Making Assumptions about Autism

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

I had intended to write a different post this week, however, after watching the most recent episode of ABC’s acclaimed ‘The Good Doctor‘ (a TV show that follows a surgical resident with autism), I’d like to talk a little bit about making assumptions about an autist and their abilities.

Just in case any of you are fans and are not up to date look away now *spoiler alert.*

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*Spoiler* In recent episodes, the new chief of surgery has made the decision to remove Shaun (aka the ‘Good Doctor’) from the surgical program following a minor social miscommunication with a patient, and place him in pathology, refusing point blank to get to know him or give him his job back. Naturally, this did not help Shaun’s mental state and need for routine, which ultimately led to the mother of all meltdowns and his subsequent firing from the hospital.

It was a nice bit of acting by Freddie Highmore if you’d like to see a clip following his firing:

Spoiler over!

Now it’s not often that I really feel a connection with Shaun (as we are very different in a lot of ways- no two autists are the same after all!), but this episode got me right in the feels.

Shaun’s predicament was one that I knew all too well. Shortly after my diagnosis I encountered a similar scenario in my career where assumptions were made about my abilities. Once the ‘A’ word was on the table, my employers opinion of me changed overnight, but alas, not to my benefit. Suddenly I found myself adrift in career limbo because someone jumped straight to the conclusion without stopping to discuss.

This is something that we’re all guilty of, not just employers. We hear the word ‘autism’ and suddenly our brain paints a picture. We see traits that may not be there, we imagine difficulties that may not even exist, we make assumptions on a persons character, interests, idiosyncrasies etc. based on what we know of autism without first taking time to see the person in front of us.

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I’m worn out trying to tell people that no two autists are the same! Yes, there are similarities and common traits, but just because John hates to be touched, doesn’t mean that Mary automatically hates hugs. She may love them- but if the assumption is made you’ll never get to find out.

We cannot make assumptions on an autists ability. We need to educate ourselves, get to know a person, take time to see the person beyond the diagnosis. What I need is different to what Shaun the ‘Good Doctor’ needs; who I am and what I can do are worlds apart from him. Shaun is a skilled surgeon that sometimes struggles with communication, I’m an outgoing sciencey-artsy type who never shuts up, yet most people on hearing the word ‘autism’ would tar us with the same brush.

When it comes to autism, you can never judge a book by it’s cover-but especially don’t make an assumption as stupid as this one πŸ˜› :

https://www.betootaadvocate.com/uncategorized/i-took-my-autistic-mate-to-the-casino-and-lost-17000-in-ten-minutes/

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Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! πŸ˜€

Until next time!

Aoife

Autism and Mental Health

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Did you know– autistic children have higher levels of depressive symptoms and are 28 times more likely to have thoughts of suicide than their neurotypical counterparts? 😲

bitmoji1256098968In recent years our awareness of and willingness to tackle mental health issues has increased significantly, however, the autistic community is often forgotten in our discussions.

Mental health issues such as OCD, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, ADD, psychosis, personality disorders and bipolar disorder are frequently co-morbid with ASD diagnoses, but aside from OCD and anxiety, you will rarely hear about these other issues in relation to autism. In fact, such mental health issues can even obscure ASD diagnoses in higher functioning autists as clinicians often diagnose the co-morbid condition without seeing the underlying ASD.

This is a particularly big issue for women on the spectrum as experts have found that we tend to exhibit greater depressive symptoms and higher anxiety levels than our male counterparts as we tend to internalize and ‘mask‘ our struggles. Moreover due to differences between male and female presentation of ASD’s and male bias in the development of the diagnostic criteria, women with autism are often misdiagnosed as having mental health issues, but the root ASD continues to evade.

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But are there any scientific reasons why mental health issues are so prevalent among autists?

A recently published study has suggested that perhaps the gut may influence an autists mental health. As gastrointestinal issues are often co-morbid with an ASD diagnosis, and as the microbes that live in the gut can have an influence on the brain and behaviours, it has been proposed that perhaps a “dysbiosis” or imbalance in gut microbes may have an influence on an autists mental health 😲

Interestingly studies have also identified an overlap between the genes that cause schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and autism wherein certain points on these genes encode proteins that are involved in the formation and strength ofΒ synapses (which act as chemical bridges between neurons) suggesting that these disorders may act through a similar neurological pathway. Moreover, dysregulation of neurotransmitters (biochemical messengers in the brain) has also been implicated in depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, ADHD and autism (as we have discussed in multiple previous posts) indicating further neurological overlaps.

In short, it seems that the biological basis of both autism and mental health issues are intertwined, which could explain why so often the two walk hand in hand.

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Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Until next time!

Aoife

 

 

Autism Profiles: Anne Hegerty

 

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

This week I’d like to discuss a celebrity with autism that has been featuring in the news a lot lately- Anne Hegerty, better known as the Governess on the ITV quiz show ‘The Chase‘ in the UK. Anne is an elite quizzer, one of six, whom challengers head off against to win large sums of cash for their team.

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As an avid fan of quiz shows I’veΒ  been fascinated by Anne and her brain for some time, and even more so after I read about her diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome at the age ofΒ  45. Before her diagnosis, Anne was on the brink of homelessness and struggling to “keep it all together”. However, following her diagnosis, she was introduced to the world of elite quizzing by her social worker and the rest is history! πŸ™‚

Most recently, Anne has been appearing in the news due to her participation in the ITV reality show ‘I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!”. For those of you unfamiliar with the show, a group of celebrities (although the term is often used loosely these days due to the decreasing calibre of celebs willing to participate πŸ˜› ) are deployed into the Australian jungle for a few weeks and the public votes to subject their chosen celeb to ‘bush-tucker trials’ to win their campsite meals and luxuries. These trials are torturous ordeals where the celeb is often exposed to creepy crawlies, may have to wade through slime/crocodile infested waters, could be buried alive (with unknown nasties) and may even have to eat a range of unpleasant jungle critters- meals often including some “unsavory” parts of the kangaroo/crocodile anatomy…😬

As you can imagine, this is not exactly the most hospitable of environments for the average autist!

In fact, Anne broke down in tears on the first night in the jungle as she struggled to adjust to life outside her comfort zone, and was very close to saying she couldn’t do it.

But Anne has persevered, and even powered through some disgusting bush-tucker trials which you can see in the links below (I know I wouldn’t be able for them!):

She has been widely praised during the shows’ run for talking openly about her diagnosis with her camp mates and raising awareness about the every day challenges of living with Asperger’s.

Here she is opening up about her struggles in the jungle:

You can see her chat a little bit more about her life with Asperger’s here on the ITV chat show ‘Loose Women‘.

I’d just like to finish this post by wishing Anne the best of luck in her remaining time in the jungle (she’s one of the favourites to win) and to conclude with a fantastic quote from her about having Asperger’s syndrome:

“People say to me, ‘I understand you suffer from Asperger’s’ or ‘you suffer from autism’, and I’m like, ‘no, IΒ haveΒ Asperger’s, I suffer from idiots!” πŸ˜‚

Love this woman! πŸ˜€

It’s such a pleasure to witness to a real aspergirl showing the world that one should not be defined by a diagnosis, but by the strength of your actions πŸ™‚

Have a great weekend Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Aoife

Autism on Screen- Atypical (Season 2)

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Following on from last years discussion of the Netflix smash ‘Atypical‘, I wanted to see how the second season fared in it’s portrayal of autism πŸ™‚

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In case you need a reminder, ‘Atypical‘ focuses on autistic teenager Sam as he navigates his senior year of high school. The show also focuses on Sam’s wider family and friends so that we are not given a mere one dimensional look at the reality of living with autism.

Picking up where the last season left off, ‘Atypical‘ follows Sam through the latter half of his senior year in high school, charting his girl trouble, struggles with change, and his fears and ambitions for life after school. The season in particular focuses a great deal on the difficulties Sam experiences with change as he comes to terms with the consequences of his mother’s affair, needing to find a new therapist, his sisters transfer to a private school along with an assortment of other changes associated with the end of his school days.

You can check out the trailer for season 2 here:

Just like last season, I highly enjoyed this refreshing and endearingly comedic portrayal of autism. The acting was again excellent and I believe that the show gave a well rounded view of the autistic experience.

What I liked in particular about this season was Sam’s support group. In order to prepare himself for “the abyss” or his future after graduation, Sam joins a group for high-school seniors with ASD’s. The good thing about this group meant that it allowed for other autistic characters and their traits to shine through in the series.

In addition to this, many of these group members were themselves on the spectrum (as the first series was criticized for not making greater use of spectrum actors) which meant that we actually saw a realistic portrayal of several spectrum characters! πŸ˜€ This was great for showcasing autistic women, especially as one of the characters was shown to have “super empathy” after stealing Sam’s art portfolio to keep him from going to college as he was afraid of becoming a starving artist! πŸ˜‚ Additionally the struggles to regulate tone were also evident in this group- a common trait with limited awareness.

Furthermore the season highlighted a growing area of importance- first responder autism training. Sam get’s overwhelmed when he attempts to sleep over at his friend Zahid’s house and leaves for home in his PJs. He is subsequently arrested for his odd behaviour in his attempts to “stim” and calm down, even after Zahid tells the officer that he is autistic. Here in Ireland, autism charity AsIAm are particularly dedicated to offering training to a number of services in the public sector for encounters such as this one:

https://asiam.ie/our-work/asiam-public-sector-training/

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However, there was one major issue in this season, which we Irish found highly irksome- the mispronunciation (or absolute butchering) of Kilkea, Athy, Co. Kildare (https://www.independent.ie/entertainment/banter/trending/irish-netflix-viewers-bemused-by-atypical-characters-pronunciation-of-kildare-athy-and-kilkea-37308271.html). This town was pronounced as kill-kay-ah, ath-ee, county kill-daahr. For the record- it’s pronounced kill-key, a-thigh, county kill-dare (literally no reason to mispronounce the last one! πŸ˜› ).

I didn’t even realize where they were talking about until they said Ireland at the end! Perhaps the scriptwriters would do well to double check their place names in future πŸ˜›

All in all I highly enjoyed the sophomore season of ‘Atypical‘ and would highly recommend this quirky comedy for a weekend binge watch πŸ™‚

Aoife

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

 

Autistic Burnout

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Leading on from previous posts about shutdowns and meltdowns, today I’d like to discuss the “autistic burnout”.

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So what exactly is that when it’s at home?

Autistic burnout (also known as “autistic regression”) happens when an autist has maxed out their capacity to maskΒ and to socially cope following a period of prolonged stress (such as major change, attempting to be “normal”, poor self care etc.). This triggers a shutdown like state where the autist can become “more autistic” and is often unable to utilize the skills they have learned to cope- the mind is so exhausted that the autist no longer has to energy to try to overcome their difficulties.

Some people have even reported that these skills did not come back at all after recovering from a severe burnout- hence the name autistic regression.

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From a scientific perspective, the autistic burnout has not been explored as of yet on a medical level, however, there is much discussion of burnout within the autistic community.

Thankfully I have not really experienced such a full on burnout, but I have circled the drain a few times. When you’re particularly under pressure from doing too many things at once, sleep deprived, dehydrated, hungry etc., that’s when the mask starts to slip. In times like these I have felt much more symptomatic than normal, causing me to snap or say inappropriate things and act more eccentrically than I ordinarily would. It’s as if a part of your brain switches off to keep from overloading- and that part seems to be the one that controls our cloaking device, like the faulty invisibility booster on Arthur Weasleys flying Ford Anglia!

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So how can burnouts be avoided?

Much in the same way as meltdowns and shutdowns πŸ™‚

As I have discussed in a number of previous posts, the key things to remember are:

  • Self Care– Stay hydrated, get plenty of snacks, get lot’s of sleep etc.
  • Utilize stress busters– Find respite in hobbies, in exercise, specialist interests or relieve stress through stimming
  • Take a break– If a situation is taking it’s toll, take a step back. Leave the room, take a holiday (if work related) or go outside for a walk; time in solitude to decompress and reset can be particularly helpful πŸ™‚

Here’s a useful chart from the Autistic Women’s Network summarizing autistic burnout:

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Remember to make time for you this weekend πŸ˜‰

Aoife

Autism and Memory

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

In today’s post we’re going to explore the concept of memory and autism.

When we think of autism and memory, we often picture the ‘Rain Man‘ stereotype- an individual with superb, photographic memory.

Whilst this is a stereotypical view of autism, stereotypes often are based on fact. It is indeed true that many autists possess impeccable and often eidetic memories (although the scientific jury is still out as to whether or not true eidetic memories really exist).

Just check out this autstic artists sketch drawn entirely from memory! 😲

However, the opposite is also true in that many individuals with autism equally possess a number of memory deficits such as difficulties with short term and working memory (a part of the short term memory that temporarily stores information for processing-e.g decision making, reasoning and behavior). As a result of this, children with autism often have poorer memory for more complicated information.

My own memory has always been kind of strange- I fall somewhere between having a normal memory and an eidetic one (I definitely don’t have a full eidetic memory- school would have been a lot easier if I had! πŸ˜› )

bitmoji792226925Whilst I can’t recite the entire works of JK Rowling word for word, my brain does however, tend to randomly churn out eidetic memories every now and again (known as sporadic eidetic memory). I sporadically come out with full eidetic memories recalling such minuscule details as clothes, smells, songs, haircuts etc. My memories are so detailed that I once when recounting the previous night’s episode of Desperate Housewives to my Physical Therapist went so far as to mention the likely flavour of smoothie that the ladies of Wisteria Lane were drinking as they gossiped!Β πŸ˜‚πŸ˜¬

I’ve unwittingly been dubbed the “family historian” as a result πŸ˜›

But what has the science to say about memory and autism?

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The research is conflicting. Scientists have had great difficulty in obtaining consistent results across memory studies- they are as diverse as the spectrum itself!

However, there are a couple of areas in which scientists seem to agree:

  • Visual memory is thought to be a particular strength in autists due to increased activity in visual areas of the autistic brain, resulting in enhanced perceptual processing (and eidetic memory formation)
  • Deficits in working memory may arise from alterations in the brain networks involved in working memory such as the amygdaloid complex and the medial temporal lobe (MTL) affecting their ability to encode and process information

Fun Fact: The regions of the brain involved in declarative memory (memory of facts and events) are thought to compensate for social deficits in autism, becoming activated in social situations to allow autists to maskΒ (for example using formulaic speech i.e. learned phrases)

That’s all for this week dear Earthlings- I hope this post was ‘memorable’ πŸ˜‰

Enjoy the weekend! πŸ˜€

Aoife

Ask an Aspie

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Have you ever had any burning questions about autism that you’d like answered?

Is there any aspect of autism that you’d like to know more about?

For the past 18 months, you’ve listened to my ramblings about life on the spectrum, but now I’d like to turn it over to you guys! πŸ™‚

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For some time now I’ve been meaning to start a series called “Ask an Aspie” to allow you the opportunity to ask me questions/address the spectrum topics that you want to know more about πŸ™‚

So write me a comment or send me an email and let me know what YOU want to know most about! πŸ˜€

Enjoy the weekend Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Aoife

Autism and Art

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

This week I’d like to take a quick look at a more creative side of the spectrum- the benefits of art therapy πŸ™‚

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Too often we focus on the logic driven mathematical and scientific skills that autists often possess (*cough* ‘Rain Man‘), failing to see the array of creativity that exists within the spectrum. In fact, research suggests that there appears to be a link between milder/higher functioning forms of autism and artistic creativity- with many citingΒ Andy WarholΒ (who as mentioned in a previous post (celebrities with autism) is thought by several experts to have had Asperger’s Syndrome) as a prime example. You can read about some of his bizzare traits here:Β  https://www.theguardian.com/uk/1999/mar/14/vanessathorpe.theobserver

Personally, I love all things creative- IΒ  paint, I draw, I sculpt, I knit, decorate cakes and as you all know, I write. Many a weekend has been spent consumed by an art project over the years πŸ™‚

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In recent years, experts have begun to target creativity in autists by exploring the potential benefits of art therapy.

So what exactly is art therapy and how might it help?

With a key focus on sensory stimulation, art therapy is specifically designed with the aim of addressing deficits and problem behaviours, building life skills, promoting healthy self expression, communication and to help to instill calm.Β  As of yet, there is little research into art therapy, however, currently available evidence has shown that it promotes mental and emotional growth for autists through art making.

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In my experience, the calming effect of art can be quite powerful. As I’ve previously discussed, I often find it hard to switch off my brain at times. However, I have found sculpture to be a powerful way to quieten my mind in the past. I once spent an hour at Art Society in college making a sculpture of dolphins, realizing at the end that I had not thought about anything other than the movement of my hands for the entire duration! 😲 The physical effort can take up a surprising amount of your thought capacity! Granted, the moisture of the clay and drying sensation against the skin may not be great for some autists on a sensory level- but in exposing yourself to new smells and textures through a fun activity, this can greatly help to reduce your tolerance for unpleasant stimuli! πŸ˜€

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Knitting can also be quite useful to calm the mind, however, I found that the more I improved, the more room I had in my mind for thought- but hey, it’s still fun, and not as boring as it sounds (my approach should be renamed “extreme” knitting, I have in fact injured myself from my exertions and needed physio in the past… πŸ˜›Β πŸ˜‚)!

All in all, art therapy offers us a unique way to help improve autistic behaviours by channeling them into something constructive, creative and above all fun πŸ™‚

Enjoy the weekend Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Aoife

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