Autism and Hair

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ˜€

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

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

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

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

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

Hope you enjoyed this post!

Have a good weekend dear Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Aoife

Autism and Working from Home

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ˜€

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!

Enjoy the weekend! πŸ™‚

Aoife

Autism on Screen- Scrubs

Greetings from lock-down dear Earthlings! πŸ™‚

As I try to fill my hours in these dark days, like many people, I’ve been spending more time working my way through my TV/film backlog. In the midst of this, I’ve come across an old episode of the acclaimed medical comedy Scrubs (Season 4 Episode 18) which featured an autistic child.

Binge Watchin' TV Review: Scrubs

In this episode, Dr. Cox’s highly competitive childhood friend Ron comes to town with his son and arranges a play date. During the course of this play date, Dr Cox is dismayed to find that Ron’s son Nathan is far superior in his block building skills to his son Jack. Taking this, Nathan’s lack of eye contact and avoidance of touch/hugs into account, Dr. Cox realizes that Nathan is likely autistic.

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While this episode is not the most accurate portrayal of autism with such stereotyped traits (the character’s on screen appearance is only fleeting so it would have been difficult to show a true representation), I wanted to talk about the episode nonetheless for the way that Dr. Cox handled the situation.

The episode did not focus in on the medical drama or exaggerated autistic traits, but kept it simple yet effective in the sensitive delivery of the suspected diagnosis from one friend to another. There was also a greater focus on the fact that early diagnosis is a good thing to give autists the best chance to thrive- a refreshing change as so often media portrayals stick with the negatives.

Here’s a clip from this poignant scene:

 

In reality, John C. McGinley (who plays Dr. Cox) is father to a child with Down Syndrome and is an active ambassador for this cause, playing an integral part in the Special Olympics “R-word: Spread The Word, To End The Word” campaign in recent years. As such, it appears that he drew from his own experiences of special needs in his delivery here which really added to the authenticity and tenderness of this moment of true friendship.

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!

Stay safe!

Aoife

My Autistic Fight Song- Rosie Weldon

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ˜€

As many of you may know, I love to read, and so I was delighted to be offered the opportunity to read an advanced copy of ‘My Autistic Fight Song‘ by Rosie Weldon.

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This enticing memoir charts Rosie’s journey through higher education, her autism diagnosis and her struggles in the workplace as she strived to achieve her dream of becoming an accountant.

You can find a trailer for the book here on Rosie’s Youtube Channel:

 

So what did I make of the book?

Reading this book was a very interesting experience for me as someone who has yet to engage with another female autist in the flesh. I’ve read many abridged accounts and watched many interviews with other female autists, but this was the first time I really was given a raw insight into the mind of someone other than myself.

In some ways I could have been reading my own story. My experience of autism has been significantly milder, but yet many of our experiences align. Both diagnosed in our twenties, both encountered challenges with social anxiety, both found comfort in music, Harry Potter and the confines of a secluded bathroom stall. It was fascinating to see into Rosie’s thought process, her thinking so often mimicking my own- growing up, it would have been nice to have come across this book to let me know that I wasn’t alone, that I wasn’t so different after all.

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Perhaps most interesting was Rosie’s experiences of the workplace. As I have discussed previously, only a small percentage of autists find full time employment. Rosie’s perseverance in the face of adversity in the workplace was inspiring. She was fiercely determined not to be another statistic, and this determination made her dream of being an accountant a reality.

It was also most heartening to see the support that Rosie received from her employers along the way- they did not see her autism as a challenge and instead found ways to work within her comfort zone, such as moving noisy machines to a different room. Having struggled in the workplace myself in a role where I was not adequately supported, I’m glad to see that not all employers see autism as a burden.

For anyone looking for an insight into the mind of a female autist, “My Autistic Fight Song” is the perfect bedtime read πŸ™‚

Rosie also has her own blog where she talks about autism which you can check out here: https://www.rosieweldon.com/

If you’d like to read ‘My Autistic Fight Song‘, the book will be available to buy from April 1st (conveniently timed for Autism Awareness Month) πŸ™‚

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Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! πŸ˜€

Enjoy the weekend!

Aoife

Happy Easter! :)

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Just taking this opportunity to wish you all a very happy Easter! πŸ™‚

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Hope you all have a great weekend!

Try not to eat too much chocolate now! πŸ˜‰

Aoife

Autism and Clothing

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

This week I’d like to briefly expand on something that I touched on in my previous post about skin sensitivity,Β -the importance of clothing and autism.

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No, I’m not going to talk about fashion, but function!

For many autists, it can be quite difficult to pick out clothes. A stray fiber, an itchy label or a prickly seam can unleash a storm of sensory discomfort. Gene mutations cause the nerves in our skin to be extra sensitive to certain stimuli. This coupled with hyperactivity in the cortex and the amygdala (both regions involved in sensory processing) don’t make for the happiest of bedfellows.

But what if the clothes that irritate us could in fact be used to manage autistic symptoms?

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Clothes are now being designed and adapted to cater for the different needs of autists. Companies are now producingΒ  seamless socks and underwear, looser fitting clothes made from softer materials, and most interestingly, weighted and compression clothing.

Based on the research of the great Temple Grandin and her hugging machine, both weighted and compression clothing provide calming, deep pressure stimulation much like a soothing hug. The pressure switches off the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) to the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest), promoting the release of “feel good” neurotransmitters. Based on this, it’s thought that autists are better able to cope with sensory issues, hyperactivity, motor skills and sleeplessness when wearing sensory clothing.

It’s a really interesting premise- there’s even been an inflatable sensory scarf produced that’s designed to provide soothing pressure in addition to emitting calming aromas! Check it out:

https://www.wired.com/2015/08/odd-looking-clothing-designed-help-autistic-kids/

In reality however, the results are mixed. Scientific studies indicate that weighted and inflatable vests do not appear to be effective and are not clinically recommended, yet the personal testimonials of families across the globe beg to differ. One testimonial claimed that a child’s meltdowns went from 12 a day to having none in 3 years!

Either way, nothing ventured nothing gained, so if you think that sensory wear may be of benefit to you or a loved one with autism, why not give it a shot? πŸ™‚

With the variety of sensory wear available, you’ll at the very least look fabulous! πŸ˜‰

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Enjoy the weekend everyone! πŸ˜€

Aoife

Autism and Travel

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Following a recent trip to Amsterdam a very wise friend suggested that I discuss the subject of autism and travel in this weeks blog πŸ™‚

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We all love nothing more than a nice trip away for a new adventure or some much needed R and R. For autists however, travelling overseas, (like life in general πŸ˜› ), can be very stressful.

The crowds, the smells, lack of sleep, ear popping, travel sickness, the stress of beeping going through airport security knowing that random people may invade your personal space- it’s a lot to process!

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So how might one navigate some of these difficulties?

  • Pack plenty of snacks– one of the trickiest aspects of travel I find is to find “Aoife friendly” food. If you’re travelling long hours without something decent in your stomach, it can be very difficult to stay sane. Eating healthier snacks may also help you avoid some travel sickness.Β Aoife’s Top Tip– the discovery of Belvita Breakfast Biscuits has made my life sooooo much easier!
  • Sleep/Caffeine– I know it’s not the easiest of tasks, but try to get as much sleep as possible before/during a flight. Nothing frays my temper quicker than sleep deprivation. Caffeine is also useful to help get you through the slumps- or Diet Coke if you like me have sensory issues with hot drinks πŸ™‚
  • Vigilance with metal– To avoid any unexpected pat downs, be sure to double check your pockets before security (you wouldn’t believe the things security have found in my granddad’s pockets- drill-bits to name but one memorable example! πŸ˜› ). Be sure to also double check your hair clips and jewelry- real metals such as silver and gold won’t set the alarm off πŸ™‚
  • Neck pillows- there’s a lot to be said for a good neck pillow on a flight! These can really help to make an autist more comfortable in the cramped confinings of a plane
  • Noise Cancelling Headphones/earplugs– These can be quite useful to help decrease the volume of your surroundings, and can also help to decrease the pressure round your ears in my experience. However, on my flight this week I learned that the use of large headphones is now forbidden for take off and landing- so you may need to check this out with your airline

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In addition to this, airports are beginning to realize the importance of creating an autism friendly environment. Shannon Airport here in Ireland for example has established Europe’s first airport sensory room in the departures lounge. You can check it out here:Β http://www.shannonairport.ie/gns/passengers/prepare/autismandspecialneeds.aspx

Shannon airport have also implemented a customer care program for autists where special caps and wristbands are assigned so that airport staff can readily recognize and help an autist appropriately.

It’s only a matter of time before other international airports begin to follow suit πŸ™‚

Happy travelling Earthlings! πŸ˜€

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Aoife

Autism and Voice Control

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Today we’re going to briefly talk about an aspect of the spectrum that many of you may not be familiar with- voice control.

 

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We’re all aware that autism is often accompanied by difficulties with speech (non verbal autism, apraxia, speaking in monotones etc.) however, few are aware of the challenges to control the pitch and volume of our voices.

This is especially challenging for me as I often struggle to accurately gauge my volume. For example, I may think that I am singing along at an appropriate volume, buuuuuut those who are listening to me may have slightly different reactions…

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I’ve probably deafened several members of my friends and family at this stage! πŸ˜›

For years I could never understand how I was chastised for my mumbling in school, but a shouter at home- I just could never seem to get the balance right.

I naturally tried to rationalize my shouting with waxy ears and struggles to be heard over the din of the school- but is there any scientific explanation for my struggles to regulate tone?

Many acoustic studies have found that prosody (an area of linguistics that focuses on linguistic functions such as tone, intonation, stress and rhythm of speech) is impaired in autists. Prosody is used to reflect emotional states, sarcasm, stress, emphasis and other areas of language that are not conveyed through grammar and vocabulary- an area where many autists struggle.

MRI studies have shown that the areas of the brain involved in the perception and processing of prosody (the left supramarginal gyrus (SMG)) are abnormally activated in autists compared to their neurotypical peers. Neurons in the left precuneus,Β the left medial prefrontal cortex and the right anterior cingulate cortex should be deactivatedΒ when exposed to prosody, however these areas are active in the autistic brain.

As a result, we are often unable to discern the exact pitch, tone or emphasis we should use in conversation. ThisΒ  abnormal activation also explains why autists often struggle to accurately interpret another persons meaning/intention through their use of prosody in their speech.

Impairments in auditory processing of sound in the brain may also feed into this issue- so try not to judge me too harshly the next time I blow your eardrums outΒ πŸ˜¬Β πŸ˜‰

Have a good weekend Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Aoife

Autism and Masking

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

This week I’d like to discuss something I’ve briefly touched upon in previous posts (women and autism, ‘Please Stand By‘)- autism and masking.

So what is masking?

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Masking is a common behavioural trait within the autistic community wherein social mimicry is used to “mask” other autistic behaviours in social settings.

Basically this means that autists consciously employ techniques from social observation (such as forced eye contact and rehearsed conversations) in order to better blend into the social landscape to prevent their autistic traits from sticking out. You may not see the autism, but it’s still there behind the mask. Some autists even carry multiple masks to be used for different audiences.

Masking mainly tends to happen among girls with autism rather than boys (boys have also shown signs of masking but not to the same extent). Studies have shown that autistic women are generally better at recognizing emotions than their male peers (almost as good in fact as neurotypicals) and show greater social attentiveness which feeds into our ability to mask.

For example, take a quick look at this video I shared in my previous post where a group of autistic women go speed dating with an oblivious group of neurotypical men:

For me personally, social masking kept me under the ASD radar for many years. Without realizing it, I had been giving an Oscar worthy performance for most of my life.

I figured out how I was “supposed” to act from observing those around me, reading books and watching films (though sadly the amount of rom coms/romance films/novels I consume led to some unfortunate learning curves! πŸ˜› ). I forced myself to make eye contact and to watch my mouth more, I even devised a sort of mental go-to phrase card with acceptable answers to such tricky questions as ‘How are you?’ or how to appropriately answer the phone (which I still dread by the way πŸ˜› )

In one of my more extreme forms of masking, I somehow developed the ability to cry only out of my right eye when I would experience mini meltdowns in school so that the tears would roll down unseen behind a curtain of hair! 😬

I became really good at being invisible….well, at least between meltdowns! πŸ˜› πŸ˜‰

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Social masking in girls is thought to be one of the primary reasons that women with autism often go undetected into adulthood, if at all. Research suggests that the ability to mask may even prevent those who have been flagged for assessment from getting the formal diagnosis that they need. In addition to this, a recent survey of autistic adults reported universal exhaustion from their masking exertions which is why it is so important that we develop better diagnostic tools for women on the spectrum.

Have a good weekend everyone! πŸ™‚

Aoife

Autism on Screen- Please Stand By

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

In this weeks edition of ‘autism on screen’, we’re going to take a look at a brand new film about autism- the 2018 film ‘Please Stand By.

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What’s that I see in the poster? A young woman with autism?! 😲

FINALLY!

Nice to see Hollywood change things up a bit!

So what’s the story about?

Starring Dakota Fanning (was wondering what she was up to these days after Twlight!), ‘Please Stand By‘ tells the story of Wendy, a girl with Asperger’s syndrome living in a home for people with disabilities. When the opportunity arises to enter a screenwriting contest for ‘Star Trek‘ fan-fiction, Wendy must step outside her comfort zone and boldly cross the country alone (she ran away- a common trait in autistic women) in order to get her script to the studio on time.

You can check out the trailer for the film here:

So how did this film fare in it’s depiction of autism?

Well…as excited as I was to see this film…the reality did not live up to my expectations.

Indeed, Wendy showed the classic signs of autism- meltdowns, lack of eye contact, preference for routine, social awkwardness, literal thinking etc., but she did not stand out as a unique character. She was quirky, but there was nothing unique about her quirks, unlike Sigourney Weaver and her fondness for snow in ‘Snow Cake.

Surprisingly, Wendy didn’t appear to be a savant as in other films, however, she did have superb recall of the minutia of her specialist interestStar Trek‘!

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I am a little shocked seeing as her character was so derivative in other respects! πŸ˜›

What really bugs me about this film however were the missed opportunities. As Wendy spends much of this film by herself, ‘Please Stand By‘ had the perfect opportunity to focus in on the challenges of a high functioning female autist. To the outside world, most autistic women appear fine; we employ learned/observed techniques to blend in- known as ‘masking’. However, behind closed doors it’s a very different story.

Case in point-check out this clip from last week’s Channel 4 documentary ‘Are You Autistic‘:

You would never know that these women are on the spectrum, but you could pick Wendy out of a lineup!

The film uses a lot of narrative introspection to give us some insight (albeit minor) into the autistic psyche, but alas the full potential here was not harnessed. Wendy mainly spoke in ‘Star Trek‘ quotes which while poignant, this narrative could have been put to better use to give us true insight into the speed/and or disordered array of thought within the autistic mind. I often compare my thoughts to that of Marisa Tomei’s character in ‘What Women Want‘ (which by the way is just as funny 18 years on as it was when it was released… Man I feel old!😬).

To be quite frank, the film is kind of forgettable (I even had to look up Wendy’s name she left that little of an impression on me!)- it just didn’t draw me in and I found it incredibly tedious.

But as I say with all these films- if you think it’s your thing, why not check it out? One man’s trash is another man’s treasure after all! πŸ™‚

Enjoy the weekend everyone! πŸ˜€

Aoife

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