Autism and Tics

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

This week I’d like to talk about a topic that’s not discussed very often in conversations about autism- tics and tic syndromes.

So what exactly is a tic?

A tic is a sudden, repetitive muscle movement that can cause unexpected and often uncontrollable body movements or sounds. Affecting approximately 10-25% of autists, tics differ from stimming and other repetitive behaviours in that they are generally involuntary in nature such as abnormal blinking, head jerking, sniffing, throat clearing, or repeating phrases. Like autism, there is a spectrum of tic disorder’s, with Tourette Syndrome being the most common of these. Tic frequency and severity varies depending on activity levels, stress, boredom and even high energy emotions.

Thankfully my own experience of tics has not been severe, however, in times of serious stress I have been known to develop a bad eye twitch in my left eye. It was first brought on by the stress of my final school exams at 18, and has resurfaced a small handful of times since during particularly stressful work periods. Amazingly, no one has noticed this tic as it’s so mild, but it is a very odd sensation on the inside to feel your eyelid fluttering of it’s own accord. I was initially quite freaked out when it first started, but now I know that it just means I need to step back and manage my stress levels πŸ™‚

But why are tics so common for autists?

Although they are often comorbid, as with many aspects of the spectrum, the research into this phenomenon is once again limited. Recent genetic research has shown that there may be an overlap where genes thought to contribute to autism can also cause Tourette syndrome which could explain why they often appear together. At the biochemical level, tics have been linked to imbalances in dopamine and other neurotransmitters, imbalances that have also been linked to autistic behaviours.

So are there any treatment options?

As the frequency and severity can vary with life’s changes, learning what your triggers are and how to manage or avoid them is one of the best approaches. Comprehensive Behavioral Intervention for Tics or CBIT (a form of CBT) is the favoured interventional approach, however, in some severe cases, medications can be used to help control tics.

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

Autism and Periods

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Continuing on from last week’s post about autism and puberty, this week I’d like to talk about autism and periods. I know, I’m about to alienate about half of my readers (sorry guys!), but this is a very important topic to cover for the often overlooked autistic female demographic.

Periods can be challenging for lot’s of women, however, for autists the experience can be somewhat of an ordeal. There can be a lot of overwhelming sensory issues where periods are concerned- new smells, sensations, and sensory issues related to the use of feminine hygiene products. Autists struggle greatly with change, and periods can be quite unpredictable over the course of our lives due to stress, hormonal changes, childbirth and eventually menopause (which I will discuss in a separate post at a later stage). As a result of this, female autists can develop a number of behavioural issues related to menstruation such as increased aggression and repetitive behaviours, not to mention changes in mood and mental health. Throw in a side of cramps and it’s no picnic!

In addition to the mental and behavioural toll, research has shown that periods are biologically much tougher on the autistic body. Studies have shown that women on the spectrum have higher levels of testosterone than their neurotypical peers (likely caused by dysfunction in the hypothalamus in the brain), leading to a number of menstrual related issues such as severe acne, hirsutism, irregular periods, polycystic ovary syndrome and dysmenorrhea. Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is also highly prevalent in autistic women. Autists are also known to have high levels of inflammation in the body, which can further aggravate menstrual symptoms. Periods can even cause an increase in seizures in autists who also suffer from epilepsy due to hormonal fluctuations.

So what can you do to help a young autist through her period?

  • Educate them clearly about their changing bodies– autistic women can be particularly vulnerable, so they need to know exactly how their reproductive system works and the importance of consent. Use clear language that can not be misinterpreted or taken too literally. Understanding their body will also help them to better normalize menstruation so it is far less scary. As discussed in my last post, autistic women enter puberty much earlier than their peers, so it is essential that they are educated sooner rather than later about their changing bodies.
  • Check out autism friendly books about puberty/periods– there are a number of books available targeted at growing autists to help them navigate this challenging time. There are even books specifically about periods for young autistic women that may help.
  • Chat about different feminine hygiene options– as no two autists are the same, so no one option is better or worse when it comes to feminine hygiene products. There are far more options available these days to young women than just sanitary towels and tampons- they even make absorbent period underwear which could be very helpful for girls with sensory issues.
  • Setup a calendar/diary to track periods- the unpredictable nature of life and unexpected change can be particularly frustrating for autists. While periods can oftentimes be unpredictable and don’t always run on time, a calendar can nevertheless be very helpful to prepare an autist for upcoming periods and establish a routine. Knowing that an event is approaching can help to offset the scariness of it.
  • Break the taboo– reassure them that periods are a normal part of life and that there is nothing to be ashamed of. Periods may be overwhelming for autists, but they are by no means alone in their menstrual struggles.

Hope my female Earthlings at least enjoyed this week’s post! πŸ˜‰

Have a lovely weekend! πŸ™‚

Aoife

Autism and Puberty

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

This week I’d like to talk about a frequently sidelined aspect of life on the spectrum- puberty. So often people focus on childhood autism we forget that autistic children will grow up and go through puberty just like everyone else.

Puberty is a challenging time for everyone, but often even more so for those on the autistic spectrum. Research is limited on pubescent autists, but some studies have suggested that behaviours can worsen in autists during this time, in particular, aggressive behaviours. The smallest of changes to routine can trigger meltdown’s in an autist, so imagine how this response is amplified when your entire body decides to change. You couldn’t pay me to go through puberty again- the raging hormones were a minefield (although there are day’s during this pandemic where I might consider it to travel back to a time when I had freedom πŸ˜› )!

There can be a lot of sensory issues arising from the onset of puberty that can trigger further distress- body odours, sensory reactions to hygiene products, and my own personal hell, the sensory discomfort from wearing a bra. As I’ve discussed in previous posts, I went to war for years with my mother against wearing one as the sensation of it against my skin freaked me out and I was incredibly uncomfortable- but as I was un-diagnosed, this was passed off as just being awkward πŸ˜›

During puberty, socialising, an already challenging task for autists, becomes even more complicated. When you’re a child, everything is easier as kids haven’t developed a filter yet, but once those hormones kick in, conversations become more nuanced, boys and girls interact differently and your peers start to become aware of your mind blindness and excentricities. It can be quite a socially lonely time for autists.

So how can we navigate this difficult time in an autist’s life?

  • Talk openly about the facts of life– Talk them through the changes their body will experience in clear, concrete language. Don’t leave any room for confusion or misinterpretation so that they will be fully prepared and less thrown by the changes to come- there were certainly a few books that I read growing up where overly simplified language such as “a special hug” was used to describe sex that would only confuse and misinform the more literal autist
    • An important thing to know about puberty and autism is that it can have a much earlier onset in girls. Studies have shown that female autists tend to enter puberty and start menstruation on average 9 and a half months earlier than their peers, so girls need to be prepared and educated about the facts of life earlier than you might expect
  • Use visual tools– Sometimes words are not enough to create the correct mental picture for an autist. Illustrated books about puberty can be very useful here, and there are now many books specifically targeted at autists which can really help them to navigate this time
  • Discuss appropriate/inappropriate behaviours– don’t leave it at just the facts themselves. Autists will need to be taught about consent, sexual behaviours and inappropriate conversational topics just like anyone else. As female autists often mask their behaviours, it is especially important that they are taught about these things as they can be quite innocent and may be taken advantage of if not adequately prepared for adulthood
  • Sensory friendly clothing– For the young women out there, the market is now opening up to produce sensory friendly bras to help combat the issues of traditional brassieres. Bralette’s and lightweight sports bras may also be helpful alternatives
  • Normalise the experience– Reassure them that everyone goes through this, that it’s a normal part of growing up. Don’t attribute the entire experience to their autism
  • Be positive– Don’t assume things will be harder for your child as everyone is different. A positive attitude can go a long way to easing your child into the murky depths ahead

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!

Have a lovely Easter weekend! πŸ™‚

Aoife

Autism and Christmas

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

As we face into the holiday season, this week I’d like to talk about Christmas and autism.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, yet as with most aspects of life on the spectrum, it can sometimes be overwhelming for autists. Flashing lights, busy and noisy crowds, interrupted routines and unexpected visitors can really throw an autist, even amidst the high jinks and excitement for Santa.

Here are some tips for an autism friendly Christmas:

Go shopping at off peak times– I know this can be hard to avoid over Christmas with shopping crowds (although perhaps this year human traffic will be lighter), but try to get out for Christmas shopping midweek or early in the morning to avoid getting overwhelmed by the crowds.

Wear sunglasses if Christmas lights are too bright– Ah the old reliable. I know I advise this as a solution to most light related sensory issues, but I do swear by my sunglasses! I rarely leave my house without them- I’ve even been known to wear them in clubs! Thankfully Christmas lights have never been an issue for me, but if you don’t want to miss out on any light displays, or official turning on of the lights ceremonies, just slip a pair on to take the edge off πŸ™‚

Use a stocking/sack instead of gift wrapping presents– This can help reduce sensory overload from all the bright colours, noisy paper and textural sensitivities. I always had a Santa sack growing up and it was great fun to dig around in it and focus on one present at a time as I pulled them out πŸ™‚

Autism friendly Santa Experiences- If your child tends to get overwhelmed with the crowds at Santa’s grotto, many places offer autism friendly experiences where the lights are turned down, there’s less noise, and the numbers are limited for a more calming experience. Granted, these may be harder to come across than normal this year, but something to look forward to in the future πŸ™‚ There are also a lot of autism friendly pantomimes and shows to watch out for.

Decorate the house gradually rather than all at once– The sudden change in decor might be overwhelming for an autist, so putting up the decorations bit by bit will allow them to get used to the change gradually. Equally, the decorations could also be removed slowly to avoid similar incidences.

Use a static light setting on the Christmas tree/outdoor lights- If flashing lights are a problem, try buying a static set or set the flash pattern to static. If colour sensitivities are a problem, try to stick with plain white bulbs, or if yellow is a trigger colour (as is the case with many male autists), calming blue might be a nice alternative.

Pre-arrange Christmas visits if possible– To reduce the stress of unexpected visitors, try to plan out times/days when your family or friends might visit. This way there is time to get used to the idea and your child will not be thrown by a sudden arrival/routine disruption.

Maintain routines where possible– To avoid added stress, try to stick to regular bedtimes, bath times and mealtimes.

Be cautious of holiday scents- Be careful if trying out Christmas scented candles, air fresheners or when buying a real Christmas tree in case these scents are a sensory trigger. A couple of Christmas’s ago, one seasonal Yankee candle made me throw up when I smelled it, so beware (it could also have been a side effect from the strong antibiotics I was on at the time, but I’ve avoided it ever since to be sureπŸ˜‚)!

Ho-ho-ho-pe you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Have a lovely weekend,

Aoife

Autism on Screen- Backstreet Dreams

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

This week I’d like to talk about the representation of autism in the 1990 drama film ‘Backstreet Dreams‘ starring a young Brookie Shields and Jason O’Malley.

BackstreetDreams1990.png

So what’s the film about?

The story follows a young hoodlum named Dean as he navigates fatherhood. Things become complicated when Dean’s son Shane get’s diagnosed with autism, causing his marriage to fall apart, and making Dean a single father. With the help of Shane’s therapist Stevie, Dean forms a connection with his son, finding the strength to leave his backstreet activities behind him.

You can check out a trailer for the film here:

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

Filmed in 1990, this was one of the earlier film portrayals of autism, and as such is very stereotyped in the autistic traits discussed. There’s a lot of mono-tonal speech, lack of eye contact, repetitive behaviours and stimming so nothing really out of the ordinary in this film. That being said, for a child actor in a role this young, it’s tricky to accurately depict the realities of autism unless the actor is themselves autistic. The story also tended to focus more on the impact of autism for Dean rather than Shane, which further distracted from the issue.

Cineplex.com | Movie

On the other hand, it was heartening to see the impact that appropriate interventions and support were having on Shane’s development, something that wasn’t always highlighted in these early films featuring autism. Most early films focus on accepting autism or how burdensome the condition can be, but this film showed a turning point in how it’s not all doom and gloom, and how proper interventions can really improve symptoms and outcomes for autists.

All in all, it was a fairly poor offering both in terms of autism and cinema, but by all means give it a go if you think you might like it!

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

Autism in ‘The Rosie Effect’

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

True to my word, this week I’m going to discuss the representation of autism in the sequel to ‘The Rosie Project‘, the 2014 novel ‘The Rosie Effect‘ by Graeme Simsion.

So what’s the sequel about?

The Rosie Effect‘ picks up where we left Rosie and Don, now a year into marital bliss, having moved to New York for Rosie’s studies. Having found love and marriage, Don now faces an impending new edition to his family. The story focuses in on Don on his journey towards fatherhood (lovingly referred to as “The Baby Project”) as he tries to come to terms with this massive change to his life in his own unique way.

You can check out an interview with Graeme talking about the about the sequel here:

So how does the sequel fare in it’s representation of autism?

Similar to it’s predecessor, the book continues to deliver in it’s portrayal of autism, focusing in the minutia of the condition through Don’s everyday life in his quirks, routines, mind blindness and blunt manner. Whilst again, Don does not identify as autistic/is not diagnosed as such in the book, there is a heavier, less subtle inference that Don has Asperger’s Syndrome from those around him.

This book is particularly interesting in that it focuses on the impact of married life and impending fatherhood for Don, aspects of life that are often overlooked when talking about autists. Too often in fictional accounts of autism (not to mention the real world) do we focus on the “disability” and not on the person, and so the world rarely sees that adult autists can live “normal” and happy lives.

What I enjoyed most about the book however, was that through the first person narrative, we really got an insight into the workings of Don’s mind, illustrating how often autists intentions are misconstrued, however noble. You get to see his complete thought process, showing us a character who is kind and compassionate, and watch in horror as those around him pick him up completely wrong. This really resonated with me, as like Don, all too often the world misunderstands my way of thinking, oftentimes with disastrous consequences 😞

Fun Fact– I’ve recently discovered that there’s an official Twitter account (see below) for Don tweeting out amusing Don-isms, so if you’ve read the books I’d highly recommend following him! πŸ™‚

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings- I highly recommend this book, it’s a great way to pass those second lockdown hours πŸ™‚

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

Autism and Halloween

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

In light of the week that’s in it, I’m going to discuss how Halloween festivities can impact those on the autistic spectrum πŸ™‚

Halloween is designed to be a scary time all around, but if you’re on the spectrum, Halloween can be even more unsettling than you might think. From a sensory perspective, Halloween can be difficult to navigate with the noise from explosive pyrotechnics, the bright lights, open flames, itchy costumes and the unpredictability with potential jump scares and strangers in costume waiting around every corner. On another level, masked faces can also pose a problem given how autists struggle on a normal basis to read social cues and facial expressions.

But just because Halloween can be challenging for an autist, doesn’t mean that it still can’t be fun. Here are some of my top tips for navigating the scary season:

Plan your costume ahead of time– some costumes are made from quite cheap materials which can be quite irritating to an autists sensitive skin, so it’s always best to get your costume ready in advance/get them to wear it round the house to make sure that they will be comfortable in their outfit. Try incorporating specialist interests into the costume as this will help your child feel more at ease as they navigate Halloween festivities. Pro tip– have a backup option with something comfy that you know your child will be happy to wear in case something goes wrong.

Do makeup trial runs– Halloween makeup can be quite irritating and sometimes smelly, so it’s a good idea to do a trial run, particularly if you’re planning anything with liquid latex (you would not believe the smell- I covered half my face in the stuff for a Phantom of the Opera look one year and the smell was so bad it burned my eyes all night!)

Discuss costume options with friends in advance: Children with autism may be scared or may not recognize a friend in makeup/wearing a mask. If they are heading out with a group of friends, have a chat ahead of time so that they will be prepared for the choice of costume and won’t find the change so unsettling.

Get an autism awareness card– for nonverbal autists that are unable to say “Trick or Treat”, you can get some fun Halloween cards that will explain this to show when you knock on a door, which can help make the night a little easier. Check out this this one below for example:

Halloween Autism Awareness Cards - Autism Dog Services

Use sensory aids such as earplugs and sunglasses: These can help to take the edge off the loud noises and bright lights. If you’re feeling self conscious, why not try and incorporate them into your Halloween costume- Halloween is the one night of the year where you can look like an oddball and no one can judge you for it πŸ˜‰

Head out early– if your child is uncomfortable in the dark, or you want to reduce the chances of them getting overwhelmed by the amount of people out and about, take your child out for early Trick or Treating. Alternatively, you could organize some indoor activities or a mini Halloween party with familiar friends to put your child at ease.

Halloween may be scary for an autist, but it doesn’t mean that you still can’t have fun πŸ™‚

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!

Have a wonderful Halloween! πŸ™‚

Aoife

Autism and Ageing

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

As I am approaching a new decade in the coming days (eep!), this week I’d like to explore the topic of autism and ageing.

For the most part when talking or reading about autism, children with autism are the focus, but what happens when the child grows up? Autism is a lifelong condition, it doesn’t just magically go away once you’ve turned 18! Sadly, it is around this time that many services are taken away from autists and we “age out” of the system.

So what happens now? What do we know about ageing and autism?

As autism is still a relatively young diagnosis, there is limited data about about the impact ageing has on an autist. The first autists were diagnosed in the 1940’s, so the long term data is only now starting to emerge. So what does it indicate?

The data so far is a little bit mixed about outcomes for autistic adults. Some studies indicate that autism improves over time, but many of these have focused on outcomes for younger autists, all of whom were diagnosed and received interventions during their developing years.

Other studies indicate that autism in fact get’s worse with age where features such as communication, flexible thinking and social awkwardness become more severe over time. This study however focused purely on adults with autism, most of whom received their diagnoses later in life, so it’s hard to predict if their outcomes would have improved with age had they received support and useful interventions at an earlier age.

These studies also fail to take into the account the outcomes of the “lost generation” of autistic adults in the world, walking through life as I did, knowing something wasn’t quite right about me, but unable to put my finger on it.

Speaking from my own experience of autism over the last 30 years, my outcomes have improved dramatically over time. In particular, things have most improved in the years since receiving my diagnosis, as I now finally understand myself, and have been able to adjust my lifestyle accordingly πŸ™‚

On a slightly more morbid note, recent studies have indicated that autists have a shorter life expectancy than neurotypicals (18 years younger!😱 ), as we are at higher risk for accidents, cancers, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and mental health issues!

However, the risk may be indirect correlating to our tendency towards maladaptive behaviours and lifestyles, so I wouldn’t worry too much about it if you’re keeping on top of your health and fitness πŸ™‚

Finally, age has also been implicated as a factor in the risk of developing autism. Multiple studies have shown that there is a correlation between parental age and autistic risk i.e the older you are, the greater the risk that your child may be autistic.

I wouldn’t worry too much about this though- we’re not so bad πŸ˜› πŸ™ƒ

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

Autism and Emergency Services

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Following the recent violent shooting of an unarmed, 13 year old autist by police in America during a meltdown (thankfully he is recovering in hospital), this week I’d like to discuss the importance of adequately educating our emergency services and first responders about autism.

emergency services

In this situation, Linden Cameron’s mother called 911 for assistance as Linden was experiencing a bad meltdown due to separation anxiety, and needed help to de-escalate the situation with the minimal amount of force. Shortly after arrival however, the police shot Linden multiple times instead of using lesser means of force (they claimed that he was armed, but this was not the case).

While the issue of police brutality in the States is an entirely separate debate, this incident really highlights the need to properly educate the emergency services about autistic behaviours.

Autists can’t always regulate their behaviours and emotions, especially when they are in distress. Loud noises and flashing lights from emergency vehicles can further impact this stress from a sensory perspective and make situations worse. Autists are also quite sensitive to touch, and as such, physical interactions could cause an autist to attack a responder.Β 

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Here are some tips to keep in mind when interacting with a distressed autist/suspected autist:

Patience- always be patient when dealing with an autist and give them some space. Try to void making quick movements or loud noises that may distress them further. They may have difficulty communicating with you, so give them plenty of time to process and respond.

Try to use clear, concise language– avoid confusing sentences or turns of phrase that they might interpret literally (e.g it’s raining cats and dogs). They may already be struggling to process their situation, and too many words could be even more overwhelming.

Avoid touching an autist– unless absolutely necessary. Touch sensitivities could escalate the situation and an autist may react violently in defense.

Watch out for potential triggers that may escalate the situation– be conscious of potential sources of distress such as sensory sensitivities which could further agitate an autist.Β 

fire

Listen- take advice from caregivers (if present) or the autist themselves (as some autists may be able to communicate during a meltdown on some level). They will have a better understanding of their individual needs than you do.Β 

At the end of the day however, there is no substitute for a proper training program for emergency responders/law enforcement. Many autism charities run these programs such as AsIAm here in Ireland.

You can read more advice for the emergency services here:

http://asiam.ie/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/emergency_servicesFinal.pdfΒ 

Hope you found this post helpful dear Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Enjoy the weekend!

Aoife

Autism and Language Barriers

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

This week I’d like to discuss the joys of navigating language barriers on the spectrum.

Language barriers can be hard enough to deal with at the best of times, but throw in the glorious social awkwardness and mortification that autism brings and you’re in for a real treat!

Over the years, I’ve visited many non-English speaking/non-tourist regions in Europe, and my encounters have been a right barrel of laughs (in hindsight- not so much at the time πŸ˜› ) given that I have only a few remaining French phrases from my schooldays! There really is nothing quite like going to a pharmacist and trying to communicate the massive insect bite on your eye without words! πŸ™ˆ

Granted, Google translate and similar services have made it considerably easier to communicate than it would have been 15 years ago, but even so, things can still get wildly lost in translation. I’ve found ordering food to be somewhat of an ordeal with language barriers (even with translate in hand), a task already made difficult in English by my various food aversions!

I once had an interesting experience in an Italian pizzeria while trying to order a portion of chips (as I don’t eat pizza). I looked up the translation with an accompanying picture, showed it to the server and waited for my food, delighted that I had successfully navigated the transaction without a word of Italian. When my food came out however…it was a pizza…with chips on top!? Talk about a crime against humanity! I tried to communicate that the order was wrong buuut I awkwardly got stuck with the pizza… and with every other restaurant closed for the afternoon, I had no choice but to pick what few chips I could off the top that were not contaminated by the cheese! πŸ˜›

Language barriers are a veritable nightmare- but here are a few tips for navigating this minefield:

Do your research– before heading on a trip, try to plan out the best places to eat, tourist attractions, shops etc. You can see menus ahead of time and translate them (as roaming charges can make the internet less accessible than it may be at home for Google Translate) or find English speaking restaurants to offset any awkward situations. Pro tip– go old school and download and print off maps for key sites/restaurants on your trip. If you find the Google Maps arrow as confusing as I do, this may be prove very useful!

Use Google Translate audio to text translation- this is a useful feature where you speak and the phone translates to the desired language, which can be really helpful when you’re in a flap. If it doesn’t work, you get the added bonus of a great laugh out of it’s misinterpretations! πŸ˜‚

Request menus in your native tongue– a restaurant may not always have one, but there’s no harm in asking, even if you feel awkward doing so. Pro tip– just point at the menu item if you’re unsure of the translation. Don’t make a tit of yourself and risk ordering the wrong thing when you don’t have to πŸ˜‰

Ask for help/don’t go anywhere without your translator– determined to be independent and not burden anyone, my pharmacy experience above would have been much easier if I had asked my translator friend to accompany me! πŸ™ˆ

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

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