“Cats Are Autistic Dogs” Part II: Notes on Asperger’s

ASD PuzzleThe response in my office and on the web has been so positive to my previous posting on Asperger’s features, that I thought I would share some more thoughts.  I would also like to thank the people over at CafeMom.com for adding my blog to their impressive Autism/Asperger’s/PDD awareness group.

  • Aspies are usually the offspring of Asperger’s fathers who are socially shy and usually have careers in engineering, computers, accounting, or the math/science fields.  The moms of Aspies tend to be teachers, social worker types who are very outgoing, social, and often Type A or ‘organized’ personalities.
  • Siblings of Aspies tend to be gifted/talented, have ADHD or OCD features, or even have anorexia diagnoses (there is a perfection element somewhere in the gene pool).
  • Group projects in school are one of the biggest difficulties because of the social element.  This is the same reason why Aspies do so well in solitary occupations like computer programming but then begin to struggle when they are promoted to management.  Aspies do not manage people and social interactions well.
  • We don’t give Aspies enough credit for how hard they work during the school day.  They keep it together during school and then ‘fall apart’ or are completely exhausted when they return home.  They work at least three times as hard to keep up with the social environment inherent in the school setting.  REMEMBER: Aspies need to learn both academics and social skills in school while neurotypicals only need to learn academics (the social aspect comes naturally).  Imagine the energy differences between the two groups after the same school day!
  • Aspies in history were found in monasteries or were carpenters, jewelery/watch makers, and explorers.
  • Young Aspies may look like children but they act like adults.  Their social difficulties attract bullies as well as female peers who are the ‘caregiver’ type.
  • We usually make the error of telling Aspies, “I shouldn’t have to tell you…” when in fact we have to instruct them every step of the way when it comes to social interactions.  Remember to use logic, not punishment.
  • Aspies value intelligence more than anything.
  • When trying to get an Aspie to stop a behavior, use their desire for intellect to your advantage.  For example, if your child has difficulty sharing, try telling him, “Smart people share.”  Sometimes Aspies will hear foul language and repeat it without knowing the meaning behind it.  Telling the child, “Smart people don’t use those words” will usually do the trick.  The other technique is to exaggerate your response to the word such as holding your hands over your ears if your child repeats something inappropriate and yelling “Ouch!  That hurts my ears!”
  • Aspies often tune out during class lectures or social situations because their thought is, “If this is not one of my strong interests then why should I involve myself with it?”
  • The rigidity in thinking inherent among Aspies also creates difficulty converting thoughts and emotions into speech (communicating feelings) as well as getting thoughts from one’s head onto paper for a report in school, for example.
  • As the chronological age of the Aspie increases, the emotional, maturational, and social development stays at a younger level.  Younger neurotypical siblings will eventually surpass their older sibs in social and emotional development.
  • Aspies look at the action, not at the motives of the action.  So when they are ‘hit’ by a peer who was giving them a joking tap on the shoulder, they tend to retaliate because their thinking says, “He hit me, I ‘m going to hit him back!”  Guess who ends up in the principal’s office?
  • The nature and severity of Aspie symptoms vary dramatically from day-to-day.  This is a ‘swiss-cheese’ developmental presentation with no clear, consistent pattern.  This not only complicates the diagnosis, but schools often try to argue that a child does not have Asperger’s because of having ‘good’ days at times.  They also say things like ‘he is so smart’ or ‘he makes good eye contact.’  Parents often know that a particular day is a ‘good one’ versus a full-on ‘Aspie day’.  Also, full moons actually seem to have an effect on severity of symptoms!
  • Aspies misinterpret behaviors.  An adult may raise their voice to be heard in a crowded room or to make a point.  An Aspie will always see shouting as anger and thus the reasons for raising one’s voice must be explored in depth.
  • If your Aspie child is upset, consider the following:
  • People are confusing to Aspies.  Thus, you want to eliminate the social context when the child is upset.  This is not the time for a face-to-face chat…face the wall if you need to!  (Dr. Mark sits to the side of the child and speaks in the same direction the child is looking..don’t worry about eye contact at this moment!).
  • Tell the child, “I don’t need to know what happened right now.”
  • Keep emotionally calm yourself.  Adding your own emotion at this time is like pouring gas on a fire.  Be sure to tell the child, “I’m not upset with you.”
  • Begin helping the child to calm down by suggesting closing their eyes, deep breathing, and other relaxation strategies.
  • Compliment the child and give them something to look forward to.  “I think you handled this situation with intelligence and I know that the next time you are upset you will do another good job.  What do you say we go look at your book of the planets?!”
  • Children with Asperger’s should be allowed to complete a project on emotions/social skills at least one hour each week while in school beginning in Kindergarten through 12 years of age.  Schools need to do a better job of teaching these children the Hidden Curriculum.
  • For every hour an Aspie is social, they need about an hour to unwind and decompress.  Thus, there is not enough time to unwind after a full school day.  Ever wonder why the stress level is so high during the school week?  How about the trouble getting homework completed?

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, PDD-NOS

2 responses to ““Cats Are Autistic Dogs” Part II: Notes on Asperger’s

  1. Lisa

    Hi Dr. Bowers,

    I added it to the Cafemom website. Glad you got such a positive response!


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