well on that test.  To my credit, I did get 7 right…

But, having studied Konrad Lorenz’s books at great length during my teens, I did much better on the body-language one:  I got almost 25% on that one!!!

Aside:  I have worked on this really, really hard for many years since that fateful day, taking internet classes, and am now at a little over 40% on the facial expressions one!  And, I totally get like 45% on the body-language one!  I don’t mean to be boastful, but… I’m close to 50% on the ‘real-woman/she-man’ ones!!!

Needless to say, the psychologist identified (much less pejorative than ‘diagnosed’) both me and my hubby as Aspies….though, my hubby is way closer to neurotypical than I am – so I always take his lead when it comes to all that ‘human interaction’ nonsense.  After all, men are so much better at this touchy-feely-relationship stuff!  Sometimes I feel so sorry for those poor, poor, emotional creatures…  But, I digress…

It may seem like I am changing topics here, but, please, do bear with me…  Are you familiar with the atheist argument that once all the theists come to an agreement about what is the precise definition of ‘deity’, come talk to us, but, until then, please work to get a functional definition before you try to get us to ‘believe’ in this?

Well – here is the ‘facial equivalent’ thereof for us, Aspies!!!  (Yes, the link is coming – just a little more ranting….)

I recall that when Ivan Lendl first came to play tennis in North America, reporters kept asking him why he does not smile – and he replied that nobody had given him a reason to smile – and this was touted as weird in the press and all….but as he became more integrated into North American society, he learned to smile whenever there was an audience.

Keep this in mind, please – especially with respect to the atheist argument about getting an agreed-upon definition of ‘god’ before asking us to believe in one…

SOOO much was explained to me when I came upon THIS blog entry:

‘In Russia, it is not common to smile at strangers. When you smile at a stranger in Russia, you may get the question “Have we met?” in return, because Russians normally smile only to people they know. Also, this is not common to smile when dealing with more serious issues. You wouldn’t see many smiling faces in business meetings, because business is serious, and by smiling, you show that you either don’t take it seriously or you distrust your partners’ words. Russian shop assistants are trained to smile, because smiling while serving people is unnatural for Russians. “I’m taking you seriously, you are important to me, so I don’t smile” is the natural Russian approach to a smile. ‘

It is a short post and chock-full of useful data, so I recommend reading it.

But, what it demonstrates is that facial expressions are culture-dependant and NOT in any way universal.

So, I urge you, neurotypicals:  Please, first come to an agreement what do particular facial expressions express AMONGST YOURSELVES and only THEN come and demand that we, Aspies, try to decode that crazy mumbo-jumbo!!!

21/11/2013 Posted by | Asperger Syndrome, Aspie Communication, Understanding 'Society' | Leave a comment

Aspergers, Signs and What ‘Things Actually Mean’

It is a source of deep frustration for me that so often, signs are interpreted wrongly by the neurotypicals – who read meanings into them that simply are not there!  And, they get indignant when others, with better knowledge of either grammar or logic (or both), act in accordance with what the sign actually says instead of what they erroneously infer it says.

Let me give you an example:  outside of one of the parking lots at my son’s high school, there is a sign:

STAFF ONLY

PLEASE

In one way, this sign is pretty clear:  it is a request that only staff members enter the area.

It is not a statement of a rule, nor an order, because it includes the word ‘PLEASE’ – this clearly indicates that this is a request, something that is being asked of me…and therefore within my power to either grant or reject.

Right?!?!?

Yet, when I drove into the parking lot not with the intent to park there, but simply to drop my son off at the door closest to his locker, two different school employees told him off for my perceived transgression.

Outrageous!!!

The sign never stated that non-staff members are forbidden from even entering, not just parking in the area.

Of course, I am presuming that there ought to be a comma after ‘only’ and before ‘please’.  As is, the sign is a sentence fragment which indicates that the staff is in the process of pleasing some exclusive element, but does not define whom the staff are in the process of pleasing, why, or how one can get on the list of those to be pleased by the staff….much less imply any rules about the area in question!

Now, if one were to interpret the sign as meaning ‘only staff members are allowed in the area’, why are students permitted to walk there?  And, for that matter, if only staff are permitted there, why would the staff members presume that their vehicles are allowed there as well?  It certainly does not state that vehicles owned by staff members are permitted to be driven/parked there.

Really, think about it:  it says ‘staff’ – not ‘staff and their vehicles and students who are walking but not getting out of vehicles”.

I am not being silly here – this is something of a serious issue for us, Aspies.

We take a sign – or an instruction – at its literal meaning.

We do not see any ‘implied’ other meaning – yet, we are the ones who get yelled at or laughed at if we truly follow what the sign actually says.  That only ads insult to injury…

Let me give you another example, from a math test:

“Write the 3 forms of a quadratic relation that you have learned in this course this far…”

It seems obvious that if you have learned any or all of these 3 forms of quadratic relations before you started this class, they are not eligible to be put down for the answer here.   In other words, if you are good at math and already knew them, the only accurate and correct answer is to leave this blank or say ‘none’!

The corollary is that if you are still ignorant of these forms because you are bad at Math and have learned nothing in this class, your answer of leaving this blank or saying ‘nothing’ is also 100% correct:  the question does not ask what was taught, or what material was covered, but what you had actually learned.  If you had learned nothing, then your answer of ‘nothing’ would indeed be factually correct and deserving of full marks!

Yet, if you, as a student, try to point this out to a teacher, you will not be commended for your accurate interpretation of the question.  You will be singled out, put down and even perhaps punished for some trumped up ‘disrespect’ charge…

To an Aspie, this is very, very confusing.

I know – I’ve been there…

05/11/2013 Posted by | Asperger Syndrome, Aspergers and Schooling, Aspie Communication | Leave a comment

What can neurotypicals do to communicate better with Aspies/Auties?

Recently, I received this question from Angel:

‘Hi Xan,

A friend of mine is writing a newspaper on Aspergers. She asked me what neurotypicals could do to communicate better with those on the autistic spectrum. What are your thoughts?’

After some thinking, this is what I answered:

Hmmmm – this is a difficult question because it presumes that all Aspies have identical communications problems – and we don’t, so that’s important to keep in mind. Still, there are patterns that we can work from.

1. Say what you mean – don’t ‘send signals’. We’ll likely not pick up on those signals and, if they are part of the message, we’ll miss it.

2. Be honest – we’ll take ‘little white lies’ at face value and believe that is your true opinion.

3. Don’t freak out when we’re honest.

4. If you have to ask questions like ‘Do you know what I mean?’, then we probably don’t.

5. When we ask for clarification, please, please, don’t just repeat the same sentence as before, as if that would somehow explain things – use different words, clarify and explain!

6. Don’t tell us how you feel, tell us what you think – we rely on intelligent people using their thoughts to override their feelings. Especially if the conversation is about issues and real-world stuff, if someone starts their sentence with ‘I feel that …’ – boom, we’ve tuned out.

7. Same thing with ‘beliefs’ – if you cannot support it with facts, then it’s just a prejudice and we’ll resent you imposing your prejudices on us. So, unless we are specifically discussing ‘beliefs’, sentences starting with ‘I believe that…’ are not only meaningless, they are annoying.

8. Don’t give us a choice unless you expect us to make a choice freely. If it’s a thinly veiled threat – we’ll simply see it as a choice you gave us and be bewildered if you get angry that we’ve actually made a choice, when you clearly offered us a choice.

I hope this is a good start!

Anybody else with some constructive advice?

11/06/2013 Posted by | Asperger Syndrome, Aspie Communication, Aspie thinking, Hearing/Listening | Leave a comment

Autism & Learning Disabilities Help – Social Communication Foundation

10/06/2013 Posted by | Asperger Syndrome, Aspergers and Schooling, Aspie Communication | , | Leave a comment

Can having Asperger’s make someone a murderer?

Today, I received a question which deserves a post-long answer:

The question:

I am curious to know how other ‘Aspies’ think about this article.
http://www.foxnews.com/us/2012/12/19/wyo-college-killer-suicide-note-blames-asperger-for-troubles-life-as-bottom/?intcmp=obinsite

My answer:

My personal opinion is that there are troubled people from all walks of life, from all races, of all religions, in all socioeconomic groups and all that. It would be surprising if, every now and then, there were no troubled people who also have Asperger’s.

That was the ‘general’ answer. This article, however, was about a person who considered himself victimized for having Asperger’s – for having been born an Aspie. So, I will go a little deeper into this specific case.

The troubled young man wrote of his ‘right not to have been born’…I think that bit tells us a lot about him: he may have had Asperger’s, but what crippled him was depression.

Unfortunately, it is not all that uncommon for Aspies – especially adolescent and young adult Aspies – to suffer from depression. This is – and I am guessing here, not making a medical diagnoses – likely because in that stage of our lives, we learn to grow apart from our parents and begin to form our individual identity. All young people who perceive themselves to be somehow stigmatized and thus not valued by society, for whatever reason, are at at increased risk of depression during this process.

This is because they may perceive their ‘differentness’ as a serious flaw which will prevent them from having a healthy self-image…which is where the depression sets in.

That is why it is essential that Asperger’s is not treated as a disease or a disaster.

I’ll illustrate what I mean by contrasting two examples:

My friend has three kids. When her middle daughter was diagnosed with Asperger’s, the whole family took the diagnosis as a disaster. The older sister came to talk to me and was crying about the ‘horrible sentence’ her sister was dealt. The father turned more religious, and spent a lot of time praying to God to ‘fix’ his daughter and take that curse off of her….

Needless to say, the Aspie daughter took was devastated by all this and spun into a depression…would not get out of bed, flunked out of high school and lost all interest in just about everything. It took two years before she started going to a special school to try to finish her high school.

She considers herself as being victimized by having Asperger’s.

On the other hand…there is my younger son. My husband and I had been diagnosed with Asperger’s when our older son was and they did a battery of tests on all of us and all three of us came up Aspies… In addition, many of his cousins are also Aspies – including his favourite one whom he has always identified with and emulated.

So, years later, when he was ALSO diagnosed an Aspie, he was thrilled!!!

He said ‘Finally, I’m one of you guys!’

And, I even got a call from his teacher to please ask him to tone it down with his Aspie pride, because he was making the other children feel inadequate for not having a diagnosis of Asperger’s…

I suspect that the difference in attitude towards the diagnosis of Asperger’s is what makes a huge difference in how people will cope in life.

Because, cope is what we must all do – Aspies or not.

Each one of us has personal traits which are positive and negative, which make it easier and harder for us to succeed in whatever we do and how we live. It is up to each and every one of us to maximize our positive traits and minimize our negative ones – or even find a way to make them work for, instead of against us. The attitude with which we approach this will make a very real difference.

If we lament our negative attributes ans feel ourselves aggrieved and victimized by them, if we wallow in self pity, we will grow into bitter and unpleasant losers.

If we accept ourselves for who we are, but think we cannot change our selves – including our negative qualities, this will become a self-fulfilling prophesy and we will not improve ourselves.

But if we accept ourselves for who we are and understand that, for whatever reason we got our traits, each one of us is now an individual who is responsible for all of ourselves, and for what we do with our traits, we can utilize both the good and the bad to our best advantage and improve ourselves. We can develop coping mechanisms to overcome the bad traits and capitalize on our good ones.

And, we will be able to take pride in who we have become because we will understand that we have maximized our potential!

Asperger’s is not a disease or an illness – it is a set of personality traits that require specific strategies to properly integrate into society. Some Aspies despise the expression ‘being diagnosed with Asperger’s’ as they consider it stigmatizing. They prefer the term ‘being identified as an Aspie’. Perhaps this difference in attitude is more important than we know: you don’t get ‘worse’ because you were diagnosed – you will be exactly the same, except that now, you will have identified some of the tools that may be helpful to you to overcome your negative traits and maximize your positive ones.

But, I digress…back to the example at hand.

This man said he was self-diagnosed as an Aspie. This suggests that he never received specialized help in how to overcome his difficulties. Perhaps that is why he could not maximize his potential: he did well in a highly structured environment, like school (he had master’s degree in engineering – they don’t hand those out for just showing up), but could not cope with the unstructured world outside of academia. His father and his father’s girlfriend were also academics – so they would not have been particularly useful in helping him integrate into a non-academic world, which is very different indeed.

In fact, there is very little in our school system to prepare people for the non-academic world, but that is a different rant. Suffice it to say, a person who has difficulty with social integration, but who had successfully (masters in engineering) integrated into the academic world would indeed have terrible difficulties adjusting to the non-academic one…and without help, he might indeed ‘crash-and-burn’. If, in addition to this great disappointment in himself, he also has the attitude of wallowing in self-pity and not taking responsibility for himself (which are personality flaws not associated with Aspergers – they occur across all of our species), such a person might indeed commit a horrendous act…

But blaming his dad for passing on Asperger’s genes is just scapegoating, nothing more!

24/12/2012 Posted by | Asperger Syndrome | , | Leave a comment

Guest post on Aspergers’ by Angel: Teaching the Art of Conversation

A reader, Angel, who is raising an Aspie son, has been kind enough to contribute this article on Asperger’s and teaching the art of communication.  I hope you like it as much as I do!

 

Teaching the Art of Conversation:

Let’s face it.  Kids don’t want to talk to the odd kid out—the dork who always says the wrong thing. This sets up a vicious cycle—those who need practice interacting the most, get it the least.  My son fell victim to this downward spiral—practically no one would talk to him, so he couldn’t get the practice he needed to talk to them.  In an essay he wrote recently, he recalls what it was like to fall into this pit:

 

I couldn’t understand them, these seven-year-old kids. I felt like I was the butt of every joke, and I couldn’t handle it. It seemed like I always said the wrong thing, and I couldn’t ever just roll with the punches and “play along,” the absolute skill. Embarrassment was a fire that never ceased to scorch me. It was a daily emotion, and one that I learned to hate above all else. All of this culminated in one event that I’m still unwilling to share, especially with an unknown number of strange readers. It was so embarrassing to me that I was absolutely sure that I could not go back, could not face the kids who shared the knowledge of that day.

Though he didn’t confide in me at the time, I saw something I hadn’t seen before—a dark side emerging from this loving son of mine.  I pulled him out of public school and taught him myself until he decided to return in his junior year.  To both of our amazement, when he returned, he was instantly popular with other kids.

How did talking to me about his reading and writing assignments translate into excellent social skills nine years later?  It seemed that by practicing his skills on me, he was not only able to catch up, but actually got ahead of other teens.  Why are adults so much better than kids when it comes to teaching Aspergers how to conduct a good conversation?

Adults can be skilled listeners who help children “fill in the blanks.” They will entertain any topic, shared or not.  They don’t insist on conventional turn-taking, doing most of the talking for children who barely respond and most of the listening for children who talk like the wind. Adults will also prompt for further elaboration, or provide elaboration when a child omits the details he needs to complete a story.

If you are doing what comes naturally when talking to children, you are practicing speech therapy—coaching your child in what therapists call Speech Pragmatics.  Pragmatics concerns itself with what people mean, not what they say—usually the only type of speech therapy that Aspergers need.  Pragmatics teaches three fundamental skills: contextualization, turn-taking, andelaboration.

 

Contextualization may be the hardest for Aspergers to learn.  If a child’s statements are irrelevant to a shared topic, he may have misunderstood or forgotten its original context—responding as if he is willfully evading a question or changing the subject.  Parents must listen carefully for this conversation killer, gently insisting that the child stay on topic.  Queues for opening and closing a conversation should be explicit.  Taking turns is also a discipline that should be gently enforced—this could mean getting your child to pipe down and listen or prompting your child to come out of his shell.  Finally, elaboration is necessary to keep a conversation going.

 

To slow down the action, so that an Aspergers child has the extra time he needs to rehearse each of these three vital skills, you might try what I did for my son at home—interactive reading.  With a book in hand, the context of any topic will not be forgotten or misunderstood until you are ready to turn the page.  You can practice taking turns with your child through give-and-take questions and answers, then move on to general two-way discussions.  The story also provides a springboard for further interpretation and elaboration.

 

If you take every opportunity to rehearse proper contextualization, turn-taking, and elaboration in a safe environment as a pace your child can handle, you’d be amazed at the way this translates to better conversation with friends.

My son, now a teenager, happily converses with friends as if he never had Aspergers.  Words are spun round and round as each speaker elaborates, thickening the context of shared information, beginning a new round of contextualization, turn-taking,and elaboration,a self-perpetuating cycle, spinning so effortlessly that it sometimes escalates into the wee hours of the morning—particularly with teenagers who are keenly interested in self-expression.

When I first took him out of school, he had a long way to go before this could happen.  He needed extra prompting to move a conversation forward. For years, we privately worked at sowing the seeds of his future success. We rehearsed the contextualization, turn-taking, elaboration, contextualization, turn-taking, elaboration, contextualization, turn-taking, elaboration “spin cycle” until it became second nature. Who could have imagined that rehearsing at home would eventually lead to popularity at school?  In my son’s own words:

 

So, can you successfully educate an Aspergers kid at home, then, after he has matured, send him back to public school? While I can’t say that this method will work for everyone, the answer is yes, it is possible.  At least one person has done so.

13/12/2012 Posted by | Asperger Syndrome, Aspergers and Schooling, Aspie Communication, Aspie thinking | , | Leave a comment

Island of Merzy – Part 1

While I was reading up on famous Aspies, I came across an assertion that Albert Einstein could NOT have been an Aspie, because he had a sense of humour!!!

This came from someone who is apparently considered to be an ‘expert’ on Asperger’s syndrome….  How sad.  It sounds like one of those ‘experts’ who only considers a very small percentage of Aspies and – proverbially – sweeps the rest of us under the rug.

Just for the record, I would like to repeat:  Aspies have a sense of humour!!!

If you don’t believe me, read xkcd (apparently, they picked the name so it could not be pronounced as a single word…but I was only told that after I HAD been pronouncing it that way…my native tongue can have sentences that are gramatically correct and make sense – yet contain no vowels…and YES, I DO love ‘tongue-twisters’!)

Alternately, let me tell you a story about the island of Merzy….

Once, long ago, when the Earth was smaller than it is today – well, at least the ‘KNOWN’ world (i.e. known to the Europeans who KNEW they were at the centre of the Universe), there was a small, unchartered island somewhere in the tropical band about the world. This island was called Merzy.

It was inhabitted by a wonderful peoples. One day, a European explorer happened upon that island and immediatelly fell in love with it, the people, their culture – or, perhaps, just the
Chieftains’ daughter.

 

Either way, he feared that as more Europeans would come, they would consider the natives to be ‘savages’, because they did not display the ‘European trappings of power’. The best way to protect them, her reasoned, was to -within the frame of their culture – also teach them how to emulate some of the things that would force the Europeans (who were bound to follow there, now that the paradise-like island had been discovered) to treat the islanders with respect – and not like the other indigenous cultures they had encountered while ‘discovering’ the globe.

It would not be as difficult as all that, our explorer thought…

First, the Chieftain had to be referred to as a ‘King’. That is what all the Europeans called their leaders.

Second, he had to appear ‘kingly’. That meant a proper, golden throne, and that sceptery thingy and the apple-gold-bally thingy. (I love technical terms!)

Third, they had to do something about the architecture….since all the buildings on the island were really just straw huts, the Europeans might not take them seriously, after all.  So, they had to ‘Europeanize’ the buildings – you know, they had to put up a fancy facade…

Getting everyone to call his beloved’s father ‘King’ was easy. At least, he taught them that the word ‘Chieftain’ translates into multiple European languages as ‘king’ – same thing, really.

Then, they set about building a huge, multi-story straw hut.  Yes, a ‘proper’ building would have been better, but, well, you had bamboo and much straw – and little else for building materials, so the plans had to be adjusted a bit from ‘palace’ to ‘big, two-story hut’.  (Please, note that I did NOT say ‘hutlace’.)

But – they did it! It was magnificent! It was very large, so most of the natives from the tribe could gather inside for celebrations. It had two stories around the edges, and the middle was open to the tall ceiling.

And, in the place of honour – the centre of the hut/palace, they placed the masterpiece – a magnificent, golden throne! Yes, it was not easy to make the throne, but it really was magnificent:  inlaid with mother-of-pearl and all kinds of precious thingies.  A real throne!

The King even got a crown, sceptre and the roundy-bally thingy, which matched the style and look of the throne: golden with pearls all over.

Now, they would be ready for any Europeans to come!

The explorer, sadly, had to return home. After all, even though he wanted to stay, he owed a debt of honour to the Queen (it is ALWAYS queens who fund the most excellent explorers – I think it has to do with longing and the mystique of the unknown) to come back and give his report.  With him, he brought many specialities from the island… and he promised that as soon as possible, he would seek permission from his Queen to return to the island and seek the hand of the Merzian princess (chifetain’s daughter) in marriage.

Time passed, but nobody came.

More time passed, and nobody came.

When it became clear that something had gone wrong with the explorer, and he was not coming back – and nor were any other Europeans (the island was rather well sheltered and hidden from major shipping routes), the islanders slowly put away the’European trappings of power’ – except that they did like the big hut! It was an AWESOME party place!

But that big throne was always getting in the way….so, to keep it a bit out of way, the islanders decided to shove it up to the second story of the hut – the whole second floor had, really, become one big storage space.

One day, they had a most excellent party!

Lots of dancing, tea-drinking, singing, and coconut-clapping…..and then, suddenly, with horrid, tortured creaking and cracking, the floor under that heavy throne gave out!!!

The whole hut started collapsing, caught on fire from the party torches, and EVERYBODY DIED!!!!!

And WHAT, do you ask, is the moral of this story???

PEOPLE WHO LIVE IN GRASS HOUSES SHOULD NOT STOW THRONES!!!!!!!

… and they say us Aspies have no sense of humour!!!!  We can make things funny AND follow the rules of how humour works!!!

10/11/2012 Posted by | Asperger Syndrome, Humour | , | 1 Comment

A response to my post ‘Aspergers and Writing’

One of my most popular posts of all times is ‘Aspergers and Writing’, in which I explore some of the difficulties Aspies face when writing and, perhaps, some practical advice on how to improve this difficult-for-most-Aspies skill.

Over the years (yes, years…) since I have written it, it has received a lot of comments which update the post and keep it ‘fresh’.

Here is an example of a ‘conversation’ in the comments which shows how the comments people leave help others and keep the post relevant.

A reader called Riayn left this comment:

I’m an adult with Aspergers and what you have written rings very, very true.

As a child I had enormous problems with handwriting and had to undertake remedial handwriting classes. I never learnt how to form cursive handwriting that is legible. I even have problems signing my name that matches what I have signed on the back of my credit card as I can’t always form the letters properly. However, my printed handwriting, when I concentrate and take my time, is extremely neat.

When it comes to writing, I find there is a disconnect between my brain and the page. I know exactly what I want to say but I just can’t write it down. I blog to improve my writing abilities, but many of my posts sound fantastic in my head but come out completely different & inferior on the page.

I wish I could remove the mental block.


To this comment I replied:

I SO KNOW what you mean. I have found the same thing with my posts…

Though, I have found that if I write it – but not really finish, then I can’t get back into writing from where I stopped. Especially if I have had the chance to bounce the ideas off of someone else – to actually verbally ‘speak’ what it is I am trying to get across in the post.

Then, I find it easier to just start from the beginning again: complete different angle, and so on. The act of trying to write it, then saying it out loud (sometimes getting feedback – my poor family!), and then tackling it from a different angle seems to help me get more of my point across.

I also find it much easier to answer comments: then, it’s more like talking to a person, and it seems easier for me to type the words ‘naturally’ than if I am trying to compose a post. Perhaps that is connected to the fact we, Aspies, tend to be more verbally skilled than and less skilled at writing.

Have you tried recording yourself as you ‘speak’ your post – then transcribing it? I’ve been toying with the idea of, perhaps, doing a few of my blog posts by speaking them, instead of writing them down, just to see. Perhaps.

This exchange had been up in the comments for a while.

Then, a new reader named CD joined the conversation:

‘I’m an aspiring writer who has Asperger Syndrome. This post defines me to a “T”. 

I can spend three hours sitting down in front of a computer, trying to compose a story, with no results. 
Perfectionism is one deterrent. 
Another is over thinking. 
I don’t know what runs through other As minds, but I know my own. I over think things to death. The solution I incorporate is to write endlessly, uncontrollably, for a set time limit. 
For example: I could write “The smoke descended the stairs. Shawn was the only person who saw it. He wanted to warn people….” 
Well not my best but you get the idea. To write this simple sentence I’d begin like this: Smoke, grey, moves, stairs, horror, Shawn sees it, won’t talk, why, wants to…
Anything for an hour, like I said. Then I return a day later and piece the words together like a puzzle, trying to produce coherent meaning. 
My ideas are so insightful. I won’t allow AS to prevent me from expressing them in any damned form I see fit. My goal is to write
‘endlessly and uncontrollably’ until I complete an entire story, then return to fix it up.  After that, the process of general editing, which a normal person without As would’ve already completed, comes into play. 
Though this may be a daunting task, it has worked for me. 
Plus, taking care of your physical health is very important for an AS individual to hone and display his natural god given gifts. Just waking up everyday with AS and dealing with the world, not just writing, drains the persons health. 
Anyway, I hope this long post helped. I’d like a personal email telling me how I helped. If you find the time that is. I don’t check blogs very often. Guess I should get started creating my own blog,huh? 
Well that is another topic in and of itself. I’m rambling now so hope I was of some help.
Thanks.
CD’
I hope CD’s advice can help more people – which is why I am highligting it as a post in itself.  Thank you, CD.
And if you have found strategies which work for you, please, share them!!!  We need to try all the ideas we can get!!!

26/06/2012 Posted by | Asperger Syndrome, Aspie Communication, Writing | , , | 2 Comments

Q&A on Aspergers and ‘hearing dyslexia’

Recently, I got a question on my post ‘Aspergers and ‘hearing dyslexia’ (over on my other site).

When my highly imperfect answer topped a thousand words, I thought it worth a post of its own, because I think that while some Aspies might find it useful, others might  have helpful suggestions – much better than mine, which, if they are willing to share, could benefit us all.

Question:

My son is 16. We didn’t notice this “hearing dyslexia” for many years [perhaps we were too distracted by the other symptoms] but now it is overwhelming. Unless someone speaks very slowly and distinctly to him, my son will answer, “What did you say?” almost inevitably.
My question is: Am I understanding correctly that there’s really nothing to be done about this? My son can read great, can speak [though he tends to speak way too fast and mumbled; doesn’t seem like he used to as a child], but he definitely has the problem listed on this site.
Nice to know what it is, but beyond that, no suggestions?

Answer:

This is a difficult question.

Something can be done, but…

There are therapies which have been used on young children – 3-6 years of age – which are showing definite improvement. This therapy is in the form of computer programs where they do simple tasks (say, help frog catch a fly) based on the length of a tone…which later builds up into series of 2,3+ tones done in the proper rhythm.

The theory behind this is neuroplasticity: the brain is being trained, slowly but surely, to use a different bit of the brain to do the job of integrating time with sound. Because the different bit of brain uses a slightly different ‘strategy’, even to accomplish the same task, the underlying problem will not interfere with that task.

Of course, trying to get a 16-year-old interested in a video game designed for 3-year-olds is not likely to have positive outcome.

But, there are other ways.

They are less effective, but they can work. And, for a 16-year-old, they are more practical.

It really depends on the Aspie: what will motivate them and what will work for each one individually.

One thing that helped both my sons was music.

With a metronome. (One on their computer was more ‘fun’ than a real one – plus it’s much cheaper.)

The sounds are written down in the music score – not just the tones, but their lengths and pauses.

He creates the sound on his instrument (from a cheap recorder or little keyboard to a sexy instrument he’d be willing to play, this bit is way less important) based on what is written down and the metronome helps him integrate the time element into the sound which is generated based on the visual input from the music score. Listening to himself play is the feedback…

I think the visual component is important – ‘playing by ear’ lack the rigor of integrating visual stimulus with the tone and metered time elements necessary to help re-route the ‘time-sound-synchronization’ bit into another area of the brain. Then, as he learns the piece (motor nerve integration into the time/sound system), the metronome can eventually be eliminated and he will still be able to ‘keep pace.

This is not a quick and easy solution, but one that might make an improvement in a teen. We definitely saw an improvement in ours once they took up an instrument – but only an improvement…certainly not an elimination of the problem.

Of course, the ‘shortcut’ would be the videogames where the computer plays the music and displays the colour-coded notes which have to be pressed for a specific period of time, which information is conveyed visually. (Games like RockBand and so on.)

Now that I come to think about it, these are the ‘teenager’ versions of the young-kid games used in the therapy which has been demonstrated to be effective in clinical trials for 3-6 year-olds!

Music could not ‘work’ for me – not only am I not interested in it, I find music actively annoying. Yes, I am sure that my hearing dyslexia is at least partly to blame – imagine listening to music, but with some of the notes jumbled up…you, too, might find it gives you headaches. (This is one of the reasons I avoid shopping malls and other places that force music at me.)

And even though I took piano lessons, within 2 years, 3 teachers kicked me out as ‘un-teachable’…so, no, for me, music absolutely did not work. (For example, I still have difficulty telling apart the movie themes from ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Indiana Jones’ – the same pathetic bombast, the same notes, just slightly re-ordered. Unless I hear them together, I have to think very, very hard to tell which one it is…)

However, what did work for me (a bit) was learning to speak foreign languages. Practicing making the sounds in front of a mirror, getting audio feedback to make sure I eliminated mispronunciation, and so on. (If you want to get really fun, you can use an oscilloscope to display the proper sound wave pattern, then try to match yours to it – hours of fun!)

Learning a language (even without the oscilloscope), I could use the audio, visual and work in the timing with the motor nerves of speech.

And the hook that kept me interested in learning languages was the pattern-making intricacies of grammars. Yes, grammars: because each language has a different approach to this and exploring this logic puzzle set my endorphins hopping! (I get happy just thinking about it!) It’s kind of like algebra, but with words.

(OK – the different alphabets were fun, too – but grammars are like logic puzzles on steroids! Especially when you compared the grammatical ‘philosophy’ to the culture it was used in and the religious memes it best supported – what could be more fascinating!!! But, I’m off on a tangent…)

Again, I am nowhere near ‘cured’, but it certainly helped me become more functional.

I still have extreme difficulty understanding spoken words when there is background noise – like, hum of other conversations, but, especially, music. That is why I loath movies – their background music is not just icky to listen to and calculated to be emotionally manipulative (a deep insult to the audience – in my never-humble-opinion), but it makes it difficult to follow the dialogue in the movie. I usually have to wait to see movies till I can buy them and watch them with subtitles. If the soundtrack is particularly emotionally manipulative, I’ve been known to turn the subtitles on and watch the movie on mute – a much more satisfying experience!

In social situations, I often rely on partial lip-reading: it helps me make more sense of the sounds. (And, yes – that is one reason why I hate the cultural normalization of niqabs and burkas.)

Well, that is my best advice for how to improve your son’s comprehension. As to speaking fast and mumbling…

If I knew how to stop my sons (13 and 18 now) from speaking very fast and mumbling, I’d try it – because they both do.

I’ve tried to get them to recite poetry in order to get them to improve the cadence of their speech – but they are about as interested in reciting poetry as I am in learning to sing movie scores… (Many of us Aspies have a deep-rooted hate for pretentiousness – and let’s face it, much poetry is very, very pretentious.)

In grade 9, my older son took drama in school – that did help him learn to speak slowly and understandably. Now, when he remembers to do so, he uses that skill.

Another thing which has helped them was talking to their grandmothers: one has a hearing problem and does not tolerate hearing aids well, the other struggles with English. So when they speak to either one of them, they have to consider not just what they want to convey, but also how best to convey it. They have to tailor their words differently for each grandmother – which forces them to pay attention to their diction.

It is surprising how helping other people overcome their difficulties can be an excellent tool for Aspies to help themselves overcome their own ‘little things’!!!    ;0)

I wish I could be of more help…

If anyone ‘out there’ has better suggestions, please, comment and let us all know.

20/06/2012 Posted by | Asperger Syndrome, Aspergers and Schooling, Aspie Communication, Comprehesion/Understanding, Hearing/Listening | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Asperger Syndrome and ‘religious belief’

Here, I would very much like to ask Aspies who consider themselves to be ‘theists’ (who believe in one or more deities) to describe the mechanics of their ‘belief’ as best as possible.  (Of course, I would like all Aspies to describe their mechanics of ‘belief’ – but theist ones in particular, because I suspect that Aspie theists are quite rare.)

Why?

I have as yet to meet one…

I do know many Aspies, most of whom have been raised in theist homes when they were children.  Yet, when I have discussed this whole topic of religion and belief, it has become clear to me that not one of them ‘believes’ in deities in the sense that neurotypicals who ‘believe’ do.  The closest to ‘belief’ these people have come is to choose to live as if this whole ‘God proposition’ were true in much the same way that people can accept that something ‘is true’ in the ‘universe of Star Trek’ and can then extrapolate ‘new ideas’ within that pre-defined frame.  Within these parameters, this is true…

But, of course, this does not really relate to reality…

I am not sure if I am explaining this in a way that non-Aspies will understand.

What I am trying to describe is akin to saying:  not that I agree with this, but let’s accept this to be true for the sake of this discussion…  I suspect that the Aspies who live as theists follow some version of this reasoning, which I understand is different from the ‘belief’ that most neurotypicals experienc.

Yes, I do understand that I am skirting the whole debate ‘what constitutes belief’  – but I hope that rather than focusing on the greater debate here, people will comment (so we can explore this discussion) on the difference between ‘religious belief’ as experienced by Aspies and non-Aspies.

Why do I think this is a topic worthy of discussion?

For the sake of the children, of course…  Let me explain.

I know that I am incapable of ‘belief’ in the traditional sense – at best, I view validity of ideas based on probabilities.  Even the ideas I hold as my ‘core views’, the ones I consider define me as me, even those ideas I cannot rate at 100% probability.

I have been this way from as far back as I can remember.  I could never understand why other children would behave as if things were ‘definite’ or ‘certain’, how they could be so sure of, well, anything…  They, on the other hand, thought that my constant qualifications of my position on anything meant I was setting things up so I could lie, or some other display of dishonesty…which, of course, was the exact opposite of what I was trying to do.  I have since learned, in most social interactions, to censor out the vast majority of the uncertainties and qualifications – yet my speech still contains much more of these than displayed in majority of neurotypicals’ conversations.

Back to ‘the children’:  I know many families where two non-Aspies have Aspie children, but I do not know of a single family where two Aspie parents would have any non-Aspie children, which is why the focus of this discussion is on Aspie children in non-Aspie households.

If I am correct in my observation that Aspies are physically incapable of ‘neurotypical belief’, what happens when theist parents are raising Aspie children?

What happens when Aspie children are sent to be educated in religious schools?

The demands made on Aspie children to ‘believe’ (in the neurotypical manner) in deities may be something these children are simply not physically capable of!

Of course, in theism, failure to ‘believe’ in just the right manner is interpreted as ‘sin’ and ‘heresy’ – a very bad thing.  Children who fail to ‘believe’ are considered defiant and disobedient, to be punished and broken until they ‘believe’.

I have observed a number of Aspie children in these situations.  In some Aspie children I have observed, this demand to ‘believe’ in a way they were physically incapable of had led to serious internal turmoil and led them to believe they were inherently bad people.  In others, it led to further withdrawal from social interactions, and in two cases I am aware of it led to serious childhood depression.  (Granted – other factors were there, but this was a big complication…)

So, we are talking about very serious effects here.

Last summer, an Aspie friend of my son joined us for our holidays:  it was his first time away from his family and his parents were thrilled that he got an opportunity to spend a week ‘with his own kind’ – in an all-Aspie household.  I think he had enjoyed himself, but there was one incident I was not certain of how to handle.

We holidayed up north, where the nature is pristine and light pollution is very low at night.  As we were going through a meteor shower, we spent one clear evening lying on our backs on the beach and watching the deep, velvety night sky bejeweled by millions of stars.  We saw some spectacular ‘shooting stars’ when our young (13) Aspie friend got quite upset:  he explained that watching the vastness of the universe in the night-time sky made him finally realize that there probably is no afterlife…

This inability to ‘believe’ – in spite of a desire to – is unpleasant in itself.  Adding to it parental and societal disapproval for ‘not believing’ – that can cause definite damage to a young person’s ability to grow up healthy and to their maximum potential.

Obviously, even though I probably know more Aspies than an average person does, my sample size is insufficient for anything more than ‘a hunch’…which is why I would welcome comments that might help us explore this issue together.

(Re-posted from Xanthippa’s Chamberpot)

05/12/2011 Posted by | Asperger Syndrome, Aspergers and Schooling, Aspie thinking | , , | 1 Comment