Autism and Studying

Greetings Earthlings! 😀

This week I’d just like to write a quick post about studying and autism.

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Knuckling down and studying can be hard at the best of times, but even more so for an autist. There are often learning challenges such as dyslexia, dysgraphia and concentration issues with ADHD which can make studying quite tricky. Frustrated meltdowns when things aren’t clicking can also be tough to navigate (can’t tell you how many times I chucked my maths book at the wall trying to study!😂).

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So here are some of my top tips for studying on the spectrum:

Stimming-Self stimulatory behaviours can be a useful way of channeling excess brain activity. By having a stress ball, a pen to chew or something to fidget with can help to free up your mind and allow you to better concentrate on the topic you’re studying.

Make it Visual- Autists are often very visual and highly creative, many operating between both the logical left and creative right hemispheres of the brain at the same time (due to the absence of a connecting bundle of nerves that splits the brain in two). Making things visual using graphs, videos and images can help to improve concentration by stimulating the creative right hemisphere of the brain instead of the usual logical left.

  • Aoife’s top tip: Use coloured pens for note taking. This was one of the best pieces of advice that my art teacher gave me as it really helped my concentration and retention levels by manipulating neuroscience! However, be careful with the colour choices as some autists can be hypersensitive to certain colours like yellow. Find the colours your child likes and buy lots of pens in those colours for them to write out their notes. My friends in college often told them how happy my notes made them as a rainbow of colour waved back at them every time I opened my notebook 😂

Bribery– I know this is one of my more common tips for managing numerous autistic traits, buuuut bribery is one of the best motivators! Concentration wasn’t always an issue for me when studying, but motivation was. When it came to boring subjects I just tuned out, so my mother traded me gaming hours for hours spent studying- 2 hours study meant 2 hours on the Playstation! It proved highly effective! 😂

Set small goals and take frequent breaks– This can be tricky for the all or nothing autistic mind, as once you get going, you tend to want to get it all done at once, which can often lead to frustration when you’ve pushed your brain past it’s limits. Setting small goals and taking regular breaks can be one of the best ways to study, especially where concentration levels can be an issue. Focusing on one small task at a time can build up a sense of achievement and encourage you to keep going without getting overwhelmed and frustrated. To this day I still do this at home or in work when I get overwhelmed by the volume of tasks that need to be completed.

Focus on what you can do before tackling more challenging subjects– One of the most commonly advised exam strategies is to complete the questions you do know first before going back to the harder ones to avoid getting overwhelmed and to build up your confidence. The same goes for studying- I’ve used this mantra several times of late when I’m writing to get me started on a task and keep from getting overwhelmed and it never fails! It’s not the easiest habit to form for an autist (as logic dictates everything should be done in exact order), but once you get in on it everything becomes so much easier 🙂

Take advantage of all available aids– when it comes to exam time, accept the help of a scribe or a reader (if you’ve dysgraphia or dyslexia) and take any extra time offered to you. Educational departments understand that autists often need a little extra time and help during exams, so if you need it take it- there’s no shame in asking for it. I was past my schooling by the time I got my diagnosis, but it would have been nice to have had a little extra time for exams when awkward questions threw me, or at least the comfort of knowing it was there if needed.

If you follow these tips you’ll be studying like a pro before long!

And always remember- it’s just temporary! We all have to study at some point (unless you’re one of the lucky few with an eidetic memory) to get to where we need to go, but it’s not forever, just keep focusing on the finish line and you won’t go wrong 🙂

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Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! 😀

Enjoy the weekend!

Aoife

The Problem with High Functioning Autism

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

This week I’d like to discuss the term “high functioning autism”.

You may be surprised to hear that the term “high functioning” is quite controversial within the autistic community. In fact a recent study strongly supports discarding the term “high functioning autism” completely.

So why is the term controversial?

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Firstly, let’s quickly remind ourselves of what constitutes high functioning autism:

High functioning autism (HFA) is a term used to describe autists with strong language skills and an IQ of over 70 ( i.e they do not have an intellectual disability). 

Herein lies the problem- the term uses IQ as a predictor of functionality and does not take into account the day to day struggles of the average autist. An autist deemed to be low functioning may not encounter challenges in their daily life, but may struggle academically.  Similarly, an autist may excel academically, but something so trivial as writing an email may prove challenging. In many of the films I’ve reviewed, the autistic character is described as high functioning, but yet they are incapable of living an independent life.

Moreover, functioning levels often fluctuate from year to year, improving or dis-improving depending on circumstances and levels of support- there’s even evidence to suggest that, as with many things, autism can get worse with age! Levels can even fluctuate day to day where something as simple as lack of sleep can impact upon functioning. As a result of this, many autists deemed “high functioning” do not get adequate support for their needs.

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Researchers have found in a recent study that there is a serious gap between an autists cognitive functioning (IQ) and their adaptive behaviours (i.e. their ability to adapt to their environment). The average results show that autists with higher IQs scored 28 points lower than their IQ in adaptive behaviour scales, suggesting that IQ is a weak predictor of daily functioning.

You can read more about the study here:

Large study supports discarding the term ‘high-functioning autism’

Technically speaking, within the medical community the term “high functioning” is considered an informal term and is not in itself a definitive diagnosis, further fueling efforts to banish it.

However, I personally feel that removing the term could be problematic. In my case, both my IQ and functional abilities are high- I breezed through college, have an active social life, hold a job and live independently. To say that I am simply autistic to a person who doesn’t know me very well can skew their expectations and perceptions of me- especially in the workforce. Granted, public understanding of the spectrum is improving, but still the ‘a’ word can place you into a predefined box in people’s minds.

I worry that our move towards a more generalized view of the spectrum may effectively disable the truly high functioning. Recall how autism is divided into levels. Asperger’s syndrome has been swallowed up by level 1 autism, where autists have noticeable issues with socializing and communication skills. This level is characterized by:

  • decreased interest in social interactions or activities
  • capable of social engagement but may struggle with conversational give-and-take
  • difficulty with planning and organizing
  • struggles with initiating social interactions, such as talking to a person
  • obvious signs of communication difficulty
  • trouble adapting to changes in routine or behavior

where autists are vaguely classed as “requiring support”.

On paper, I fall under this definition, but it does not describe me as well as Asperger’s syndrome or the term ‘high functioning’. This definition paints an entirely different picture for people to that of my reality (for starters the only support I require consists mainly of a good bra, sugar, a hug and a box of tissues for unexpected meltdowns 😂). Were I to have been diagnosed earlier in life, this definition may well have held me back.

For many autists, indeed the term high functioning can be tricky, but I do not believe it should be abandoned completely. Yes, it is time to reevaluate our classification of autism to better define functionality levels across the entire spectrum, but perhaps there’s a better way to go about it.

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Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! 😀

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

Autism and Perseverance

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

As I’m currently attempting to add dressmaking to my list of skills (which is not coming as easily as I thought it would!), this week I’d like to discuss the importance of perseverance when it comes to autism.

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As the saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day“, so too the same holds for learning new skills and autism. Many autists struggle with learning difficulties (I will discuss this in greater detail at a later stage) which can be challenging when trying to learn social or motor skills and develop coping mechanisms.

But just because things don’t come as naturally to an autist as they do to their neurotypical peers, doesn’t mean that they won’t.

Perhaps some of the most frustrating challenges I’ve faced in my life have come from my efforts to learn new motor skills such as riding a bike, learning to knit, learning to drive etc. Attempting to formulate the necessary neural pathways to forever commit these skills to memory was beyond frustrating! Book-based learning I can handle, but ask me to use my hands and it’s an entirely different kettle of fish!

Knitting was a particular struggle- I would sit and watch my peers making headbands and knitting scarves whilst I sat tangled in a ball of wool. Frustrating as this was however, with a LOT of practice, (and several litres of blood sweat and tears) , before long you couldn’t keep the needles out of my hands, and even today I regularly commit to large knitting projects in my spare time.

Similarly, perseverance was key to developing my baking skills. When I first began to use fondant, I was HOPELESS- I could never get it to go smooth, it was always full of holes, it was too dry, or too wet, it never seemed to go right! So bad was I in fact that one of my friends told me that an early creation of mine was so terrifying that it belonged in a horror film 😛 :

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Needless to say I have not been able to attempt a canine cake since 😛

BUT- I did get the hang of cake decorating eventually as you can see in one of my most recent (and most complex) creations for my Granny’s 90th birthday:

When you get frustrated trying to learn new things like this, it can be all too easy to throw in the towel (God knows I’ve wanted to smash my sewing machine to bits lately after sewing yet another wonky line! 😛 ), but you can’t let your brain get the better of you. Granted it isn’t always as easy to forge new neural pathways and learn new skills as for neurotypicals, but it doesn’t mean that they cannot be formed. Like digging trenches through soil or stone- a stone trench will take longer, but the result will be the same.

Just focus on the three P’s- patience, practice, persistence!

It will take time, but persevere and you’ll get there in the end 🙂

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Have a good weekend Earthlings! 🙂

Aoife

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