Tag Archives: Aspergers

High Functioning and Asperger’s

This is a great article from Very Well Health to help identify a ‘high functioning’ autistic person or one diagnosed with Asperger’s.  As Dallas, my child (who, at 24, is no longer a child) puts it about himself, ‘I’m not so bad that people can recognize i’m different, I just seem obnoxious.’

Shalom!

tauna

Why ‘High Functioning’ Autism Is So Challenging

‘High Functioning’ Isn’t Synonymous with ‘Mild’

PRINT 

© Verywell, 2017

 At this point in history, there is disagreement about how many people on the autism spectrum are on the high or low end of the spectrum (or whether most people with autism are “somewhere in the middle”). It is clear, however, that the lion’s share of media attention goes to folks at the high and the low ends of the spectrum—that is, the profoundly disabled and the very high functioning.

The fact is that life with severe autism is extraordinarily difficult.

Myth: People High Functioning Autism Are Unusually Intelligent and Successful

If the media is to believed, the high end of the autism spectrum is peopled largely by eccentric geniuses—Bill Gates and Albert Einstein are often mentioned, along with Dan Aykroyd and Daryl Hannah—who by and large do very well indeed, though they march to the beat of their own drummer. The reality, however, is that “high functioning autistic” and “genius,” “business tycoon,” and “Hollywood star” rarely go together. In fact:

  • People with high functioning autism, while they may or may not be unusually intelligent, rarely have the kind of intense motivation for public success that sends a Bill Gates to find funders or an Einstein to find a publisher.
  • They may also have significant challenges which stand in the way of living a comfortable life, succeeding in work or romance, or achieving a sense of self-worth. Those issues are made more challenging, in part, because they surprise and upset others who don’t anticipate odd behaviors or reactions from people who “pass for normal” in many situations.
  • While people with more severe autism are not generally expected to just suck it up and get through difficult moments, people on the higher end of the spectrum are expected to do just that.
  • Lastly, people with high functioning autism are, in general, very aware of their own difficulties and extremely sensitive to others’ negative reactions.

Fact: High Functioning Autism Is Very Challenging Every Day

Here are just a few of the issues that get between people on the high end of the autism spectrum (including those diagnosed with the now-outdated Asperger syndrome) and personal success and happiness:

  1. Extreme sensory issues. People at the higher end of the spectrum are just as susceptible as people in the middle or lower end of the spectrum to sensory dysfunctions. These include mild, moderate, or extreme sensitivity to noise, crowds, bright lights, strong tastes, smells, and touch. This means that a person who is bright, verbal, and capable may be unable to walk into a crowded restaurant, attend a movie, or cope with the sensory assaults associated with malls, stadiums, or other venues.
  2. Social “cluelessness.”  What’s the difference between a civil greeting and a signal of romantic interest? How loud is too loud? When is okay to talk about your personal issues or interests? When is it important to stop doing what you enjoy in order to attend to another person’s needs? These are tough questions for anyone, but for a person on the high end of the autism spectrum they can become overwhelming obstacles to social connections, employment, and romance.
  1. Anxiety and depression. Anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders are more common among people with high functioning autism than they are among the general population. We don’t know whether the autism causes the mood disorders, or whether the disorders are the result of social rejection and frustration—but whatever their causes, mood disorders can be disabling in themselves.
  2. Lack of executive planning skills. Executive functioning describes the skills we use to organize and plan our lives. They allow typical adults to plan schedules in advance, notice that the shampoo is running low, or create and follow a timeline in order to complete a long-term project. Most people with high functioning autism have compromised executive functioning skills, making it very tough to plan and manage a household, cope with minor schedule changes at school or at work, and so forth.
  3. Emotional disregulation. Contrary to popular opinion, people with autism have plenty of emotions. In fact, people with autism can become far too emotional in the wrong situations. Imagine a 16-year-old bursting into tears because of a change in plans, or a grown woman melting down completely because her car won’t start.  These are the types of issues that can arise for people with high functioning autism, who are capable of doing a great many things ONLY when the situation is predictable, and no obstacles arise.
  4. Difficulty with transitions and change.  Lots of people have a hard time with change, but people with high functioning autism take the issue to a whole new level. Once a pattern is established and comfortable, people with autism (by and large) want to maintain that pattern forever.  If a group of friends goes out on Wednesdays for nachos, the idea of going out on Thursdays for chicken wings can throw an autistic adult into a state of anxiety or even anger.
  5. Difficulty with following verbal communication.  A person with high functioning autism may be more than capable of doing a task—but unable to follow the spoken instructions provided. In other words, if a policeman says “stay in your car and give me your license and registration,” the person with autism may process only “stay in your car,” or only “give me your license.” The same goes for instructions given, say, at a ballroom dance class, at the doctor’s office, or by a manager in an office setting. As you can imagine, this can cause any number of issues, ranging from serious problems with the police to inadvertent mistakes at work.

As you can see, the term “high functioning” does mean what it says. But high functioning autism is not an easy or simple diagnosis to live with. For those caring for, employing, teaching, or working with people on the higher end of the spectrum, it’s important to remember that autism is autism.

Sources:

Andersen, Per Normann.Associations among symptoms of autism, symptoms of depression and executive functions in children with high-functioning autism: a 2-year follow-up study. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. August 2015, Volume 45, Issue 8, pp 2497–2507

MaianoC., et al. Prevalence of school bullying among youth with autism spectrum disorders. Autism Res Treat. 2014;2014:502420.doi: 10.1155/2014/502420. Epub 2014 Sep 3. 

Williams, Diane. Associations between conceptual reasoning, problem-solving, and adaptive ability in high-functioning autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, November 2014, Volume 44, Issue 11, pp 2908–2920.

Learning from Autistic Persons

Articles about autism and Asperger’s always catch my eye since my middle child (son, Dallas) was diagnosed with Asperger’s when he was 19.  It is important, in my opinion, to help others understand as best we all can about this challenging character trait.

This one is from the February 20, 2018 issue of Wall Street Journal.

What My Son With Autism Taught Me About Managing People

Recognizing and working with colleagues’ different cognitive styles helps get the most out of everyone

Individuals in the workplace have their own distinctive cognitive wiring that shapes how they approach the world.
Individuals in the workplace have their own distinctive cognitive wiring that shapes how they approach the world. ILLUSTRATION: JOHN HERSEY FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

I like to think I was a considerate colleague when I worked in an office. I paid attention to cultural and gender differences. I made an effort to run inclusive meetings and write inclusive articles.

But for all my attention to diversity, I didn’t pay attention to one crucial form of difference: the way people think.

It took my autistic son to wake me up to the truth. For many years, I struggled with my son, who had been variously labeled “oppositional,” “difficult” or…well, there are words that we can’t put in a newspaper. We had hourly conflicts, and he had near-daily meltdowns.

It wasn’t until he received his first formal diagnosis—initially for ADHD, rather than autism—that I realized his brain was just wired differently from mine. I was able to recognize how often I was asking him to do something he couldn’t do, rather than something he wouldn’tdo. Even more important, I started to see the connection between his wiring and his talents, like his mathematical ability and his extraordinary vocabulary.

Once I recognized those distinctions as a mom, I started seeing them in my professional relationships, too. Just as my son had a learning and communications style of his own—and strengths that came along with it—my colleagues and I each had our own distinctive wiring that shaped how we approached the world. Recognizing that, and learning to deal with each other’s ways of thinking, makes for stronger understanding and smoother communication. And better business.

These different styles of thinking showed themselves most clearly in meetings. After my son’s diagnosis, I started to pay attention to how different members of the team did or didn’t participate in our regular sit-downs.

For instance, my own wiring pushes me to jump in, get as many of my ideas on the table as possible, and then push toward a decision. But one smart young man, who was absolutely brimming with ideas, wasn’t apt to speak during meetings. He once explained to me, “I need time to reflect before I’m ready to share my ideas.”

After that, I started breaking our meetings into two parts: part one to lay out our goals and any relevant background, plus invite ideas from people whose wiring was set up to present ideas the way I did. In part two, I’d invite input from those who needed time. Our meetings became much tighter and more effective, and we started to tap into the wisdom of our whole team.

Then there were those people—kinetic learners—who I realized aren’t built to sit still. To think or learn to their full ability, they need to move around, such as pacing or jiggling their knee or leaving the office at lunch to do a thousand-calorie workout.

I used to treat those colleagues like caged border collies who could wait until the weekend to run off all their energy. You could say I wasn’t the most understanding colleague, and sometimes manager.

 Looked at Differently

About one-quarter of adults surveyed said they had at least one neurodiverse condition. Among those, the percentage saying that at their most recent employer they experienced:

*Multiple responses allowed.

Source: Wilder Research online survey of 437 adults, 2016

But with my new mind-set, I started to schedule walking meetings whenever I was huddling one-on-one and didn’t need to take a lot of notes; I used voice dictation on my phone to capture key takeaways as we walked.

Getting outside and moving around not only helped my kinetic colleagues think more clearly and creatively, but also helped me discover that moving around gets me thinking differently, too.

Another area helped by my new way of thinking involves nonverbal cues. It never dawned on me that many people’s wiring isn’t set up to read throat clearing or glances at a phone as signs that it’s time to wrap up a chat, so they need more direct signals. But now if I find someone isn’t picking up on my cues, I say explicitly, for instance, “I need to end our conversation now so that I can get back to work.”

Such a simple thing—but I was totally blind to it before my son opened my eyes.

Making things concrete

Turning this new lens on others inevitably led to turning it back on myself. In what ways was my wiring getting in the way? How was my way of thinking and relating to people keeping me from being as creative and productive as I could be?

I have always been someone who remembers ideas and theories more than facts and anecdotes, but I had never thought about how that affects my professional relationships. I just noticed that I often had to repeat an idea three or four times before my colleagues finally understood or retained it. “Why can’t they understand the idea of aggregating and tagging social-media content?” I might fret.

Once I started peppering my conversations with specific, concrete examples for each of my abstract ideas, I found my colleagues were much faster to embrace my ideas on everything from software projects to marketing campaigns.

Soon, it took fewer repetitions for me to get my ideas across—but I also became more patient with the repetition, because I realized that I wasn’t speaking their language.

What My Son With Autism Taught Me About Managing People
PHOTO: ISTOCKPHOTO/GETTY IMAGES

As I became more conscientious about working with my colleagues’ diverse thinking styles, I also learned to acknowledge and ask for help with my own style—even when that help involved admitting a weakness. I have long realized that I have challenges with what psychologists call “executive function”—namely, the ability to break a project apart into component tasks and organize those tasks so that they can be completed on time. I’m the kind of person who has a messy desk and can easily miss deadlines, so I’ve gradually built up a set of digital tools and habits that mostly compensate for my state of mental disorganization.

Remind me

Once I embraced my new perspective, however, I stopped feeling like my executive-function issues were something to apologize for—just as I no longer expect my colleagues to apologize because they don’t speak quickly at meetings or prefer to walk and meet. I’m just wired differently. I still make an effort to keep myself organized by paying careful attention to my digital tool kit, but I supplement that with an additional strategy: openly acknowledging my limitations. When I start working with someone new, I let them know that I am not great at keeping track of tasks and details, so I invite them to remind me if anything slips.

Recognizing all these variations hasn’t crowded out my concern for other kinds of diversity in the workplace. I don’t have a whole lot of patience for using differences in thinking as an excuse for gender bias or cultural insensitivity.

If anything, noticing different thinking styles has helped me become more effective in working across a wide range of differences within the workplace. The more I acknowledge and embrace my colleagues’ quirks—not to mention my own—the more I’m able to tap into their unique strengths.

Ms. Samuel is a technology researcher and the author of “Work Smarter With Social Media.” Email her at reports@wsj.com.

Appeared in the February 20, 2018, print edition.

Souks in Dubai

This morning, we had planned a guided walking tour of the gold and spice souks, but could never make contact with the local company to confirm, so we hopped on the Metro inside Mall of the Emirates and just enjoyed the walk ourselves.  It’s in the old part of Dubai, so a bit of history would have been helpful, but….

IMG_2223
We hopped a 1 dirham  (about 27 cents USD) Abra Boat Ride water taxi ride to the spice and gold souks.

Few crowds maybe because it’s a weekday and it had been raining, not sure.  But there were plenty of vendors in your face plying their wares.  Roping you with cashmere scarves they are pushing (gently remove it and say ‘no thanks’) and an amazing number of young men stepping in front with photos on their phones of ‘purses, watches, sunglasses’  just step back here.  yeah, forget about it.

I really don’t like that aggressive approach at all, but Jessica and I smile and say, ‘very pretty, no thank you.’ It really stresses Dallas though.  His Aspergers  kicks in high in these types of situations, so i tend to limit his exposure – it makes him cranky.

Lots of pretty things, but i have no need for gold or spices and i’m not educated enough to haggle for any of it, so i buy nothing.

IMG_2224
One of several spice souks in Dubai.
IMG_2228
One of several gold souks in Dubai

 

Autism Spectrum

As you know from reading earlier blog entries, our middle child, Dallas, who is now 22, was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome about three years ago.  Yes, we knew all through his growing up that he was different, but we also knew he wasn’t autistic.  Within a couple of weeks of finding a description of his symptoms, our osteopathic doctor had hired a psychologist who knew about such things.  Dallas was keen to meet her and be interviewed and subsequently tested, which was grueling for him (it would be for anyone  – it was four hours long!), but it was designed for people like him, so he conceded that it really wasn’t too bad.  Anyway, he struggles with the social issues, the learning, etc that those with Autism do, but to a lesser degree.  In 1994 (the year after Dallas was born), Asperger Syndrome was recognised as a separate disorder from Autism).

Thank goodness Dallas is here with us at home.  He has picked up the responsibility of hauling hay, checking water tanks and chopping the ice out or hauling insulated water coolers of hot water whichever the case is necessary to fix the problem.  And among so much more,  mking sure the cattle have mineral, keeping sidewalks for three homes clear, and helping immensely with his 96 year old great aunt.

It may be that the gentleman in this BBC Magazine story was more Aspie than full blown Austistic.  Nevertheless, he had an incredible mother, who bravely stepped out of the norm, brought him home, and, no doubt, tirelessly taught him the tools to be as successful as he could be and later the townspeople who rallied behind him.  What a heart warming and uplifting reflection of the good family and community can do.

Donald Grey Triplett: The first boy diagnosed as autistic

Cheers!

tauna

The Art of Writing

A man once said that a writer was the only sort of person that he knew of that thought that he could accomplish more by doing nothing. In this I am not exempt, for more often enough when I would make any attempt at writing down a story, I would find myself staring down at a blank piece of paper, twiddling a pencil between my fingers, uncertainty plaguing my mind as I sought to create an epic that will survive the ages. This isn’t always a result of writers block, but rather a fear of, for lack of a better term, making it impalpable. To write it down would be to write it on stone, because when it’s all floating up in your head you can change it however you want it from adventure to romance to mystery to who knows what, but when you write it down it’s almost like it’s unchangeable. Even when you know that you can just start-up a new draft, there’s still a strange feeling of wrongness about it. Also it can just be hard to put your story into words. You can see it easily enough in your mind’s eye and go through the scenes as you please, but when you write it down you have to be descriptive, ascribing colourful details that bring your story to life, but too much detail and reading it will seem more like a chore having to bog through rather than a luxury, but neither can be lacking in detail and thus making your characters and story boring and engaging, unless, of course, you were trying to make a character or place strange and unknowable by purposely making it vague. Simply put you must moderate your detail to the context of the scene or character or even story. Take for example, if you were to write an adventure, you would add greater detail, an action scene, or if you were writing a children’s book you would write in detail the adorableness of a squirrel or caterpillar or kitten, and if you were writing a trashy romance novel you would write in detail about… trashy… romance… stuff. Anyway, I hope this blog entry will provide some insight into writing.

Dallas Powell

Music is More than Fun!

Not surprisingly, music has shown itself to be helpful in learning once again.    In fact, of my three children, Dallas, who has just turned 21 and was diagnosed with Aspergers just last year, but started vocal and piano lessons at 14, showed the most marked improvement, not only in vocal skills, but in problem solving, speech enunciation, concentration, focus, and memory enhancement. (an upgraded WordPress would allow some pretty cool home music performances on here!)  I regret not having started them all on piano and vocal lessons much earlier in life, but no use wallowing in guilt about something that cannot be changed.  However, if our experience will encourage anyone to consider such lessons for their children, starting as soon as possible, that’d be keen.  Formal lessons to start wouldn’t be necessary.  Just sing, clap, tap your toes with your children – you’ll have loads of fun, too!  As they progress, introduce more complicated rhythms and/or a foreign language fun song as well.  Those brain synapses will be stretching and growing all over!  Whether you are a home, government, or private educator – put some music in those young lives!  It’ll last a lifetime!

Nathan (in Yellow coat) as a student in Les Miserable performance by Carousel Productions, Macon, MO in March 2014.  Photo by Kelly Lewis Photography
Nathan (in Yellow coat) as a student in Les Miserable performance by Carousel Productions, Macon, MO in March 2014. Photo by Kelly Lewis Photography

Speech therapy?!   Try SING therapy!

A Musical Fix for U.S. Schools – an essay by Ms Joanne Lipman for the Wall Street Journal  This essay, once again, explains the importance of music in our lives. Sadly, government and some private schools put this on the chopping block far too often.

Jessica performing at the piano at Central Methodist University her freshman year - 2010 - SAI music fraternity annual recital in Linn Memorial United Methodist Church.
Jessica performing at the piano at Central Methodist University her sophomore year – 2010 – SAI music fraternity annual recital in Linn Memorial United Methodist Church.

Jessica was very active in the music department through college, having received a vocal scholarship and was involved with the Chorale group and Conservatory Singers choir.  Now graduated, spring of 2013, she teaches Kindergarten at The American School in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, where she also volunteers to direct the high school honor choir.  She continues to practice piano when she has time.  Dallas hasn’t put his musical skills to work yet, except to enjoy singing and making a joyful noise unto Yahweh!   His voice is well-suited for baritone parts.  He started out not even being able to hear a note on the piano and matching the pitch!  Nathan continues vocal lessons locally and last winter was involved with Carousel Productions in Macon, Missouri.  The six performances were sold out!  Though he had initially been rejected at his audition for singing parts, he showed up and did so much better during practices, that he eventually landed FOUR small parts in the productions.  Les Misérables has always been one of our favourite shows, so it was especially sweet that he was able to participate.

Shabbat Shalom!