Autism and Irlen Syndrome

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

This week I’d like to talk about a condition that impacts approximately half of autists- Irlen syndrome.

So what exactly is Irlen syndrome?

First defined in the 1980’s, Irlen syndrome (also known as scotopic sensitivity syndromeΒ (SSS) orΒ Meares–Irlen syndrome) is described as a difficulty in the brain’s ability to process images/visual information. It is not exclusive to autists as it also impacts roughly 15% of the neurotypical population. As 70% of the information we process is visual, the inability to process this information can have a serious knock on effect on our brains ability to function effectively, causing issues with reading, coordination, sensory processing, spatial awareness, and ADHD– all co-morbid issues associated with autism.

But what causes it?

Irlen syndrome is caused by hypersensitivity to certain wave lengths of light which can cause the brain to process visual information incorrectly. The exact mechanism is poorly understood, but the brain seemingly becomes overactive in response to light causing dysfunction. Interestingly, Irlen syndrome is classified as a pseudo-medical diagnosis as there is skepticism over it’s existence as a stand alone condition with a distinct pathology. Experts are skeptical of Irlen syndrome as there is a lot of overlap in symptoms from other conditions and they may be lumped in under one convenient heading.

But is there anything we can do to manage symptoms?

The Irlen method is the main treatment approach for the condition. Pioneered by Helen Irlen, the Irlen method is a non-invasive approach using coloured lenses to filter light and to improve the brains ability to process visual information. The lenses can be either worn as glasses or in contact form.

You can see the impact that Irlen lenses have on the brain here:

However, the efficacy of this method has been difficult to prove. In particular there seems to be little evidence to support their use to improve reading issues and dyslexia. That being said, many people have found great relief from using Irlen lenses, such as actor Paddy Considine who has both Asperger’s syndrome and Irlen syndrome.

As with all pseudoscience/pseudomedicine, take everything with a pinch of salt, but if you think Irlen lenses may help your issues with light sensitivity it’s worth a try!

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

Autism and Hyperlexia

Greetings Earthlings!

Leading on from previous post about dyslexia, this week I’d like to discuss the phenomenon of hyperlexia and autism.

So first things first, what is hyperlexia?

Hyperlexia is a phenomenon where a child begins to read at a surprisingly early age beyond their expected ability compared with their peers. Onset is usually before 5 years of age, and the child tends to develop the skill without any training or prompting. It’s often described as a “splinter skill”- unique, but not very useful. It’s estimated that approximately 84% of those diagnosed with hyperlexia are on the autistic spectrum equating to between 6-14% of the overall autistic community.

There are 3 different types of hyperlexia:

  • Hyperlexia I– occurs in the neurotypical population where children learn to read at a very early age. This is usually considered temporary as their peers will eventually learn to read and catch up to hyperlexic children
  • Hyperlexia II– this is the form of hyperlexia that is most associated with autists. Beginning in infancy, hyperlexic autists are often obsessed with letters and numbers, tending to show a preference for books instead of other toys. Autistic hyperlexics also tend to have excellent recall for important numbers like phone numbers, dates and licence plates
  • Hyperlexia III– is quite similar to hyperlexia II, but the symptoms tend to decrease with time and disappear. Type III hyperlexics may have delays in verbal language and development like autists, but they tend to have remarkable skills for reading comprehension and excellent memory recall. However, unlike autists, these children generally have no issues with social interaction and anxiety

In my own experience, I’d say I probably had some mild hyperlexic tendencies as a child. I loved books- my mother couldn’t buy me enough to keep me entertained! As I’m sure I’ve told you in previous posts, my reading skills were so advanced at 6 years old in senior infants, my teacher from the previous year invited me to come and read to her junior infant class (4/5 year olds)!πŸ˜‚ I’ve always had an excellent memory and am pretty good at remembering dates, but as the experts say this skill isn’t the most exciting or useful- no point in donning a cape and calling myself a superhero πŸ˜›

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!

Have a lovely weekend πŸ™‚

Aoife

Autism and Dyslexia

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

This week I’d like to take a look at another neurological condition that can be co-morbid with autism- dyslexia.

First things first, what is dyslexia?

Dyslexia can be described as a specific type of learning disability that impacts a persons reading, writing and spelling abilities. Impacting approximately 10% of the population, dyslexia ranges from mild to severe characterized by cognitive difficulties with processing phonetics, working memory and speed of long term memory retrieval. Like autism, the exact neurological causes and mechanisms are unclear, but as dyslexia can run in families, genetic factors are largely thought to contribute.

So how is it linked to autism?

The link between autism and dyslexia has not been scientifically established, but there are some commonalities. Interestingly, dyslexia overlaps with many autistic co-morbidities such as ADHD, dysgraphia, dyspraxia (an estimated 52-53% of dyslexics are also dyspraxic), and auditory processing disorders, which would suggest that these conditions likely operate through similar neurological mechanisms and pathways.

Scientists have found it difficult to establish a direct genetic link between the two conditions, however, recent research may implicate gene deletions in CNTNAP5 (a gene involved in connecting neurons)  and DOCK4 (a gene that regulates junctions between cells) in both dyslexia and autism. In addition to this, a 2015 study found that declarative memory (the type of memory that can be “declared” like names, facts, figures etc.) can be used to develop coping mechanisms for both autism and dyslexia, suggesting that perhaps there may be overlap in the brain regions associated with this type of memory formation. Other studies exploring the neural mechanisms of dyslexia indicate structural changes in such regions as the frontal lobe (memory and problem solving), cerebellum (the motor centre) and corpus callosum (the bundle of nerves that splits and connects the left and right hemispheres of the brain)- all areas that have also shown structural changes in studies of the autistic brain.

Most recently, a 2021 study exploring the co-occurrence of dyslexia and other neurodevelopmental disorders reported that many dyslexic patients in their dataset also had issues with sensory processing and other ASD traits, but concluded that the links between the two conditions are complex and hard to underpin, especially given that some autists are hyperlexic (guilty!) rather than dyslexic.

Whilst there is no definitive scientific link, the overlap cannot be denied.

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

My Autistic Fight Song- Rosie Weldon

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ˜€

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

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

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

 

So what did I make of the book?

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

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

Autistic people and eating

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

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

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

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

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

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Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! πŸ˜€

Enjoy the weekend!

Aoife

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™‚

support

Aoife

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