Category Archives: behaviours

About Autism Syndrome Disorder: Did You Know….

Bev & I blogMy adult daughter, who is diagnosed with Asperger’s, came home one day and told me how surprised she was to find that most people when they enter a room?  Look at the people.

“I always look at the layout of the room,” she explained, “how the seats are laid out, where the doors are, where the teacher is working from, what equipment is in the room, where the windows are.  I never thought to look at the people.”

This is an example of what Dr. Jim Tanaka of UVic says about difference in perception between those with and those without ASD.  It also illustrates Simon Baron-Cohen’s point that kids on the spectrum find systems more fascinating than people.

Other problems of perception happen because of focus.  At SFU, I was an English Lit major.  It took me ten years to get my degree as a mature student.  I can’t believe in all that time, I never realized that SFU has an Autism and Developmental Disorders Lab.  I was totally focused on English classes, which were in different wings than the sciences.

I now know that lab is headed by Dr. Grace Iarocci, and its current focus is the way in which visual perception is affected both negatively and positively by processes of attention.

This year, they’re co-hosting three community events about ASD kids, their families and the quality of life.  The idea is to open a discussion about quality of life issues for ASD  individuals, care givers, professionals and families.  It’s free, open to the public.  Watch their website for scheduling:

Dr. Iarocci apparently has influence with the government and bodies determining ASD funding, so please do attend and voice your opinion loud and clear.

Yours truly,

Margaret Jean.

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Do ASD Kids Love Trains?

Dr. Grace Iarocci, director of SFU’s Autism and other Developmental Disorders Lab is currently managing a research project about children ages 6 to 19 years who are fascinated with trains.

This reminds me of a study done in the UK in 2001.  The UK study took 81 parents of autistic children and found that 57% of the  parents surveyed said that their autistic child related to Thomas the Tank Engine before relating to any children.

To quote the SFU notice:

“The goal of this study is to understand how special interests develop, how they affect learning about trains and how this learning is related to learning about social things.

For example, do we recognize trains as easily as we recognize faces? Ultimately, we want to understand how we might make use of the high internal motivation to learn about objects and apply that to aspects of children’s learning that they might be less interested in.

Participants will engage in game-like computer activities, paper and pencil tasks, and other actives at Simon Fraser University, Burnaby campus. Scheduling is flexible and there is a small monetary thank you for participating (movie pass, Chapters gift card, or cash).

All of our researchers have undergone research training, criminal records checks, and have experience working with children on the autism spectrum.

For more information and to sign up, please email Sarah at or call our research lab at 778-782-6746. There are limited appointments available so sign up

Remember, your participation in these research projects insures that your voice will be heard, so please give them a call!

Yours truly,

Margaret Jean.

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Asperger’s Syndrome: What It Is and How It Translates To Behaviour In the Workplace.


My Daughter, Bev, shared some of her work experiences.

My Daughter, Bev, shared some of her work experiences.

Recently I was asked to speak to the Ladner Rotary Club about Asperger’s Syndrome.  I gratefully agreed.  Any opportunity to spread knowledge about Asperger’s is to be seized and capitalized upon!

The first person I turned to was my daughter, Bev, who is a Special Education Assistant in a large highschool.  She also has Asperger’s herself, as does her older son.  Between him and me, she sometimes found herself with her hands full!

Ever practical, Bev immediately sized up the situation and decided we should talk about Asperger’s in the workplace.

Here is a brief bit of Bev’s part of the talk:

Bev talked about how anxiety over minor problems can seem overwhelming to someone with Asperger’s.  About the difficulty people on the spectrum can have with the inability to remember and recognize co-workers, even after working with them for a considerable time, something Dr. Jim Tanaka of UVic refers to as “face blindness”.

She also talked about how rules and structure are the spectrum person’s comfort zone, how her son said of his job, “They have routine, Mom.  Rules,  Yes!” And how it was his love of structure and routine that earned him a full time job almost immediately after he started in a temporary position with the company.

People in the spectrum need training and guidance.  “Tell us what to do and how to do it,” Bev said, “and we will gladly get the job done.”

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Asperger’s Syndrome: Origins.

Margaret Jean, Irene Good and Beverly at the Ladner Rotary Luncheon.

Margaret Jean, Irene Good and Beverly at the Ladner Rotary Luncheon.

Recently, I was asked to give a talk to the Ladner Rotary Club on Asperger’s.   The date they had in mind was only four days away.  Probably their scheduled speaker bailed, but I’m just happy to have a chance to increase awareness.  It’s all good, right?   Four days?  I could do this.

I phoned my daughter, Bev right away.

“A room full of business people?”  Bev asked.  “Great.  We’ll talk about Asperger’s in the workplace.”  See why I called her?  Bev always knows what to do.

“Okay, I’ll talk about the origins of Asperger’s just to be sure they know what it is, and you do the workplace part,”  I said.  She agreed.

Here’s a bit of my part of the speech.

Thanks for inviting us to speak today.  Free lunch is always good.  But imagine if someone, say a co-worker, asks a person to lunch, and right away that person becomes anxious?  Clearly apprehensive.  Wouldn’t that be amazing?  But for some people with Asperger’s, it wouldn’t be unusual.

So what is Asperger’s, anyway?  And why is it called that?

Asperger’s came to be known as such this way:  In 1944, in Austria, a paediatrician detected some odd behaviour in four of his young patients.  They did not socialize well with the other children.  Their non-verbal communication skills were virtually non-existent.  When they talked?  Their language was stilted or formal.  And they seemed to each have a favorite topic which was of intense interest to them, and therefore dominant in their conversations.  And finally, they seemed to have little or no empathy with the other children.

These findings were published, but only in Germany.  The doctor’s name was Dr. Hans Asperger.

It wasn’t until 1981 when a British physician and psychiatrist, a Dr. Lorna Wing, published several case studies of her own, that Asperger’s was introduced to the world.  Dr. Wing’s case studies exhibited similar symptoms as the children the Austrian doctor had observed, and she referred to them as having “Asperger’s Syndrome”.

Her studies were widely read and published, and her 1996 study is considered by some to be the definitive work on Asperger’s.

In 1992 the World Health Organization added Asperger’s to its list of diseases and disorders.  In 1994, The American Psychiatric Association added it to their manual of Mental Disorders.

But today, researchers such as Simon Baron-Cohen of Cambridge University and Dr. Jim Tanaka of UVic emphasize that Asperger’s is not so much a disorder, disability or disease; It is more a difference in how the brain processes information.

Stay tuned next week for Bev’s part of the talk!

Yours truly,

Margaret Jean.

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Asperger’s Syndrome: What is it, exactly?

What is Asperger’s syndrome?

This article is taken from

Asperger’s syndrome is a developmental disorder that makes it very hard to interact with other people. Your child may find it hard to make friends because he or she is socially awkward.

People with Asperger’s syndrome have some traits of autism. For example, they may have poor social skills, prefer routine, and not like change. But unlike those who have autism, children with Asperger’s syndrome usually start to talk before 2 years of age, when speech normally starts to develop.

Asperger?s syndrome is a lifelong condition, but symptoms tend to improve over time. Adults with this condition can learn to understand their own strengths and weaknesses. And they can improve their social skills.

Both Asperger’s syndrome and autism belong to the group of disorders called pervasive developmental disorders (pdd).

What causes Asperger’s syndrome?

The exact cause of Asperger’s syndrome is not known. And there is no known way to prevent it. It tends to run in families. So researchers are doing studies to look for a genetic cause.

What are the symptoms?

Asperger’s syndrome is usually noticed at age 3 or later. Symptoms vary, so no two children are the same. Children with Asperger?s:

  • Have a very hard time relating to others. It doesn’t mean that they avoid social contact. But they lack instincts and skills to help them express their thoughts and feelings and notice others’ feelings.
  • Like fixed routines. Change is hard for them.
  • May not recognize verbal and nonverbal cues or understand social norms. For example, they may stare at others, not make eye contact, or not know what personal space means.
  • May have speech that?s flat and hard to understand because it lacks tone, pitch, and accent. Or they may have a formal style of speaking that?s advanced for their age.
  • May lack coordination; have unusual facial expressions, body postures, and gestures; or be somewhat clumsy.
  • May have poor handwriting or have trouble with other motor skills, such as riding a bike.
  • May have only one or a few interests, or they may focus intensely on a few things. For instance, they may show an unusual interest in snakes or star names or may draw very detailed pictures.
  • May be bothered by loud noises, lights, or strong tastes or textures.

How is Asperger?s syndrome diagnosed?

If you are concerned about your child?s behavior or communication style, talk to your child?s doctor. He or she will ask you about your child?s development and ask if other people have noticed your child?s social problems.

The doctor may refer you to a specialist to confirm or rule out Asperger?s syndrome. The specialist may test your child?s learning style, speech and language, IQ, social and motor skills, and more.

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An Aspie Wonders About Neural Pathways

How are neural pathways set?  And why do some take almost instantly while others never seem to take?

What makes me wonder about this is the weirdest thing.  When we first moved into this apartment, I put a large storage cabinet against the far left wall in the dining room.  The next day, a friend whose advice I greatly value told me I had to switch it with the china cabinet.

This meant moving the storage cabinet to just inside the dining area wall, right off the kitchen, while moving the china cabinet over to the left.  I moved them.  I nearly cried just thinking about it, because after two months of packing and days of unpacking, the thought of unloading and moving this big cabinet was enough to break my heart.

It was loaded with everything from two drawers of files, to blankets and towels and office supplies, all of which had to be removed and replaced after the cabinet was moved.  But I did it.

The point is, that cabinet sat against the far left wall for one day, maybe two.  Now, two months later, whenever I go to get anything from that cabinet?  I walk right past it to the far left wall.  Right past it!

In other words, the neural pathway that told me where that cabinet was?  Formed immediately and took well!  But the new map?  The new location of that cabinet, even though as large as the cabinet is, as highly visible and much more convenient to the kitchen, that pathway obviously has difficulty imbedding itself in my brain.

What I would dearly love to know, is why?


Aspie Hideaways–I Could Use One Now!

Feeling very Aspergerish this morning, not wanting to leave the house, but committed to volunteering at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference.

In addition, there is church sometime today, my great meditational calm in the midst of the chaos of having the landlord’s stuff arrive at noon three days before we are slated to move out and five days before our tenancy officially ends.

And the finalization tomorrow of moving–packing all the very last things, picking a daughter up at the ferry, making sure there’s enough linens for her bed,   I put on a cheerful face each morning but confess to momentary flashes of crawling in a hole and hiding.

Years ago I was a park caretaker at William’s Park in Langley.  It was quite isolated, which I’m not sure I appreciated at the time.

And I remember when things got too hectic, after the crowds had gone, on sunny afternoons, I would take a quilt and slip down the hill.  I’d cross the first bridge and take a left along the creek to where a great copper beech tree stood, past it and behind a bank of pine trees.

I’d spread my quilt on the green grass, the burbling of the brook soothing, behind me.  Lie down and let the warm sun wash over me.

I’d let go of the whole world, and slide down into sleep.

Mmmm, that memory soothes me now.

But the day awaits.  And Asperger’s or no, I must get up and get going.

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An Aspie Moment of Recognition

No one knew about Asperger’s when I was growing up, so for sure no-one could have ever diagnosed my Grandmother.  I reminisce about both of us in “Unforgiving: Memoir of an Asperger Teen”.

I have my Grandmother’s diaries.  They play a crucial part in my memoir.  Grandma’s diaries helped me with the timeline, because she used the 5 year kind.

Recently my daughter who is also an Aspie, was working on a project for her photography class.  She asked for certain old photos and any old diary content that I thought might be relevant.

I gave her photocopies of some entries, and also some diaries.

When she returned them to me she pulled out a little notebook and said, “Whose writing is this?”

I told her it was my grandmother’s, my father’s mother, her great-grandmother, Maude Esme Adam.

“It’s like seeing my brain spread on the page,” she told me.  “I have always thought just like this, always been fascinated by certain scientific articles and trivia.  When I started reading this, I felt like I knew this person.  I knew how their mind worked.”

Amazing the way we discover connections with our past!

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Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Reading List For Parents and Adults Who Live On the Spectrum.

Like Sheldon, I like research.  Thus, books and therapies have been the topic of my latest blogs.  I have not tried any of the therapies myself but feel they are a resource worth looking into.

As for books, here is my personal rating of three recent reads.

1. Quirky Kids by Perri Klass MD and Eileen Costello MD.

Published in November 2003, this is the earliest of the books covered here, so some information may be outdated.  It is divided into three sections as follows:

1.  Noticing and dealing with difference in your child.  2.  Adjusting the home and school environment.  3. Science of Autism, including meds and other drugs.

What sets this book apart for me, is the inclusion of parental anecdotes which illustrate concerns, anxieties and solutions .

My take?  It’s a comforting book for parents of ASD children.

2.  Understanding Autism for Dummies by Stephen Shore and Linda Rastelli.

Truly a professorial approach, this book could be called “Everything you wanted to know about autism but didn’t know who to ask”.  

Because the author himself is a person with autism spectrum disorder, he writes about the syndrome in a very positive way.  Quite refreshing.  

Information wise?  Autism for Dummies is a 10/10.

3.  FAST MINDS: How to Thrive if you have ADHD or think you might.  By Dr Craig Surman and Tim Bilkey.  February 2013 first edition.

Latest in this list of books, I found this a most practical guide.  Take the logic behind my weird schedule for instance.  The authors explain how my habits more than my brain, keep me up late at night until the wee hours of the morning.

Thus I’m often exhausted which can lead to poor motivation to do anything.  Doing nothing when I have lots to do makes me feel out of control.  That can be depressing.

But the doctors also explain how forming new habits can change this pattern, and what new habits need to be developed.  (they also explain the brain science behind developing new habits).

So I figured out I like to write between midnight and 5 a.m. because there are far fewer distractions at that time.

However, this is only productive if I am getting enough sleep at other times of the day.

And thanks to FAST MINDS, I now know to slot sleep with other scheduled tasks.  In other words, I can be organized about being weird!  How great is that?

I really like this book.  It has opened a lot of mental windows for me, helping me to see where a lot of my issues stem from organically.

Therefore?  In terms of being helpful?   I’d give this book a 13 out of 10.

Yours so very truly,

Margaret Jean.

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The Social Story: Carol Gray’s Teaching Tool for Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Unlike when I was a child, social skills training for children with Autism now abound.  New techniques are being developed and old ones revamped.  Techniques cover every approach from straight forward therapy to drama therapy and sports therapy.

In my research, I’ve noted that some highly experienced therapists and educators develop and hone their own training strategies over the course of their career.  Carol Gray is one such educator.

Based in Chicago, Gray has 22 years of experience working with children with ASD.  She found that what she refers to as ‘social stories’ are great tools for teaching children.  Stories tend to hold the child’s interest, especially if the child can easily relate to them.

According to Gray, each social story is crafted to suit one individual situation.  To develop an appropriate and effective social story requires research into the social situation creating issues for the child.

You can find some examples of social stories and the situations they were created to deal with at this website: and read testimonials at

And in my research, I have found that not all videos on You Tube describing themselves as social stories come even close to fitting the guide designed by Carol Gray.  I think it would be best to view the videos yourself first, and then decide if they would be truly helpful for your child or not!

Yours truly,

Margaret Jean

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