Easter Greetings!

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

Just a quick post to wish you all a very Happy Easter!! ๐Ÿ˜€

I know what my plans this weekend will be like… ๐Ÿ˜‰

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(Apologies for the shortness of this post I’m super busy at the moment! ๐Ÿ™‚ )

Enjoy the chocolate binge everyone!! ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ˜‰

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Aoife

Accepting your Autism Diagnosis

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

To kick off the new year I’m going to expand a little bit on something I’ve touched on briefly in the past- coming to terms with your autism diagnosis.

As I’ve stated many times, getting my Asperger’s diagnosis was one of the best things that could have happened to me. Two little words clarified a lifetime of questioning, confusion and misunderstanding.

My entire life finally began to make sense.

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Whilst this diagnosis was indeed a welcome one (in spite of the way my diagnosis was sprung on me ๐Ÿ˜› ), I struggled to come to terms with it for some time afterwards. As an adult, the diagnosis shouldn’t have changed anything- Asperger’s syndrome explains me, but it does not define me.

However, just because the shoe fits does not mean that you will break it in overnight.

Logically, there was no issue in being diagnosed; the emotional aspect on the other hand was much tougher.

Getting my diagnosis was like seeing myself for the first time in a mirror. It felt like I had made a revolutionary discovery, and yetย  somehow, I was ill at ease. The more I read about Asperger’s, the more self conscious I became of my mannerisms and behaviours. I was hyper-aware of everything that I did.

I knew and accepted that Asperger’s didn’t define me, however, I felt compelled to define it. I talked about Asperger’s incessantly possessed by the niggling urge to explain every single thing I did for fear of being misunderstood. As a friend recently told me, she barely knew my name before I had filled her in about my diagnosis!ย ๐Ÿ˜‚

There were times when I felt as though I were beginning to disappear behind the smokescreen of the diagnosis, constantly questioning what was me and what was just Asperger’s.

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It took me over two years to learn to fully relax and embrace my diagnosis- somewhere along the way it just clicked. I no longer feel this need to go on about it. Indeed, there are times when I want to talk about it (for example in this blog), but I am also perfectly content to keep people guessing ๐Ÿ˜‰

Asperger’s is a bigย part of my life, but it’s not the whole picture ๐Ÿ™‚

Here’s just a couple of things that helped me on my journey towards acceptance:

  • Talk about it– Real original- I know, but if it ain’t broke don’t fix it!
  • Try CBT– Now I know that I’ve said CBT wasn’t particularly useful for me from a management perspective, buuuuuut cognitive behavioural therapy didย help to increase my knowledge of autism and better understand who and why I am ๐Ÿ™‚
  • Write it out– I know I’ve said it before, but writing can be so cathartic. It really helps to verbalize what you can’t describe, especially if you have alexithymia. My laptop is full of mini essays from deflating my overly full skull at 3am! ๐Ÿ˜›
  • Read – Whilst this may have partially fueled my hyper-analysis, it also allowed me to better understand and accept myself. The more I learned, the easier it was to accept and embrace my quirks. Just maybe steer away from some of the novelizations of autism- these don’t always paint the most realistic of pictures ๐Ÿ˜›

Learning to accept an autism diagnosis (as cheesy as it sounds) is a journey. There may be twists and turns and many a speed bump along the way, but you will one day reach your destination ๐Ÿ™‚

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Aoife

 

One Year Anniversary! :)

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ˜€

HAPPY NEW YEAR!! ๐Ÿ˜€

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Hope that everyone enjoyed the Christmas break! Nothing like a few days of eating, sleeping and watching TV!ย ๐Ÿ˜Žย Wow! I can’t believe it’s 2018 already- feels like only yesterday I was wringing in 2017! I’m getting old!

January 2018 marks not just a new year, but alsoย marks one whole year of blogging.

A is for Aoife not Autism‘ is officially one year old!

Wuuuuutttttt!!!ย ๐Ÿ˜ฒ

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It’s insane to think that in one short year over 500 people have signed up to know what I have to say about autism every week! Who’d have thought that one year on that there would be anyone still interested in listening to my ramblings?! ๐Ÿ˜› ๐Ÿ˜‰ Haha! ๐Ÿ™‚

But seriously, I would sincerely like to thank each and every one of you for your readership, support and kind words this past year. To know that you’re enjoying my posts means the world to me, and I am very grateful ๐Ÿ™‚

Don’t worry- I’ll leave the mushy stuff at home and get back to normal posting next week, I promise ๐Ÿ˜› ๐Ÿ˜‰

But again, thank you all so much! ๐Ÿ˜€

Bring on 2018! ๐Ÿ™‚

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Aoife

Seasons Greetings!

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

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Wow- I can’t believe Christmas is almost here! ๐Ÿ˜€

This time last year I was carefully designing this blog ahead of my January launch, and here we are now- over 70 blog posts later!ย ๐Ÿ˜ฒ

How time flies! ๐Ÿ™‚

This is just a quick post to take the time to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and to thank you all for reading in 2017 ๐Ÿ˜€ It’s nice to know that someone out there is enjoying my ramblings ๐Ÿ˜› ๐Ÿ˜‰

I’ll be taking a break from writing for a couple of weeks to enjoy the festive season, but rest assured I will return in January (you can’t get rid of me that easily ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

Wishing you and yours all the best for the festive season :*

See you all in 2018! ๐Ÿ˜€

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Aoife

Autism and Pensivity

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

This week I’m going to talk a little bit about pensivity and autism, or as my sister describes it in myย interview with her,ย “staring into the abyss.” ๐Ÿ˜›

We all have those moments where we retreat into ourselves. Our eyes glaze over, we tune out from our surroundings and make weird, subconscious facial expressions as we dreamily ride the thought train round and round.

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For an autist, these spells of introspection tend to happen a little more frequently. Our minds move so fast that we often find it hard to concentrate,ย and somehow we slip into this abyss of swirling thoughts:

‘What do I want for dinner tomorrow?’

‘Is evolution real?’

‘What would I look like as a blonde?’

‘What would it be like to have an Alpaca farm!?’ (genuinely spent a weekend considering the practicalities once!)

These are just a few of the millions of questions that I spend my time pondering in the abyss, proceeding to explore these thoughts in minute detail! ๐Ÿ˜›

I’ve been known to spend almost an hour lying on my bed, staring into space without saying a single word to anyone!

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Once I’ve fallen in, my mind could literally go anywhere-I’ve even conjured up a musical based on the music of My Chemical Romance during one of these particular spells!

It’s not a bad thing in my experience, I get some of best ideas wandering the abyss, but people just don’t know what to make of me in this state in social situations. As my sister says, it really creeps her out watching me! ๐Ÿ˜›

I suppose I can’t blame her when I often sit around staring like this for 40 minutes:

 

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Half the time, I’m not even aware that I’m doing it, which can be awkward on a night out.ย  If it get’s very loud or the conversation goes stale, I just slip down into the depths, awoken from my reverie several minutes later by bemused friends and colleagues!ย ๐Ÿ˜ฌ

What people fail to understand however, is that I am perfectly content in my little bubble. Yes I look strange, and my face may not show it, but I’m perfectly fine ๐Ÿ™‚ In fact I sort of enjoy thinking, just floating around exploring the darkness of the abyss. It’s actually a little bit soothing in an odd way.

Autists are not good with the unknown. We like structure, things we can predict and prepare for. By questioning, or pondering the unknown in our minds, this can help to make the world seem a little less scary. Knowledge is power after all!

So don’t panic if you see me stumbling into the abyss- I’m probably just wondering where I can buy an alpaca! ๐Ÿ˜› ๐Ÿ˜‰

Enjoy the weekend everyone! ๐Ÿ™‚

Aoife

Autism and Nail Trimming

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

So this post might seem a little unusual, but as the difficulties faced by autists when it comes to haircuts has been doing the rounds on social media of late (for the record- I LOVE getting my hair cut! ๐Ÿ˜€ ), I thought I’d write a quick post about something small that I find a sensory challenge- trimming my nails.

My friends have been complimenting my nails a lot this week, which is a little odd seeing as I have not cut them since 2002! ๐Ÿ˜ฒ

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Yep- nail trimming freaks me out that much! ๐Ÿ˜‚

Once my mother stopped trimming them for me, I have refused to put a nail scissors or file anywhere near them (save for a manicure in 2005- an experience I have not sought to repeat! ๐Ÿ˜› )!

Don’t worry they aren’t freakishly long- I use my hands so much with my hobbies that they never seem to make it past a certain length!

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Trimming/filing my fingernails has always freaked me out. It’s really hard to describe, but for some reason it feels really wrong to me! There’s just something unnerving about nail scissiors cutting so close to the skin that it sends unsettling shivers up and down my spine. Nail filing in particular sends me into cringing convulsions-my hands are tensing up into balls just now at the thought of that abrasive piece of cardboard against my skin!ย ๐Ÿ˜‚

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Oddly enough I’m fine with toenails, unless I cut too close to the skin ๐Ÿ˜›

I know I shouldn’t be unnerved by such an innocuous every day process, buuuuttt my brain just doesn’t seem to want to deal with this type of stimulus! ๐Ÿ˜›

Nail trimming issues are actually quite common among autists. This can be particularly troublesome if an autist is prone to skin picking or self injurious behaviours.

But there are some tricks that can help:

  • Trim your/your childs nails after a bath– this can soften the nail to make the task more comfortable
  • Pressing down on the nail before trimming– this application of deep pressure can temporarily reduce sensitivity
  • Distraction and Bribery– if you are cutting nails for an autistic person, try using bribes or distracting the person with something (particularly their specialist interest) to get the job done
  • Try not to keep the nail too short– aside from the weirdness of cutting my nails, if they were cut too short, or if I sustained a bad break, I found (and still sometimes find) this particular sensation quite unsettling (for want of a better term)

And if all that fails, you can always allow life to trim your nails for you like me (just maybe try to steer clear of your siblings if your nails are a little bit on the long side…๐Ÿ˜ฌ)

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Enjoy the weekend everyone! ๐Ÿ™‚

Aoife

Autism- A History

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

Today, in continuation from my post exploring autism through the ages, I’d like to give you a brief intro into how we came to know of ย autism.

So how about a bedtime story then Earthlings? ๐Ÿ™‚

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A long time ago in the land of Austria, two researchers were born that would go on to make medical history- Leo Kanner and Hans Asperger. Whilst these men interestingly did not collaborate, together their respective research laid the groundwork for our current understanding of ASD’s.

So how did it all begin?

Whilst some of the earliest documented cases of autism dates back to the 1700’s, the new Latin term autismus (“isolated self”)ย was first coined by Swiss psychiatristย Eugen Bleuler (who also coined the term schizophrenia) in 1910. Derived from the Greek word “autรณs” (meaning ‘self’), Bleuler used the term to describeย a sub group of people with schizophrenia that were removed from social interaction.

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The term autism first began to take it’s modern form in 1938 when Hans Asperger adopted the term ‘autistic psychopaths’ in a German lecture on child psychology. During this period, Asperger was investigating the ASD which would later bear his name, examining a group of four boys of normal intelligence who struggled with social integration and empathy. Asperger dubbed these boys “little professors” due to their ability to lecture at length on their favourite subjects!

Fun Fact: Asperger himself is widely thought to have displayed many of the symptoms of his discovery himself!

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In 1944 Asperger published an article in German titledย ‘Autistic psychopathy’ in childhood, a publicationย which largely went unnoticed within the English speaking medical community until the 1980s when child psychiatrist Lorna Wing brought his work into the limelight.

This obscurity was also due in part to the work of his contemporary Leo Kanner at the prestigious John Hopkins University in the USA, who pipped Asperger to the post with his paperย Autistic Disturbance of Affective Contact in 1943.

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In this work, Kanner described a group of 11 (8 boys, 3 girls) socially isolated children with aย โ€œneed for samenessโ€ and a โ€œresistance to (unexpected) change.โ€ Kanner claimed to have discovered a new medical condition which he named “infantile autism”, garnering much attention and praise within the medical community.

But was it coincidence that these men happened to work in tandem on such similar projects 4000 miles apart?

In his lifetime, Kanner claimed that he had never heard of Asperger’s work, however, it would appear that this was not the truth.

Author Steve Silbermanย has since discovered that Kanner likely heard of Asperger’s work through George Frankl- a work colleague from Vienna, and former chief diagnostician at Asperger’s clinic in 1938. Driven by an ambition to make his mark on medical history, it would appear that Kanner sought to recreate Asperger’s work in America, repacked it and claimed it as his own!!

Image result for fainting gifPoor Asperger- but at least his name lives on in Asperger’s syndrome! ๐Ÿ™‚

 

So what did these early researchers believe to be the root of autism?

Difficult as it may be to imagine, Kanner firmly believed in something called the “refrigerator mother hypothesis“- a since (rightly) discarded theory which claimed that autism is caused by a lack of maternal warmth or love!!!

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I know!!!!!

Madness!

In addition to this, Kanner’s reuse of Bleuler’s term autism resulted in decades of confused terminology where autism and schizophrenia were one and the same.

Thankfully, the research caught up to give us a clearer insight into the physiological roots of autism (although it took about 20 years for the experts to catch on! ๐Ÿ˜› ), leading to the establishment of autism (and later Aspergers syndrome in 1994) as a separate diagnosis in it’s own right in 1980.

And that is the history of autism dear Earthlings, I hope you enjoyed your bedtime story! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Enjoy the weekend everyone! ๐Ÿ˜€

Aoife

Autism Through The Ages

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

In this week’s post I’m going to briefly explore the history of autism.

So gather round for storytime! ๐Ÿ˜€

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As autism rates increase, many people have come to believe that the condition is relatively new. Whilst the clinical term may be in it’s infancy, autism can in fact trace it’s genetic lineage back through millennia!

Genetic research has shown that some of the key genes involved in the development of autism came from our shared heritage with the apes, predating the evolution from monkey to man (somewhere in the region of 7 million years ago).

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Other related autism genes are slightly more “recent” than this, having come into existence over 100,000-years ago.

Whilst a third of autistic genes may come about through spontaneous genetic mutation, from this evidence we can see that autistic genes were inserted into the genetic code of our ancestors for a reason.

Interestingly in ancient times, people that displayed autistic traits were in fact highly revered. Such autistic traits as exceptional memory skills, creative thinking,ย observational skills, heightened senses and extensive knowledge in important areas such as plants and animals (i.e specialist interests), would all have been greatly valued in an ancient community. The incorporation of these skills within the group would have been essential to their survival.

Experts also believe that autistic skills such as memory and attention to detail may have contributed to the creation of ancient cave paintings such as this one:

How often we focus on the negatives of autism that we fail to stop and consider the reasons these genes exist. If they were a hindrance to the human race, why have they not been eradicated through millennia of evolution?

I think Temple Grandin sums it up pretty well here:

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And she would be right! ๐Ÿ˜‰ย Experts believe that autistic genes have been conserved to advance our intelligence. Variants of autistic genes have been linked to improved cognitive performance and the formation of new brain cells.

Such talented historical figures as Michelangelo, Mozart, Beethoven and of course, Albert Einstein, are all believed to have shown signs of autism- but history remembers them for their esteemed achievements, not their genetic quirks.

Something that we would all do well to think of when we commit autistic people to the annals of history in future.

So there we have it Earthlings, I hope you find this information as interesting as I found it ๐Ÿ™‚ I could go on further buuuuttt I think I’ll spare you the clinical history of autism for another day ๐Ÿ˜‰

Have a good weekend everyone! ๐Ÿ™‚

Aoife

Can animals have autism?

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

Today I’d like to explore something I’ve been wondering about a lot recently: can animals be autistic?

We’ve often been told how closely related human and animal genomes are, but what about our brains?

I often look at my German Shepherd and see a lot of autistic traits in him- he has ADHD and anxiety, behaves inappropriately, thinks creatively (he once buried a bone in a mattress) and never really grew out of his puppy brain despite recently turning 6!

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^^^Not my dog, but similarly bonkers! ๐Ÿ˜› ๐Ÿ˜‰

Naturally, I could be imagining it (as a scientist it’s hard not to over analyse), but what does the evidence have to say?

In clinical research, there are a number of animal models which have been genetically bred to exhibit autistic traits including rats, fruit flys, monkeys and most commonly mice. These animals will have mutations in genes that have been linked to autism which causes them to exhibit some common autistic traits. In the mouse model for example, mice show signs of repetitive behaviours, deficits in social interaction and reciprocation, memory deficits and increased aggression.

But what about in nature?

There is very little evidence to suggest that animals can be autistic, however, a recent study by veterinary behaviorists in the USA has indicated that there is evidence ofย canine autism!ย 

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I know!

Maybe I should get my dog diagnosed… ๐Ÿ˜‰

In fact, vets have considered the possibility of autism like symptoms in dogs since 1966!!

The 2015 study examined tail chasing behaviours in bull terriers in addition to running DNA analysis. ย These researchers found that tail chasing was associated with trance-like behaviour and random outbursts of aggression in these dogs. In addition to this, tail chasing was more common in males than females- just like human ASD’s. This group also suggested that the physical featuresย of these bull terriers (long face, high-arched palate, and large ears)ย could be indicative of Fragile X Syndrome- ย a genetic condition where 15-60% of this population are additionally diagnosed with autism.

This study is not definitive, but it does open us up to the possibility that autism may naturally exist in the animal kingdom.

As autism can be difficult enough to diagnose in humans, you never know- other animals could quite possibly have autism, we’ve just never considered it! ๐Ÿ™‚

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Aoife

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