A First Grader with Big Dreams

I am a substitute teacher’s assistant for my hometown school district.  One of the positives of my position is having a variety of assignments.  My favorites are special education and physical education (P.E.).  Depending on where I am and what kind of day the kids are having, it can be an uneventful day or it can be a six-ring circus.
Not too long ago I subbed for a P.E. aide for just one afternoon.  I honestly had FUN!  I didn’t mind the noise so much in the gym because I had something that occupied both my mind and body.  I got to play one of my favorite all-time games, tetherball.  My first competition was with a 4th-grade sweet young lady.  We didn’t keep score which was fine by me.  She was a novice and I was out of tether practice.  I did engage a 6th grader boy near the end of P.E.  I kept hoping the coach would blow the whistle for the kids to line up but wouldn’t you know it?  She blew just seconds after I threw in the towel.  He was a gentleman since he shook my hand afterward and said, “good game”.  That’s not behavior I’ve often seen from sixth graders.

In the midst of numerous activities going on in the gym, a handsome 1st grader was showing off his dancing skills to the P.E. coach.  I joined them and continued watching after the coach left since the music hadn’t stopped and neither had the blond headed cute-as-he-could-be 1st grader.  I felt compelled to keep cheering him on until the music stopped.  At the end of class, the boy came up to me and told me that when he dances, his brain is going like crazy.  He was so enthusiastic about dancing with his eyes as big as saucers when talking about it.  I told him he was a such a good dancer that I could see him one day making an appearance on “Dancing With The Stars”. 

At the end of the school day, I was packing up in the coach’s office and this youngster came up to the door.  He softly says, “It was nice meeting you.”  Oh, my heart did flip-flops.  I leaned down and shook his hand.  He gave me a high-five.  I told him again, “You’re a good dancer.  Don’t stop practicing!”  He nodded with a Texas-sized smile, promised he wouldn’t, and walked away. 
Such moments in a school day don’t happen often, but when they do, my job is worth more than words can say.
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Dyspraxia and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

According to the United Kingdom’s Dyspraxia Foundation:

Although Dyspraxia may occur in isolation, it frequently coexists with other conditions such as Aspergers Syndrome, Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), Dyslexia, language disorders and social, emotional and behavioural impairments.

Those of us who have an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have a marked difficulty with social relationships, social communication/language skills and imagination. These difficulties are often accompanied by repetitive patterns of behaviour and interests. We who have Asperger’s Syndrome (AS), a subtype of Autism, are at the higher end of the autism spectrum and have difficulty with the non-verbal aspects of social communication such as gesture and facial expression. We also have difficulty adjusting our language and behavior to different social situations.

Some of us struggle with motor skills.  In theory a formal diagnosis of dyspraxia should not be made if a child has a “pervasive developmental disorder” (including autism). However in reality children are sometimes given both diagnoses, especially if their motor coordination is significantly affected. Where the autism is severe this should be given as the main diagnosis.

Most with AS and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) have a history of delayed acquisition of motor skills (e.g., hand writing, pedaling a bike, tying shoe laces, catching a ball, opening jars, climbing monkey-bars, etc.), which is called “motor clumsiness.” This statement brings back many a childhood memory of learning later than my peers of how to tie my shoes. When I finally did, it was a crowning achievement and goodbye to just wearing shoes with no ties.  As for monkey bars, I was never caught near them.  Now that I am approaching the age of 60, I wouldn’t enter a contest of being the quickest in “opening jars” since my odds of winning would be slim and embarrassment high!

Dyspraxia is a disorder that affects motor skill development. AS and HFA children with Dyspraxia have trouble planning and completing fine motor tasks. This can vary from simple motor tasks (e.g., waving goodbye) to more complex tasks (e.g., brushing teeth). Dyspraxia is a lifelong disorder, and its severity and symptoms can vary from child to child. Also, it can affect individuals differently at different stages of life. Dyspraxia can affect many basic functions required for daily living, and is often broken down into the following categories:

  • Constructional Dyspraxia (i.e., establishing spatial relationships, being able to accurately position or move objects from one place to another)
  • Ideational Dyspraxia (i.e., multi-step tasks such as brushing teeth, making a bed, putting clothes on in order, buttoning and buckling)
  • Ideomotor Dyspraxia (i.e., completing single-step motor tasks like combing hair and waving goodbye)
  • Oromotor Dyspraxia (i.e., coordinating the muscle movements needed to pronounce words)

Dyspraxia often exists along with learning disabilities (e.g., dyslexia, dyscalculia, ADHD, and other conditions that impact learning). Weaknesses in comprehension, information processing and listening can contribute to the difficulties experienced by children with Dyspraxia. These young people may also have low self-esteem, depression and other emotional and behavioral issues.

AS and HFA kids with Dyspraxia may experience several difficulties.

Younger kids have problems with:

  • Being sensitive to touch (e.g., being irritated by clothing on skin, hair brushing, nail-cutting, or teeth-brushing)
  • Bumping into things
  • Establishing left- or right- handedness
  • Learning to walk, jump, hop, skip and throw or catch a ball
  • Moving the eyes—instead, moving the whole head
  • Pronouncing words and being understood

School-aged kids have problems with:

  • Doing activities that require fine motor skills (e.g., holding a pencil, buttoning, cutting with scissors)
  • Phobias and obsessive behavior
  • Playing sports, riding a bike and other activities requiring coordination
  • Poor pencil grip and letter formation and slow handwriting
  • Sensing direction
  • Speaking at a normal rate or in way that can be easily understood

Teens have problems with:

  • Clumsiness
  • Cooking or other household chores
  • Driving
  • Over- or under- sensitivity to light, touch, space, taste, or smells
  • Personal grooming and other self-help activities
  • Speech control (i.e., volume, pitch, articulation)
  • Writing and typing

Early identification and intervention can greatly help an AS or HFA child with Dyspraxia. Depending on the severity of the disorder, therapy from occupational, speech and physical therapists can improve the child’s ability to function and succeed independently.

Three Strikes But Not Out

I was working with a 1st-grade girl with her bucket of class work in an autism unit.  The child is verbal and quite the drama queen.  She didn’t have to tell me she could care less about the bucket and its contents.  In between her crying spells, we worked on addition and subtraction.  Any time she got a problem wrong and I informed her of that, her head would plop down on the table and she’d shed more tears.  Finally, she was solving problems right and left without her sobbing commercials.  After finishing, she was rewarded with jump time on the mini-trampoline,.

I wholeheartedly empathized with her.  Failure feels like a stab in the heart.  If someone else points out something I did wrong or failed to do, it is an uppercut to the heart since I am oversensitive to criticism.  I do admit, though, failure is an effective teacher if I will go along with its instruction.  After all, it was the answers I got wrong on a test I remembered most; not the ones I didn’t.

There’s a character in the Bible whose failures were exposed as well as his successes. He is perhaps the most well-known of the twelve disciples.  He was not only one of the twelve disciples, but also would later become the leader of the early church.  However, despite his amazing successes, he was not immune to failure.  His most famous failure was when he struck out three times in a short matter of time.  I would imagine it was the darkest moment in his life.

 Jesus warned His disciples before he was betrayed and arrested in Luke chapter 26, verse 31:  “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: “ ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ Peter spoke up as he usually did.  He wasn’t one to sit quietly in a corner.  He replied empathetically that even if all fall away on account of Jesus, he NEVER would.  The word “never” is a dangerous word for us to use and should only be uttered with the utmost caution.  I’ve had to eat my words of what I said I’d NEVER do.  

Jesus knew Peter would not live up to his proclamation of never.   “Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “this very night before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”  Peter wasn’t one to doubt the Lord’s word, but this time, the Lord was predicting what he, Peter, would do and it was inconceivable to Peter.  He declared to Jesus again, “Even if I have to die with you, I will NEVER disown you.”  
After Jesus was arrested and taken to the high priest, Peter followed at a distance, right up to the courtyard of the high priest. He entered and sat down with the guards to witness the outcome.  While sitting out in the courtyard, a servant girl came up to Peter and stated, “You also were with Jesus of Galilee”.  Peter stated he didn’t know what the girl was talking about. This was strike one.  
Peter went out to the gateway where another servant girl saw him and said to the people there, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.” Peter denied it once again with an oath swearing he did not know the man.  This was the second strike.
Then, shortly thereafter, a group came up to Peter.  They stated, “Surely you are one of them; your accent gives you away.”  Peter reacted even more strongly by calling down curses, swearing to those in earshot, “I don’t know the man!” This was the third strike.
I can’t imagine the pain that must have pierced Peter’s heart when he heard the sound of the rooster crowing after his third strike.  Just as Jesus predicted he would deny Him, the rooster crowed.  Three times Peter had denied knowing the Son of God.  He went outside and wept bitterly.  I would imagine he wept buckets of tears.  I don’t think there are words to describe the depth of Peter’s guilt.
Another disciple, Judas,  had earlier betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.  He gave Jesus a kiss which was the sign to the conspirators that this was the man they wanted.  A fault of Judas was greed; however, upon receiving the reward, he tossed all the pieces of shiny silver to the ground.  The silver had become an eyesore; it wasn’t as valuable to him as it was before he betrayed Jesus.  He must have felt some guilt because he didn’t take the silver and run.  Instead of learning a lesson from his failure, he took his life.  He chose to die instead of getting up after his fall.
One disciple betrayed Him; the other denied Him near the end of His time on earth.  Neither disciple could relive it or change what either had done.  Judas gave in to his failure and took his life.  Peter took a different option.  He got up the next day and the day after, etc.
Peter crossed paths with Jesus after Jesus arose from the grave.  He told Peter not once, not twice, but three times to feed the flock.  Jesus repeating it three times hurt Peter.  Peter responded by saying he loved Jesus instead of blaming someone else for his three strikes.
Jesus could have told Peter “three strikes, you’re out.”  He could have given up on Peter for denying him in His dark hours.  But instead, He showed forgiveness and mercy to Peter.  That’s a lesson in itself for us.  Jesus’s forgiveness of Peter’s denials is another example to us to do the same unto others.
Just a thought.  Perhaps Peter’s colossal failure helped him with humility.  Peter would go on to feed the flock; all of whom had their own history of failures.  Peter knew what it was to fail miserably, he knew the enormous pain of guilt, and he knew about being given another chance.
Failure is a fine teacher as well as having a humbling effect.  I can learn from both failure and success.  Failure is really only terminal when one falls down and doesn’t try to get back up and try again.  I’d rather take Peter’s route than the one Judas took.

A Servant on a Mission

There’s a familiar prayer that includes these words:  Lord, take me where you want me to go today; have me meet whom you want me to meet; have me say what you’d have me say.  I love this prayer.  Words I often include in my own prayers.  Seeking guidance is one step; following it is another.  These words remind me of a man whose story is told in the first book of the Bible.  His name was not given; just his occupation of that of a loyal servant for Israel’s great patriarch Abraham.

The servant’s story is intertwined with the love story of Abraham’s son and daughter-in-law, Isaac and Rebekah.  In Genesis 24 it is told that Abraham called for his senior servant, the manager of his entire household, to go on a mission to Abraham’s home country and  find a wife for Isaac among Abraham’s relatives.  This was back when parents had more say in whom their offspring married.  Abraham had no desire for his future daughter-in-law to come from the neighborhood.  He lived among the Canaanites who did not know or respect the God whom Abraham served.  God wanted Isaac’s wife to come from Abraham’s kinfolk who at least were people whom knew about God and respected Him.

I wonder if the servant had any thoughts after Abraham gave him the instructions such as “Who me?”, “Sir, you want me to do WHAT?”, “I’m no matchmaker!”  I would imagine being human he was tempted to find some way of getting out of making a trip to the homeland to find a wife for his master’s son.  But he was an obedient and trustworthy servant who accepted the mission.  It probably helped the servant when his master assured him the angel of the Lord would go before him.

He set off on his journey to the vicinity of Haran, where Abraham’s brother had remained after Abraham migrated to Canaan sixty-five years earlier. The servant stopped at a well in the town of Nahor, which happened to be Abraham’s brother’s name.  Here was where the servant did what we as God’s children should always do as we embark on a path the Lord has convicted our hearts to take.  It may be an actual journey of moving from one place to another.  Or, it may be the start of a marriage, or raising a child, or dealing with an illness or that of a loved one.  It may be taking on a new job, or getting off at retirement station, or embarking on some other life change.  What essential thing did the servant do?  He prayed.

He asked for a sign as to whom he was looking for.  He asked the young lady whom God had chosen would be the one who came to the well and offer water for the servant’s camels. The servant chose not to use some random method such as eeny-meeny-miny-mough, whose the fairest of them all.  He wanted God’s choice instead of trying to pick her out himself.

Before the servant even got to the “Amen,” God was at work.  A young maiden by the name of Rebekah came out with her jar on her shoulder. She didn’t know at the time that she was being led to the right place, at the right time, with the right words to say.  When she came from the well with her jar filled with water, the servant ran to meet her and said, “Please let me drink a little water from your jar.” She said, “Drink, my lord” and she quickly gave him a drink. When he finished drinking, Rebekah offered to draw water for the servant’s camels.  She emptied her jar into the drinking trough and ran back to the well for some more, and she drew enough water for all ten of the servant’s camels (Gen. 24:15-20).

Her appearing at the well was not a coincidence.  The servant took it as the sign he had asked God for.  It would appear from Rebekah’s actions that she was friendly, outgoing, energetic, and not selfish.  The servant’s heart probably bounced when he found out that she was the granddaughter of Abraham’s brother Nahor; daughter of Isaac’s first cousin.  At that, he again did something we should always do – thanked God for hearing and answering his prayer.

The servant may appear to be the matchmaker here, but truth be told, it was God who was doing the matchmaking in this story.  The servant did his part and God did His.  Our actions alone do not get the job done.  But if the servant hadn’t done his part as God directed him, he wouldn’t have had a part in this story of the union of two of the ancestors of Jesus Christ.

The servant told Rebekah’s family of the mission his master had sent him on and the guidance he received from God.  Her brother and father did not think the servant’s story was foolishness.  “The matter comes from the Lord,” they said (Gen. 24:50).

They did not leave Rebekah out of the decision and just order her to go with the servant.  She was given a choice. It was an immense decision in her life—leaving the home and family she would never see again, traveling nearly five hundred miles on camelback with a total stranger, to marry a man she had never met. Her family called her in and said, “Will you go with this man?” And she said, “I will go” (Gen. 24:58).  That was not a simple thing for her to have signed up for.  She must have also believed the servant’s story wasn’t a lot of hooey.  It was her faith the drove her decision to leave family behind and begin a new life with a distant cousin.

It was a long journey back to the home of Abraham.  I wonder if Rebekah spent many a night awake wondering what Isaac was like, what did he look like, what would he think of her, etc.  Being human, I would imagine she was tempted to make a run for it back home.

Isaac was out in the field at evening time when the camel caravan with its precious cargo arrived.  Rebekah dismounted from the camel when she saw Isaac, and covered herself with a veil as the custom was. Isaac was told the entire story of the servant’s mission and the providential guidance from God that had found him a bride.  The Bible tells us, “Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent, and he took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her; thus Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death” (Gen. 24:67).

It was a new beginning for Rebekah and Isaac.  It was a “mission accomplished” for the servant who trusted and followed God’s guidance to carry out his mission.

Asperger’s and ADHD

The symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Asperger’s (AS) (high functioning autism) do mimic one another, and there are some connections between ADHD and Aspergers. In fact, there are people who have ADHD and AS.

I think of them as cousins.  Both diagnoses are developmental disorders; they share many of the same behavioral features and both affect humans  in the areas of behavior, communication, and social interaction. No surprise that there is often confusion as to which disorder(s) is present.

 

Here is a list of the behaviors that may be seen in ADHD and/or AS:
  • Avoids attending to details
  • Behavior driven by impulses
  • Cannot talk or play quietly
  • Constantly active
  • Difficulty interacting with peers
  • Difficulty with appropriate emotional responses
  • Disruptive with others
  • Does not want to wait
  • Exhibits severe temper tantrums
  • Fearlessness
  • Feelings of invincibility
  • Has difficulty listening or conversing
  • Impatient
  • Impulsive work effort that results in mistakes
  • Inappropriate laughter
  • Inattentive
  • Inconsistent fine motor skills
  • Interrupts others
  • Makes mistakes in work activities
  • Minimal eye contact
  • Physical over-activity or lack of physical activity
  • Problems with gross/fine motor skills
  • Resistant to intimacy
  • Risk taker
  • Talks and/or acts inappropriately
  • Temper tantrums without provocation
  • Willingly become involved in potentially dangerous activities

Research has shown most families of children with receive an ADHD diagnosis-or misdiagnosis-before a pediatrician concludes that it’s AS.

According to Dr. Kenneth Roberson, an AS psychologist in San Francisco with over 30 years of experience, provided a list of the differences between these two cousins:

  • Multiple Delays: Children with AS have delays in many different areas of their development unlike children with ADHD who are primarily affected by problems of distractibility and impulsivity. The delays in AS involve gross and fine motor skills, integration of sensory stimuli, socialization, play, management of mood, and communication. It is true that children with ADHD can have problems in these areas but they are usually not as many or as severe.
  • Distractability: Children with AS tend to focus their attention on one task or activity. By contrast, children with ADHD are typically distractible. Their attention is drawn away from a task or activity by surrounding noises, movements, and other distractions. They tend to jump from one activity to another unlike the more focused nature of children with AS.
  • Emotionality: Children with AS do not typically show a wide range of emotions while those with ADHD often move back and forth among emotional states and may have difficulty controlling those emotions.
  • Listening: Making and sustaining eye contact is usually difficult for children with AS. They often appear not to be listening when they actually are. In contrast, children with ADHD may appear not to listening but for different reasons. They are easily distracted by things going on around them or by their own thoughts.
  • Language: Children with AS tend to have weaknesses in their understanding of non-literal language. They have trouble grasping jokes, slang or implied meaning. They also tend to be talkative, but usually about topics of interest to them, while taking turns in conversations and talking about a topic of interest to someone else is more difficult. Children with ADHD are more able to take turns in conversations and switch topics to accommodate someone else’s interests. They have an easier time understanding non-literal language.
  • Socializing: Because of the difficulty that children with AS have socializing, they tend to avoid many social situations. Being around other people is stressful, especially with peers. Children with ADHD may have trouble fitting in with peers because of their behavioral difficulties but they are more motivated to interact with others.
  • Sensory Difficulties: Children with AS often are overly sensitive to sounds as well as lots of visual stimuli and some textures. Their sensitivity leads them to get easily overloaded when lots of things are happening around them. On the other hand, children with ADHD often respond better when their environment is highly stimulating. Unlike those with AS, children with ADHD do not often seek out sensory experiences in a repetitive or eccentric manner.

Of course, this list of differences involves a number of generalizations. Not all children with either AS or ADHD respond exactly as other children do with the same condition.

Whatever their diagnosis, both of these cousins are challenging to us who have one or both.  Just as with any other physical or mental challenge, it is most important to receive love,, tolerance, understanding, and patience.

I encourage any and all parents, or caretakers, who suspect their child has either, or some other disorder, to talk to the child’s doctor and have him/her tested if needed.  I have lived with AS for almost 60, with only 58 years of just knowing I was different and two years of knowing why.  I’d rather it had been the other way around.

 

Autism and Gender

It has been my experience since subbing as a teacher’s aide in autism classrooms that the number of boys to that of girls is lopsided. It’s not unusual to walk into such a classroom where there is one girl, if any, with a half a dozen or so male classmates. That’s the typical gender setup. I can’t recall being in an autism unit where the girls outnumbered the boy and certainly not an all-girl class.

In addition to the unequal number, there are differences in behavior. In the case of the class of one girl, the teacher, the other aide, and myself spent far more time keeping an eye on each of the five boys than the one girl who was on good behavior. Unlike the boys, she worked well on her own with little instruction or reminders. I could easily see her moving into the general ed population but the boys? Hopefully, they will, but they have more hurdles to conquer and I pray they will.

I suspect as many others do that girls are harder to diagnose because they seem to behave in ways that are considered acceptable as opposed to boys. For example, girls appear to be passive, withdrawn, uninvolved, or even depressed. They may become passionately and even obsessively interested in a specific area just as the boys, but generally speaking, fewer girls have a passion for technology or math.

Girls with autism are less likely to behave aggressively than boys. I can certainly attest to that on my job. I’ve witnessed girls having meltdowns, but few and far between as compared to boys. I look back at my own childhood and I wasn’t aggressive in the school classroom, but I definitely had bouts of aggression at home. I usually took it out on my poor siblings or items I could toss like my beaten pillow. I will steer away from confrontation like a deer would with a hunter in its territory. In other words, it takes a lot before I’m backed into a corner and my aggressiveness comes out.

Girls are more likely to choose interests (such as TV stars or music) that appear more typical than, for example, many boys’ perseverative interests in schedules, statistics, or transportation. Again, I know that all too well. I was obsessed back in the day with teen music stars.

While boys’ social communication issues become challenging very early in their lives, girls may be able to manage the social demands of early childhood but run into difficulties as they enter early adolescence. This was the way it was with me. I recall being sociable in 1st grade but by middle school, I was more or less socially disabled.

Research suggests that autism may look quite different in girls—so different, in fact, that it can be difficult to diagnose. I was in the dark about my having autism until the age of 58.  My story is a similar one to that of many women, men as well, who found out well beyond childhood of their autism companion for life.

How Does One Know They Are Having an Autism Meltdown?

Of all the symptoms I deal with living on the Spectrum, the meltdowns are the toughest. They are the volcanoes. Sometimes they just produce a rumble; but oh, my goodness, there are those that spew out lava (aka tears).

I don’t always know what the trigger is. Before I learned I was on the Spectrum, I used to have peculiar and frightening meltdowns at night. This went on for many years and I didn’t know what was behind them. They would come on me suddenly and overwhelm me.  I know this sounds strange but it felt as if the bed pillows and sheets were conspiring against me. I would get up out of frustration and throw the pillow down as if it was my attacker.  I’d throw the sheet/bed cover on the floor as if it was my worst enemy. The picture that came to mind was behaving like a cat with its tail caught underneath a rocking chair.

After this happened enough times, I knew it was something I had no control over and I just had to “rock” my way through it. The rocking was “stimming” but I didn’t know what stimming was at the time. As surely as it came over me, it left me after minutes passed. The minutes, however, seemed much longer than that. Fortunately, I haven’t had one of those in a couple of years.  The last one was before I started taking my antidepressant medication which has tremendously helped me to the point that I don’t dread nighttime like I used to.

However, I do still have “daytime” meltdowns. Those haven’t stopped paying me visits. Sometimes they come upon me without any obvious trigger, but most of the time there is one. It can be a sound or smell that rises the tension in my body. It may be a pet peeve and my reaction is way out of bounds with it. If I can walk away from the annoyance, the odds improve of a lighter meltdown or not having one. If I can’t, it’ll be Mount St. Helens all over again.

No High IQ Here

I often see the question on a question/answer website:

Are people with Aspergers always higher intelligence? Can they be average too?

Those with Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) must by definition have suffered no cognitive delay during their first 3 years of life.  This means they will usually have at least a “normal” IQ. In some cases, their IQ may be very high, even in the genius range. There are, however, different kinds of smarts.

Dr. Barbara Lavi, a clinical psychologist from University of Massachusetts, states that the IQ of people with AS is by definition at least average (90-109). It may be even higher. There is a lot of variation between various subsections of IQ test. So in some areas those with AS may be above average while on others below average IQ.

I have Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) but I don’t have a high IQ to match.  I made good grades in school and often made it on the honor roll. But if I had been graded on my social skills, I would have flunked. One’s IQ can go through the roof but one can still have an impaired ability to read the social world, so much so that one struggles to navigate the social mine fields in school, workplace, or community.

Now I am thankful to have a normal IQ. It is a gift, permitting me to learn and pursue the upmost of my intellectual ability, to rejoice in the pursuit of some realm of knowledge. I have enjoyed achievement in both school and my career.  I am also thankful to be currently working in my hometown school district where I often assist students who have similar challenges as I have. My areas of strength have helped me to cope with AS by giving me ways to compensate for my areas of weakness.  For instance, I was miserable at answering phones or working with the public, but I delighted in the task of working with metadata.

Having an average or high IQ can be a double-edged sword for us with AS. It is both a gift and a curse. Even with my being popular with my school teacher’s, I was not with my peers. I had and still do have a difficult time making friends. My 20’s was a turbulent decade of moving from one job to another until I finally landed a job that matched my skills. We tend to be more prone to depression and despair than a less aware person with a lower IQ. It has indeed been found that children with both high-functioning autism and Asperger’s suffer from depression and anxiety more than their typical peers.

One of the biggest challenges for me and others with Asperger’s is to convey the true extent of our challenges to others, to counter the instant assumption that “high IQ” equates with no syndrome. Many of those with AS are socially-emotionally far behind their chronological age, and may seem, despite intellectual achievements, very young, naïve, and unaware of the complexities of social reality. They are not intellectually, but socially, at a disadvantage. I just say I have a social deficit. I get along better with the children of millennials than millennials and my fellow baby-boomers.

I work with children who have learning and behavior disabilities in addition to autism. Helping them helps me. Although AS can be a pain sometimes, I don’t feel like complaining when spending time with these students, some of whom haven’t yet said their first word.

Special Interests

According to the DSM-IV diagnostic criteria for Asperger’s Syndrome (AS), having an “encompassing preoccupation with one or more stereotyped and restricted patterns of interest that is abnormal either in intensity or focus” is a core symptom of AS.

That’s a mouthful!  In plain English, they are unusually strong interests. They’re obsessions. We think about them day and night. We can focus on them for hours, forgetting everything around us.  Personally, I really, really like mine!

A special interest can be anything from reading to a preoccupation with a whole host of things such as sharks, automobiles, vacuums (a former vac collection owner myself), etc.  I worked with a student whose special interest was calendars.  During choice time, he would bypass the games and I-pads for the box of calendars the teacher saved for him. 

It can be a broad focus such as dancing, or be narrowly focused on only one particular type of dancing.  They appear to be the same as people’s hobbies.  But what makes it a “special interest” in the autism criteria is the focus and intensity.  When it affects every aspect of one’s life, or is sought after with strong intensity to the exclusion of everything else, it is considered a “special interest”. 

My “special interest” when I was growing up was soap operas.  I spent most of my winter, spring, and summer school breaks in soap opera land consuming hours of soap sitting on my couch potato.  I recall once having a meltdown because I had to miss a critical episode of my favorite soap.  We were to visit relatives and socializing was my least favorite thing to do.  You’d have thought the world was coming to an end with the way I was carrying on shedding buckets of tears.  

Overall I think most of us view them as a positive thing.  Electronic gadgets, such as computers, tablets, voice-activated assistants, smart phones/watches, and virtual reality glasses is one of my special interests I have long held.  Shopping for and getting absorbed in my gadgets recharges my batteries. If I feel one of those awful meltdowns is coming on, sometimes spending quality time with one or more of my gadgets will help me avert one.  Sometimes, that is.

 

specialinterests

Another aspect of autism related to special interests is the monologue.  I am high as a kite when someone asks, for instance, about any of my latest gadget buys.  I dare say more thrilled than the one who asked me.  The person was NOT asking for a 60 minute commercial.  I may not notice that the person is disinterested. If I do, I will reluctantly end my monologue apologizing for overtaxing the person’s ears.

Special interests are specific to the autism spectrum. Not all Autistic people have them but I think most do. Some people have one special interest while others have multiple. Some people have the same special interest(s) throughout their entire life while some people’s change over time.

While most special interests are “harmless,” if an interest involves behavior that is illegal, taboo or a threat to your or someone else’s health or wellbeing, it may be necessary to seek help in redirecting your attention to a safer alternative. 

I have to curve one of mine down myself!  My obsession with exercise began when I added to my gadget collection a smart watch that counts my steps among other things.  Once I got in the routine of stepping up my step count, I over did it!  So much so it has taken a toll on my health.  I’m the only patient my doctor has instructed to “let up on exercise”.  So I am making a good pitched effort to cut down on exercising which I know sounds strange.  Well, they don’t call it AS for nothing.  I am different from neurotypicals, no doubt, but not less.  

 

 

Short Timers

I was asked for my opinion of why many of us who live on the Autism Spectrum do not stay on a job for the long term.  I have often repeated in my blogs of a nugget of Autism wisdom:  if you’ve met one with Autism, you’ve met only one.  There are short time job keepers who do not live on the Spectrum; whereas, there are those on the Spectrum who have spent their entire years in the workforce at one place.

I don’t know the statistics for what is the average job length for those who have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). I was a job hopper in my 20’s.  So much so that I consider that decade as being my turbulent years.  Whenever I am wishing I didn’t have as many birthdays to celebrate compared to my younger counterparts, I think of that decade and decide I’d rather keep my near-60 status.

Stability came when I finally landed a job in my hometown’s police department where I stayed for five years which at the time was a record for me. The reason was I landed in a job where my strengths matched the job.

I believe there is a strong connection between my strengths and weaknesses with my ASD. My tendency to hone in on details instead of the big picture was an asset to my once held favorite job as a library cataloger.  I held that job for 10 years.  My favorite job when working for the federal government was that of a records analyst. Both jobs were detail-oriented that didn’t require as much social interaction as other jobs. I still fondly recall the one who taught me cataloging telling me, “You’re a natural.”

There are jobs I wish I could delete from my memory like I do computer files.  My ASD diagnosis reveals why I hated those jobs.  For example, I held a job in retail and I lasted only three months before they laid me off after Christmas.  In truth, it being laid off was an after-Christmas present because I was so awkward at it.  It required a lot of social interaction and being quick on my feet with customer’s questions and service. It’s not that I don’t like people. I am not anti-human.  It’s just I don’t like being around them much.

As a substitute teacher’s aide, I am around people, staff and students, all day long.  But there’s compensation.  I have the privilege of often working with children who are growing up on the same Spectrum that I travel on too.