Author Archives: Margaret Jean

Asperger’s & Autism: Research Participants Needed.

Research is vital in assisting us in making our way through the world. New information helps us understand those processes that hinder us, and those that are helpful to us.  

One of the most challenging of these is the work environment. Lights can be too bright, office areas too open and noisy, and posted information can be confusing.

This month we have a chance to offer our input on a research project investigating the effect of the office environment upon the efficacy of those on the Spectrum.

Marc Burnard is a Florida U. doctoral candidate gathering information about changes we would like to see considered in office environments. 

Mark’s interest in this field comes from his personal life:

I have autistic friends and have come across many articles discussing the challenges that autistic people face in workplaces that are unaccommodating.”

There’s a push for neurodiversity initiatives in some workplaces, but a lack of research to facilitate them.

The goal of Mark’s study is to provide insights which may inform changes to workplace environmental design. 

He is a third-year doctoral student in the industrial-organizational psychology program at Florida International University.

His research interests span the stressor-strain process at work and neurodiversity.

He is seeking participants in Australia, Canada, the US, UK, Ireland and New Zealand, because Autism does not respect political or geographical boundaries.

Participants will receive an Amazon gift card for 15USd. To participate in this study, and for more information on the scope of this project see  https://www.mburnard.com/research.

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Reflecting Upon Our Social Interactions

Omigosh, was I really that unaware?

Recently we had lunch with some new friends. The hanging baskets cascaded their vivid blooms, the food and wine were perfect and the conversation flowed.

But the next day, reviewing one aspect of the conversation, I realized I had been guilty of that intense self-immersion we Aspies often experience.

At one point the conversation centred on an author I had recently met and whom my guest had recently heard interviewed on CBC Radio.  I waxed eloquent on my favourable estimation of this writer.  I elaborated on how we had come to know him and how respectful and talented we found him to be.

But not once did I ask our guest what impression he may have formed from hearing the author interviewed!!

Not only did I fail to learn more about our guest from his impressions, but I also lost the opportunity to later pass on feedback regarding the interview to our gifted friend.

And again it struck me that we all need to be aware of how we come across in social interactions with others.

Clearly social encounters present a learning platform for us.

Reviewing our most recent social encounters, reflecting upon how they went, upon both the positive and the negative, is a powerful exercise.

But it must be done without judgement, of ourselves or of others.

For me, a positive reflection of my interaction with others is simply an objective review of a conversation.  Where might I have been more thoughtful or encouraging of the other person?  Where might I have asked for clarification?

The key is to be kind to myself as I reflect.  To counsel myself as I would someone younger who has come to me for help.

When you reflect, love that you are learning, baby step by baby step, even as you make mistakes, perhaps even real blunders.  And then look for a way to move forward.

For instance, we have made plans to see these folks again, and when we do, you can be sure I will make a point of asking our friend about his impression of the interview.  He may not recall as much now, but I think he will be pleased that I remember our previous conversation and am interested in his point of view.

Everyone likes to have their thoughts, and especially their opinions acknowledged, and it is both polite and compassionate to be courteous to others when they address us.

My partner once received a card from a colleague who wrote, “You are the only person I have ever known who, when you ask me how I am, wait patiently for an answer.”

Whether it’s someone’s passing greeting in the hallway, or opening remark in the office lunchroom, or conversation over a meal, it is respectful to listen and to consider their words, rather than just thinking of what we want to say next.

Maybe sometimes we really just don’t care!

Here’s the thing: the first step in having others care about us, is caring about the collective others out there.

We must never stop attempting to make real, honest conversational forays. Yes, we are entitled to be selective in our conversational partners, but not exclusive.

Honest and frequent self-evaluation can help us to breeze through social encounters.

Try it!  A whole new world of social ease will present itself.

Margaret Jean

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Autism Syndrome Disorder: Being Prepared for Your Child’s Assessment

You may have noticed some indicators in your child’s behaviour suggesting they could be on the Autism Syndrome Spectrum.

You ask about having your child assessed, which is free through the BC Autism Assessment Network (BCAAN). You discover that if you put your child’s name on the wait list immediately, you will have to wait approximately sixteen months before your child is assessed.

Michele Shilvock, a behaviour analyst (BA) with a master’s degree in education advises that the sooner you can get your child on a wait list the better.

It is not only the advantages that can be provided once funding is in place, but also the range of funding which makes an early application desirable.

Government funding varies according to age, with the funding for children under six established at $22 000 per year. But for children over six the annual funding is only $6000.

Therefore, in order to get the greatest benefit from available services in anticipation of your child attending school, your preschool child needs to be in the system, awaiting assessment as early as possible.

As Shilvock pointed out in a recent online seminar sponsored by the BC Autism Society, You can always take yourself off the list if you find that you signed up in error.

The free assessment is a one-hour, one-time visit!

This is very different from a private, client paid assessment[i] which consists of several interviews with different professionals, at a total cost of between $1500 and $2500.

The positive aspect of the waiting period for the free assessment is that it can be a fruitful time for gathering information that will help ensure that your child is accurately and thoroughly assessed.

Shilvock is clear that you will need to clearly and concisely express and confirm your child’s behaviour in a very short period of time.

The brief glimpse that you provide of your child during the free assessment can be enhanced by videos of their behaviour under a variety of physical and emotional conditions, journals logging interactive activities or possibly exhibiting a lack of emotional control, stimming or unusual repetition in play or conversation.

If possible, enlist the help of others, such as daycare workers, preschool workers, coaches, or close relatives to record your child’s behaviours as well.

Above all, Shilvock says, be honest and realistic. Sugar coating your child’s behaviours at this crucial juncture could have devastating long-term consequences.

 

[i] Please see the resource page for B.C. professionals available for private assessment processes.

 

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Aspies & Social Relationships: Where Our Problem Lies in Interpreting Facial Expression: The Prefrontal Cortex.

As Aspies, we know we have difficulty reading facial expression in conversation.  But why?

This is a question that Arlin Cunic addresses in her article Are Asperger’s Disorder and Social Anxiety Disorder the Same*.

I was fascinated to learn that when we are in conversation with others, how anyone reads facial expressions is determined by the routing that occurs in our brains.

In the case of a person with Asperger’s, the brain sends the image for processing to the Prefrontal Cortex.  This is the area of the brain that deals with judgments and planning.

In the Prefrontal Cortex, logic rules.

However, conversations between two people in a relationship are often fraught with underlying emotion, an aspect of the exchange that is unrecognized in the Prefrontal Cortex.

So, how do neuro-typicals process facial expression?

In most people, the translation of facial expression occurs in a different area of the brain. The amygdala, Cunic states, is where emotion rules and this is the part of the brain to which conversational signals are transmitted and processed in non-Aspies .

And other people, when reading facial expressions, will have an automatic emotional response.

This does not happen in Aspie brains, where the emotional message is subjected instead to logical analysis.

This logic-based interpretation of emotional content is one reason why, then, some of us are hugely challenged in the area of building and maintaining relationships.

Take an instance where someone we love has a life-long dream of being an actress or an architect.  Or when a partner says they need more touching, a more physical expression of our love.

When they convey to us that they want to pursue that dream or they need us to be more emotionally connected to them, we are most likely to process this information objectively.

We may list the pros and cons, the factors in favour, and the factors that weigh against this possibility.

But we may not have the emotional comprehension, the emotional connection necessary to understand how important this issue is to our loved one.

We may even create ‘logical’ defenses or arguments, objective discussions clearly designed to show why it is not a good idea at this time to fulfil the other’s wishes.

This can be hurtful to our partners, as it illustrates a complete lack of understanding of and empathy with our partner’s emotional needs.

Most likely we will nevertheless continue to process the information logically, because the prefrontal cortex is uniquely wired to deal only with rational and logical considerations.

As a result, we may be unable to comprehend why anyone would even want to do something that to us seems frivolous and unnecessary.

We may angrily protest that our partner has heard nothing we have said.

In fact, the opposite is true.  We have not heard what they have said.

We may well be incapable of doing so, unless we stop and listen.  Unless we can accept that there is something in the message that we are not getting.  Unless we allow them to lead us to that understanding.

Perhaps the person who wants to try a different career already has a good paying job that they would put at risk.

Maybe life together is quite pleasantly predictably organized and pursuing the new occupation would be disruptive both to the current routine and your joint finances.

Logically, their dream makes no sense to us, and therefore we may deem it invalid.

We may not be able to recognize the emotion and passion that accompanies these and other conversations.  We may even deem the expression of their needs as inconsequential, a foolish request.

The relationship will probably end here, because we simply cannot ‘get’ the other person’s point of view.  We are attempting to successfully process with logic, a request or desire that requires an emotional interpretation, and emotional support.

Knowing that we may well fall short in emotional support of our partners can give us pause.  We can stop and reconsider what they are saying to us.

We may never fully understand or empathize with the emotion that accompanies their need, but I believe we can learn to recognize when these conversations are happening.

We can learn to express appropriate responses, and commit to behaviours that acknowledge another’s emotional needs.

Is it worth it?  Giving in, when logic argues against it?  Think about the relationship and what it means to you, how being together enriches your life.  Think it through, and then decide.

Yours truly,

Margaret Jean.

*To read Cunic’s article go to :  https://www.verywellmind.com/how-is-aspergers-related-to-social-anxiety-disorder-3024753

 

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Young Adult & Adult Aspies: Who Is In Charge of Your Life?

Margaret Jean

Who will navigate us successfully through life to success?  To achieve the goals we set for ourselves?

Dr. Phil as he is commonly known, says it has to be us.  Nobody else. And he has developed a set of what he calls “Life Laws” which he has used to help many of his clients find their way out of seemingly hopeless situations.

In his book, Life Strategies: Doing What Works, Doing What Matters, Dr. Phillip McGraw stresses that what is vital is “…understanding and controlling the cause-and-effect relationships of life; in other words, using your knowledge to make things happen the way you want them to.”

That we are responsible for learning the social strategies that will get us where we want to go, is probably, as Aspies, the last thing we want to hear.

But whether or not you are familiar with Dr. Phil’s non-nonsense TV Show style of therapy, I…

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Aspies: Building Upon Success

One day my older daughter came home from school, excited to show us that she had just learned how to do cartwheels. Beverly demonstrated this new ability several times, making it look easy.  Her younger sister, Suzanne, wanted to try doing cartwheels, too. But each time she tried she fell over sideways, and after a few attempts she stopped trying.

Watching from the kitchen window, I saw her disappointment.  Quickly drying my hands, I went out to her.

“I can’t do cartwheels,” she said, visibly upset.

“Oh, I’m sure you can!  It just takes practice.”

Bev told us how: “Try to picture where your body is when it’s in the air. Think about where you want your legs to be, and how you want to land.”  We all tried it together.

Sue and I landed in a crumpled heap.  Sue laughed at seeing her Mom try something  only kids usually do.

We kept at it.  Finally we both did cartwheels, keeping our legs straight and landing cleanly.  Bev congratulated us on our success.

Such a small moment in our lives. But what a powerful impact that learning experience had for me!

Weeks later I was offered the position of Director of a small museum and art gallery on an interim basis.  I had very little experience, having worked there only part time for a few months the previous year. I also had no office experience, let alone administrative experience. And new exhibits were coming into the gallery!  My first reaction was to refuse.

Then I remembered the cartwheel experience. Was everything really that simple? I wondered.

If so, then I could break the museum job down into a few basic steps. I needed to understand what was required of me, visualize how that could be done and then put those proceesses into effect.

In the six months that I was Interim Director I used every resource at hand.  My volunteers were women who had retired from various professional positions and one of them set up the office administration.  When she reviewed the system with me we fine tuned it together.

When I found an infestation in one of the permanent displays, I conferred with a UBC professor who advised me on how to deal with the current problem and prevent future similar issues.

Professionals from other galleries gave me advice on hanging, lighting and installing exhibits.

Did I celebrate this success?  I’m not sure, so probably not.  Yet that is what experts tell us to do.

A celebration is an acknowledgement that actively reinforces our understanding of our ability to achieve the goals we set for ourselves.

The rite of celebration ensures that we will be more confident, ready and even eager to accept the next challenge.

What are your recent successes?

Maybe it was something very simple like phoning to get the interest rate on your credit card reduced. Were you polite, positive, and interacting well with the agent on the phone?

Perhaps it was a successful coffee date with a friend.  Did you listen attentively and engage with their train of thought?

Or maybe it was something more difficult, like taking a test which required weeks of preparation, or completing a long-term project.  What steps did you take to help make success possible?

However simple or complex, when you do well, acknowledge your success!

We can tend to focus on what went wrong.  When you do so, learn from it!  What will you do differently next time?

As when doing cartwheels, looking at why you failed is important to the next success. Temporary failure is only a negative if you get stuck on blaming yourself.

Instead, think of what you could have done differently, and visualize it happening. Just like having floppy legs when doing cartwheels, acknowledge the problem, clearly imagine the adjustments you will make, and move on.

When we focus upon and acknowledge our achievements we help to ensure many more successes in the future!

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Flat Affect: The Flip Side

What if our Flat Affect has a ‘flip side’?

What if Flat Affect could even be a selective, evolutionary advantage?

Are Aspies perhaps actually more appropriately aligned to deal with the great variety of societal conflicts currently confronting the world?

I have been researching prosody[i] or the inflections, physical[ii] and vocal, that make up our conversations.  Numerous studies[iii] indicate that not all peoples interpret conversational inflections in the same way.

For instance, as a young man working in South America, my friend, Richard, realized that in some Chilean, Peruvian and Bolivian subcultures, it was not wise to show his teeth when smiling.  He found the baring of teeth could sometimes be mistaken for an aggressive attitude.

Research by psychologist Carlos Crivelli and anthropologist Sergio Jarillo (see references below) indicates that primitive societies often do not read facial expressions in the same way as European/North American cultures.  In fact, they found some of our ‘obvious’ expressions baffling.

Is the increased ‘mingling’ of previously geographically separate cultures, each of which has established its own distinctive non-verbal communication, less of a problem for us Aspies with our Flat Affect?

Does inscrutability lead to less misunderstanding of the distinctive facial ‘cues’ which neural typicals are confidently projecting?

Here’s a radical thought! What if our Flat Affect has advantages which outweigh its well–known disadvantages?

What if our lack of facial expression is not necessarily a negative quality?  Could it instead be a genetic variation which facilitates our participation in a global society?

We live in an increasingly internationally diverse culture.  Different facial expressions can send conflicting and sometimes even threatening messages, depending on the culture in which we find ourselves. Under those circumstances, wouldn’t Flat Affect be a good thing?

And consider this: so much of our current communication takes place on the internet where little or no facial expression is involved—emails, chat rooms, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. Are Aspies then the children of a world society where conversation is solely based on the verbal rather than on time-honored inflected conversation?

In a shrinking world where uniquely defined cultures more often ‘bump up’ against each other perhaps we are the best prepared to diffuse possible misunderstandings, rather than further igniting them!

[i] https://www.spectrumnews.org/news/social-communication-autism-explained

[ii] Facial Action Coding studies by Jennifer Fugate as reported in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Talking to Strangers pages 147 to 152.

[iii] Sergio Jarillo & Carlos Crivelli  as commented upon in Gladwell’s Talking to Strangers pg.154 to 159 and abstract from:

https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2016-19236-001

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Asperger’s Flat Affect: Is it always a Disadvantage?

In our Aspie world, we often misread what people are saying to us.

We can not only fail to transmit appropriate non-verbal clues with our message, but also find it difficult to notice and interpret these clues in remarks directed to us.

We can have difficulty detecting and decoding what is sometimes called prosody—facial expressions and verbal inflections in tone, stress and rhythm that give added meaning to speech.

Because of this lack of awareness regarding certain conversational signals, we can mistake an insult for a compliment, a denial for permission or an unpleasant remark for a friendly one. 

Yes, Flat Affect can be a problem for Aspies. Sometimes we blatantly misunderstand … with unpleasant, even embarrassing consequences!

The communication confusion caused by our Aspies Flat Affect is something we spend a lifetime working to eliminate. But can there actually also be a hidden advantage to the Flat Affect?

If we stop to reflect on these situations, we may realize that in some situations having Flat Affect may actually act in a protective way, saving us from embarrassing and distressing situations.  

Because Flat Affect can be seen to be a mask of inscrutability, without displaying fear or embarrassment, we are able to pause. 

We can ponder what the other speaker is really saying and actually meaning. We can patiently study any available cues before deciding how we wish to respond. 

Flat Affect then can be seen as a protection against vulnerability in an area in which we are otherwise most vulnerable: conversational decoding.

In other words, Flat Affect allows us to have a certain amount of control over what could be an anxiety-riddled situation.

Is flat affect necessarily disadvantageous?  Or could it be a selectively advantageous genetic variation?

More on that possibility in next week’s blog!

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Aspies: Challenge or Opportunity? Your Choice!

We all know about challenges like climbing Mount Everest or crossing the Pacific Ocean on a raft.  If you’re up for that kind of challenge, you may read no further. Congratulations!

For some Aspies, the word ‘challenging’ may seem to be synonymous with ‘anxiety-producing’, creating stress.

Experts tell us that whether stress becomes a positive or a negative factor in any particular situation depends upon how we respond to that stress.

Worrying creates unhealthy stress, whereas allowing stress to spur us on into action in a challenging situation ensures that it leads us forward into a positive learning experience.

For some Aspies, ‘challenging’ may even refer to those activities which for many people are common, almost daily occurrences.

For instance, what if you would like to go to a certain shop but it’s in an unfamiliar area of town; one into which you have never ventured. You don’t know how to get there, let alone how to get back!

Maybe you’re hesitant to take a bus because the numbers, the routes and the schedules can be quite confusing.

Breaking down a challenge like this into its relatively simple components will allow you to realize that you can resolve each of them, separately, quite successfully.

You could download a schedule for the number of the bus you need to take to get to your desired location.  When you are ready, go to the nearest bus stop.  When that particular bus comes, take it.

Carefully observe what roads the bus is taking, what shops and restaurants you are passing, or which other points of interest are along the way.  You could make a mental, or even a paper or e-note of them.

When you get to your destination you may not wish to initially venture too far from the bus stop.

Familiarize yourself with the three or four blocks around the bus depot, note the street names and any other unique or ‘landmark’ buildings, parks or memorable natural landscape features.

Once you have experienced the bus route and the nature of the surroundings at your desired destination, you can take the bus back home again.

You might find it helpful to do this two or three times until you feel comfortable in your knowledge of the route, how long the trip takes and the nature of the area surrounding your destination.

What will you have accomplished?  Just this: you will no longer need to wait for someone else to have the time to drive you where you want to go. You will be able to move about based on your own agenda, not that of your parents, your siblings or your friends.

You will be in control of your day, and just a little bit more in control of your own life.

And you will feel a sense of success, maybe even of triumph!

Becoming more knowledgeable about your community and its surrounding areas can increase your confidence, giving you a greater sense of independence.

You will find that knowing where you are going and that you can get there on your own can be exhilarating and liberating.

The result is that your sense of self-respect will receive a tremendous boost, encouraging you to undertake similar challenges, in a similar manner, with far less anxiety in the future.

It is important to realize that falling into the trap of simply avoiding the initial anxiety which may accompany a novel task will not get you where you want to go. But meeting the challenge will enrich your life.

When we decide to take control of a situation in our lives, we ask something of ourselves.

When we respond positively and successfully we present ourselves with an opportunity for growth, which involves meeting, accepting and overcoming challenge after challenge.

Ultimately, we become our own heroes, infusing ourselves with the courage, even the desire to face whatever challenges present themselves. In this way we can view new challenges as opportunities for enhancing our experiences.

Our reward is a life fully and joyfully lived, with gratitude for challenges which come our way.

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Challenges: Help For Aspie Anxiety

When your teacher or professor assigns homework, when your parents or your roommate ask you to clean up your room, or to look after some household chores—what’s up with that?

Perhaps your roomates want you to take responsibility for two meals a week.  Or maybe you’ve made a commitment to yourself to exercise three times a week or walk six blocks a day.

How can challenges that seem worrying actually help reduce anxiety?

Anxiety is a huge issue for many of us with Asperger’s.  There is no point in asking why we often see six thousand compounding facets in every single little incident in our lives, or why simple chores like washing the car or cleaning our rooms can morph into multi-day events.

 The question is, why would we challenge ourselves with any of these responsibilities at all?

The answer is simple.  By making demands of ourselves, and by disciplining ourselves to attempt to meet those demands, we give ourselves room and encouragement to grow.

By repeatedly doing simple manageable tasks we develop routines and a self-confidence which can serve us well when we encounter more complex issues.

When we attempt to accommodate another’s reasonable demands, we acquire and continually enhance the skill of determining exactly what is required of us.

And we practice discerning how best to initiate the task in the most efficient way so as to successfully complete it with the least stress … and perhaps even a certain degree of pleasure!

This translates into the essential life-skills of listening, comprehending, asking questions about the process when necessary, and successfully completing the task.

We are rewarded with the personal satisfaction which comes with the completion of any worthwhile accomplishment!

And the more that is asked of you, either by others or by yourself, the greater you will feel challenged.

But, the greater the challenge successfully met, the greater the personal satisfaction.

Challenges are not only necessary for our personal and professional growth, they are a fast-track to ensuring our lives remain interesting and fulfilling.

 

 

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