Supporting a Child with Autism

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

For a change today, I’d just like to write a quick post for all of the autism parents out there.

I recently received an email about special needs parenting and it got me thinking about ‘autism parents’. How they must be feeling, the difficulties they face, the struggle to understand, teach and support their child. They really should be called ‘awesome parents’- I certainly didn’t make life easy for mine! 😛

Autism is not the easiest of diagnoses for a parent to hear, but there are many simple ways that you can support your child. Granted, I’m not an autism parent, but as someone who has been on the other side of the fence, I’ll do my best to give you my top tips to support and encourage your child 🙂

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Educate yourself– Read, read read! Understanding is key to helping your child. A mechanic can’t help your engine if he doesn’t know how it works first.

Don’t believe everything you read–  You’ll quickly learn that one size does not fit all when it comes to autism. Each case of autism is different, every autist will have different needs and experiences to the next. The advice and experience of others can be useful, but remember to take everything with a pinch of salt.

Try to put yourself in their shoes– The world is often alien to us, we don’t always fit in or understand it’s ways. We don’t mean to act weird or meltdown and cause trouble, but oftentimes our brain has other ideas. Try to understand how we see the world before you judge us too harshly 🙂

Know their limits, but don’t limit them– This can be a challenging balance to strike. As I have discussed previously, we should endeavour to understand the capabilities of autistic children, but we must not use autism as an excuse– explanation yes, but never excuse. When we repeatedly excuse an autists behaviour, or tell them they “can’t” do something, we keep them from reaching their potential. For example, as a child, I could not seem to master the humble skip. Had my parents told me to give up due to my coordination difficulties, I would never have overcome this struggle- and would have looked pretty stupid in school shows where such simple choreography was the cornerstone of many a dance number! 😛 😉

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Never underestimate the power of small victories– whether it’s getting your child to wear a bra, tie their shoelaces or a mastered skip, sometimes it’s the little steps that can have the greatest impact. Had I not overcome my seemingly left feet, I would not have discovered a love of dance, never danced on stage or gone out to clubs. Without this small victory I would never have gone on to help choreograph my school play or even teach dancing to kids as a teenager! The victories seem small, but they just may be the tip of the majestic iceberg lurking underneath 🙂

Accept the A-word– Acceptance is at the heart of supporting a child with autism. Without this, they can never truly fulfill their potential. There’s no use in burying your head in the sand. We won’t grow out of autism, we need to accept and grow around it.

Always remember:

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So there you have it Earthlings- my top tips for supporting a child with autism. However, like I said, I can only speak from my experiences of autism, so here are some other helpful advice links on more specifc ways to support autistic children:

At the end of the day Earthlings, armed with a little bit of knowledge, understanding and most importantly love- there’s no better way to support your child 🙂

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Aoife

Accepting your Autism Diagnosis

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

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 😛 ), 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 yet  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! 😂

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 😉

Asperger’s is a big part of my life, but it’s not the whole picture 🙂

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 did help to increase my knowledge of autism and better understand who and why I am 🙂
  • 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! 😛
  • 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 😛

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 🙂

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Aoife

 

Autism- Are We Making Excuses?

Greetings Earthlings,

So today, my title is a little bit different, but I’ve been musing on this question a lot of late- are we making excuses for autists?

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Don’t get me wrong, I’m the first person to advocate the need for understanding and acceptance for those of us on the spectrum- but there is a fine line between making exceptions and making excuses.

I have seen people that were given all of the support and understanding that I grew up without, and yet they do not seem to function as well as I do. Granted there are varying levels of need and functionality within the community, but one has to wonder if excuses have been made. Certainly teachers have told me about spectrum kids where parents have insisted that their child is “not able” for various school activities.

If raised in a protective autism friendly bubble, what happens when your supports go away in adulthood? How can you cope in the real world if people have spent your whole life excusing your behaviour?

Tells a stranger they look like a troll- “He has Asperger’s!”

Struggles with a maths problem- “She’s not able, she’s autistic!”

Throws a plate in a restaurant- “I can’t help it, I’m on the spectrum!”

If you tried anything like that last one as an adult you would be arrested not excused!

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Yes being autistic is a challenge, yes we can’t always control impulses, meltdowns or our tongues, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t improve. If we are never called out on our behaviour, we will continue to think that it’s ok to tell people that they look like a troll for example, and one day we will say it to the wrong person- bye bye friend, or job opportunity; maybe even hello fist!

I know it’s not easy to scold an autistic child, we don’t understand how or why we’re in trouble, or even what we did wrong sometimes- which often triggered meltdowns for me growing up; but here are some tips on how to approach this situation:

  • Reassure them that they are not in trouble- This can be critical. As you know, we autists are black and white thinkers. We see the world in good and bad. If something we do is bad, then we perceive our whole selves to be bad. Our brains struggle to handle anything less than perfection- and we all know what happens when our brains can’t handle something! #meltdownalert

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  • Explain why the behaviour was bad- The key here is to not excuse the behaviour, but to explain it to us. If we understand why, then we are far less likely to be overwhelmed. “You’re not in trouble Aoife, but it’s not nice to….because… So try to remember that next time ok?
  • Create Rules– Rules are essential to modifying our behaviours. We live our lives by them, and yet when it comes to social rules we just don’t have a clue! If you create some for us however, we will be all the better for it 🙂  penny big bang theory sheldon autism aspergers GIF
  • Use reward systems to encourage positive behaviours- As I’ve discussed previously, my mother found it particularly effective to use rewards to encourage me towards better habits such as studying and holding my temper

I’m not saying that we autists need to conform and be “normal” (as I always say- it’s overrated!), but for our own sakes, we cannot make excuses for every single autistic behaviour. So try new things, fall off that bike a dozen times or tackle that equation.  If we automatically say that we “can’t”- then we will never reach our potential.

We may get it wrong, but oh, what if we succeed? 🙂

Aoife

Autism “Cures”?

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

Many of you may have come across articles or ads online claiming to have “cured” or found a “cure” for autism.

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Notice my use of air quotes? 😏

According to both the medical and scientific community- there is no cure for autism; fact

Autism can be managed; but it cannot be cured

In truth, these purported “cures” are unproven, and in some cases, quite dangerous. Here are the facts about some of these products/techniques:

  • Raw Camel Milk (whhhhyyyy!!!) & Essential Oils are just some of the many products retailed as a “cure” for autism. Neither have been proven safe or effective by the FDA
  • Hyperbaric oxygen therapy: Remember those stories about Michael Jackson sleeping in an oxygen tent? Some have claimed that breathing oxygen in a hyperbaric chamber can “cure” autism, but this is completely unprovenImage result for michael jackson sleeps in chamber
  • Detoxifying clay baths: These are mixed in with bathwater to supposedly draw out toxins, pollutants and heavy metals in order to “dramatically” improve autism; but again, these are entirely false claims
  • Diet Change: Some articles report that following a specific diet can “cure” autism. As  I’ve previously discussed, many people report improvements in autistic symptoms following gluten (a protein found in grains like wheat), casein (a protein found in dairy) and sugar free diets, but there is insufficient scientific evidence to support this. Many doctors have recently spoken out against these fad diets as they can be very bad for your health if you unnecessarily remove these foodstuffs. Gluten free diets for example can increase your risk of cardiac problems through decreased intake of essential wholegrains
  • Chelation therapies: This is a medical procedure where chelating agents are administered to bind and remove heavy metals and toxins from the body, such as in the case of mercury and lead poisoning. These are often marketed as “cures” for autism, coming in the form of suppositories, sprays, drops, capsules, and clay baths. These are NOT approved for the treatment of autism, and should only be used under medical supervision, as they can remove important minerals from the body which can cause serious life-threatening issues such as deadly kidney damage!
  • Miracle Mineral Solution (MMS): This is perhaps one of the most dangerous “cures” for autism. A solution that claims to cure HIV, cancer and malaria in addition to autism, MMS contains 28% sodium chlorite solution- equivalent to industrial strength bleach! People have reported vomiting, diarrhea and symptoms of severe dehydration after taking this, but the labels claim that this means that the product is working!! This can also cause life threatening low blood pressure and death in severe cases. Naturally, this has not been proven to cure autism.

The bottom line, these so called “cures” are nothing but

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For those struggling parents out there, I know it’s difficult. I wreaked havoc as a child and did not make life easy for my family; but seeking a cure is not the answer. Love and acceptance are the best way forward 🙂

This stuff is dangerous and can make your child very sick indeed.

Always be wary of what you read/buy on the internet dear Earthlings!

Aoife

A Siblings Perspective of Autism

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

Going to shake things up a little bit today with an interview!

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When it comes to experiences of living with autism, we hear most frequently from parents and those with the condition themselves. Oftentimes we forget that siblings of children with autism are also living the experience. So today I’m going to interview my sister Órlaith about her experiences of growing up with a sibling on the spectrum 🙂

What am I getting myself into….

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Over to you then Órlaith! 🙂

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Hello everyone! I’m Órlaith, Aoife’s younger (but not youngest!) sister. She’s roped me in today to talk about how life was growing up oblivious to the fact that Aoife has autism… and to provide some lovely anecdotes about some of her finest moments… Muahaha… So let’s get started!

Aoife: Growing up oblivious to the fact that I was on the spectrum, did you ever feel that something was different about me? Did you ever think my behaviour odd?

Where do I start! We always knew that there was something different about you. If you ask mammy I’m sure she will tell you you were born different. I suppose the most stand out things though were your spectacular “temper tantrums”, fantastic lack of tact, and your…amm… preference for always telling the truth…

I never really understood why when you got mad things really escalated like they did, I always thought it was not usual. Aoibhlinn (our other sister) and I would have had our moments but they were nothing compared to yours! Of course now with hindsight it’s easy to see that they were actually meltdowns that you weren’t really in control of but at the time it seemed very odd.

The tact and the truth telling always went/go hand in hand, it definitely wasn’t the norm for someone (in Ireland anyway), to tell you exactly what they think, no sugar coatings. That always struck me as odd. I’ll always appreciate being told that I look terrible… 😛

Looking back on it now, even when we watch old videos of you when you were about 5, it’s so obvious you have autism!

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Aoife: Did friends or other children ever pass comment to you about my “uniqueness” (for want of a better term)?

They did from time to time, which was never easy to hear because it’s your sister that people are talking about.  

Aoife: Did you ever find it hard to relate to me versus Aoibhlinn or other children?

Nah brah, I got your back jack! 🙂 Like, you often took managing but I never had a problem connecting with you, probably because we always liked the same things. And I dunno, you seem to like me or something so I think that helps 😛

Aoife: How did you feel around me when I would have a meltdown? What did you make of my meltdowns?

In general, the initial reaction was “Oh lord she’s at it again”, I think we all just got used to you and thought you were just being dramatic (see that time you threw everything out the window 😛). I’m a pretty anti-confrontation person anyway so when your blow-ups really blew up I really hated it and wanted you to just calm down and see reason, but I now know that when you’re in the middle of a meltdown you can’t see reason! Just having a, what we call, “Aoife Moment™”.

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Aoife: Growing up, even though you’re younger than me, did you ever feel responsible for me, as if you were my big sister?

Now that you mention it, I guess I did. Without being aware that you had autism and that you had to basically be taught how to behave in social situations, I think that I always felt like I had to show you how things work in the world and make you more “streetwise” because those things didn’t come naturally to you. You often don’t see the danger in things so often I feel a bit “big sisterly” and want to try and guard you and take you out of “Aoifeland” (for those who don’t know, this is the magical place Aoife goes to in her head when she zones out and falls down the stairs, spends hours looking at the ceiling, etc.). I still feel like I’m teaching you things every day, so I guess that changes the dynamic, dammit Aoife you’re meant to be teaching me! 😛

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Aoife: What did you know/feel about autism before I was diagnosed?

A hell of a lot less than I know now! Not a whole lot to be honest, I think I thought it was something that’s a lot more of a big deal than it is. I didn’t know how prevalent it is in people, which was a huge eye opener!

Aoife: Did you ever resent me for being different/my behaviours/social faux pas etc.?

A bit because you could have an “Aoife moment” and say something embarrassing about me 😛 Often you could have an embarrassing moment and, sure, that’s annoying, but on the up side, your social faux pas have led to some entertaining moments (“Mammy why is that man so smelly?” (Aoife 1994) Oh and let’s not forget your amazing sense of tact, it would be nice to not be insulted all the time, not that you mean to be insulting (I think…… 😛 )

Aoife: How did you feel about/react to my diagnosis?

I wasn’t in any way surprised because as we already talked about, there was always something odd about you! I think it was a good thing for you because it gave you a huge awareness and understanding about yourself and who you are, and that you’re not JUST an oddball, you’re an oddball with Autism! 😉

Aoife: Thanks for that then Órlaith! I bid you adieu! 🙂

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So there we are now Earthlings, I hope you enjoyed this post!

Enjoy the weekend everyone! 🙂

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Aoife (and Órlaith 🙂 )

Celebrities with Autism

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

Today we’re going to take a look at some famous people who you may not realize are on the spectrum.

Susan Boyle

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After achieving viral fame in 2009 for her powerful voice and quirky personality in ‘Britain’s got Talent‘, the Scottish songstress was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome in 2012. Boyle had in fact spent her entire life believing that she was brain damaged following oxygen deprivation at birth!

If you have a spare hour, I’d highly recommend checking out her documentary ‘There’s Something About Susan‘ where she talks about her diagnosis 🙂

Dan Aykroyd

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Whilst never formally diagnosed, actor and comedian Dan Aykroyd of ‘Ghostbusters‘ and ‘The Blues Brothers‘ fame believes he has a touch of Asperger’s syndrome. Having read about the condition, Aykroyd self diagnosed with AS based on certain symptoms and autistic traits he possesses, in addition to his intense childhood obsessions such as ghosts.

Daryl Hannah

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That’s right- Daryl Hannah, the sexy siren from ‘Kill Bill‘ and ‘Splash‘ has been quite vocal in recent years about her childhood autism diagnosis. So little was known of autism at the time that it was recommended that Hannah be medicated and institutionalized! Hannah suffers from debilitating shyness resulting in her withdrawal from the silver screen in recent years, but has learned to cope with her symptoms better in adult life 🙂

Courtney Love 

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Controversial ‘Hole‘ singer and widow of ‘Nirvana‘ front-man Kurt Cobain, Courtney Love was diagnosed with mild autism as a child at the age of 9 according to her biography ‘Courtney Love: The Real story‘.

Other spectrum celebs include actor Paddy Considine, the late socialite and TV personality Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, world renowned autism spokeswoman and animal behaviorist Temple Grandin and indie singer-songwriter Ladyhawke.

In addition to this list of confirmed autistic celebs, there are a number of other famous people whom psychologists have speculated are on the spectrum.

Albert Einstein

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Considered by many to have been one of the greatest scientists of all time, Albert Einstein is widely believed by experts to have had had many of the traits associated with AS. Einstein reportedly didn’t speak until he was 4, obsessively repeated sentences and was a loner as a child.

Several other renowned scientists and inventors such as Issac Newton, Charles Darwin, Michelangelo and Benjamin Franklin  were also thought to have had some form of autism

Fun Fact:  Microsoft’s Bill Gates is often cited as an example of AS by experts as he exhibits many autistic traits, BUT he has never in fact been officially diagnosed as such!

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

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Many biographical accounts of renowned composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart have made reference to his peculiar behaviours such as frequent facial grimacing, repetitive movements of hands and feet, mood swings and impulse control- traits that are often associated with ASD’s.

Numerous other musical legends that are also believed to be on the spectrum include Michael Jackson, James Taylor and Ludwig Van Beethoven.

Tim Burton

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Famed for his dark and eccentric film making, Tim Burton has been informally diagnosed with AS by his former long term partner Helena Bonham Carter following research into autism for a role. After watching a documentary about autism, Burton told Carter that “That’s how he felt as a child”, leading Carter to an “a-ha moment”!

Many experts have suggested that creative writers and directors such as as Mark Twain, Stanley Kubrick, Jane Austen, Woody Allen, Hans Christian Anderson, Andy Warhol and Alfred Hitchcock may indeed have some form of autism.

Looking at all of these amazing individuals, we would all do well to recognize that an autism diagnosis by no means should keep you from achieving great things 🙂

Aoife

Autism on Screen- Adam

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

Today we’ll be taking a look at the representation of Asperger’s syndrome in the 2009 (although filmed in 2005) romantic drama film ‘Adam‘ starring Hugh Dancy and Rose Byrne.

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Adam‘ focuses on the relationship between Adam, a man with AS, and Beth, his neurotypical next door neighbour, as they embark on a romantic relationship. The film charts their relationship from unorthodox origins (Adam unwittingly asks Beth if she is aroused one night when struggling to read her emotions) to (**SPOILER ALERT**) strained ending, as both parties endeavor to better understand the other.

Check out the trailer below:

So how does ‘Adam‘ rank in it’s depiction of autism?

Scientifically speaking, ‘Adam‘ presents the audience with many of the classic characteristics of AS, providing insight into the emotional, sensory and social issues which many of us deal with on a daily basis, such as Adam’s struggles with job interviews.

One of the finer details in the film that stood out for me was how Adam separates different foods on his plate so that nothing is touching. This can be seen in the screenshot below:

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I remember reading ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time‘ by Mark Haddon as a teenager and identifying with how Christopher does not like his foods to be touching as ‘Adam‘ demonstrates here.

For me, certain foods that touch contaminate flavours and textures so I often endeavor to separate them on my plate. It’s a logical thing- I’m not crazy, I swear!!! 😛 😉

Ironically, I never put two and two together about having AS myself! 😛

The film is flawed however, in that the character of Adam is a highly intelligent electronic engineer with a photographic memory, further perpetuating the rare savant stereotype…

Dear film makers/screenwriters-enough with the savant skills already! It’s been done to death! 😛

In addition to this, there is one slightly insulting moment in the film wherein Adam is not considered “dating material” in Beth’s social circle. Granted, Beth largely ignores the advice of friends and family to pursue a relationship with Adam, buuuut (* *SPOILER ALERT**) ultimately agrees that they are from two different worlds and cannot make the relationship work.

Indeed, relationships can be hard for us, but that does not mean that we are incapable of making them work (I know several neurodiverse-neurotypical romantic pairings). One of the biggest problems in the relationship between Adam and Beth is that Adam is unable to tell Beth that he loves her. Believing that Adam sees their relationship practically and not emotionally, Beth makes the decision to break up with him as a result.

As previously discussed (Discussion: Love and Romance), saying ‘I love you’ can be quite difficult for an autist, but that does not mean that love isn’t there. I may struggle to say the words to the ones I love, but love them I do.

In watching the film, it’s obvious that Adam loves Beth, he just has a different way of showing her- something that parents, friends and significant others alike should be aware of. We do love you, it’s just hard for us to show it sometimes 🙂

All in all, ‘Adam‘ is a quirky affair that balances both the positives and negatives of life on the spectrum to give a relatively (we’ll let the high IQ/memory slide this time) realistic insight into the autistic experience 🙂

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Aoife

Social Awkwardness & Autism

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

Soooo today we’re going to talk about perhaps one of the biggest banes of my life- social awkwardness! 😛

I’m not going to lie- social awkwardness is not fun. The constant fear of saying the wrong thing or not knowing what to say, the burning sensation in your face that’s never far away (huzzah for unintentional rhyming! 😀 ).

This article sums up the feeling pretty nicely through gifs’ s:

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Sitting awkwardly by yourself waiting for friends to arrive in a pub, tapping your glass and constantly sipping just to look like you belong, the pitying glances of bar staff when they see you at a table alone-the awkwardness can be all consuming.

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I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to run from/avoid social encounters because of this awkward feeling.

Awkwardness is worse still when you’re hit by memories of previous awkward encounters! It’s a real domino effect- one awkward memory brings dozens more to the surface until you’re drowning in the red hot embarrassment of a cringe attack! 😛

I am constantly haunted by memories of my social awkwardness, buuuut as time goes on, you eventually learn not to dwell on your social failings 🙂

It’s a struggle yes, but you can push through the awkwardness. Over the years I’ve devised ways to navigate the rapids- making self deprecating jokes, keeping a mental list of backup topics for awkward silences, chugging a drink you’ve been bought (but don’t like) while your friend is in the bathroom so they don’t see your disgusted facial expressions 😛 😉

Social awkwardness may be a pain, but ultimately you can’t let the fear of getting wet keep you from swimming the social seas 🙂

Who knows-you might even put your awkward stories to good use in a blog some day! Comedy is tragedy plus time after all! 😛 😉

But is there any scientific reason for our social awkwardness?

Remember oxytocin?

Scientists have linked gene variations in the oxytocin receptor (which allows oxytocin to bind and interact with the body) to autism. Evidence indicates that people with autism have a specific variation in the oxytocin receptor (rs53576) which makes it more difficult for them to empathize, read facial expressions and social situations- predisposing us to social awkwardness.

In addition to this, psychologists have suggested that social awkwardness is all about perception. Awkwardness is thought to be influenced by the individuals perception of how a social situation should play out versus reality. If a social interaction does not go as planned…then the awkward turtle swims into view!

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This is a particularly interesting hypothesis. Oftentimes I find myself feeling awkward when silence falls in social settings as I perceive conversational silence to be awkward….aaaand then I tend to ramble on nonsensically to fill that silence! 😛

In reality, the silence may not in actual fact be awkward. Companionable silence is perfectly natural; the awkwardness I feel may inadvertently be of my own creation!

So it seems that perhaps social awkwardness in autism comes from the disparity between perception and reality in social interaction.

Social awkwardness is also thought to ironically help people improve their social skills! It has been theorized that social awkwardness acts as a warning system to help us to recognize that we have made social mistakes so that we will not repeat them in the future.

Seeing as autists struggle with social communication and interaction, it stands to reason that we often feel awkward so that we might improve our social skills in the future.

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So social awkwardness may in fact serve a purpose in autism! 😉

Enjoy the weekend everyone! 🙂

Aoife

Autism and Textures

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

Today I’m going to talk about something that you may not be aware of in relation to autism- the issue of texture sensitivity.

During my assessment, I was asked by the psychologist if I had any issues with textures. Caught off guard (as I was unwittingly hoodwinked into attending the assessment 😛 ), I quickly answered no, only to realize hours later that in actual fact, textures influence my life hugely!

In all previous conversations about autism, I had never heard anything about textures, but these are in actual fact a common source of sensitivity for autists.

Rough seat belts, itchy labels and materials, even bras can be extremely irritating to the hypersensitive autist.

There was absolute war between my mother and I when I would refuse to wear a bra as a child! The sensation of the garment against my skin weirded me out and I found it extremely uncomfortable. I would even try wearing it over my thermal vest to place a barrier between me and it, buuuut it didn’t very work well…I was constantly fidgeting! 😛

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Weird textures completely freak me out- cornflour (a particular pet peeve), some fruits and veg, yogurts (or most foods) with lumps in them and nail files to name but a few.

Encounters with such textures can lead to reactions like these…:

(Fun fact about me- I genuinely shake my head like a dog when I shudder! 😛 )

It’s not all negative though- you can learn to adapt and condition yourself to stimuli 🙂 I never drank a glass of water until I was 11 years old as it felt really weird to me compared with other more flavorful drinks. I gradually conditioned myself to it by taking one gulp water followed by one gulp juice (my family found this hilarious 😛 ) until the glass was empty- I now drink pints of water daily without issue! 🙂

Pleasant textures on the other hand pose an entirely different sensory experience, lighting up my brain like a Christmas tree! 🙂

The creamy texture of ice cream or chocolate melting in my mouth, the strangely irresistible and soothing feel of metal against my skin or the drug-like euphoria that comes from stroking a fluffy puppy-sheer bliss! 🙂

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As my sister remarked as I was writing this piece, it’s easier to list the textures that I do like than those I don’t! 🙂 😉

So what’s the scientific reason for this sensitivity?

As we have discussed in previous posts (Autism 101-Sensory Processing;Discussion-Trust, Intimacy and Sexuality), people with autism are hypersensitive to the sensation of touch. Dysfunctions in brain areas involved in sensory integration, in addition to hyper-connected and hyper-excitable neurons within the autistic brain, can greatly influence our responses to texture.

MRI studies of autistic brains also suggest that there is an exaggerated response to unpleasant stimuli in particular within the limbic system- a set of structures involved in such processes as emotions, behaviours and motivation.

It may seem like we’re consciously overreacting to certain textures, but our response is entirely neurological- so try to keep that in mind next time you see us pull a weird face after encountering an unpleasant texture! 😛 😉

Image result for nasty taste gif

Have a good week everyone! 🙂

Aoife

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