Tag Archives: Aspies

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


Tagged , , , ,

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 addl@sfu.ca 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.

Tagged , , ,

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!

Tagged ,

Steps To Socializing Your Aspie Teen.

As you can see from my last post, the issue of socializing is huge for Aspies.  This is especially true in the late pre-teen and early teen years.

Arranging a social event with a friend isn’t always the answer if the child with Asperger’s has trouble communicating in a meaningful way.  Just getting them together with  a “neurotypical” teen in a social setting isn’t going to help.  In fact, it can be disastrous.

Anna Matchneva from Burnaby BC works one on one with Asperger’s children, and this is what she suggested in a talk to parents last year.

First, limit the time for interaction to ‘safe’ time, that is time when the conversation will most likely be of mutual interest.

How do you do that?

Anna finds getting your teen Aspie to invite a friend for pizza and a movie is ideal.

First on the agenda is going to the movie.  When they are driving to the movie, they can talk about what movie they want to see and all the things they have heard about the movie.

Other topics may come up, but the drive to the theatre should not be too long, and the parent driving them can always intervene a little if necessary.

Next, at the movie, the parent drops them off.  The talk will be about arrangements to be picked up, how to buy the tickets and what snacks they want.  This is very safe also.

Once in the theater, everything should be good.  Although in my experience?  The Aspie child may have to be warned to be quiet and not comment during the movie, but save all their comments for afterward.

The time from the end of the movie to pick up should be minimal, to ensure that the conversational requirements don’t tax the Aspie child.

Then to the pizza parlour.  Again, conversation will center around the children’s preferences, and the movie action and how the children rate the movie.

After pizza, time for the guest to be dropped off at his/her home.

This kind of managed social time gives Aspie’s a sense of confidence which should ease both the child’s and the parent’s anxieties over social situations.

Let me know how it works if you try it, please!

Yours truly,

Margaret Jean.

Tagged , ,

For Aspies: Friendship and The Science Behind It.

This week I will pass on a blurb from the BC Autism Society about Anna’s upcoming talk this Monday, Nov 26.

This Coming Monday: Richmond ASBC Parents Group Meeting:
“The Art of Friendship and the Science Behind It”

by Anna Matchneva, M.Ed., BCBA, PEERS-Certified instructor

Anna has extensive experience in providing hands-on therapy for children
with ASD, conducting functional assessment and developing behavior support
plans, training and supervising intervention team staff, conducting skill
assessment and developing programs that address each child’s unique needs,
developing and facilitating play and social groups, and conducting parent
and professional workshops.

Anna is a PEERS-Certified instructor, under Dr Elizabeth Laugeson from UCLA.

“The Art of Friendship and the Science Behind It”

Is your child having trouble making and keeping friends? Friendships are
important in helping children develop emotionally and socially. In
interacting with friends, children learn important social skills, such as
how to communicate, cooperate, and solve problems. Some children, however,
have difficulty forming friendships. The solution: teach your children
specific social skills they need to connect with their peers. As parent, you
are the best person to help your child solve friendship problems by
expanding their peer network and working together to promote successful

PEERS (Program for the Evaluation and Enrichment of Relational Skills) is a
parent-assisted intervention focusing on teens in middle school and high
school who are having difficulty making or keeping friends. It is the
developmental extension of an evidence-based program known as Children’s
Friendship Training (Frankel & Myatt, 2003). PEERS has been field tested
most extensively on teens with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), to a
limited extent on teens with developmental disabilities and fetal alcohol
spectrum disorders (FASDs), and has recently undergone testing with teens
with attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Date: Monday, Nov 26, 2012
Time: 7-9pm
Location: Tyee room at Steveston Community Centre – 4111 Moncton Street,

Tagged , ,

Be Sociable–Pass The Baton!

The house was buzzing with conversation, so I knew everyone was chatting sociably. Being an Aspie I noticed when the buzz died down to just two voices.

Two people, fine, loving and caring people, were forcefully discussing a subject.  Even though they were mostly in agreement, they completely obliterated the table talk.   As an Aspie, I am always trying to learn from social situations, so I asked myself, how did they bring the pleasant social buzz to a dead halt?   Here is what I noticed.

  • They talked louder than necessary.

This prevented others from starting up conversations with anyone else.  It also made it easy for the eager talkers to “talk over” anyone attempting to join the conversation in normal tones.

  • They lectured, instead of conversing.

The difference is this:  when conversing, a person makes a statement and adds something to it, but then they raise a question or ask an opinion of someone else–and then listen to attentively to the response.  Two or three sentences with a question or just a plain stop, allows someone else to take up the conversation.

And what I realized?   Conversation’s like a relay–it’s not my job to carry the torch all the way to the finish line.  It’s my job to be the first to pass it on.

  • They used the social event to show how much they knew.

Whether or not that was their intent?  It was the impression I got.  You see, I heard another person tentatively offer a statement, and while he paused a moment to consider how to continue, the other two jumped in and snatched the conversation back.  He never did get another chance to contribute.

And what this means to me?  Is that the conversation wasn’t sociable. It was a platform.  The two individuals were using the conversation to show how clever they were about a subject.

Both these people are great friends and good human beings.  And I realized that both were unaware of what was happening around them.

Socializing is an interaction with other people, their ideas, interests and events. But–if you’re the only one talking, you’re like a runner in a relay race, going round and round without passing the baton.

The race is over. Your team is disappointed in your performance.  They expected to be included, to participate in a meaningful way.  Now, they are going to walk away, dismayed and determined not to have you on their team again.

 Like the runner who never passed the baton, the conversationalist who doesn’t give others a chance to talk long enough to contribute in a meaningful way to the conversation, is not likely to be welcome again.

Being sociable is as easy as passing the conversational baton–two or three sentences, acknowledge others who wish to speak, and listen attentively when they do.

Looking back, I can’t help but wonder how often I’ve been guilty of the same faux pas.  I’m sure I’m guilty of doing this on countless occasions.  The trick is, now that I know better?  I can stop myself, and draw others into the conversation..or change the topic altogether.

We keep learning, right?  That’s what we’re here for.

Love you.

Margaret Jean.

Tagged , ,
%d bloggers like this: