Autism and Catatonia

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

So this week I’d like to talk about a rare condition that affects approximately 12-18% of autistic adults- autistic catatonia.

But what exactly is this when it’s at home?

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Autistic catatonia is a neuropsychiatric condition that causes abnormalities in behaviours, speech and motor functions with varying degrees of severity. In other words, it’s a form of autistic breakdown- one that is often misdiagnosed.

There are over 40 symptoms associated with the condition, many of which overlap with autistic symptoms and traits, so it can be quite challenging to diagnose- even for the most experienced professionals in the field. Symptoms may include mutism, hyperactivity, immobility, stupor, agitation, odd repetitive movements and echolalia.Β Due to the overlap in symptoms, it’s thought that this condition may be far more prevalent among autists than we realize.

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But what causes it?

As with autism, it’s cause too remains a mystery, however it is thought that vitamin deficiencies, trauma, infection and co-morbid disorders such as schizophrenia and biopolar disorder may contribute to it.

So how do we treat it?

There are currently no cures for autistic catatonia, however a number of therapies have been used to manage symptoms such as antidepressants, muscle relaxers, benzodiazapines (such as Lorazepam) and anti psychotics. Electroconvulsive therapy (shock therapy), brain stimulation and NMDA receptor antagonists (a class of anesthetic drugs that are often used recreationally e.g ketamine, nitrous oxide, PCP and the heroin substitute methadone) have also been controversially used to treat catatonia.

There is limited research in this area at present as to how best to treat autistic catatonia, however a psychological approach to treat underlying stress and anxieties which may trigger catatonia is thought to be the best.

Whilst there is no cure, as in the case of autism, with early detection and intervention the condition can be managed πŸ™‚

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Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings and that you’re Christmas preparations are coming along nicely πŸ™‚

Aoife

 

Autism and Thrush

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Thrush- not the most fun topic to talk about, and not one that you would immediately associate with ASDs.

BUT!

This opportunistic infection may have more to do with autism than you might think!

Following a recent brush with thrush in my throat (cheers for that Ventolin! πŸ˜› ), and being a super nerd who likes to understand their afflictions, through my reading I’ve discovered that candida infections in the gut are thought to contribute to the symptoms of autism.

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So first things first, the basics- what is thrush?

For those of you fortunate enough to have not been infected at some point in your life, CandidaΒ is a type of yeast that usually exists in small colonies in the body, kept at bay by the immune system and our friendly neighbourhood symbiotic bacteria. However, when our immune system is run down, or after taking some forms of medication (such as antibiotics and steroid inhalers), this fungus can overgrow and cause a yeast infection (more commonly known as thrush). These infections for the majority of cases are mild and easy to treat, however more severe infections can be life threatening.

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But how does this relate to autism?

In recent years, emerging evidence suggests that autists may have over double the amount of candida in their gut than their neurotypical peers. As we have discussed in my previous post exploring digestive issues in autism, the microbiota of the gut can play an important role in influencing brain development and behaviour. As such, it has been theorized that toxins such as ammonia released by yeast during infection may interfere with mental processing and induce autistic behaviours. Some doctors have reported improvements in autistic symptoms through the use of anti-fungal medication and candida diets (low sugar, anti-inflammatory diet purported to improve gut health); however, the vast majority of physicians remain skeptical about candida’s role in autism due to limited scientific evidence (at present).

So might there be a reason that autists are particularly prone to thrush infections?

Interestingly in my reading about pro-biotics (particular strains of live bacteria which can have beneficial effects for gut health such as in yogurts, supplements, pro-biotic drinks etc.) and their use against thrush, I discovered that the bacteriumΒ L. reuteri is thought to be one of the main gut defenders against a number of candida infections.

Now why does that name sound familiar?

In my post about digestive issues in autismΒ we learned that this strain of lactobacillus is absent in some cases of autism. Moreover, some studies suggest that administering pro-biotics forΒ L. reuteri to autists can improve behavioural symptoms, which would suggest that perhaps this bacterium, or lack there of, may predispose autists to thrush infections!

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See? Far more interesting than you may have thought! πŸ˜‰

Have a good weekend Earthlings! 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 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

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

Broad Autism Phenotype (BAP)

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Today we’re going to discuss a type of autism that lies just outside the spectrum- the broad or broader autism phenotype (BAP).

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What on earth is that when it’s at home?!

BAP is a term used to describe a wider range of individuals just beyond the spectrum who have difficulties with language, personality, and exhibit a number of social and behavioural traits at a higher level than the average neurotypical, but not so high as to be diagnosed with autism.

In other words, this means that you have “a touch of autism” or “not quite autism (NQA)”.Β The individual has a high number of mild traits, but not enough to interfere with daily life.

So what do we know about BAP?

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Relatively little- it doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page!

This intermediate description is most commonly associated with family members (parents, siblings, and other extended family members) of those with ASD diagnoses (14–23%), but it can also be found in the general population as well (5–9%).

Interestingly, evidence of an intermediate autism phenotype has existed since the late 1970’s (the term itself was coined in 1994), but it is only in recent years, with the expansion of the spectrum, that it has become a source of research interest for scientists seeking to understand the range of ASD’s that lie beneath the spectrum rainbow.

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Much of the research in this area involves using the BAP to better understand autism- in particular it’s severity and genetics. By analyzing autism traits in families through the prism of BAP for example, researchers may be better able to identify the specific genes which underpin ASDs, paving the way for better therapies for autists.

Apologies for the shortness of this post dear Earthlings, but there is sadly very little information out there about BAP. Perhaps in the future there may be new research that will shed greater light on this subject πŸ™‚

Have a good weekend everyone! πŸ™‚

Aoife

Supporting a Child with Autism

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

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! πŸ˜›

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 πŸ™‚

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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–Β  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 πŸ™‚

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! πŸ˜› πŸ˜‰

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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 πŸ™‚

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, soΒ 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 πŸ™‚

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Aoife

Autism Management- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Today I’d like to briefly examine one of the most commonly recommended therapies for autism management- cognitive behavioural therapy or CBT.

So let’s all lean back in our chez long as we dive in! πŸ™‚

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First off, what exactly is CBT?

Originally designed as a treatment for depression, CBT is a form of psycho-social intervention (i.e. counselling/psychotherapy) that is widely used to help improve mental health. Unlike other forms of therapy, CBT focuses on developing coping strategies to target our problems and to change unhelpful patterns in emotions, attitudes, negative behaviours,Β  and thought patterns.

In other words- CBT aims to change negative ways of thinking or cognitions in order to improve behaviour.

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As a result, CBT is widely used to treat anxiety, depression, eating disorders,Β OCD and a range of other psychological issues- many of which are co-morbid with an ASD diagnosis. It’s thought that CBT can be a particularly useful tool to treat anxiety and to help develop emotional recognition in autists.

CBT was personally recommended to me following my initial diagnosis in order help me to better understand autism and to conquer my social anxiety.

So what did I make of it?

Well, being honest (as we aspies must be πŸ˜› πŸ˜‰ ), my opinions are slightly mixed regarding CBT. Whilst initially I found it helpful as it taught me a lot about autism and the reasons behind my behaviours, after a time, I felt that I didn’t really need it- especially given that I was in my twenties and had already overcome many of the challenges associated with ASD’s. In many ways, simply knowing and understanding Asperger’s Syndrome was enough to assuage much of the mental anguish I had inflicted on myself for being different πŸ™‚

Nevertheless, I did find it beneficial to have a neutral party to talk to in those first initial months post diagnosis. It’s quite a lot to take on board, so it was nice to have that outlet to help guide me through the fog.

All in all, I felt that perhaps CBT may be better suited for a younger person with autism in helping them to develop lifelong coping mechanisms that will enable them to thrive. Had I better understood myself earlier in life through CBT intervention, many things could have been so much simpler πŸ™‚

So if you think CBT may help you or your child, why not give it a try- get out your phone, book an appointment and take a seat on that couch (it’s surprisingly comfy πŸ˜‰ )

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Enjoy the weekend everyone! πŸ™‚

Aoife

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