“Cats are Autistic Dogs”: Notes on Asperger’s

The title of this posting is taken from Dr. Tony Attwood’s discussion on Asperger’s last week.   As indicated in a previous posting, I had the opportunity, or shall I say privilege, to spend an entire day hearing Tony speak his thoughts on Autism and more specifically Asperger’s Syndrome.  I thought I would share some talking points as they relate to Asperger’s for those of you who were unable to attend.  Please note that the term ‘Aspie’ is not derogatory and is instead embraced by many individuals with Asperger’s when describing themselves.

  • Aspies use intellect, not intuition.  Only logic works when trying to discipline…punishment does not work!
  • Handwriting is a huge problem for Aspies, but handwriting is a 19th Century skill.  Teach kids to type!
  • Aspies may tune out because if it is not one of their key interests, then why learn it?
  • Preoccupation with specific topics of interest produces euphoria and enjoyment that Aspies cannot obtain otherwise.
  • Girls are able to hide their symptoms so well that diagnosis may be missed or delayed as much as 10 years.  Girls will often escape into imagination, fantasy, and fiction and “pretend to be normal.”
  • Asperger’s includes all neurotypical characteristics magnified to the most extreme degree.
  • There is a compulsion to complete tasks that Aspies experience which makes transitions difficult.
  • Aspies generally DON’T learn from mistakes..and they don’t naturally know what else to do when faced with a challenging social situation.
  • Anxiety begins to be expressed in the form of avoidant or controlling behaviors as a means of coping with uncomfortable feelings.
  • When emotions run high, there are three ways Aspies try to repair them: 1) Aggression/Rage, 2) Isolation, and 3) Avoidance via heightened special interests (e.g., video games).
  • Sadness and anxiety are expressed by Aspies in the form of anger, especially in school when Aspies are not allowed to use one of the above three ways of coping/repairing heightened emotions.
  • For Aspies, anger is the ‘acceptable’ way to express sadness.  It also allows the individual to get the uncomfortable rise in emotional feelings over with by exploding and then feeling better quickly as if nothing ever happened.
  • Top three trigger words guaranteed to get a rise out of Aspies: 1) No, 2) Wait, and 3) Change
  • An Aspies’ need for affection can fit inside a cup.  A neurotypical’s need for affection can fit inside a bucket.
  • Aspies generally have an intense dislike for public praise.
  • ‘Cats are Autistic Dogs’ is an observation by Attwood meant to illustrate the differences in social abilities/interests of the two animals.
  • For More on this Topic, view Part II of this post here.

Dr. Mark Bowers is a Licensed Pediatric Psychologist and Autism/Anxiety expert at the Ann Arbor Center for Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

© 2009 Mark Bowers, Ph.D.


Filed under Asperger's, Autism

4 responses to ““Cats are Autistic Dogs”: Notes on Asperger’s

  1. Lisa

    Dr. Bowers,

    Great information.

    Asperger’s and girls – I find that topic to be very interesting. I have a friend with a 4 year old daughter that doesn’t seem to be quite right. (My son is the same age with a dx of pdd-nos. We also see Dr. Solomon.) So what do you do differently when dx a girl vs a boy that you suspect may have a pervasive development disorder?

    • Lisa–
      Thanks for your response. I wouldn’t say that I do anything differently with regard to a diagnostic evaluation of a boy versus a girl. The younger the child, the less likely they are able to (or aware enough to) hide or ‘fake’ an absence of symptoms. The concern of masking symptoms is for older girls in the preteen or teen years and on the Asperger’s end of the spectrum. Certainly some things change regarding the treatment approach depending on the personality of the child, but I am not aware of anything in the research literature that suggests that girls should be addressed differently than boys. In general, girls internalize symptoms in many diagnostic categories and can be more difficult to “spot,” diagnostically speaking. For example, the female ADD presentation is often one of daydreaming that can be easily missed or misinterpreted (resulting in false negatives for diagnosis or lack of diagnosis when one is present). However, the externalizing tendencies of boys can often lead to false positives (diagnosis when there is not one) and diagnoses that are based on behavior but not on underlying causes. Take, for example, the diagnosis (which I think is a ridiculous label) of Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Every child and adolescent can be diagnosed with this at one time or another based purely on their behavior. However, behavior does not explain causes! The other frustrating aspect of the boy/girl diagnostic picture that I often hear from parents is how pediatricians tend to tell parents not to worry about language or other delays among boys as they will likely “grow out of it.” In the case of autism spectrum diagnoses, a girl may be more likely to be diagnosed early due to the sentiment that boys generally have more language or developmental delays than girls. In general, you are still looking for the autistic spectrum presentation regardless of gender, and if you think something is not quite right, an evaluation is always better from the rather safe than sorry perspective. Dr. Attwood has some additional thoughts on this topic at the following link. Also, when a girl with autism an spectrum diagnosis enters the tween and teen years, a whole new set of issues emerge and a recent book is tackling many of the issues encountered. I hope this helps!

      Readers should note that the best source of information for prevention, diagnosis, and treatment is their psychologist, pediatrician, or other appropriately-trained and credentialed members of their healthcare team. For additional information or to schedule an appointment with Dr. Bowers, please visit http://www.aacenter.org.

  2. NW Ohio

    Thanks for the great blog. Very helpful and clear.

    I am wondering what you suggest in terms of getting those “older” undiagnosed “cats” into therapy when one of their “kittens” has the DX of Aspergers.

    As the spouse of that “cat,” I probably need him in therapy more than he thinks he needs it….though our daughter could probably benefit too.

    Do I just get him in the door of docs helping us and hope they can help me to get him to see where he (and us) can benefit? Exactly what kind of aspie logic convinces cats to engage in therapy?

    Thanks –

    • Thanks for the comment and question. This is a difficult scenario that I am quite familiar with. I find that a couple of approaches tend to help get the process started. One can be some discussion on behalf of the spouse to consider couple’s therapy as a means of improving the relationship and communication. Calling it “Asperger’s” right out of the gate may cause panic and resistance. If your husband were depressed I am guessing that you would make a similar request for treatment of some sort. Unfortunately, most adults prefer to ‘address’ their symptoms with medications rather than talking through them and there is no medication for Asperger’s so there will be talking as a treatment of choice. The next, and more likely option to get him hooked into the idea of counseling is to explain to him that he needs some coaching in order to help your daughter make the most out of her own therapy. A parent with Asperger’s trying to help a child with Asperger’s improve her social skills is like two blind-folded people trying to give a guided tour in a foreign country. If you are already in the door with your daughter’s therapist, and that therapist has expertise in Asperger’s, then this should already be a point of discussion. If it is not, then I would encourage you to call the therapist and see how you might proceed in this manner. I hope this helps.

      Readers should note that the best source of information for prevention, diagnosis, and treatment is their psychologist, pediatrician, or other appropriately-trained and credentialed members of their healthcare team. For additional information or to schedule an appointment with Dr. Bowers, please visit http://www.aacenter.org.

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