Autism and Early Intervention

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

This week I’d like to talk about a recent landmark study showing the importance of early intervention for long term outcomes for autists.

For many years, studies have reported great benefits for autists when early interventions are taken. The research suggests that the earlier interventions are put in place, the better the outcomes for autists. Putting the right behavioural therapies in place as early as 18 months, such as applied behavioural analysis (APA), can be effective in improving language ability, social interactions and IQ for autists. Other programs advocate practical social interventions, peer intervention programs and active family involvement.

Recently, a new type of early intervention has been in the news showing really interesting results. An Australian clinical trial was conducted on a group of autists that showed early behavioural signs of autism to assess the impact of preemptive interventions long before any autism diagnosis (the group were all between 9-14 months old). The intervention used in this study is called iBASIS-VIPP (Intervention within the British Autism Study of Infant Siblings- Video Interaction to Promote Positive Parenting. Talk about a mouthful!). This intervention is a parent led, video aided therapy which is used to improve social communication and development in infants by helping parents to understand their child’s communication style and to learn how to adapt to it. Parent-child interactions were filmed during 12, 2 hour sessions over a period of 5 months and discussions were held focusing on both child and parent behaviours and how to address them to improve social interaction.

So what did the study find?

Results showed significant reductions in the severity of autistic behaviours throughout early childhood. The most interesting finding however, was that this preemptive intervention had greatly reduced the odds for meeting the diagnostic criteria for autism than those who received normal care from 21% down to 7%- that’s 2/3 reduction! 😲 In other words, use of iBASIS-VIPP in early childhood greatly reduces the severity of autism symptoms, and the odds of receiving an autism diagnosis.

Although given how many of us pass through the radar undetected, implementing a program like iBASIS-VIPP on a wider scale is easier said than done. Some early signs may be too subtle to detect, so later bloomers may not reap the same benefits. Nevertheless, early intervention, where possible can have serious lifelong benefits for autists.

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!

Have a lovely weekend! πŸ™‚

Aoife

Autism in Tuner and Hooch (TV Series)

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

This week I’ve been binge watching the Disney+ TV revival of Turner and Hooch, and in the midst of my fading interest in the show (it’s a bit meh, but grand background watching while you’re doing other things), I encountered some autistic characters on screen, so I decided to give my 2 cents on the representation of autism in this series.

Turner & Hooch (TV Series 2021– ) - IMDb

Based on the 1989 film starring Tom Hanks, the series picks up in the present day following Turner’s son Scott as he enters the police force shortly after the passing of his father. Suddenly, his life get’s turned upside down as his father has willed his dog Hooch to him, a police dog in training whom his dad believed to be a reincarnation of his first canine buddy Hooch. Together, Turner and the wayward Hooch embark on a series of wacky adventures, solving crimes and making friends along the way.

Here’s a trailer for the TV series if you haven’t checked it out yet:

So where does autism fit in with the show?

For starters, Hooch’s trainer Erica has an autistic brother Curtis, who helps her out with the police dog training program. We don’t get to see much of Curtis, but as it turns out, the actor who plays Curtis, Jonathan Simao, does in fact have Asperger’s syndrome; so when you are seeing him on screen, you’re getting the real deal.

In episode 9 of the series, we get a much closer look at autism. Scott and Hooch have been assigned to protect an autistic child Anthony, who has witnessed an attack on his neighbour by an assassin, but due to his communication difficulties, he finds it hard to give the police a description. What follows is an endearing episode where Erica is brought in to help Turner and Hooch to communicate with Anthony, where Hooch is instrumental in getting him to open up.

Interestingly, Lucas Yao who portrays Anthony, is a renowned child prodigy and is himself mildly on the spectrum. You can read more about him here. This is very positive to see the show runners employing autistic actors to play autistic roles- something that many in the community have been crying out for.

The episode handles autism with great sensitivity without resorting to overt stereotypes (although having Anthony obsessed with trains is veering a little bit into this territory). It was particularly lovely to see the “paws-itive” impact that Hooch has on Anthony, as studies have shown significant benefits for autists who own dogs as I’ve discussed in a previous post.

While the TV show itself may not be the most thrilling, this was a lovely episode to see, and is a real step forward in screen portrayals of autism.

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

Autism and Shopping

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Leading on from my previous post about autism friendly shopping, this week I’d like to elaborate a little bit more on the subject.Β 

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Shopping can be quite an overwhelming experience for an autist- the hustle and bustle, bright lighting, loud noises, overwhelming choices, strong smells etc. It can be a real sensory assault. Personally, I HATE shopping (although I’m surprisingly good at it- I even buy my Christmas and birthday presents for friends and family months in advance!). Β It’s never been my thing, I’ve hated it for as long as I can remember; could never explain it. I did everything to avoid it growing up, so much so that when I was 16, I couldn’t figure out how to work the coin slot on the trolley! πŸ™ˆ But as time has gone on, I’ve had to adapt and get used to the process πŸ™‚Β 

While shopping can be troublesome for an autist, there are many alternative options to help you navigate the experience more smoothly.Β 

Here are some of my top tips for making the shopping process a little easier:

  • Make lists- if you find that you get overwhelmed by the choices on offer in the shops, I find it very useful to write out a list to bring with me to keep me from getting distracted and to ensure that I hit all my targets as quickly as possible. Pro- tip, try writing the items you’re seeking in the order you would encounter them in the shops e.g fruit and veg first, meats and cold items, frozen foods etc. This way you can get in and out as quickly as possible without forgetting anything important.
  • Shop online-the joys of modern technology! In the last year, the online retail industry has exploded, so now you don’t even have to leave your house to get your shopping done. There’s websites for everything, and in most cases, the shipping costs are fairly low, so if you’re really anxious, just pull up your laptop and let your shopping come to you.dc855bea69ee17a435c9bae5ab45be12b4f4ed11ecbf0d76dd154fc18c55a1b4.0
  • Avail of autism friendly shopping times- as I previously discussed in my linked post, most supermarkets have regular autism friendly shopping hours where the atmosphere is adjusted to be more sensory friendly. Even busy shopping centres have dedicated autism times to allow autists to pass through and browse the shops without fear of getting overwhelmed.Β 
  • Set spending limits– if you have impulsivity issues surrounding shopping, try to set a spending limit to keep you from going overboard. Many financial apps can do this for you. You can even remove the tap feature on your debit card to discourage you from impulsively tapping your funds away.Β 
  • Keep it short and sweet– to prevent a meltdown, keep your shopping visits nice and short until you feel more comfortable with longer shopping periods. You can slowly build up your tolerance over time.
  • Make use of sensory tools– as discussed in many of my previous blogs, using such sensory tools as noise reducing or cancelling headphones, sunglasses/tinted lenses, weighted clothing or even an item in your pocket to stim with can help to reduce some of the sensory impact of your surroundings.

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Β 

Shopping can be a scary sensory experience, but if you follow some of the above tips, you’ll find the experience so much easier πŸ™‚Β 

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!Β 

Enjoy your weekend!

Aoife

Autism and Twins

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

This week I’d like to talk about a really interesting research area- autism and twins.

Oh my God two Aoife’s! 😲

Haha don’t worry there’s only one me- I don’t think the world is ready for me to have a clone!

But have you ever wondered what happens if an autist is a twin? Researchers have- they’ve been examining autism in pairs of twins for years and the results have a lot to tell us.

The evidence shows that in up to 90% of twins where one sibling is autistic, the second sibling is also on the spectrum. Identical twins share the exact same DNA (although fun fact, they have different fingerprints due to varying blood flow levels to each baby in the womb! πŸ˜€ ), so given that the root of autism is thought to be largely genetic, it makes sense that they would also be identical in this regard.

Interestingly, as no two cases of autism are the same, this holds true for identical twins. Severity can vary greatly among twins, so while both may be autistic, they may each have very different traits. Social trait severity in particular can vary between twins. In one study for example, one twin was nonverbal while the other had no speech issues. This demonstrates that while genetics may cause autism, they don’t always influence traits and severity, so just because your DNA says that you’re autistic, doesn’t mean that your quality of life is defined by your genome. That being said however, the reason for these differences has slightly baffled researchers as identical twins share the same DNA and environment, so the differences in severity is intriguing.

In the case of fraternal twins who do not share the same DNA, there is also a high chance that both twins will be autistic. It’s thought that this may happen as both twins share the same womb, they are exposed to the same in utero environmental factors such as stress, diet, drugs, maternal age etc.

The factors for autism development are many and varied, but twin studies certainly give us a lot of food for thought.

Let the Olsen Twins' Teen Movies Be Your Summer Style Guide

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!

Have a lovely weekend! πŸ™‚

Aoife

Autism and Weighted Blankets

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

After many posts where I’ve mentioned them, this week, I’ve finally bought a weighted blanket! I have been dying to try one out for years, but they are often quite expensive, usually retailing around the 100-200 euro-ish region for a full blanket. However on a Googling whim, I recently found that Dunnes Stores here in Ireland stocks them for as little as €35, so naturally I couldn’t say no!

So first things first, what exactly is a weighted blanket?

Weighted blankets (also known as gravity blankets) are pretty self explanatory- they are flat blankets that usually contain metal, glass or plastic beads in evenly spaced, quilted pockets across the entire surface of the blanket. The blanket is designed to evenly apply deep, calming pressure to the user across their body, like simulating a hug. As the blankets are weighted, you are also more restricted, making it harder to toss and turn in your sleep. Many of these blankets are even designed to stay cool in summer and warm in winter. For optimal use, blankets shouldn’t exceed 10% of the user’s weight.

But how does this benefit autists?

As I’ve discussedΒ previously, autists have higher levels of stimulatory neurotransmitters and lower levels of calming neurotransmitters, meaning that our brains are more “switched on” and harder to turn off than most. The deep pressure applied by the blanket is designed to stimulate the release of the calming neurotransmitters serotonin (which helps regulate the sleep cycle and temperature) and dopamine to relax and soothe the racing mind. It’s also thought that deep pressure can stimulate the limbic system, the emotional centre of the brain, which could potentially help calm you down during a meltdown.

So how did I find using it?

It was quite an unusual sensation to begin with- as you would expect from having a 6kg blanket pressing down on your body πŸ˜› It’s somewhat of a workout moving it about when making the bed and moving it around the house! πŸ˜‚ I found it was quite restrictive getting used to the sensation of the blanket on my body and learning how to move onto my side beneath it. It sometimes feels like someone is sitting on your chest at times, but in a good way!

After an adjustment period, I did find that my mind was much slower at night when I lay beneath it. The heaviness mimics that heaviness you experience just before you fall asleep which can be quite hard to resist. In general I found it a lot easier to sleep with the blanket on, and if I did wake during the night, the added weight made it very easy to slip back into sleep again. On the downside however, it can be a lot harder to get out of bed in the morning trying to push off the extra weight if you aren’t a morning personπŸ˜‚ I’ve had some pretty epic naps using the blanket as the weight keeps it from moving and prevents any nasty draughts from getting into your cosy burrito.

It will be quite interesting to know going forward how the blanket may work in a meltdown situation for me in the future.

Weighted blankets are not for everyone however, as they can be difficult for kids to get in and out of bed without the help of an adult They are also not easily transportable for travel so it isn’t the best idea to get a child dependent on them for sleeping. You can however buy weighted lap pads or weighted vests that can be much easier to use for children with autism and ADHD.

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!

Have a lovely weekend,

Aoife

Autism and Personal Space

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Sorry I’ve been away for so long- you wouldn’t believe how hectic these past few weeks have been!

This week I’d like to ease back in by talking about the topic of autism and space!

No- not that kind of space (we’ll leave that one to the billionaires); personal space!

Personal space is an interesting subject for autists. As we’ve discussed at length, social norms can be difficult to navigate, so our sense of personal space in company can be a little unusual. Some may stand on the sidelines away from the crowd, whereas other autists can be right in your personal bubble, and perhaps even a little too close for comfort. Sometimes you just don’t know how to judge how close is too close! From a meltdown perspective, most autists tend to seek out small, enclosed spaces away from crowds when the flight response is triggered.

For me personally, I do have a tendency to seek out smaller spaces when I’m feeling overwhelmed. I have lingered for many hours in many bathrooms and stalls across Ireland during my lifetime. The comfort of the enclosed and locked space is soothing, kind of like my environment is giving me a socially distanced hug. On the other hand, I’ve equally embraced wide open spaces when my flight response get’s triggered during a meltdown. Sometimes the best thing is to just sit down in the middle of a wide open field to help you can breathe again.

So is there any research behind personal space and autism?

An interesting study from 2015 found that autists have a tendency towards shorter distances in personal space compared with neurotypicals, not just between people, but also a shorter personal space between themselves and objects. In other words, most autists may be inches from your face and will not become uncomfortable! It’s thought that this occurs due to alterations in the regulator of personal space- the amygdala in the brain, a structure that has been implicated in many autistic symptoms.

In addition to this, it’s thought that personal space is related to our propricoceptive system- the neurological feedback system in our muscles responsible for our sense of space and pressure detection. As discussed in previous posts, alterations in this neural system can lead to dysfunction and difficulties in spacial awareness. The interesting thing about this system however, is that many autists stimulate it for relief of sensory issues through stimming and deep pressure. As pressure and space are both detected through this system, it’s thought that autists may seek out enclosed spaces as a means of stimulating it for sensory relief.

So while we might seem a little bit odd hiding under the table, there is method in the madness! πŸ˜‰

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!

Enjoy the weekend!

Aoife

Autism in Derry Girls

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

This week I’d like to talk about one of the main character’s in the acclaimed comedy show ‘Derry Girls‘ whom many consider to be autistic- Orla McCool.

So what’s ‘Derry Girls’ about?

Set during the Northern Ireland Troubles in the early 1990’s, ‘Derry Girls’ follows the lives of four teenage girls, and the honorary Derry “Girl” James, growing up in Derry in the years preceding the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. Despite the sectarian clashes of The Troubles around them, the gang navigate life with good humour, getting themselves into all sorts of wacky and hilarious situations- just like any other “normal” teenagers.

If you’ve never seen Derry Girls you can check out a trailer for the show here:

Among the fab five is Orla (played by Dubliner Louisa Harland), a quirky, somewhat innocent girl who lives in a complete world of her own and is one of the show’s biggest sources of comic relief. She has really niche interests (she’s obsessed with sweets, step aerobics and Renault Clios), is very literal and truthful, is sensitive to loud noises and is often completely oblivious to social norms, cues and potential dangers. For example, Orla once expressed interest in joining the Orange Order for their drumming skills despite being a Catholic… She also appears to be sensitive to textures as can be seen in the picture above where she is rubbing her face with a sponge.

Here are some of Orla’s best moments from the show (Fun fact- her clips are the most viewed of all the gang on YouTube):

Now one of the most interesting things about Orla is that it appears she was not originally intended to be portrayed as an autist, just a complete individual. Back in the 1990’s in Ireland, ASD’s were relatively unheard of (hence why yours truly flew under the radar for 24 years), so Orla is simply just seen as an odd girl. In a recent interview, Louisa Harland revealed that she has had an overwhelmingly positive response from the autistic community with many female autists writing letters to her to say how much they loved her portrayal of Orla and how they finally felt like they were being represented. Louisa took this info forward into season 2 to really add more depth to Orla πŸ™‚

Regardless of whether Orla is autistic or not, ‘Derry Girls’ is a very enjoyable show and worth adding to your watch list πŸ™‚

Derry Girls - Rip Poster | All posters in one place | 3+1 FREE

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Have a lovely weekend! πŸ˜€

Aoife

Autism in ‘The Night Clerk’

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

This week I’d like to take a look at the portrayal of autism in the 2020 crime-drama film ‘The Night Clerk‘ starring Tye Sheridan, Helen Hunt and Ana de Aramas.

Watch The Night Clerk | Prime Video

So what’s the movie about?

The Night Clerk tells the story of Bart, a 23 year old with Asperger’s Syndrome who works as a night clerk in a local hotel. Bart secretly films the guests in the hotel through a number of hidden cameras he has installed in order to observe people and learn social cues to help him navigate the world, becoming embroiled in a murder investigation as a result.

If you haven’t seen the film you can see the trailer here:

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

The film generally get’s a lot of the classic traits right such as struggles with eye contact, colour sensitivity, lack of filter, social awkwardness, stimming, coordination issues (in particular Bart runs awkwardly with his hands flapping at his sides) and echolalia. I particularly enjoyed Bart’s response when people asked him “How are you?” and he replied with “That’s a very complicated question!” As I’ve discussed in previous posts, I have often found in the past that this is one of the worst questions to be asked and it’s great to see that portrayed on screen.

Bart’s voyeurism on the other hand, while well intentioned, does portray the community somewhat negatively and further adds to the wealth of negative portrayals of autism. Interestingly though, it does sort of in a weird way shake things up a bit- yes it’s not the best look for autist’s, but it does highlight that just because you’re on the spectrum, doesn’t mean you can’t also be a bit of a creep πŸ˜›

Overall however, the depiction falls into the stereotypical pit showing us a lot of the same tired autistic tropes like Bart’s primarily monotonous tone of voice. Just once I’d like to see an autist show a little bit of varied inflection on screen- every single autist I know uses a variety of tones when speaking; monotonal speech is clearly not as common as film makers would have us believe.

The Night Clerk Review: Tye Sheridan's Thriller Is a Dud | Observer

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

Autism and Cholesterol

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Following on from my recent post about diet and autism, this week I’d like to discuss a biomolecule that is not often talked about in the literature about autism- cholesterol.

When it comes to cholesterol, we usually think of it as a bad thing- that fatty yellow stuff that clogs up our arteries when we eat too much of the wrong foods. But there is so much more to cholesterol than most people realize. Cholesterol is an essential biomolecule involved in the synthesis of numerous other bodily substances such as steroid hormones, vitamin D and bile. It’s also an essential component of our cell membranes.

There are 2 types of cholesterol- LDL and HDL. LDL (low-density lipoprotein) makes up most of the cholesterol in the body. This is often referred to as the bad type of cholesterol as a build up of this can clog the arteries. HDL (high-density lipoprotein) on the other hand, is considered the good kind of cholesterol as it absorbs waste cholesterol and shuttles it to the liver for removal from the body.

So what has cholesterol got to do with autism?

Here’s where things get interesting. Cholesterol is involved in modulating the oxytocin receptor and the serotonin 1-A receptor- neurotransmitters that are dysregulated in the autistic brain which contribute to a number of autistic symptoms. Multiple studies have reported that some autists have hypocholesterolemia (i.e low cholesterol levels). Cholesterol deficits could interfere with the functioning of the oxytocin and serotonin receptors and contribute to autistic symptoms. Recent research has identified mutations in a cluster of genes involved in cholesterol metabolism in certain forms of autism which likely causes these lowered cholesterol levels. Cholesterol and omega fish oil supplementation may be useful to help counter the impact of low cholesterol on the brain.

Cholesterol Fat The Structural - Free image on Pixabay

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

Autism and Menopause

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Leading on from my post about periods and autism, this week I’d like to explore another taboo aspect of life on the spectrum- autism and the menopause.

Apologies once again to my male readers!

I may be too young to give a personal slant on this subject, but I’d like to create some visibility for the often overlooked adult female members of the spectrum. Public discussions surrounding autism are so often centered on childhood, potential issues for adult autists can be forgotten.

The change brings many difficult physical and emotional changes for women such as hot flashes, memory issues, mood swings, sexual dysfunction and issues with mental health. Now imagine how these changes might impact an autist who is already sensitive to change and temperature, sleep disturbances, struggles to manage their emotions and can be predisposed to mental health difficulties?

The autistic life is already a roller-coaster, but throw in the menopause and the cart may just fly off the tracks.

Our knowledge of autism and the menopause is very limited as autism as a diagnosis in itself is only emerging from it’s infancy. Some of the first women to be diagnosed with autism are only now reaching menopause, so there is little available research about their experiences of the change. Of the studies that do exist, experiences of menopause for autistic women vary, however, many reported worsening of autistic symptoms. Some women reported that it they found it extremely difficult to mask their struggles and suffered serious deterioration in their mental health.

We clearly need to start a conversation about menopause and autism so that we can properly develop tools and supports to help women navigate this challenging time of life.

For those of you going through the menopause, have a look at this blog post about “Menopautism” from journalist Jane Renton writing about her experiences of the change as an adult with Asperger’s syndrome:

You can also find some useful additional resources for managing the menopause here:

https://www.aspireireland.ie/cmsWP/information/women-girls/menopause/

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!

Have a lovely weekend! πŸ™‚

Aoife

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