Saturday, December 18, 2010

Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal

I'm home for the holidays, which means I have access to a kitchen again and am more than happy to be able to cook again.  Oatmeal is one of the most versatile dishes around, you can throw in whatever you like and end up with a hot, filling meal.  I needed something quick and healthy to eat today, so I made this oatmeal.  It has a great sweet and tart taste and can be made GF/CF and vegan.

Quick Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal
  • 1/2 cup quick oats (if making gluten-free, use gf quick oats)
  • 1/4 of a medium apple, cored and diced (I used granny smith because it retains its texture the best)
  • Apple cider, enough to cover the oats and apples
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Sweetener of your choice, to taste
Combine quick oats, apple, cinnamon and sweetener in a bowl.  Add enough apple cider to cover and mix well.  Microwave at high for one and a half minutes, then stir and finish microwaving for thirty seconds.

If you wish to use slow-cooking oats, prepare almost as above, but combine ingredients in a pan and cook on the stovetop instead of in a microwave, stirring slowly.  Cook until the oats are soft and very slightly chewy and the apples still have a little give to them.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Food is a sensory issue

I can't stand jelly.  Nor do I like yogurt drinks, bananas, or hard-boiled/soft-cooked eggs.  This isn't because I don't like the flavor of these things, because I do like how they taste.  I don't eat them because I can't stand the texture, the gross, mushy, slimy feel they put in my mouth.

Some people will claim aspies are picky eaters, and I object to that label.  I'll try just about anything you hand me at least once, usually twice, but I won't eat some foods after a while because I know the texture is unpleasant.  This seems to be the common reason for being picky, that we can't stand the textures of foods, just like we can't stand the textures of clothing.  If you can't  stand the texture of clothing, you start wearing only one type of clothing which you know is comfortable. Likewise, if you can't stand the texture of a lot of foods, you start only eating particular foods.

Scientists say that the human tongue is constantly changing and shedding old taste buds to grow new ones, so tastes can change, but I don't think the texture issue would change with that.  My tastes for foods have changed - I used to love cold beets and now don't particularly enjoy them - but my taste in textures never has.  Bananas are still usually too slimy and mushy for me.

I don't like change much, but I will still try foods again and again to see if my tastes have evolved.  Sometimes the results surprise me, like in the case of eggs.  I don't like soft-cooked eggs - anything scrambled or with a goopy center grosses me out - but I recently was persuaded to try an egg casserole which was hard-cooked.  Surprisingly, I loved it!  The change in texture made all the difference in the world, causing it to suddenly become palatable.

Trying new foods or old foods in new forms can really surprise you.  Next time, instead of turning your nose up at something made with whatever your hated food is, try it.  The result could be a new favorite.

Exploring the Spectrum, Part 6: Take the Quiz!

If you've been reading my Exploring the Spectrum series, you probably know plenty more about Pervasive Developmental Disorders than you did when you started.  What better way to finish off this than with a quiz designed to test your knowledge and see if you've really been playing attention?

Click here to take the quiz!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Exploring the Spectrum, Part 5: ...And everything else

This is my last disorder related post.  Make sure you've studied because there will be a quiz next post!

There are some forms of autism which are thought to be on the spectrum by one group and considered separate diseases by others.  They share common features with autism but have differences which pull them apart from other ASDs.  The ones I'll be discussing here are Rett Syndrome and Childhood Disintegration Disorder (CDD).

Rett Syndrome occurs almost exclusively in girls.  It occurs because of a defect in a gene on the X chromosome.  Because females have two X's, the extra allows the girl to survive.  Males with Rett die very, very early if they survive at all - most are stillborn or miscarried.

Like autism, individuals with Rett can show symptoms by 6 months and are able to be diagnosed by 18 months.  The symptoms in social areas are close to autism - lack of verbal ability, avoidance of eye contact and little emotional or social interest in others.

What sets Rett apart from autism is the genetic factor and the physical problems.  Most individuals with it cannot walk, have small hands, feet and heads, and may have dystonia.  80% have seizures.

The prognosis of someone with Rett Syndrome is similar to that of a person with severe classical autism.  They can be helped through various types of therapy including speech, physical, play and occupational therapy, however, they are unlikely to live on their own or be self-sufficient.  They also tend to die at a younger age - around 40 years old - from complications

The next disorder is Childhood Disintegrate Disorder, or CDD.  This can be one of the most frightening ASD-related problems because of the late and sudden onset.

Children with CDD develop normally until they reach a point between two and ten years old and then suddenly lose skills.  Some parents have reported that their children were aware of the skill loss and scared by it.  The skills lost are usually language, self-care, motor and social-related ones, areas of functioning which are normally impaired in autism.  Children may also develop seizures, another regular feature of autism.

There's no exact cause known for this disease.  Some associate it with a buildup of fatty acids in the brain or a brain infection.  The treatments for it are the same as all other pervasive developmental disorders - behaviour therapies to teach the skills which were lost, and medication to control severe seizures and psychotic symptoms.

There are more disorders which are considered closely related to autism, but the five I've detailed in these posts are the most common ones which are considered part of the spectrum.  There are variations of all of them - for instance, there is such thing as high-functioning autism which is not related to Asperger's Syndrome - and some people list different symptoms or ways of assessing children for the disorders.

In the end, it's all a pervasive developmental disorder and early treatment is always the key.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Exploring the Spectrum, Part 4: PDD-NOS

Welcome to the fourth part of Exploring the Spectrum.

The next autistic spectrum disorder I'll go over is Pervasive Developmental Disorder - Not Otherwise Specified, which is normally shortened to PDD-NOS and also known as atypical autism.

PDD-NOS is somewhere between Aspergers and classical autism.  This is the classification given to those who don't fit into any other form of the disorder, who have symptoms which don't quite match anything else.  It is also thought to be one of the more frustrating diagnoses a child can receive because there isn't as much information about it as there is about AS and autism.

Early on, children with PDD-NOS may show some similar symptoms to those with autism - they usually won't babble or speak on time as infants and have problems socializing.  They're more likely to speak as time goes on, but their vocabulary is usually limited and nothing like that of a child with Asperger's.

The DSM-IV says this of PDD-NOS:
The essential features of PDD-NOS are severe and pervasive impairment in the development of reciprocal social interaction or verbal and nonverbal communication skills; and stereotyped behaviors, interests, and activities. The criteria for Autistic Disorder are not met because of late age onset; atypical and/or sub- threshold symptomotology are present.
This category should be used when there is a severe and pervasive impairment in the development of reciprocal social interaction or verbal and nonverbal communication skills, or when stereotyped behavior, interests, and activities are present, but the criteria are not met for a specific Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Schizophrenia, Schizotypical Personality Disorder, or Avoidant Personality Disorder.
This essentially means that the child isn't presenting normally, severely enough or at the correct age for autism and they don't have a specific diagnosis for the symptoms the child is displaying.  The diagnosis is used if there is an obviously autism-related problem going on that doesn't fit other categories or other disorders such as those listed in the definition.

Like all autistic disorders, early intervention and therapies are the key to helping a child diagnosed with PDD-NOS.  Their prognosis is not as clear-cut as the other disorders because of the range of severity and symptoms presented.  Some may go on to have fairly normal lives and may even marry or have children, while others may remain with a caregiver for their entire life and not go on to higher education or a job.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Exploring the Spectrum, Part 3: Asperger's Syndrome

For part two of Exploring the Spectrum, I'm going to focus on Asperger's Syndrome, the form of autism which this blog is based around.

Asperger's Syndrome was discovered by Hans Asperger in 1944 but wasn't added to the DSM until 1994.  This is considered the more mild form of autism, with those afflicted being higher-functioning and more capable of self-care.

Those with Asperger's Syndrome show marked delays in gross motor skills and social interaction.  They usually have difficulty looking at eyes or faces, reading body language, understanding metaphors and seeing hidden motives.  They rarely have language or speech delays, though some may be selectively mute under stress, and often have a very large vocabulary for their age.  Mental retardation is not at all common in Aspergers.

Aspies, as they're sometimes called, have some traits in common with classical autism - they also stim (though usually in less dangerous or destructive ways) and have intense focus, seeming lost in their own heads when working on something, and are very routine-oriented, where anything outside of the usual can send them into tantrums and meltdowns.

The most telling identifier, however, is the obsessions or specialist subjects.  Aspies will usually have a subject which they are entirely obsessed with to the point that nothing else matters.  They'll talk endlessly about whatever their subject is, no matter if the other person is bored or not, and will constantly redirect conversation to their interest, becoming bored or rude when that subject isn't being talked about.  Some common interests are dinosaurs, astronomy, trains, book series, plants or animals and video games.

Asperger's was originally only diagnosed in boys, as Hans Asperger only studied boys with the disorder, but girls have been found to be able to have it.  Girls, however, are usually capable of passing as just a bit quirky or odd, not disabled.

This has been explained by the way society treats girls and how they're encouraged to grow - girls with AS will spend more time memorizing social scripts so they can blend in and often have stereotypically feminine interests, such as dolls, animals or cooking.  Their way of expressing these interests is usually different - where a neurotypical little girl would create social storylines for her Barbies, a girl with AS is usually more interested in alphabetizing them or putting them in some kind of order and have the same level of obsession as a male aspie.

It's harder to diagnose Asperger's at a younger age and the earliest onset of symptoms can typically be traced to 30 months, though a diagnosis is made at an average of 11 years old.  Like classical autism, those with AS can improve with early intervention and specialized therapies.

They too can have commorbid issues, but are more likely to have ones such as depression, anxiety, dyslexia, dyspraxia, Sensory Processing Disorder and ADD/ADHD.

Aspies have a better long-term prognosis than individuals with classical autism, being more likely to go on to college or trade school, work, date or marry and have children.  They have a higher chance to lead an independent life.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Exploring the Spectrum, Part 2: Classical Autism

Autism is a spectrum, a variety of disorders with varying severity and behaviours presented by it.  Perhaps the best known one to the general population is what is seen as "classical" autism, also called infantile autism.  Classical autism is often the most severe and obvious form of the disorder.  It is the one seen most often in the media and thought of when the word "autism" is mentioned.

Individuals with classical autism can be identified by 18 months of age.  They usually will present troubling signs to their parents or caregivers - no talking, babbling or phrases, no gesturing, seeming uninterested in other people and stiffening or becoming distressed when picked up.  Some even lose social or language skills, though this is more often seen in another form of the disorder which will be discussed in a later post.

There is a definite genetic component to all forms of autism.  Someone with a parent or sibling who is autistic has an elevated chance of also being autistic.  Autism also comes with a veritable buffet of potential co-morbid disorders such as seizures, gastrointenstinal problems, immune disorders, fragile X syndrome and mental retardation.

A child or adult with autism usually lacks most social or communication skills.  Some can speak or learn to speak, others remain mostly mute for their entire lives.  They have very limited eye contact and generally dislike physical contact.  These people have been said be locked in their own heads.  Usually they are extremely set in their own routines and have little ability to change them.  Some are seen as being unable to feel pain or sense danger.

An obvious trait is the stimming, which can take many forms, ranging from benign, such as handflapping, leg wiggling and jumping, to the disturbing or dangerous, like biting oneself or banging their head against things.

There is no known cure for autism, but early intervention is seen as the best way to assure a better future for these individuals.  Intense attention in special education programs and various forms of therapy have shown the best results.  Most individuals with classical autism will never live on their own, but some may be able to hold jobs.

One of the most misconceived parts of the disorder is the idea of autistic savants.  Movies like Rain Man have made the idea that all autistic people are actually geniuses very popular.  Savantism is actually another developmental disorder, of which 50% of those with it are autistic and 50% have another form of disorder such as mental retardation.  1 in 10 people with an ASD may have savant-like skills.

Exploring the Spectrum, Part One: The History of Autism

For my final project in class, I am doing a series of posts about the different forms of autism.

Autism has been around since what seems like the start of time.  Many old cases of mental patients before it was a classification show autistic symptoms, such as Victor of Aveyron, a wild boy found in France.  Even when the diagnosis came into being, most psychologists didn't know how to treat it and tried treatments we now see as cruel and inhumane.  Autism research has come a long way in identifying and helping those with the disorder.

For easier reference, I've created a short timeline about the modern history of autism.  Click any marker to be directed to a larger version of the timeline with more information on each subject.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

On Being Non-Verbal

In high-stress and high emotion situations, I often lose the ability to speak.  This is intensely frustrating because I want to talk and I'm fully aware of what is going on around me, but can't.  It seems like the connection between my brain and mouth has shut off.

Most of the time, I can't fully speak as a neurotypical person can.  I can carry a conversation and alert people to things, do all the normal communicative tasks, but I am unable to say things on my mind without being prompted.  Once asked what I'm thinking about or how I'm feeling, I can normally say what was being thought, but without it, I can't unless it's absolutely necessary.

Today is one of those days where I can't speak and it's a struggle to communicate my needs to the people I'm staying with.  Luckily they haven't been pressing me much, but when I'm trying to explain something, like the fact that I have a headache, it's frustrating.  I imagine this is how a lot of people with kinds of autism which impairs the ability to speak feel - there are clear thoughts and needs and a lot of frustration over not being able to speak.

Luckily things like PECS exist, allowing those who can't speak on their own to tell others what's going on with them.  I still have the ability to write and have been doing so to explain the more complex things, but for the most part remain silent.

It's not a silence to be pitied.  While I don't choose the silence normally, I'm used to it.  I can explain what needs to be said and occasionally whisper something.  In time, this too shall pass.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Dealing with Sudden Interests

Possibly the biggest downfall about being obsessive over different subjects is what happens when a new subject enters.  I become very enthusiastic about new ideas and then they sudden fall apart, but while I'm interested in it I tend to neglect everything else in my sphere.

I know some neurotypicals are like this, particularly gamers, who will abandon their lives for days at a time to devote themselves to playing a new game, beating it completely and totally before being able to go back to other games. Heck, there's a website devoted to helping gamers get through their backlog of games.

My problem is a little different.  It's easy to sit and get through a backlog of games, but jumping from social project to project, devoting oneself to a major project and then suddenly becoming interested in something different which conflicts is pretty terrible.  People feel slighted when you don't get back to them on something that you seemed so enthusiastic about before.

This habit has made me very cautious about involving myself in projects and ideas.  I'll spend weeks or even months thinking about something before I do it just to make sure I don't overcomit myself.  There are some duties which can't be compromised: school, particular relationships, parts of Second Life, blogging.  Those are major social commitments for me.  Others can be added and subtracted as needing.

Perhaps moderation is the best thing in most relationships, carefully involving oneself only in what can be handled.  There are things I'd love to do and try but know they would get in the way of my current responsibilities.

Charting is great for keeping track of this: making a spreadsheet of commitments or games to be played or projects being worked on to see if another can be fit in or needs to be delayed.

How do you keep track of everything you have to do?  What has worked, what hasn't?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

So, how much do you know about autism?

We were asked to create a quiz in class about a topic which relates to what we blog about.  Of course, my choice was obvious.  I tried to make this quiz relevant and challenging, but not overly hard.

Take the plunge and test yourself: How much do you know about autism?

Multimedia Video Project: Women In Video Games

I'm incredibly proud of how well my newest project turned out and wanted to share it with all of you.  This is my video about the perception of women in video games and comic books.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Night Owl

It's midnight and I should be in bed.  I have class tomorrow at 9:40am and know that I'm going to suffer if I don't get sleep soon.  However, I'm heavily engrossed in cleaning the bathroom - wiping down the sink, cleaning the toilet, spraying the shower, all those kinds of things.

I always remember to stop what I'm doing at a good time and go get ready for bed.  I'll get off of the computer at 11 and go put my pajamas on, brush my teeth, comb my hair, but then something will catch my interest, like folding clothing or, as with tonight, cleaning the bathroom.  All the little tasks I forget or neglect during the day seem totally doable, one last thing before I go to bed.  A minute chore suddenly has turned into an hour and I'm cursing myself out for it because I know I won't get enough sleep now.

Most Aspies I've spoken to admit to innsomnia and other sleeping issues.  Once I'm in bed, I'll sleep, but until I actually lay down and roll over, my mind is constantly searching for some little thing I didn't do yet, something to clean or organize.

Does anyone else have this issue?  How have you dealt with it, what kinds of methods keep you from staying up all night cleaning?

Sunday, November 28, 2010


Every night, I take pills.  Some nights as few as two, others as many as six.  All are legal and most of the pills have been added as I've gotten older, and many have been taken away.

I've been on psychiatric medication since around 2002.  It started before I was even diagnosed with AS, when I was dealing with serious depression and ADD.  I began to see a psychologist in sixth grade, who quickly referred me to a psychiatrist in the same practice and started me on medication.  I remember going through all different pills at first while finding one which worked correctly without too many side effects.  One treated the problem but caused me to become extremely hungry.  Another just made things worse.  Finally we settled on a combination that seemed to work.

It can be so amazing to consider the effect a tiny pill can have on me.  I take 25mg of Serequel for anxiety and over the summer my doctor decided to take me off of it.  At first, everything was fine, and then boom, the world exploded.  Panic attacks, the feeling of being followed, irrational fear, mood swings, being on edge and upset when there's nothing to be upset about, it was as if my entire life had been flipped on head.  After a particularly severe attack I knew it was time to get back on the medicine.  I now look at this pill with awe when I take it - that tiny little dose protects me from so much.

Learning to manage my medicine was an important step in growing up.  When I graduated high school, my mom gave me my pill bottle and told me it was my job to remember to take it now.  Getting a phone with an alarm set for the same time every day has made this task easier.  I'm now entirely responsible for taking my pills on time and correctly.  It actually makes me feel safer knowing that I'm in control of my doses and that I have only myself to blame if I don't get them.  When I go out for the night and there's a chance I won't be back by the time I need to take my pills, I put everything into a pill container and throw it in my bag.

When did you or your child start to manage their own medicine?  What has your experience with medication been like?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

This comes a day late, but Happy Thanksgiving to everyone.  I celebrated in the real world with my family yesterday and in the virtual world with my friends today.

Thank you to all of my wonderful readers for taking the time to read and comment on my posts.  I wish every one of you a happy and healthy holiday season.

I am thankful for my past, for making me who I am.
I am thankful for my future, which is brighter than I can know.

Thanksgiving dinner at the Little Wonders Community Church.  I'm on the very very far right end.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Holiday Gathering Survival: Tips for the person with AS

I've never particularly enjoyed family gatherings over the holidays.  They're okay, but the majority of my extended family is middle aged and rather boring to be around.  I have two cousins close to my age (both of whom I get along with) and I won't be seeing them this year.  Instead, I'll be answering the same questions over and over and over again: How's college, how are your grades, do you like your classes, do you have a boyfriend yet?

I've created some tips that have helped me get through the holidays and hope that they help other people with Aspergers.

  • Bring something to do.  A book, laptop, music, a game, anything you can play by yourself.  This is helpful when in a situation which could be overwhelming and allows you to retreat and just ignore the world.
  • Volunteer to help.  People appreciate when you offer to set the table, clean up dishes, bring something special or help them in general.  Unless you know they really hate help and see it as an intrusion, be on the look out for opportunities to assist.
  • Keep aware of hints.  NTs can be irritating because they drop lots of hints but never say something directly.  If someone keeps mentioning that you make a great bread pudding (or any other food or craft item), ask them if they'd like you to bring it if it's possible for you to do so.  If you can't but they seem to want it, tell them, "Oh, I'd love to bring my bread pudding, but my oven isn't working (or any other reason you might have)".
  • Be up front about being overwhelmed.  If someone is bugging you, tell them politely but firmly, "I'd like a little space right now please."
  • Prepare answers to the questions you know you're going to get, such as major life changes or general status.  Rehearse what you'll say about your job, school, significant other, children or hobbies.
  • Make sure everyone is aware of any food sensitivities you have in advance.  If you recently became a vegetarian/vegan, discovered a new food allergy, converted to a religion with special food requirements or switched to a special diet, tell everyone at least a month ahead of time and keep reminding them.
  • When engaged in conversation, try to not get drawn into family drama.  If Aunt Marge and Uncle Wendell are going through a rough spot in their marriage, avoid gossiping about it or any other family issues.  Same goes for the big two bad conversation topics: religion and politics.  An exception is expressing sadness that someone couldn't make it due to illness or finances.
  • Ask the host before you invite another person who wasn't invited by them to come with you.
  • Watch for cues.  Don't start eating until someone either says to eat or a majority of the others start to eat.  If everyone else bows their heads to say grace and you're not comfortable with it, put your head down and act the part - you don't have to actually do it, but be polite and don't create a scene.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Link Day: A Taboo AS Subject

Sex is something that specialists in Autistic Spectrum Disorders never talk about.  It's like people with ASDs are never supposed to have sexual relations, which is totally wrong.  I've seen one book written about sexuality and Asperger's and not much else.  That's why I was thrilled to see that Brazen Careerist's Penelope Trunk has written an article about what it's like to have sex with someone with Aspergers.

The book on Asperger's and sexuality is written by AS expert Tony Attwood and can be found in part on Google Books.  If you can get a copy of this, it's quite informative.

On the outer reaches of AS-related sexuality is this article about Aspergers and BDSM (Bondage and Discipline/Dominance and Submission/Sadism and Masochism) and fetish sexuality.  It provides an interesting view, especially since fetish sexuality involves so much sensory input.  As one person puts it in the opening of the article:
The nerves on my back are so overstimulated from just wearing a T-shirt that a flogging feels like a soft warm summer rain... or what I imagine a soft warm summer rain should feel like, since a soft warm summer rain actually feels like acid drops on my skin.
Perhaps this is a topic which needs more exploration as children diagnosed with AS and autism are aging into teenhood.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Confused Senses

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is one of the most commonly diagnosed commorbid conditions with ASDs.  It muddles up the sense of the person, making them uneven with what is typical for humans.  They can be turned up too high (hypersensitivity) or down too low (hyposensitivity) and some senses can be too high while others are too low in a person.

People with AS already notice little things more than the average person - a vent or someone tapping a pencil in class can be more distracting than if a full parade marched through the room!  Having your senses muddled up just makes the problem worse since the brain can't properly interpret input.

The part which confuses me about all of this is how senses can simultaneously be too high and too low.  My sense of touch seems that way sometimes.  Light touches drive me nuts - someone bumping slightly against me or a hand brushing across my back will drive me up a wall.  In the same breath, heavy pressure from blankets or hugs relaxes me and creates a feeling of safety.  However, this is a hugely common problem in autism.

When I was in a classroom for kids with Asperger's Syndrome, it was a mess with all the sensory differences.  One kid would be blasting music in their headphones which would cause another to become upset since they could hear the tiny bit of music and it ruined their concentration.  One would do nothing but play with Lego blocks while another couldn't stand the feel of the bumps on them.

Because of all the sensory issues people with AS tend to have, stimming is important.  It regulates the senses, allowing an individual to change the input and process it better.  It also provides relief from emotional stress.  I know that when I get upset over something I seek stimuli like crazy, tapping, bouncing, humming or tensing muscle groups.  There's probably some neurology behind this that I'm not aware of, but for one reason or another, it helps.

While stimming is important, it can be hard to explain as you get older.  I've learned to confine my stimming more in college.  A simple thing like wiggling a finger in a button hole on my jacket or tapping my toes can pass properly and isn't as offputting to others as full body bouncing or swaying.

Patience and pushing myself bit by bit has been amazingly successful in overcoming most of my sensory issues.  When I feel myself starting to cringe because of a texture, I'll force myself to touch it just to realize that it isn't that bad.  High-pitched sounds can drive me up a wall, so I remember to take a deep breath and figure out how to either remove myself from the area or stop the sound.

The more self-aware you are, the better you can overcome the sensory issues.  It's important to not only learn to stand them but to work every day on improving your reaction to them through little things like touching something you dislike or tasting a food that is a bit unpleasant.

How have you learned to control your or your child's need to stim on things?  What kinds of toys or methods have worked?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Religion and Asperger's Syndrome

 I grew up in an averagely religious household, one which would usually attend church but didn't have a problem with skipping a service if something came up.  My parents seem to consider themselves liberal evangelicals, with my mother being a bit more religious than my father.  They began to attend a local church shortly after I turned five and a portion of my childhood memories are dominated by uncomfortable buckled shoes, Pioneer Girls (their version of Girl Scouts) and church camps.

With my parent's views on personal choice, I was given the option to stop attending church when I turned 13, which I did.  I never liked or understood going to church.  To me, it was school on the weekend - I was just as ostracized by the kids there as I was at school and the book was boring and never updated.  Instead of just drifting from religion altogether, I began to learn about religion at the library and became fascinated by the ideas of Buddhism and Unitarian Universalism.

However, the more I studied religion the more I realized it wasn't for me and I began to question the very existence of a higher power.  This led into an existential crisis at 15 when I began to believe that the world didn't exist and engaged in heavy solipsistic thought.  I went through a period of agnosticism before making the decision that I am an atheist at 16.

A forum post on Wrong Planet indicates that I'm not alone as a non-religious Aspie - the overwhelming majority of the over 150 respondents to the poll indicated that they were atheist or agnostic.  Interestingly, even the theists responding to the discussion indicated that they arrived at a conclusion in their religion based on logic and reasoning.

There are many possible reasons as to why people with Asperger's Syndrome tend to be without religious beliefs and many for why they would be.  The argument for religious beliefs is fairly straight forward - it presents a set of rules to live by, a code of conduct which covers just about every possible life scenario and a structure which can be taken into any situation.

The argument for not having religion can be just as straight forward - it isn't logical to follow something that can't be proven with the scientific method, especially a bronze age based code of conduct which needs heavy interpretation to make sense and can be changed by whomever is reading it.

Here is my question to you, the reader: Are you or your Aspie religious and why?  How did you come to your decision on how to view life?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Food for thought on free speech

One topic has been all over Twitter and Facebook since yesterday: Online retailer is under fire and threat of boycott by many parents and child safety advocates because they have allowed a book called "The Pedophile's Guide to Love and Pleasure" to be put up for sale in their e-book section.  Recent reports have said that the book has been taken down, but the sudden backlash was huge.
The Stir put up a wonderfully thoughtful article about the reaction to the book and free speech, one which I'm really glad was put out.  As soon as I saw the news covering my Twitter feed I groaned and thought exactly what this article so eloquently says: calling for Amazon to remove the book because the public disagreed with the subject matter amounted to the promotion of censorship.

My own opinions about pedophiles vary and were mostly influenced by this fabulous letter and response from Seattle's favorite love and sex columnist, Dan Savage.  Anyone who touches a child with the intent to harm them should be punished swiftly and justly.  However, the urges in the mind of a non-offender should be treated because the person is suffering from them.

These people don't choose to have the attraction to children and there should be more sympathy for the plight of those who suffer because they can't have a normal and healthy sex life because of a distracting and inappropriate fetish.  If they loose control and harm a child, they should be punished, but if they actively work to avoid situations which would cause them to do so, they should be given proper treatment and therapy and helped to form normal and healthy adult relationships.

While the subject matter contained in the book in question is morally wrong and there is no excuse for sexualizing or harming children, careful consideration needs to be paid to the fundamental rights which the United States was built upon, namely that of free speech.  As long as no child is or was harmed, there is no crime in writing and publishing this book.  There is only a crime if someone follows what is said in it and does turn to hurting a child.  If they do, they need to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and given serious psychological help.

My belief is that while I might not agree with what someone says, I will fight for their right to be able to say it.  After all, that's a foundational principle of America and what we all should be working toward.  Censorship leads to totalitarian dictatorships such as Iran and is a slippery slope to the violation of human rights.

You have the right to boycott what you wish for whatever reason you wish, but consider the impact of what you're really saying before you do so.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Aspie Pride

It was hard to have pride in being an Aspie when I was in high school.  I was teased a lot for being odd and just wanted to isolate myself and not deal with the rest of the world as much as possible, to appear at least somewhat normal so that I could get out of the special ed classes.  Of course, it's hard for anyone to really be themselves in high school.  Those are rough years where everyone mocks others so they aren't laughed at themselves.

Now that I'm out of that, I'm seeing my AS as more of an asset, something which is part of me and gives me an interesting view that most people can never experience.  I've gone from being embarrassed about my AS to being fine with saying I have it if it comes up in conversation.  I wouldn't be able to write this blog if I wasn't open about it - we had to pitch our blog ideas to the entire class and open them to critique.

Having pride in not just AS but the other conditions involved can be positive as well.  I'm very open about my prosopagnosia because I have to be to function well.  I will usually tell people I've met and know I'm likely to meet again that I have a condition that keeps me from seeing faces properly and apologize in advance if I don't know who they are next time we meet.  I've never had a single negative reaction to this - everyone I've told has been very interested by it and want to know more about how it works.  Another gentleman I know had a brain injury and can't remember names and told me that as soon as we met.  He was very open about it and I was impressed.

I don't think having AS makes me better than an NT.  There are some areas where I'm probably better off and some where I'm a lot worse off - everyone has strengths and weaknesses.  I do have my moments of wishing others were Aspies so they could understand what's going on in my head, which is usually incredibly hard for an NT to do, and I have my moments of being really glad that I'm the only Aspie around because it gives me some advantages in that situation.

I hope that parents with high-functioning autistic or AS kids will teach them to have pride in who and what they are, to not be ashamed of their condition and hide it.  It's so much easier for others to hurt you when you have a big secret.  When you're out, loud and proud, they can't exactly hurt you because you're entirely comfortable about it.  This is why it's so easy to gay bash someone who is seriously closeted and near impossible to use gayness against a very loud, out advocate.

Be happy and comfortable with who you are - have pride in being an Aspie!

For more information on Aspergers pride, please click here.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Link Day: Identifying Facial Expressions

The last few years have been really important, exciting times for autism research.  It seems like we're learning something new about the brain and how it works every day.  One of the most interesting bits of research I've run across is this piece by the Pittsburgh Post Gazette on how people with autism identify faces and facial expressions.
Of the 10 youths with autism who were tested, only three had activity in a typical face-processing location known as the fusiform face area. The others tended to analyze faces in a part of the brain normally used for objects, she said.
Another bit of research which came out recently said that those with autism and a risk of autism have a large amount of connections in the front part of their brains, an overabundance of connections, and few which go to any other part of the brain.

 Autism isn't just acting differently, it's how people process things.

Friday, November 5, 2010

A message for parents

Autism is not a fatal diagnosis.

I know a lot of parents are scared to death that their child, born or unborn, might be autistic.  They're frightened their only son will be stuck in a mental institution for the rest of his life, that they'll never see their daughter's wedding day, that their family will be turned upside down or marriage destroyed by having a child who requires so much time, effort and money to be helped along with a developmental condition which can never be cured.

A person with autism can still be happy.  It doesn't mean they'll never go to college, never hold a job, never have a relationship, never be a productive member of society.  Perhaps in the past those were things told to parents of children with ASDs and some doctors today might still say it, but today it isn't necessarily true.

Your child might not be the next Temple Grandin or Luke Jackson, but a neurotypical child might not be the next Brad Pitt or Hannah Montana.  Too often our society tells us kids have to become celebrities, that fame is the greatest goal.  I think that a better goal is becoming a good person and that it's also a more reachable goal, no matter what problems are thrown in the path.

My advice is this: Be there for your child.  Be their best friend, their confidant, their teacher, their shining star.  Celebrate the goals you reach, no matter how minor.  Every step forward, no matter how small, is still progress.  Resist the urge to compare and be competitive and instead focus on the childs' strengths on their own.  Be patient, be loving, be kind.

You are your childs' best advocate, especially if they can't speak for themselves.  You know them, know their needs, and need to push so they get the best treatment possible, the best support and care.

Your child might not be "normal", might never lead the life that is "typical", but they can be happy.  They can love and be loved, and that is the greatest thing in the world.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

It Gets Better Project

The It Gets Better Project is devoted to helping prevent gay youth from attempting suicide.  Gay teens are four times more likely to take their own lives due to bully, pressure and other issues which impact them.

I am bisexual and felt the need to share my own story with the It Gets Better Project.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Child and adult

I'm not really sure what I am right now. Legally, I am an adult. I'm able to own property, vote, marry, smoke, have sex, gamble and all sorts of things. I've got a lot of rights and a lot of rules to go by.

At the same time, I'm still a kid to most people. I'm 19, still very young and sometimes stupid. I'm learning a lot and making many, many mistakes. When I was still legally a kid, I was never a child - I had too much weight, too many problems to experience being a child.

It's a really tricky balancing act because I'm not sure what I'm supposed to be, how I'm supposed to act. I'm in college and there are a lot of people around me who choose to remain children. They smoke, drink, do drugs and get lost in the hormones of teenhood.

I see that and know that I don't want to be it, but I don't know how to deal with the stupid hormonal impulses. I shut down or speak up at the wrong times. I act stupid and rebel when treated like a kid but can't seem to own up to the responsibilities of being an adult.

I never went through these experiences when I was an actual teenage kid and they're all catching up now. I don't know what to do with them some days, but I'm making it through.  It's always a challenge, but I know I'll come out better on the other side.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Safety in Routines

((Sorry for the lack of posts.  I've been sick with strep throat and have been in bed.))

Routine is very well known to be something that people with Autistic Spectrum Disorders can be obsessive over.  We like things to be just so and hate to have any routine interrupted.

When I was a kid, my mom would have to warn me over and over again before she would change the activity I was doing.  If I was playing on the computer, she would come down two or three times before dinner to warn me that we were going to be having dinner at a particular time and that I would have to get off the computer.  When I was in classes at school for kids with Asperger's Syndrome, there were schedules and charts everywhere and the teachers were constantly writing out what activities were going on when on the board.   This made things very safe.  The world seemed very controlled and eased a lot of my worries.

Schedules are a wonderful thing.  They tell you what's coming up next and give something to expect, a predictable experience that can be controlled.  There's nothing random - it's A B C.  This is comforting.  It's hard to describe how panicked I get when a schedule changes, how nervous I feel.  It's like things are out of control.  I get scared that I've messed up or that I'm going to get in trouble and sometimes start crying.

As I've gotten older, I've relaxed a lot in my routines, but I still need warning if something is going to be changed.  Several times a class has not met for a day and I didn't get the email about it so I became nervous that something had happened, they they had gone somewhere for class and I wasn't told.  I'll often check a piece of paper over and over again to make sure that I have times exactly right, that I know precisely where I'm going or else I panic.

I no longer throw fits when my schedule is interrupted, but it's still a very important safety feature in life.  A predictable schedule where I know day to day and week to week what is going on allows me to relax and worry about things that actually matter instead of fearing the possibilities.

Friday, October 22, 2010


A few years back I was having a birthday party and during part of it we had to drive to another location.  I was in the car with a few friends and had just gotten a new book for my birthday.  Being a not-very-social creature, I started reading.  When I read, the entire world went away - it just disappeared and didn't exist.  I couldn't hear anyone talking or see the car moving.  I wasn't even conscious that I was in a moving vehicle until someone began to shake my knee and yell my name.  Turns out they had been trying to talk to me for the past minute or two and I was entirely unresponsive.

This is what superfocusing is like.  Aspies have some pretty cool things about them and superfocusing is one of the best.  We can't do it consciously (or at least I can't) but superfocusing is when we become so focused on an activity that the world doesn't exist.  Someone could be shouting in our ears and we won't hear a thing because we're so focused.

It's a very zen state of mind because there is only the present, the activity being done and nothing else.  I get like this when I read, just getting so into the book that there was nothing else.  I've heard of people doing it with just about every solitary activity - math, playing games, art, even just staring out the window.  For how uptight people seem to think we are, we do know how to chill out and ignore the world.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

My take on the vaccine issue

This is my first controversial post.  The opinions expressed are my own.

In the last few years, there has been a media firestorm over the issue of if vaccinations can cause a child to develop autism.  Most are blaming it on mercury, a preservative used in the vaccines.  But mercury was removed from these vaccines years ago and the instances of autism are still on the rise.

I am insulted by the idea that my AS was caused by a vaccine and appalled by paranoid parents who don't vaccinate their children.  AS is a chunk of my personality and some traits of it are found throughout my family.  It's insulting to tell me that who I am is just a medical mishap.

It is not only irresponsible but abusive for a parent to not vaccinate a child.  Vaccines are so important to keep diseases which crippled and killed children for ages from resurging and causing damage far worse than autism ever could.  A parent who refuses to vaccinate is not only putting their child in danger, they're endangering every other child that their kid comes in contact with.

Not only is it irresponsible to the child, it represents a terrible mental state for a parent to have - believing that they are entirely blameless for anything that happens.  It's much easier to blame your child being ill on something remote and dictated by society than it is to acknowledge that your own genetics may have contributed to it.  Parents who can't accept their faults shouldn't be parents at all.

I am leading a full and productive life with autism.  A person dead from polio couldn't say the same.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Anatomy of a Shutdown

Every breakdown, meltdown and shutdown is a little different and everybody handles them differently.  After having one last night and having to explain what happens during it to a close friend who was present, the process is fresh in my mind.  If you've ever wondered what's happening in the mind of an Autist or Aspie going through a shutdown, it might be something close to this.

First, there has to be buildup to the trigger.  A meltdown can seemingly come from something totally insignificant, but there is usually prior emotional stress which allows the straw to break the camel's back.  In this case, it was the combination of being around someone who was stressed out all day and another person becoming angry at me,

Second, the trigger happens.  Here it was a minor change of plans.  In the sub-second, there's a fear of something happening or not happening.  I was afraid that if I did the change, I'd have to talk to or see the person who was angry at me and I wasn't ready for that.

Third, the freeze-up sets in.  This is when responsiveness to words and external stimuli slows and the brain is overloaded, unable to process what's happening.  The ability to move or speak is greatly reduced, but mental function remains the same.  I am well aware of what's going on when I start to melt down and how I'm reacting.

Fourth, if the outside stimulus or overload continues, all external control is gone.  I can't speak or move or make any kind of signal of what's going on in my head to the outside world.  However, I continue to think clearly and can understand everything which is being said to me or is happening, but I'm not in control of my body.  I'll jerk away, tense, cover my head or bite myself and not be able to control it.  If I'm asked to move or do something, no matter how much I might want to, I can't.  My entire body is tensed and the stimming is stepped up.

Fifth, the tension continues but it doesn't increase any further.  No control is regained but none is lost.  This can continue for a few minutes to a half an hour.

Sixth, the letdown begins. I start to feel fatigue and pain and regain the ability to move and speak a little.  It's easy to go straight back into the overstimulation if something bad happens again.  After some time, I'm able to answer questions and might be capable of touching someone again, even if it's just with one finger.

Finally, the sickness comes over me.  A meltdown is very painful.  My muscles are tensed for an extended period of time, breathing is very shallow and through my mouth, so when I come out if it I feel sick and tired and need to drink something.  Sometimes I'll just collapse and sleep for an hour or two straight after one and other times I'll get on with my day but have a headache or stomach problems.

I am entirely aware throughout any kind of meltdown, shutdown or breakdown and yes, if someone does something particularly stupid to me during one, I'm going to remember it and likely resent it.  It's very painful not only physically but mentally because I'm so scared by losing that control.  I imagine the frustration is much like how it is for those who are entirely non-verbal - I've got lots going on in my head and no way to show or tell anyone else.

This isn't how every person reacts or what they go through, but I hope it spreads some knowledge.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

I Love Someone With Autism

I had never heard of this project until it popped up on my Twitter feed.  This video is a touching tribute to children and adults with Autism and those affected by it.  It's beautiful and well-made.  Be warned, you may cry while watching.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Aspiedar.  It's that feeling that some Aspies get when they suspect that another person might have AS.  It's a bit like gaydar- an aware Aspie can watch a TV show or listen to someone talk and instantly be convinced that the person has Asperger's Syndrome.

This happens to me all the time.  I was watching Bones for the first time with a friend.  Each time Bones spoke or interacted with someone, I became more and more convinced.  During the second commercial break, I turned to my friend and pointed out all the Aspie traits Bones has, convincing him as well.

The most disconcerting time I've had my Aspiedar pinging was during my Introduction to Natural Sciences class.  I'm pretty sure that my professor is and Aspie just from the way he talks and responds to questions.

Parents of Aspie kids might have it too - after all, you listen to your own child speak enough and you become familiar with the characteristics almost as well as someone on the spectrum themselves.

Has your Aspiedar pinged lately?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Teachers Are the Worst Bullies

Kids with Aspergers often relate more closely with adults than they do with other kids.  Adults are more often at our intellectual level and able to keep up with our mental pace, far more than our peers ever could.  They also aren't bound by the social constructs that force every kid to tease those who aren't exactly like them.  A good teacher can be a guide, a light in the darkness and a comforting hand at the back (I shudder writing this expression - having my back touched scares me).  However, a bad teacher can traumatize us and send us back farther.

As with anyone who has gone through schooling with multiple teachers I've had my fair share of both.  Luckily there have been more good than bad, but both have existed.

There seems to be a misconception that teachers cannot be bullies.  This is wrong.  Teachers can be the worst offenders in bullying because they use a position of power to commit their crimes.  A teacher can get away with some of the most damaging psychological abuse that a child will ever experience and deflect every complaint from them.  They can misuse power and create an inescapable situation of abuse.

One of the most damaging experiences I've had with bully teachers was with a woman I'll call Mrs. B.  She was a math teacher (a special education math teacher.  Someone trained to deal with Aspies), which already puts her low on my list, but I give everyone a fair shot.  Coincidentally, she was also my IEP advisor, so I had to deal with her on a regular basis.  This woman (and I use that term loosely here) would single out two or three kids at the start of each semester to pick on.  In this particular semester of 10th grade, I was one of her victims.

I didn't like math but would finish my work and then bury myself in a book.  For the most part, once the lesson started again, I would focus on that and leave the book sitting in the corner of my desk.  Apparently, this was a problem and she would regularly scream at me for not putting it in my backpack.  Not ask me to put it away or remind me of the rules, but scream at me from across the room to put it away.  She would make fun of me for not being able to say the numbers for an answer correctly and not allow me to leave the classroom to calm down (something which was mandated in my IEP).

The worst incident came after I didn't put a book away.  This set her off and she rounded on me, standing behind me and yelling about how insubordinate and rude I was being and how she'd have me written up.  All of this is going on while I'm showing classic meltdown symptoms - biting myself, crying, rocking - because of the stress and the other kids staring.  I broke down in tears and didn't move from a slump on my desk until the end of the class.  She, of course, tried to write me up and blame me for problems in the class stemming from her inability to teach correctly.

If a kid is complaining that a teacher is picking on them, please listen.  Teachers are the worst bullies and can make school hell.  If you're a teacher and see another teacher acting inappropriately, speak up.  No child should have to be trapped in an abusive classroom, especially special needs kids.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Baking and the Aspie Mind

I love to cook.  Cooking, particularly baking, has been a great therapy and life-skill teacher for me.

What makes baking particularly suited to an Aspie and a good teaching tool is that it gives exact, specific instructions.  It tells you exactly how much flour, sugar, butter or raisins to put in, how to combine them and when to set the oven.  In the same breath of how much of an exact art it can be, it's also one of change and compromise.  Sometimes the recipe is slightly off or contains something you don't want so you have to compensate for it.

When I bake, my mind calms.  I go into a zone where there's just me, the ingredients and the oven.  I know exactly what it wants from me and how it should turn out, but also that there will be changes and bumps, that the dough might not set right or the oven might be slightly off.  I anticipate problems or laugh when I run into them.  It might not turn out perfectly, but there's a tangible result and I know better for next time.

The change benefits are huge, as are the sensory therapy possibilities.  When you know that touching an unpleasant texture will lead to something you can enjoy, it becomes much more bearable.  Likewise, it gives the chance to get messy and explore, to learn.  Even a kid who is obsessed with an entirely different subject can enjoy cooking - you can make dinosaur cupcakes or calculate the trajectory of a banana cream pie.

Another benefit is the sense of empowerment it gives to a kid with a special diet or food allergies.  It allows them to take control of their food and learn to make things that they can eat so they don't feel as helpless to ingredient labels.  A gluten-free casein-free diet is difficult, but learning how to modify foods you love (like pizza) and make them yourself gives a huge sense of satisfaction.  Cooking is also a life-skill that everyone needs to know and making it less scary by trying new foods and experimenting can be great.

Take a chance and bake something!

Link Day: Asperger's for the less scientific

((Just a little video game humor - the image has nothing to do with the post!))

Explaining AS is usually best done through giving the curious links and webpages about the condition.  It's not because those with the disorder or who have experience with it can't explain what it is, but because it's often easier to absorb information at ones own pace.

TV Tropes is the type of website anyone can spend hours bouncing around, going from one page to another.  It also has a surprisingly poignant article on what Asperger's Syndrome is and isn't.  The page is full of pop-culture references and little jokes, but it has accurate information.  It's easier for the average person to absorb than Wikipedia's page on AS.

TV Tropes on Asperger's Syndrome

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Shutdowns, Meltdowns, and being an adult about it

A shutdown is very different from a meltdown but similar to it in some ways.

Meltdowns are the more dramatic of the two, the classic fits you see in children with ASDs.  They may involve screaming, banging your head against something, biting, hitting and running around.  They're pretty common in younger kids and are the classic sign that a kid is overstimulated by something.

A shutdown is different than that.  They're more controlled, less noticeable and appear more in older kids who can't cope.  These often manifest as a sudden communication breakdown - putting your hands over your ears, going to the fetal position, crying, not being able to speak and hiding.  It's difficult for someone who doesn't have experience with ASDs to understand what's going on.

The last time I had a breakdown was over two years ago and I don't remember when or why I had it.  However, I had a shutdown just last month after being overstimulated by two friends fighting nearby.  Shutdowns are painful.  Remember that if a sensation is strong enough to cause a shutdown, it's already painful, but the response can be just as difficult.

The best way to explain what meltdowns and shutdowns feel like to a neurotypical person is that it's like suddenly being unable to control your reactions.  Everything is coming on too strong, particularly emotionally, and you can't block it out.  You can only think about getting out of the situation no matter what that way is.  You feel unsafe, attacked, like the world is suddenly out to get you.  Eventually you start to be able to think again, but you can't move, can't do anything about what your body is doing.  You just have to sweat it out until you can regain control.  This can take a minute or five minutes or an hour.

While kids can have parents there to explain what's going on or teachers who understand how to deal with their issues, shutdowns are terribly embarrassing for adults of all ages.  Not only that you know you look silly or are worrying others, but that it can damage your reputation.

Here are my tips for dealing with adult shutdowns and meltdowns.

  • Be aware of your own condition and triggers.  I know I keep saying this for everything, but self-awareness is the number one way to prevent problems.  If you know what triggers you to go into a shutdown or a meltdown, you can try to head it off.  This includes seeking accommodations for your condition, finding a safe space and knowing when to bow out.
  • Find a safe space.   This could be as simple as a bathroom stall.  If you go somewhere a lot or know that a place you're visiting could trigger problems, have an escape mapped out in case a problem does occur.
  • Head it off.   When you feel that pressure start to build, that panic rising, know when to get out and how to do it.  When I was dealing with severe depression and was at work, I knew that when that weepy, irrational feeling started to come on that I had to apologize to the customer I was helping and tell another employee that I needed to go get myself together.
  • Make others aware.   If you're going to be around someone enough that they could witness a meltdown, let them know what it looks like and how to deal with you when you go into them.  I told my boyfriend that if I started shutting down to just leave me alone.  Leave the room if possible and ignore me until I have myself together.  This doesn't have to be a big explanation.  It can be as simple as telling a new friend "I sometimes get overstimulated.  If I start flexing my fingers a lot and pacing around quickly and ignoring you, please leave and I'll talk to you when I feel better."
  • Find support.   When you're an adult it sometimes feels like all the services are suddenly closed off to you.  Even if you can't afford counseling, try to find a group of others who have similar issues.  Many churches and youth groups have programs like this.  It could be as complex as a dedicated support group with buddies or as simple as an online message board like Wrong Planet.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Special interests and obsessions

One thing that makes female Aspies different from males is that our special interests are more likely to change as we get older and go through stages.  This doesn't make us any less of Aspies, just different from the norm.

Special interests, also known as specialist subjects or obsessions, are a topic which an Aspie is particularly attached to.  They can really be anything, ranging from very general to very specific, socially acceptable to entirely repulsive, easily found or impossibly difficult.  I've known Aspies with interests in cats, video games, legos, trains, Egyptology, Photoshop, medical equipment and many more topics.

Boys tend to have a primary interest that dominates everything else.  Girls are more subtle and more commonly have several interests, though one is dominant.  Some of my interests through the years:

  • Cooking
  • Kelly dolls (the kid-version of Barbie)
  • Wolves
  • Autism
  • Children with disabilities
  • Star Wars
  • Habbo Hotel
  • Roleplaying
  • Vampires (pre-Twilight)
  • Harry Potter
  • Alternative sexuality
  • GLBT culture
  • Second Life
  • Blogging
  • HTML
A difficulty with this is that it makes me unsure about getting into something fully because I never know when my interests are going to shift.  I don't want to invest a lot of money into a craft hobby when I could lose interest in it in the next few months.

This isn't to say that all interest in an old obsession is gone.  I still hold a place in my heart for each bygone era of interest.  Cooking, particularly baking, is still a hobby and I shiver when I see wolves.

While boys with AS can major in their interest and know that they'll probably be into it for the rest of their lives, I had to choose much more carefully.  I never know when I'm going to fall out of love with my interest and it would be a waste to spend four years at college just to hate what I'm doing when I get out.

Life is a journey.  I'm confident that I'll find something to stay in love with.

Friday, October 1, 2010

My Journey, Part 2: Diagnosis at last

((Sorry for the weirdness with the note at the top of my last post - I didn't realize I hadn't put this out yet!  Dang drafts.  Anyways, here's the second part of my story.))

By the time I hit middle school it was clear there was something going on in me, something that wasn't quite right.  I really hadn't grown up from Elementary.  While my peers were awkwardly moving into adolescence, rebelling, creating themselves, I was playing with Barbies and being slightly moody when interrupted.

In sixth grade my parents began to take me to specialists for a diagnosis.  I'm not sure what prompted them and have never asked about it, but I was curious as to why they were bringing me into strange buildings to talk to odd people about myself.  The first diagnosis was depression, and the second was Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).  At the time both were pretty accurate - I couldn't pay attention in class and was becoming depressed because of the near-constant teasing from the other kids.  However, they weren't the real problem.

Near the end of the year, a woman came into my class and asked me to come with her.  I didn't know at the time that she was the school psychologist.  For the next few weeks I spent several hours a day in a tiny office working on exercises, not really knowing what I was doing there or why I had to take these tests.  The tests were bizarre to me, a combination of math, picture and emotion analysis, shapes, logic exercises and reading comprehension.

At the very end of the year the true diagnosis came out - Asperger's Syndrome.  They also told me that I had an IQ of 127.  I don't remember exactly who told me or when, but I do remember my parents saying that they had ordered a book for me on it and that I would be in different classes next year.

After reading about what AS is I agreed that the diagnosis was accurate - I saw myself in the criteria.  Now I had a name for my weirdness.  If you've ever had a diagnosis after wondering about something for a long time, it's a very relieving feeling.  It gives you power and allows you to connect to a community of others like you.

Next year I'd be able to use this in a new classroom of others with the same or similar diagnoses.

Next Week: Life in the AS classroom

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Dealing with touch sensitivity

((I'm taking a day off from posting about my story - the next part of it becomes rather emotional and I need time to sort it out before I share.  Thanks for your patience.))

Tactile sensitivity is one of those classic autism things.  The average person who knows very little about autism might know that those on the spectrum don't like to be touched and freak out at the smallest sensation.  Things that would never disturb someone without the disorder seem to come across like freight trains of overstimulation to an aspie or autist.

I'm pretty good with touch, at least better than I was as a young kid.  I still cut the tags out of a lot of clothing and am very particular about fit, but I can wear a much wider range of textures.  There are some of us that never get over textures and touch and it remains a major problem.  If you remain sensitive as you get older, it can present some unique challenges.

Some tips for adults dealing with tactile issues:

Monday, September 27, 2010

Life with Prosopagnosia

I'll admit up front that I'm not officially diagnosed, but I'm pretty sure I have prosopagnosia.  The symptoms of it are present throughout my life and I can't remember ever not having them.

Prosopagnosia is also known as face blindness.  It is the inability to see faces properly or recognize them at all and can range in severity from just not being able to recall most people to not recognizing your own face in the mirror.  I lay on the middle of the spectrum.  I can recognize a few people and remember a few faces vaguely, but the great majority are blurs and I usually can't find myself or anyone else in a picture.  I can see a picture of just me and know intellectually that the person in it is me, but I don't really recall myself or how I look.

I realized that I couldn't see faces when I was 17 and bored at work.  Walking through the aisles of the store I work in, I tried to remember the face of someone I worked with and kept trying for several minutes before realizing that as hard as I tried, the face of this person was a big blur and I could only see their hair and clothes.  This alarmed me - I had never really thought about my inability to see faces before, and the more I thought on it for the next year, the more I realized that there was something wrong.  I can't recall faces from my life except for still photographs of people, and even those are sketchy at best.

This has an interesting effect on school and classes.  As hard as I try, I don't recall any classmates from school.  Every day was and still is sitting in a classroom of strangers.  I'll remember where I sit and can often recognize that someone sits near me by their backpack or hair or a jacket they always wear, but I'd never know who they were outside of class.

Forming relationships is odd.  I've been told it takes more effort than someone who can properly see faces and that seems true, though I can't say for myself.  Last year I was waiting for my boyfriend at a park.  It's a pretty big area, but I told him what side of the building in the middle of it I would be on.  There were lots of people moving around near me and I didn't realize that he was standing right at the end of the road next to me until he finally came up to me and asked if I saw him.  I didn't.  I also walk right past my roommates in the hallway without knowing who they are, which insulted one of them before I explained to her why I didn't say hello.

An article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette today said that children with autism usually process faces with the part of the brain normally used to process objects.  I wonder if this is part of why I can't remember them and also wonder if more people on the autistic spectrum have this and have never reported it.  It took me 17 years to realize that I couldn't because not seeing faces was the norm for me and I didn't know that others could see them until I tried and talked to others.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

(Belated) Link Friday: Prosopagnosia

Later in the week I'll be posting about how having prosopagnosia (also known as face blindness) has effected me.  It's not uncommon for aspies to have problems recognizing others because so often we don't look at faces, but as I've gotten older and started learning to look near and at faces I still can't recognize others.  I have problems finding myself in group pictures, especially if everyone is wearing the same thing, and have gotten lost in crowded areas because I couldn't recognize my parents.

Wikipedia article on Prosopagnosia

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Monday, September 20, 2010

Clothes shopping with Aspergers

Clothes shopping was one of those things that I despised doing as a kid.  It was boring, it was drawn out, it was uncomfortable and most of all it was frustrating.  I would have to dress and undress and tie and untie my shoes.  Mom would squeeze me into uncomfortable, itchy clothing which usually didn't fit correctly, or, if by some miracle it did, would look wrong.  Even though I knew tags would come out later I wouldn't want to buy anything that I felt them in.

Any form of ASD makes dressing a chore.  We don't like to wear anything that doesn't have just the right texture or fit.  A rough tag can send a kid with autism into a fit.  I maimed a few shirts trying to chop out tags which quite literally rubbed me the wrong way when I was a kid.

Where I once would get tired from only an hour of shopping, I can now go up to seven hours in a stretch, with breaks.  A lot of Aspies won't get up to that point - I'm not as sensitive to crowds as most are and enjoy looking around.  However, after that seven hour shopping experience I'll come away with maybe a shirt and a pair of pants or shoes.  The trying on isn't so much a problem for me as the actually liking it enough to buy is.

Here are some tips for those of you going shopping with your Aspie child/spouse/relative/friend:

Friday, September 17, 2010

What are the traits of a girl with Asperger's Syndrome?

I ran across this chart on a forum a few months back. It contains a fairly comprehensive list of traits for girls with AS. Many are different from those of boys with AS.  While this isn't comprehensive, it does ring true with me.

One part that sticks out to me is the statement that "9 out of 10 have mild to severe gastro-intestinal difficulties -- eg, ulcers, acid reflux, IBS, etc".  I've always had weird stomach issues but never thought to relate them to my also having AS, though it does make sense now - I had read about boys with autism having Irritable Bowel Syndrome more often than the general population.

Click here for the chart

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

My Journey, Part 1: Elementary school

I figured I'd start off this blog with my own history, how I was diagnosed and what I've come from.  Part one covers my life prior to diagnosis.  This will probably be familiar to any parents with young kids on the high end of the Autistic spectrum, male or female.

I was always an odd kid.  Maybe my parents should have seen the signs earlier, but for whatever reason, they didn't.  I grew up in a normal suburban neighborhood on a small cul de sac with my mom, dad and older brother.  From an early age I was obsessed with cooking and spent most of my time making "meals" in my kitchen set and trying to help out in the real kitchen, swearing that my life goal was to be a chef.  Family members gave me cookbooks and kitchen tools and invited me to help with making meals - they found the obsession cute and entirely normal for a little girl.

Maybe that's a factor which separates female aspies from males, that our obsessions are more often animals and cooking and dolls instead of vacuum cleaners and trains and organic chemistry.  Like most AS girls, my obsessions go through phases.  By fifth grade the cooking phase was gone and I was obsessed with wolves instead.  This has continued to shift throughout my life.

The first two years of school for me were more or less normal.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Why blog about being a female Aspie?

This entire blog is based on an assumption.  I'm assuming that there aren't many blogs out there about the experiences of being a girl diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome.

Google searches have backed up this assumption - there is Penelope Trunk of Brazen Careerist who blogs about business, life and being an Aspie, and there is aspieprincess of The Aspie Life who blogs for Psychology Today.  Others have come and gone and their blogs are now dead.

I'm assuming that no one else in the world will have exactly the same view on things as I do and that you'll be interested in what I have to say and enjoy my writing style.  I sure enjoy it, but that's probably because it comes naturally to me and usually sounds pretty good in my head.

So why blog about being a female with Asperger's Syndrome?  Because it's an unusual condition with a lot of challenges, frustrations and fun, and I want to share my experiences in hopes that someone might find them interesting, amusing or helpful.  I want to remind other girls with AS and parents with daughters on the Autistic Spectrum that they're not alone and there really is someone else out there who is just as obsessed and wild and affected as they are.

Two feet first, here goes nothing.

Full Disclosure: I'm writing this blog for my Introduction to Multimedia class at college.  We're required to write 3 time a week for 15 weeks.  If this is successful, I might continue on after that.