Autism and Weather

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

This week, I’d like to delve into an somewhat unusual subject- how weather impacts people with autism.

I know what you’re thinking, she’s run out of things to say so she’s falling back on Ireland’s favourite topic of conversation 😛

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Joking aside, while this might seem like a silly topic, weather can have a surprisingly significant effect on autists both psychologically and physiologically. Coping with the sensory impact of extreme weather conditions, the lack of predictability and issues with change, and routine disruptions surrounding seasonal weather transitions can all be overwhelming. Something so simple as an unexpected shower or a really hot day could potentially trigger a meltdown (have certainly come to the brink myself when I’ve been overheated on occasion- although granted this was often coupled with hunger or exhaustion 😛 ).

Thankfully, a life spent living in the highly unpredictable Irish climate where one often experiences all four seasons in a single day has made me immune to most fluctuations, but for many others the weather poses daily challenges.

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Sensory issues aside, many studies have noted some behavioural changes in autists under certain weather conditions. Research has found that autists are particularly susceptible to drops in atmospheric/barometric pressure i.e. the weight of air pressing down on us from the earth’s atmosphere. When pressure is high, we have dry, sunny weather; when pressure is low, rain and dark clouds. This drop in pressure results in a drop in blood oxygen levels. Consequently, the body adjusts heart rate and blood pressure to adapt to these changes which can interfere with brain activity. This often leads to mood swings, increased impulsivity and autists are more likely to indulge in destructive behaviours (especially for those with ADHD).

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In addition to this, if you’re anything like me, drops in barometric pressure may also make you very sleepy and sluggish due to the fluctuations in brain oxygen levels (nice to know why taking naps has become somewhat of a pastime in recent weeks staring up at a perpetually wet and grey sky 😛 ).

There’s no clear reason why low pressure impacts autists more than neurotypicals, but given that our brains are wired differently, pressure related fluctuations in brain activity are bound to have more of an impact. Moreover, given the impact of deep pressure stimulation and it’s calming effect on the autistic nervous system, perhaps this could explain why our brains go a little bit crazy in response to drops in atmospheric pressure.

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! 🙂

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

Autism in ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time’

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

This week I’d like to talk about a book that I’ve been meaning to discuss for quite some time- ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time‘ by Mark Haddon.

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If you haven’t read the book (or seen the stage adaptation), ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time‘ is a mystery novel, centering on a teenager named Christopher as he investigates the murder of his neighbours’ dog Wellington. Christopher describes himself as a “mathematician with some behavioural difficulties”. Whilst Christopher does not discuss a specific diagnosis, the book’s blurb refers to Asperger’s, Autism and savantism and is often considered one of the most popular novels featuring autism. Interestingly, Mark Haddon only did some cursory reading about Asperger’s in preparation for the novel as he did not want to put Christopher in any particular box given the broadness of the spectrum. He has even said in interviews that he now regrets that Asperger’s was mentioned on the cover of the book and subsequent editions as he regularly get’s calls from people who perceive him as an expert and would like him to give talks about Asperger’s.

With this in mind, how close to the mark is the books depiction of autism?Review: The Walnut's engrossing 'Curious Incident' - WHYY

The book hits a lot of the common autistic traits dead on with literal thinking, mind blindness, sensory issues, struggles with social cues, colour sensitivities, and one of my personal favourites, Christopher’s tendency to separate foods on his plate. As I have discussed previously, I vividly recall reading about Christopher arranging his food so that it didn’t touch on his plate, and remarked to myself about how much that sounded like me, but laughed it off as it was the only trait I identified with in this book! Who would have known that 10 years after I first read that story, I would find myself getting an autism diagnosis! 😛

To this day, there is one thing that has always plagued me about this book (which is saying something given that it’s been about 15 or 16 years since I read it!), and that is the way that Christopher speaks/writes. His tone of writing was very simplistic, which from a literary and character point of view was a useful approach to take, however, Christopher’s use of language didn’t really add up from an Asperger’s perspective.

A line that I have never forgotten (as it irked me soooo much from a grammatical perspective), was Christopher’s reference to people as “doing sex” not “having sex” (and the phrase was used multiple times). This poor use of English wouldn’t generally be accurate for people with Asperger’s as one of the most common traits is an unusual tendency towards more formalized and sophisticated language, often from a really young age. This is why aspies were nicknamed “little professors” in early research. The vast majority of aspies are quite verbacious (you may have noticed my own proclivity towards the use of big words in many of my posts 😉 ), so Christopher’s self narrated exploits in the book don’t exactly equate to how a real life aspie might narrate their story.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is returning to ...

I was further irritated by Christopher’s mathematical and savant like traits (so many autists out there just once would like to see someone that’s terrible at maths in a literary/film setting!), however, in light of the fact that Mark Haddon based this character on two people that he knew and had set out to make his character a mathematician without Asperger’s fully in mind, I suppose the book could be forgiven for taking artistic (or should I say “autistic”) licence.

Moreover, several medical professionals that have reviewed the book have praised it highly and deemed it an essential read for anyone with an interest in the autistic spectrum. If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me!

All in all, the book is worth a read, and a surprisingly good depiction of autism given that this was not the author’s direct intention! It may not be what I would personally consider to be the most accurate of depictions of Asperger’s, but given that it’s one of the few popular fiction books to feature a main character with autism, it get’s brownie points for that 🙂

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! 🙂

Have a lovely weekend,

Aoife

Autism and Hair

Greetings Earthlings! 😀

This week, I’d like to talk about the topic of autism and hair. Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a weird post about people with autism having an excessive amount of hair or something!😂

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Hair can however be a an issue for autists on a sensory level when it comes to getting a haircut and is also tied to many behavioural issues.

Thankfully in my case I have no issues with hair cuts (in fact I actively look forward to them!), however, for many autists, the simple act of sitting in the hairdressers chair can be a completely overwhelming experience. Sensitivities to touch can make a hair cut extremely difficult- hair washing and touching, head tilting and hair styling could be painful or overwhelming. Moreover, the noise of the scissors, clippers and styling equipment like hairdryers can equally trigger a meltdown. You can find some useful tips for navigating visits to the hairdressers here: https://www.autism.org.uk/about/family-life/everyday-life/hairdressers.aspx

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In terms of behaviours, trichotillomania (TTM) has been linked to autism. Trichotillomania is a hair pulling disorder marked by a compulsive urge to pull out your own hair, often resulting in noticeable baldness. The condition can occur in response to stress and anxiety where the pulling action provides a calming sensation. MRI studies have shown that people with trichotillomania have more grey matter in their brains. As MRI’s of autists brains have also shown increased grey matter, this could explain why autists can tend towards this type of behaviour. Treatments for this behaviour include CBT and in some cases the anti-depressant clomipramine. In addition to trichotillomania, some autists with pica eat their hair known as trichophagia (also known as Rapunzel syndrome).

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On a scientific level, hair has interestingly been used to identify autism in some patients! In a recent study, researchers noted that children with autism also had abnormal hair whorls (tufts of hair that were growing in the opposite direction to the rest) in addition to prominent foreheads and an asymmetrical face suggesting that these features could be used for diagnostic criteria. Makes me wonder about the shape of my own face/direction of my own hair growth! 😂

Hope you enjoyed this post!

Have a good weekend dear Earthlings! 🙂

Aoife

Autism on Screen- The Accountant

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

This week I’d like to take a look at a film I’ve been meaning to write about for a while, the 2016 action thriller ‘The Accountant‘ starring Ben Affleck and Anna Kendrick.

The Accountant [DVD]

So what’s the film about?

As the name suggests, the film follows an accountant named Chris (Affleck) with high functioning autism and genius level maths skills (yawn! Can we get a new angle please Hollywood?). By day, Chris is a talented forensic accountant and expert cooker of books, but by night, he exacts violent revenge on the criminals he encounters through his work for breaking his moral code (his father put him through grueling military and martial arts training as a sort of coping mechanism/management strategy).

If you haven’t seen the film, you can watch the trailer here:

So what did I make of the depiction of autism?

It was hard to focus on the film at times as the acting was not great- Ben Affleck was basically expressionless throughout the entire film. Not sure why I’m surprised after Affleck’s pitiful take on Batman! The filming schedule for this would have coincided with Batman vs Superman so maybe he was channeling Chris instead of Batman 😛 Acting aside, this lack of emotion annoyed me. Yes, some autists struggle to express their emotions, but that does not mean that we are all emotionless robots or supercharged killing machines.

The Accountant review – Ben Affleck autism thriller doesn't add up ...

In terms of scientific accuracy, the film is a fairly bland affair. It get’s the basics relatively right with little things like separating foods, routines, stimming behaviours, social awkwardness and lack of eye contact, buuttt as with many other films, it hinges on stereotypes of savantism and mathematical genius. I did however appreciate the angle of Chris’s vigilante retribution for those that violated his moral code- a refreshing take on an autists propensity for rules/black and white thinking (albeit his response to the rule breaking was not the best…). In addition, I did find the military style induction of sensory overload through loud music, flashing lights and self injury to be an interesting new take on stimming and autism management, although a wildly extreme one!

The film however was not well received by the autistic community. The American Journal of Psychiatry for instance criticized it for not balancing clinical reality with the films action and entertainment value. Moreover, many have criticized the film for it’s links between autism and violence. Indeed, some autists can have violent outbursts during meltdowns, however, it’s the cool, calculated intent that is particularly unsettling in this inference.

All in all, The Accountant is a fairly run of the mill action movie that doesn’t deliver a significant portrayal of the autistic experience- if you really want to see Ben Affleck run around as a brooding, emotionless vigilante, you’d be better off watching Batman Vs Superman 😛

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! 😀

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

What I Wished I Knew About Autism

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

This week I’d like talk about some of the things I wished I had known about autism when I was first diagnosed. There’s so much to learn about the autistic spectrum, but here are just a selection of things I personally wish I had known:

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Autism is neurological not psychological– This is something that really stems from a lack of proper education about autism in the world. Because autism is so behaviour orientated, there is often a lot of onus on the psychology of the condition, and as such, people can be very dismissive of it. “If you just did this..”, “if you just tried to fit in…”- it’s not that simple. The autistic brain is wired completely differently to the neurotypical brain. There are chemical differences, differences in multiple structures in the brain, even differences in the number of brain connections. Behavioural changes can be made and coping strategies developed, but we need to be aware of the biological aspect- you can’t just swap out your brain for another. I wish I had understood that my own brain was hardwired to drop me into unfortunate situations growing up!

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Autism is a different way of thinking– The autistic brain is built differently, so therefore it thinks differently. It doesn’t mean that autistic thinking is not “normal”, just different. 

Autism is a spectrum- I know this one may seem silly as we’ve all heard of the autistic spectrum, but I wished I had known what being on the spectrum really meant. I had often heard the phrase “oh so-and-so is on the spectrum”, but took it to be a catch all term for people who were a bit odd, didn’t quite learn like everyone else, didn’t quite act like everyone else- basically people who weren’t quite “normal”. I never understood the minutia of the spectrum, that there were high functioning and lower functioning forms of autism. I wish I had known that traits were highly variable, that not everyone with autism is the same and that every case is unique. Perhaps if I had known this, I would have been far more understanding and less dismissive of my fellow autists growing up.

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Autists do experience empathy– We just may not be the best at expressing it. In fact as I’ve previously discussed, research suggests that we feel emotions on an even greater scale than neurotypicals. 

Autists want love– Asexuality is often thought to go hand in hand with autism. As I’ve previously discussed, most autists want to be loved, we’re just not sure how to communicate that or navigate the complexities of romantic relationships. Yes, there are a number of asexual individuals on the spectrum (as there equally are in the neurotypical population), but as with the spectrum of autistic traits, there is also a spectrum of sexuality

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That I wasn’t alone– For much of my life I felt like I didn’t fit in, like the world just didn’t understand me. I was always saying or doing the wrong thing, regularly subjected to looks of disappointment and dismay followed by lectures about my behaviour. When I would meltdown, I was ridiculed or punished as I sat there baffled by my own reactions, unable to explain to myself or others what had happened. Everything changed once I got my diagnosis; suddenly my behaviour was not so abnormal after all. There were articles, books and blogs filled with thousands of similar stories to mine. There was a name, an explanation, a community- I never have to feel alone again.

That I was “normal” (whatever that means) – As a result of being undiagnosed and misunderstood, I was constantly berating myself for not conforming to the accepted “norm”. The world told me that I was weird, that I was “wrong”, where nothing I ever seemed to do outside of academics seemed to be “right”. Had I truly known and understood that there is no such thing as “normal”, had I, and the world, known that being autistic is “normal” for millions of people, my life could have been so much simpler.

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Hope you liked this post dear Earthlings! 🙂 

Enjoy the weekend! 

Aoife

Late Autism Diagnosis

Greetings Earthlings! 😀

This week after reading that British comedian Johnathan Ross’s daughter received an autism diagnosis late in life, I thought I’d write about my own experience of receiving an autism diagnosis as an adult.

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As you may know from my blog intro, I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome a few weeks shy of my 24th birthday. With autism diagnoses on the rise in recent years, it seems hard to imagine that a person would not be diagnosed until their twenties, but this was my reality. As it turns out, I was far from alone in my predicament with such notable autists as Susan Boyle, Anne Hegerty, Dan Aykroyd and Gary Numan all receiving adult diagnoses.

So why are so many autists only being diagnosed as adults?

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Leading autism experts have described a “lost generation” of autists who grew up during a time where autism was poorly researched and understood. Many high functioning autists did not fit the criteria for classic autism, and as such slipped through the diagnostic radar. It is only in recent years following the introduction of the spectrum concept that many previously undiagnosed autists are finally getting the diagnosis they should have received decades previously. 

In my case, I was both academic and social in school, so no one really batted an eyelid or questioned that something was amiss. My meltdowns were put down to stress (you would not believe the amount of school reports to my parents that said I needed to chill!😂) or temper tantrums, or just plain being a drama queen- oh if my teachers/friends only knew that I wanted none of the attention that my meltdowns brought! 😛 It was only after I failed to grow out of my quirks in college and worsening social anxiety that my family sought to diagnose me (you can read the full story here).

In fact, statistically speaking, the vast majority of women with autism do not get their diagnosis until they are adults, often going unnoticed due to our ability to socially mask, or in some cases, misdiagnosed with conditions co-morbid with autism. Moreover, as I have discussed in numerous posts, women often present with completely different autistic traits to men, but these differences went unnoticed by the medical community for decades as the original descriptions of autism were based on a largely male cohort of patients.

So you’ve got your autism diagnosis, what happens now?

For many, the diagnosis comes as a relief. It feels as though you’ve got the final missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle, like you’re just seeing the full picture of yourself for the first time. However, it equally takes a while to get your head around it all, and the experience often leaves you with more questions than answers. You’re handed this life changing diagnosis, but realistically there are little to no supports available for autists over the age of 18 in most countries. So where does that leave you?

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Here are some tips that I found helpful for dealing with a late autism diagnosis:

Educate yourself- I’ve always had a thirst for knowledge, so whenever I don’t understand something I hit the books. Learning about autism was one of the cornerstones to helping me to better understand and embrace my diagnosis, allowing me to be a little kinder to myself in my symptomatic moments.

Check out some autism blogs/diagnosis stories- I found that reading the stories of other autists was quite comforting as I was coming to terms with my diagnosis. You’re not alone in this 🤗

Link up with local autism support groups/charities– there’s no better source of information and available supports than those who’ve gone through an autism diagnosis in your area. They will all have been through the same thing as you, whether as a recently diagnosed adult or as a parent to autistic child, and will be able to provide you with the best resources available in your locale.

Try CBT– as I’ve discussed in a previous post, CBT wasn’t really my thing for helping me manage my symptoms, but it was highly beneficial in those early few months after my diagnosis to have a professional there who knew about autism to talk things through and to help me to understand my behaviours better.

Talk about it with your friends and family– in many ways, an autism diagnosis is not a journey we walk alone; our friends and family walk it with us. They are on a journey to better understand you too and will want to be there to support you in every way you need.

At the end of the day, while it was not ideal receiving an adult diagnosis, the personal and mental benefits that I have attained in recent years have been completely worth it. I finally understand myself and feel comfortable in my own skin. At long last, I’m able to fully be me in all the weird and wonderful ways God made me to be 🙂

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Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! 🙂

Stay safe!

Aoife

Autism and Grief

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

As my family and I have recently experienced the loss of my dog Jasper (the vet found a large mass on his spleen and he had to be put to sleep 😥 ), this week I’d like to talk about autism and grief.

jasper

Everyone deals with grief differently, it’s an individual experience. For autists however, as with many aspects of our lives, grief can be a lot harder to navigate. Emotional processing is at the core of the experience, and for an autist that struggles with emotional regulation, grief can be all the more overwhelming. Meltdowns, shutdowns, violent outbursts- we feel our emotions so much more intensely than neurotypicals that grief can truly bring us to our knees.

In my experience, grief doesn’t even have to be associated with death- grief for the loss of a friendship, a job, a prized toy can be just as tough to deal with. I’ve whiled away many an hour curled up in a ball grieving lost friendships or missed opportunities, especially where specialist interests are concerned (you wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve cried my eyes out over forgetting to press the record button on some Harry Potter TV special back in the days before high speed internet/catch up TV services!😂).

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Grief is never easy, but here are some of my top tips which I’ve found helpful when coping with grief:

Express your feelings– one of the worst things that I did after the death of my dog Oscar 9 years ago was to bottle it all up. I knew that he was dying with cancer 2 weeks before he was put to sleep, so logically I thought that I had to move on straight away. I’d had time to prepare so once he was gone, I felt like I was expected to go back to normal straight away. I felt like I had shed so many tears in his dying weeks that it wasn’t “socially acceptable” to mourn him any more. So I buried my tears and feelings and about a month later I imploded- I even snuck out of the house in the middle of the night to cry by his grave 🙈 Don’t be like me, lance that boil; don’t let it fester!

Take comfort in music– I know I often come back to this one, but for me music truly helps to process my emotions. I can’t always identify or verbalise how I’m feeling, but music often acts like some sort of mental key to help me get there.

Write it out- Again, I know I proffer this offering a lot, but like music, writing soothes the mind. If you can put words to what you’re feeling at all, it will really help you to make sense of your grief, and help you to move forwards.

Let your tears fall– when you cry as often as I do, the phrase “stop crying” is never far from the lips of those around me. But crying is the needle to my boil- my brain needs it to drain my mind of the neuroelectrical storm of overwhelming emotion. My mind hits emotional capacity and tears are the only way to drain it. In a society of stiff upper lippers it can be hard to feel like you’re allowed to cry, but if you need to, let them roll. If there’s one thing I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older it’s that there’s no point in holding them in- like a blocked toilet they’ll resurface eventually (and when they do, it won’t be pretty!)

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The most important thing to remember about grief is that it does get easier. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but eventually- there is no true timeline. Bit by bit, the pain will get easier. 🤗

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings and that you’re all keeping safe and sane(ish) during this difficult time! 🙂

Aoife

Autism and Working from Home

Greetings Earthlings! 😀

As the lockdown continues, this week I’d like to discuss the topic of working from home and autism.

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Although the prospect of working in a comfortable environment away from the social jungle of the workplace can be quite attractive, working from home may pose other challenges for autists. As discussed in previous posts, an ordinary working day can be difficult enough for an autist, but the lack of a regular working routine, the stress of remote video meetings/phone calls, and difficulty focusing on work when surrounded by home comforts, may spell trouble.

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Like many, I have spent the past few weeks working remotely from my family home. Thankfully prior to this crisis, I have regularly been afforded the opportunity to work from home, so this transition has not been as much of a shock to the system as it may have been for other autists.

Working from home isn’t always easy, but by putting the right structures in place you can easily navigate this minefield.

So here are some of my top tips for working from home:

Set aside a specific workspace: setup a corner of the house, a specific room or a desk space from which to work from. Remove any potential distractions from this space, setup your laptop/screen, add a few pens- get everything you’ll need for your working day ready. This will give you more structure and make it easier to work. Try to keep this space separate from where you spend your leisure time- you don’t want to feel like you’re in work mode when you’re watching Netflix late at night.

Work regular break times into your schedule: organize set break times throughout the day- coffee at 11, lunch at 1, a 3pm snack, whatever works for you. It can be hard for an autist to detach when you get into the zone (especially when working solo), but several hours of uninterrupted work are not good for your mental or physical health. Pick your break times and stick to them, giving further balance and structure to your day.

Get out of your PJs- I know it’s tempting to sit there in your comfy clothes (especially given many autists sensitivity to clothing), but you need to get up and get dressed. It will give you better routine and structure to differentiate between work and play- and it will also remove the stress of being caught in a state of dishevelment if an unscheduled work call catches you off guard 😉

Try to schedule work meetings– Communication with colleagues is all over the place these days with entire companies working remotely, and the stress of unexpected calls and the stream of instant messages pinging in the background can be quite distracting for an autist. If you can, try to set aside set times for when work conversations/team catchups can be held- this will help give you further structure and routine

Ask if you can keep your camera off– If you’re really feeling shy and uncomfortable, ask if you can keep your camera off during a meeting. Lot’s of people are having issues with slow internet and will need to turn their cameras off, so don’t feel obliged to if you’re really uncomfortable with video conferencing. It’s not always an ideal solution for teams that need to visually gauge team mates responses, but if you explain your struggles to your employer I’m sure they will understand, especially in these trying times. Just try not to fall asleep on the job… 😛

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Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!

Enjoy the weekend! 🙂

Aoife

Happy Easter 2020!

Greetings Earthlings! 😀

In the midst of these trying times, I’d just like to send you all a quick Easter greeting for 2020! 🙂

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I wish I could say that my Easter plans will look like this, however, the reality will unfortunately look a lot more like so:

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Wishing you all a very Happy Easter wherever you are, and hoping that you’re all doing OK during this crisis.

Sending my virtual love to all my Earthlings!

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Aoife

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