Autism and Robots

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Today I’d like to briefly discuss a somewhat unusual topic- robots and autism.

Yes, I know what you’re all thinking, Aoife has finally lost it- but just before you call in the men in the white coats, let me tell you about the clinical benefits of using robots for children with autism! πŸ™‚

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Recent technological advances in the field of robotics offer great possibilities in the treatment of autism. As interactive robots are increasingly becoming more human like, this technology can be used clinically to help teach social skills to children with autism.

Whilst the research into the therapeutic benefits of robots is in it’s infancy, several schools across the globe have begun to use social robots reporting very positive results πŸ™‚

So how do these robots work?

The robots engage autists with a specially tailored curriculum. For example, the robot makes a sad face or starts laughing and the child has to say what the robot is feeling, or when interacting with the robot if they do something that could hurt a real person, the robot will cry out so that the child can learn that thisΒ  behaviour is not appropriate.

It’s really cool! πŸ˜€

You can check out Milo below- one of the many models of social robots helping kids with autism worldwide (try not to letΒ  him creep you out though, Kaspar the robot is way freakier….might have further to go in making these robots more approachable in my opinion 😬).

The benefits of using this technology currently include improved:

  • Engagement
  • Eye contact
  • Vocabulary
  • Attention
  • Self-motivation and regulation
  • Emotional recognition and understanding, and
  • Improvements in appropriate social behaviour

And all of this within just 1-4 months of using a robot like Milo! 😲

All in all the technology looks really promising in the treatment of autism, even if a few tweaks may be needed to improve the appearance of these robots πŸ™‚ πŸ˜›

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Aoife

 

Holiday Break

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Just a quick post to say that there will not be any new blogs for the next couple of weeks as I’m heading away for some much needed R and R πŸ™‚

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Hope everyone is enjoying the summer! 😎

Aoife

Autism and Gaming

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Today I’m going to explore one of my favourite pastimes and it’s benefits for the autistic community- gaming! πŸ™‚

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Ah gaming- one of the true loves of my life! πŸ˜› πŸ˜‰ It keeps me entertained, it’s fun, and ironically helps me to switch off when my brain is cluttered with other matters, drawing me into the game and allowing me to escape from my troubles.

But gaming, whilst fun, hasn’t always been that well received. Concerns are regularly voiced about violence in shooter games, obesity, and the antisocial nature of gaming.Β  In particular relation to the autistic community, expert Tony Attwood has expressed concern at the addictive nature of gaming (especially with regard to specialist interests)Β and it’s potential to isolate autists and discourage them from making social efforts.

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I think it’s fair to say that I’ve wasted a significant portion of my life investing hours upon hours, weeks, months and even years into my craft, but has it all been a waste? Might gaming actually be beneficial?

Some studies have shown that gaming provides a number of cognitive benefits in improving basic mental abilities (think back to the days when brain training was a huge deal in the noughties). Other studies believe that gaming offers a healthier alternative to watching TV as gamers are less likely to snack on unhealthy foods versus a TV viewer (I’ve certainly forgone food and delayed bathroom breaks when I’ve been in the zone!Β πŸ˜‚). Moreover, research suggests that gaming canΒ help children developΒ executive, logical, literary, and even social skills- the latter being particularly beneficial for children with autism.

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One game in particular has shown numerous benefits for autists- Minecraft. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the game, Minecraft is “a game about placing blocks and going on adventures”, where the player uses colourful blocks to create a 3D world in which to play. Experts say that the game encourages and motivates learning, increases perception, boosts creativity and improves hand eye coordination (I do have to wonder how much worse my coordination would be were I not a gamer πŸ˜›Β πŸ˜‚).

Contrary to the belief that gaming encourages antisocial behaviour, MinecraftΒ is helping children with autism build healthy social lives and relationships through the “Autcraft” community. In 2013, Stuart Duncan, a web developer, set up a special server exclusively for people with autism so that they could have a social experience through Minecraft within the safety of this online community. Autists can chat to and game with other players online allowing them to thrive socially in a safe environment where they don’t have to worry about social cues or facial expressions- just fun πŸ™‚

Never been interested in playing it myself (I prefer higher quality graphics like in the Final Fantasy games), but the game certainly looks promising in helping autists πŸ™‚

You can watch a Ted Talk below about the benefits of Minecraft for kids with autism:

So there you have it dear Earthlings, I hope you enjoyed this post! πŸ™‚

Have a good weekend! πŸ˜€

Aoife

 

Easter Greetings!

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

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

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

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

Enjoy the chocolate binge everyone!! πŸ™‚ πŸ˜‰

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Aoife

Accepting your Autism Diagnosis

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

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 πŸ˜› ), 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 yetΒ  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!Β πŸ˜‚

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 πŸ˜‰

Asperger’s is a bigΒ part of my life, but it’s not the whole picture πŸ™‚

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 didΒ help to increase my knowledge of autism and better understand who and why I am πŸ™‚
  • 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! πŸ˜›
  • 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 πŸ˜›

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 πŸ™‚

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Aoife

 

One Year Anniversary! :)

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ˜€

HAPPY NEW YEAR!! πŸ˜€

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Hope that everyone enjoyed the Christmas break! Nothing like a few days of eating, sleeping and watching TV! 😎 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 alsoΒ marks one whole year of blogging.

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

Wuuuuutttttt!!! 😲

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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?! πŸ˜› πŸ˜‰ Haha! πŸ™‚

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 πŸ™‚

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

But again, thank you all so much! πŸ˜€

Bring on 2018! πŸ™‚

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Aoife

Seasons Greetings!

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

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

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! 😲

How time flies! πŸ™‚

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 πŸ˜€ It’s nice to know that someone out there is enjoying my ramblings πŸ˜› πŸ˜‰

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 πŸ˜‰ )

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

See you all in 2018! πŸ˜€

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Aoife

Autism and Pensivity

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

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

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,Β 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! πŸ˜›

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! πŸ˜›

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.Β  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! 😬

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 πŸ™‚ 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! πŸ˜› πŸ˜‰

Enjoy the weekend everyone! πŸ™‚

Aoife

Autism and Nail Trimming

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

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! πŸ˜€ ), 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! 😲

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

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! πŸ˜› )!

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!Β πŸ˜‚

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

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! πŸ˜›

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…😬)

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Enjoy the weekend everyone! πŸ™‚

Aoife

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