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 on Screen- Please Stand By

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

In this weeks edition of ‘autism on screen’, we’re going to take a look at a brand new film about autism- the 2018 film ‘Please Stand By.

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What’s that I see in the poster? A young woman with autism?! 😲

FINALLY!

Nice to see Hollywood change things up a bit!

So what’s the story about?

Starring Dakota Fanning (was wondering what she was up to these days after Twlight!), ‘Please Stand By‘ tells the story of Wendy, a girl with Asperger’s syndrome living in a home for people with disabilities. When the opportunity arises to enter a screenwriting contest for ‘Star Trek‘ fan-fiction, Wendy must step outside her comfort zone and boldly cross the country alone (she ran away- a common trait in autistic women) in order to get her script to the studio on time.

You can check out the trailer for the film here:

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

Well…as excited as I was to see this film…the reality did not live up to my expectations.

Indeed, Wendy showed the classic signs of autism- meltdowns, lack of eye contact, preference for routine, social awkwardness, literal thinking etc., but she did not stand out as a unique character. She was quirky, but there was nothing unique about her quirks, unlike Sigourney Weaver and her fondness for snow in ‘Snow Cake.

Surprisingly, Wendy didn’t appear to be a savant as in other films, however, she did have superb recall of the minutia of her specialist interestStar Trek‘!

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I am a little shocked seeing as her character was so derivative in other respects! πŸ˜›

What really bugs me about this film however were the missed opportunities. As Wendy spends much of this film by herself, ‘Please Stand By‘ had the perfect opportunity to focus in on the challenges of a high functioning female autist. To the outside world, most autistic women appear fine; we employ learned/observed techniques to blend in- known as ‘masking’. However, behind closed doors it’s a very different story.

Case in point-check out this clip from last week’s Channel 4 documentary ‘Are You Autistic‘:

You would never know that these women are on the spectrum, but you could pick Wendy out of a lineup!

The film uses a lot of narrative introspection to give us some insight (albeit minor) into the autistic psyche, but alas the full potential here was not harnessed. Wendy mainly spoke in ‘Star Trek‘ quotes which while poignant, this narrative could have been put to better use to give us true insight into the speed/and or disordered array of thought within the autistic mind. I often compare my thoughts to that of Marisa Tomei’s character in ‘What Women Want‘ (which by the way is just as funny 18 years on as it was when it was released… Man I feel old!😬).

To be quite frank, the film is kind of forgettable (I even had to look up Wendy’s name she left that little of an impression on me!)- it just didn’t draw me in and I found it incredibly tedious.

But as I say with all these films- if you think it’s your thing, why not check it out? One man’s trash is another man’s treasure after all! πŸ™‚

Enjoy the weekend everyone! πŸ˜€

Aoife

Autism and the Benefits of Animals

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

We all love our furry and feathered friends dearly don’t we? Seems hard to imagine the internet without funny animal videos these days!

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Animals are so important to us that they are not just friends, but an integral part of the family.

For autists, an animal in the home can be this and so much more (#specialistinterest πŸ˜‰ )!

Research suggests that animals can play a very important role in the social, emotional and cognitive development of children and can also aid the development of empathy. Animals such as assistance dogs (which I hope to write a post on at a later stage), cats, horses, guinea pigs, and interestingly keeping chickens is the latest trend to help improve these skills in the autistic community!

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Studies have shown that the social skills of autists who live with an animal are much greater than those who do not have a pet. Pets are often considered “social lubricants” wherein they provide autists with a source of conversation which can encourage better engagement.

Sometimes we find it a lot easier to relate to animals. I’ve often remarked growing up that life would be so much easier if we were all dogs for example. With a dog, life is black and white (fun fact– they aren’t colour blind!). You take care of them, they love you forever-simple. There are no games or tricks (well, unless like my dog yours spins round in circles when you try to brush him to make you dizzy in the hope that you will go away πŸ˜› ), you never have to wonder where you stand with a dog, they’ll make it very clear if they love or hate you!

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Studies have also shown that animals in fact can have a measurable biological effect on people with autism! A recent study measured “excitement” levels in children with autism when performing such tasks as reading out loud and playing with a group. The results showed that in these situations, the excitement levels were higher in the brain indicating stress. However, when these levels were measured whilst playing with an animal theyΒ  plummeted as stroking the animal induced biological calm.

Finally!

Scientific proof that I should spend more time cuddling my dogs!!! πŸ˜‰

 

 

However, as beneficial as animals can be, experts advise that the individual needs and sensitivities of the child are taken into consideration when choosing a pet. A dog might seem like a good idea, but whilst many autists may gravitate towards the soft and furry, others may be repulsed by the texture of their hair, the smell or may even be overwhelmed by their energetic nature.

Aoife’s Top Tip– Try to expose your child to different animals to gauge their reactions before making any firm decisions on a pet- they are a big commitment! The research shows that any pet, even a spider, can be beneficial πŸ™‚

There we have it dear Earthlings- another, scientifically proven reason to love animals all the more! πŸ˜€

What better way is there to spend the bank holiday weekend than relaxing with your pet? πŸ˜‰

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Aoife

Autism 101- ADHD

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

So today I’m going to be talking a little bit about-

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Haha! Sorry about that! πŸ˜› Although fun story- genuinely stopped mid conversation to cry “SQUIRREL” when out with a friend recently! πŸ˜‰

Yes that’s right, today we’ll be talking about ADHD in autism- also known asΒ attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

ADHD is commonly diagnosed in autists (in the region of 29-83%), causing such difficulties as impulsiveness, over-activity and poor attention.

There are 3 main types of ADHD:

  • Inattentive ADHD (formerly known as ADD (attention deficit disorder))-Β This can manifest in a number of ways such as aΒ lack of attention to detail, losing things, organizational problems, making careless mistakes, having trouble completing tasks and struggling to sustain attention.
  • Hyperactive-Impulsive ADHD-Β Signs of hyperactivity and impulsivity include restlessness, excessive talking (Guilty!) fidgeting, interupting others, impulsive descisions and activities etc.
  • Combined Inattentive and Hyperactive-Impulsive ADHD

Personally, I would have really mild combined ADHD tendencies. In addition to my sometimesΒ impulsive nature, I have a habit of zoning out of lessons and conversations, sometimes even films, books and TV shows for brief moments, completely lost in my own thoughts.

I can be pretty easily bored and distracted!

Half the time I’m not even aware of it happening. I could be reading a page in a book one minute, and suddenly find myself halfway down the next page, without any idea of what I was supposed to have taken in! Other times I find myself in a room in the house unsure as to why I came in as I hopped onto another train of thought mid action! I often have to repeat tasks over and over in my mind to ensure I don’t forget them.

My mind just completely wanders off…

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But somehow I’ve always managed to hide my inattention. It never really posed a problem at school. Teachers knew I was away with the fairies, but could never seem to catch me out when pressed! πŸ˜› I suppose my deductive skills must have learned to compensate for my temporary lapses in concentration! πŸ˜‰

Top Tip: Studies have suggested that playing video games may be beneficial to improving concentration in ADHD.

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Just because concentration can be a struggle however, does not mean that you can’t concentrate.

Interestingly, there occurs a concentration paradox in ADHD and autism known as hyperfocus- an intense form of concentration where you are completely absorbed by a task, something that I like to call “The Zone”. I’ll write a separate post on hyperfocus at a later stage πŸ™‚

Aoife’s Top Tip: Applying specialist interests to tasks can encourage concentration. Last year I was struggling to write an essay for college, I found an angle that allowed me to write about Eurovision and suddenly I couldn’t stop writing! πŸ™‚

In addition to my lapses in focus, I can also be a little bit hyperactive. Now, hyperactive doesn’t necessarily mean bouncing off the walls like a child high on sweets, it can also mean abnormally active.

I am quite a restless individual. On the outside, I may look like I’m staring at a wall, in my mind I could be designing a cake, a knitting project, writing a story or drafting a hypothesis. I once spent a train ride visualizing, staging and arranging a musical based on the music of My Chemical Romance!πŸ˜‚

I always have this need to be productive, even if it’s as simple as building my trophy collection on the Playstation or binge watching a TV series.

My brain never turns off!

If I’m excited enough, I do bounce around the place on occasion too πŸ˜‰

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But what’s going on in the brain that interrupts our concentration?

It is not clear what exactly causes ADHD in the brain, but remember neurotransmitters? (Inside the Autistic Brain,Β Autism 101-Sensory Processing,Β Autism 101- Digestive Problems)

Most current models point to low levels of the neurotransmitters Dopamine and Noradrenaline. Pathways involving these chemical messengers project to the striatum and prefontal cortex of the brain- areas which are responsible for executive functionΒ (i.e. memory, planning, organization, behaviour control etc.). If these neurotransmitters are out of sync, this will have an effect on these functions. As neurotransmitters are also dysregulated in the autistic brain, this would explain why ADHD so commonly occurs in autism.

ADHD, like autism, can’t be cured, but it can be treated with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and medication in severe cases, however, the side effects of medical treatment for ADHD have been controversial, and long term usage studies have yet to be completed.

However, like autism, ADHD need not hold you back in life. Some of the most successful people in the world have ADHD, such as Sir Richard Branson, Justin Timberlake, Simone Biles, will.i.am, Russell Brand, Ryan Higa, Jamie Oliver, Jim Carrey and Solange Knowles πŸ™‚

So to conclude Earthlings-

Wait! What was I saying again?! πŸ˜‰

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Have a good weekend guys!! πŸ˜€

Aoife

Discussion: Love and Romance

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

In continuation from my previous post, today I’m going to expand a little bit more on the social problems autists experience in romantic situations.

We’ve already explored some science on the subject, so now I’m going to try and clue you in a little bit on what it’s like inside my head πŸ™‚

As a person with autism, my life is often governed by rules- don’t tell lies, never go over the speed limit, don’t put raisins in a scone (a serious crime against cake! πŸ˜› )!

Hence when it comes to socializing, things start to get tricky.Β Even trickier in matters of the heart. Rules exist when it comes to love, but these rules are in a constant state of flux- and I just can’t seem to keep up! πŸ˜›

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Social rules are a cornucopia of contradictions- a source of constant frustration for the black and white autistic mind.

Opposite’s attract, but birds of a feather flock together. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, but out of sight is also out of mind. Treat them mean to keep them keen, Β but do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

It’s enough to make your brain explode!

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The majority of autistic people want to love and be loved as much as anyone else, however, when the goalposts keep moving and the game keeps changing, it can be extremely difficult to navigate the battlefield of love.

Growing up, love always seemed so easy on screen. Boy meets girl, boy asks girl out on a date- both know where they stand and so relationships blossom.

Easy peasy right?

Wrong! πŸ˜›

Boy was I in for a shock when I got smacked with the reality stick! I was in no way prepared for the games that teenage boys play with your mind and heart.

Wide eyed and innocent, I believed the boys who said they fancied me, I believed the so called friends who encouraged me- but all along I was being set up for a fall. It was all just a game to mess with the weirdo who’d never been kissed, and I never saw it coming.

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In hindsight when I see pictures of my atrocious hair cut at the time, I really should have seen through them! πŸ˜›

I was in for an even bigger reality check when it came to night’s out.

People grabbing you on the dance floor, stinking of booze and cigarettes, expecting you to just fall into their arms!Β Whatever happened to chat up lines, buying someone a drink, or even just learning their name? I struggle with things as innocent as hugs, how was I meant to cope with this invasion of space, not to mention the sensory fallout?!

This wasn’t the path to romance, this was carnage! πŸ˜›

If you are one of the lucky few who can get past this awkward stage to forge a real connection, communicating one’s feelings can be a real struggle for an autist. Saying the words ‘I love you’, even to family members, does not come naturally for me. I can tell my dogs I love them a thousand times a day, but ask me to say it to my parents and I freeze. It’s not that I don’t love them, I just can’t seem to get the words out…

Advice for family and significant others (SO): Don’t take this struggle personally. Your child/SO does really care about you, they just struggle to show it πŸ™‚

Psychologists are of the opinion that we don’t see a need to repeatedly tell people that we love them, and hence we don’t say the words. Personally, I’m not sure that I’d agree with this explanation. I do want to say the words, they just won’t come out. In their absence, I’ve learned to do what I can through action to show people I care- a cake or a knitted present say more than I ever could πŸ™‚

When it comes to romantic situations, this struggle for words is multiplied tenfold! With so many conflicting rules about showing affection or revealing your feelings, as with empathy, sometimes it’s easier to stay silent. I weigh up all the options, assess every social rule, turn myself upside down and inside out over my feelings- and then do absolutely NOTHING about it by default! πŸ˜› Painful as it is, sometimes it just feels like the easiest option. There’s no drama, no outright rejections, no awkward moments…but also no requited love! As a result, I’ve landed myself in the friend-zone more times than I can count! πŸ˜›

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Over the years I’ve become a little more assertive in this regard. I eventually work up some bit of courage to communicate my emotions, but it’s still a real struggle to get there. I frequently undergo these periods of hyper-analysis prior to opening my mouth!

Advice for SO’s/potential SO’s:Β Be direct and let us know how you feel. We can’t read between the lines, we struggle to comprehend the rules of love and fathom the games- the direct approach is the way to go. The object of your affections may seem aloof, but they might simply not know how to act on their emotions. Just ask them out- their answer may surprise you πŸ™‚

If my future husband happens to be reading this- when you meet me, no games please! πŸ˜› πŸ˜‰

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Happy Valentine’s Day everyone! πŸ™‚

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Aoife

Autism 101- Specialist Interests

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Today I’m going to expand on the topic of specialist interests (SI’s).

SI’s are one of the defining features of Asperger’s syndrome in particular. Hans Asperger originally described us as ‘little professors‘ due to our ability to talk about our interests in great detail- often droning on in lengthy lectures, completely oblivious to our bored audience….

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….so I’ll try my best not to bore you today πŸ˜› πŸ˜‰

As discussed in the previous post, specialist interests are subjects which autists are intensely preoccupied with. These are generally associated with higher functioning forms of autism, but have also been noted in lower forms. Interests can be random items (e.g toilet brushes and deep fat fryers- I have genuinely come across these examples in a research paper!), subjects that are unusual to focus so intently on (dinosaurs, trains, Star Trek etc.) and finally topics that overlap with the hobbies of normally developing peers (horses, music, gaming etc.).

Women in particular tend to have SI’s akin to those of their peers, which can make it harder to diagnose them.

This would have been my experience of SI’s. My most intense interest growing up was that of Harry Potter. It would have been seen as perfectly normal to be ‘potty about Potter’ as a teenage girl during the noughties, but few would have shared my intensity.

This intensity is the major difference between normal ‘fandom’ and SI.

Unlike fandom, your interest can entirely consume you. It’s like an addiction- you are hooked on your interest. It’s not a case of want, but you physically HAVE to get your fix. If you don’t get it, your brain feels like it’s going to explode.

If I didn’t get to see the latest Harry Potter film at the first possible showing, it literally felt like the end of the world. I once made a phone call to my mother after seeing gameplay footage for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets to say that I needed the game NOW (why Aoife!)…even though I knew it was under the tree for Christmas!

But I just HAD to have it in that moment!

Oh but when I got that game- what a feeling!! Even better when I got to experience TWO different versions of the game on both PC and PS2!!!

Talk about shooting up on dopamine! πŸ˜€

It’s a little difficult to explain the feeling in words. It’s not just a sense of happiness or excitement, it’s like the atomic bomb version of Beatlemania has gone off in my head- if that makes sense?

Let me try to explain the feeling with gifs, I think these sum it up better:

 

 

 

If you combine all of these at once- that’s what it’s like in my brain.

Kind of a miracle that it hasn’t full on exploded yet πŸ˜›

Your interest is more than just obsession- it’s compulsion. Every time that I saw a still from the Harry Potter films in a newspaper or magazine, I was compelled to cut them out to add to my collection. It didn’t matter that I had the same picture six times already, I had to have it! If I didn’t get it, I would genuinely torture myself about that one lost picture, or missed TV special for years afterwards! Even now the residual memory of those missed moments still bother me! πŸ˜›

As with all addictions however, you can takeΒ things a little too far to get your hit…

One of the most memorable examples of this was my dedication to reading the latest Harry Potter books. Determined to be the first to finish the book, I would read in the car! This doesn’t sound too extreme at first….however, I can get motion sick from looking down while travelling in the car… but I didn’t care!

I read until I threw up and then read some more!!

In addition to this, I was also caught sneaking into my mothers room in the dead of night to nab the Half Blood Prince from her after the midnight opening! πŸ˜› Luckily, we had the sense to buy two copies for the Deathly Hallows midnight release πŸ˜‰

Such are the lengths we are willing to go to for our specialist interests. You become so intensely focused that you are often blinded as to the lows to which you sink…

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In addition to subjects, people can often become SI’s- especially in women. I’ve definitely been guilty of this at times.

You connect with a person, and like other areas of interest, you want to know everything about them- even the things that are socially unacceptable to ask! When you spend time with that person, it’s never enough. If you see them hanging out with other friends on social media, you feel a pang of regret/jealousy that you weren’t there- as genuinely irrational as you know your feelings to be. I suppose it’s like any other interest, every missed moment with your friend feels like a missed concert for your favorite band- a one off event that can never be recaptured.

You know you’re obsessing and that you shouldn’t feel like this, but you just can’t seem to stop yourself.

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Even worse when you inadvertently cling on so tightly that you end up smothering your SI…We don’t mean to act like crazy people, but sometimes it happens.

Word of advice to human SI’s: Just wait it out. We’ll move on to our next interest before long. Just try to understand and love your friend as they are πŸ™‚

So why are we so inclined towards these interests?

Scientists are of the opinion that SI’s reflect some of the heightened abilities unique to autism such as systemizing-Β the drive to explore, analyze or construct a system. SI’s are also thought to correlate to the severity of social impairment in individuals with autism, serving a role in reducing stress and anxiety.

For me personally, I find that SI’s provide a source of comfort. Life can be pretty overwhelming for people with autism, and sometimes we need to escape. In my own life I have found that some of my more intense interests were born of the flames of turbulent times.

When I was 11, we sold my childhood home and I was completely knocked out of sync. This simple change combined with the joyous trials of puberty had a devastating effect on me. My world was, to my mind, spinning out of control, and I wasn’t coping very well. Around the same time, the Hogwarts Express was just leaving the station, and I jumped on board to escape. The books, the films and the games transported me to another world away from all of my problems. Harry Potter gave me a sense of control, an oar to navigate the rapids of life- which is kind of ironic given the intense hold that SI’s can have over us! πŸ˜›

For any parents out there reading this, don’t worry too much about our SI’s. This is perfectly normal behavior! πŸ™‚ And if you’re sick of hearing about your child’s subject- they’ll move on eventually πŸ˜‰

Top Tip-Β Experts in the area recommend using Β SI’s to encourage your child in other areas they may struggle with. I really struggled to study for my exams when I was a teenager, so my mother encouraged me through an SI- gaming. For every hour of study I managed, I was awarded with an equal amount of gaming time. Before long, I was studying without any incentive at all!! πŸ™‚

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Have a good weekend everyone! πŸ™‚

Aoife

 

Autism 101- Asperger’s Syndrome

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

In continuation from my previous post, I’d like to introduce you properly to Asperger’s syndrome or AS. More and more frequently are we hearing of the condition, but very rarely is it explained to us. I Β myself knew relatively little about the disorder upon diagnosis, and that was with a degree in physiology!

So what exactly is Asperger’s syndrome?

Asperger’s syndrome is a form of high-functioning autism. As with all ASD’s, the normal development of the brain is impaired in AS, Β however, the symptoms are considered less severe. For example, the social communication difficulties experienced by those with AS are much milder than other ASD’s. We may struggle to communicate our intentions, to empathize or to make eye contact, but much of this can be learned and improved with time πŸ™‚

Unlike classic autism, individuals with AS show relatively normal intelligence and language skills. AS is in fact often associated with higher IQ’s, and in some cases savant skills (mathematical genius, eidetic memory, musical/artistic genius etc.).

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StereotypeΒ alert!!!- The majority ofΒ Hollywood portrayals of autistic individuals depict us as having savant skills. This is a RARE condition affecting betweenΒ 0.5 and 10% of autists. (So no- I can’t count cards in Vegas with you like ‘Rain Man‘ πŸ˜› ).

Motor development can also be affected in AS. In comparison to my peers, it took me a lot longer to hit some of my finer motor milestones (nearly 3 years to master shoelaces for example). Additionally, people with AS are often quite clumsy- something that I may know a thing or two about…

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It’s gotten to the stage where I fall down the stairs so often that my family rarely come to my rescue (I’ve learned to fall with style sustaining minimal injury)! I’m also quite adept at falling over my own feet…the worst fall of my life came after tripping myself up, and not letting go of the Alsatian I was holding…

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…at least we were still in the driveway! πŸ˜›

Unusual use of language is also associated with AS. This doesn’t mean that we create our own language or anything weird, but that we have a tendency towards unusual turns of phrase.

I, for example, am particularly fond of using big words- ruminate, cornucopia and ethereal are particular favorites!Β In my head I can’t see why you wouldn’t use a fancy word like ephemeral or fleeting instead of temporary! πŸ˜‰ Although this did get me into trouble once with my supervisor for using the word ‘multitudinous’ in a research paper…

Restrictive and repetitive behaviors (like OCD) are additionally found in cases of AS.

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These can manifest in a number of ways. There is a tendency towards routine in AS for example- we don’t like change and the uncertainty it brings. In a world that doesn’t always make sense, routine offers stability and control.

One of the most striking features of AS is our tendency towards having a specialist interest. These are intense areas of interest in which we accumulate mountains of information about a single molehill! If you stumble upon one of my interests in conversation, advanced warning- you could be there a while! πŸ˜› πŸ˜‰ Β I’ll write a separate post discussing specialist interests in detail on Friday πŸ™‚

So there you have it- a quick overview of Asperger’s syndrome! πŸ™‚

These are just some of the typical characteristics associated with AS. If I were to fully explore the symptoms today, this post would likely be the length of a book! But I’ll do my best to break everything down for you as I go along πŸ™‚

Aoife πŸ™‚

Abbreviations: ASD- Autism Spectrum Disorder, AS- Asperger’s syndrome, OCD- Obsessive compulsive disorder

 

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