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.