Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Controversial Subject of Curing Autism Without Ruining the World

Most likely you have seen literally thousands of ad campaigns, posters, "awareness" events and so on advocating for the eradication of Autism. What you may not have considered is what this means to not only a portion of the population who is gifted with Asperger's but also what implications could arise for humanity as a whole. That's a big statement so let's talk a moment to understand the concept here.

Of course we now understand that Autism is a spectrum, some individuals fall far on one end and others fall to the opposite end, those ends basically being the level of functioning in daily life an individual has from virtually no ability to communicate or have control over motor skills all the way up to a high level of autonomy and ability for self care for the rare "genius class" of Autistic individuals.

Clearly are instances where curing Autism would be welcomed in many families. One example that comes to mind for me, being an avid gearhead (automobile enthusiast) is Wayne Carini, dealer and restorer of high end collectible automobiles and host of the TV show "Chasing Classic Cars." In the show Carini has featured his daughter on occasion who has Autism and he is also an outspoken proponent for Autism Speaks, an organization dedicated to awareness and finding a cure for Autism. I do not for an instant feel there is any harm in their efforts but what I do have concern for is the new reclassification of Asperger's in the DSM-5 medical reference manual as no longer a stand-alone diagnosis but rather folded into the general label of ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). along with several other conditions that previously enjoyed a separate classification.

I'd ask, how will the new classification differentiate Asperger's individuals? You, however, might ask why it matters? It matters because Asperger's is now simply ASD under the new classification and when the medical and research communities do eventually come up with a cure how will it be applied and by who's decision? Will fetuses be examined in-utero to determine if they have Autism and begin a course of treatment before birth or immediately after? Will genetic engineering simply make it impossible for a child to be born with Autism?

If we apply a blanket cure for every Autistic individual then we would no longer have Asperger's and one can only wonder what our culture and history would look like without them. Let's consider that many of "The Greats" in science, technology, and the arts are today suspected of having Asperger's with the benefit of retroactive examination of their behaviors, thoughts, writings and in the case of more modern thinkers, film, video or audio of them in the flesh from the period. I've heard it said once (I am paraphrasing since I cannot find the original reference) that the world would still be made up of tribes of war-waging cavemen fighting over territory and resources if it were not for Asperger's, tho some would argue the world is little more than that today. We likely would not have had the myriad advances from folks like Einstein and Tesla, we would be deprived of the film works of Kubrick and the political acumen and eloquent speeches of a President named Lincoln.

Taking the issue from an even more abstract angle one could ponder what would happen to our ability to defend ourselves when technological think-tanks like NASA and DARPA, considered by many to be largely populated by Aspies, when they no longer have the sort of completely-out-of-the-box thinking that is truly only evident in the Aspie brain.

This is not trying to deny the world a cure, there is terrific merit in that noble aim, but I firmly believe that our national defense and sovereignty could eventually be at stake in a world without Aspies. That may sound dramatic but again, consider the countless contributions from those in the list below and tell me if you think the world would look the same today without them. Next, consider what the world will be like if we suddenly, willfully, and foolishly erased the single largest contributor to modern civilization. Am I overreaching? Suspected Aspie's have contributed things that we also could never have imagining as even being possible, everything from space travel to the atom bomb. Yeah, they're not all winners. :)

I'm not questioning if there should be an effort to cure Autism, that would be wonderful, but rather how we will handle the conversation when the day comes that a cure is in our hands. There are also surely many individuals who would prefer to be cured of Asperger's, and that would be within their rights. The time is now for the legal, medical and yes, even defense sectors to give this careful consideration while we still have the luxury of time.

Famous Aspies
Andy Warhol
Vincent van Gogh
Leonardo da Vinci

Jane Austen
Isaac Asimov
Virginia Woolf
Charles Dickenson

Jim Henson
Woody Allen
Stanley Kubrick
Sir Alfred Hitchcock

Actors & Television
Michael Palin
Daryl Hannah
Robin Williams
Jamie Hyneman
Keith Olbermann

Gary Numan
Elvis Presley
Craig Nicholls (The Vines)

Scientists, Inventors & Tech
Bill Gates

Henry Ford

Isaac Newton

Albert Einstein

Thomas Edison

Charles Darwin
Craig Newmark
Mark Zuckerberg

Benjamin Franklin

Historical Figures
Peter the Great
Catherine the Great
King Louis IV of France

Presidents & Politicians
James Garfield
Andrew Jackson
Andrew Johnson
Teddy Roosevelt
Abraham Lincoln
George Washington
John Quincy Adams

Disclaimer:  While in most cases it is impossible to say with certainty that these individuals have or had AS (even today it can be difficult to accurately diagnose) the names presented here are those commonly speculated in psychology papers, online reference and in other public forums as showing strong traits of AS individuals.  AspieArt.org makes no determination as to the the validity of these speculations and all information presented here is put forth as a matter of initiating a discussion on the topic of Asperger's Syndrome, not to make judgments about any one individual.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

My Aspie Only Wants to Be Left Alone (That's What You Think Anyway)

Your young Aspie may seem content to sit in front of the computer, but in my experience it is simply a surrogate for genuine socialization, and while Aspies may tend to be more secluded indoors and in front of a glowing screen, it is usually those very same individuals who yearn the most for social interaction with real people. This may seem counterintuitive but the front they put forth tends to be an acquired reaction after so many years of rejection and even verbal abuse causing them to slink back into the depths of loneliness. Aspies, of course, enjoy their solitude and alone time, but they ultimately want to share their myriad thoughts and ideas with others, tho perhaps only on a limited or one-on-one basis. All humans crave affection and attention in some form or another, so if you realize that they are finding this attention in non-physical engagements online then you can see that the reason they are spending so much time communicating with others in the virtual world is because they are lacking that in the real one. I'd bet if you studied their internet usage you would see that they are not "alone" at all, meaning simply playing games or surfing web sites only reading information, but more likely they are in chats, on forums, Facebook and the like, all places where they are, you guessed it, interacting with other people! Don’t limit your mind to what at first seems the most apparent or what others tell you, but dig a little deeper and I am certain that you will both be the happier for it.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Aspergers, Sports and Athleticism

Sports can be a difficult at best, and incredibly embarrassing at worst, for many young Aspies. It's proven that most Aspies have difficulty with some degree of motor skill function, basically we're clumsy as hell. I am always dropping things, tripping over sidewalks, stumbling around doorways, misinterpreting gestures, etc., that have all made my ability to participate in group sports all but impossible, no let me be honest with myself and change that to completely impossible.

You want your Aspie to get out and about, to be physically fit and happy. Physical activity is a necessary part of staying mentally healthy as well, your body creates necessary endorphins which can do a lot of the work for you when it comes to finding ways to keep your Aspie happy and cheery.

OK so we know basketball and soccer are out, maybe the same for track sports. If you truly find that your Aspie has no true athletic interest or ability consider some of these options:
  • Play frisbee in the park. This involves some coordination building activity and lots of running around chasing the disc they will inevitably miss. 
  • Croquet is less intensive for hotter days or those with no interest in exertion, but it keeps their focus and gets them out in the sun, wind and air for a bit. A good starting point.
  • Badminton is excellent because it is one of the more physically demanding of the "lesser sports" but also great fun, with lots of running, eye-on-the-birdie coordination building, laughs and conversation. I can play this game for hours.
  • Horseshoes are fun and simple, actually keeps some tone in upper arms and body and demands focus and problem solving which Aspies tend to enjoy. They need to figure out the best way to hold the shoe, the best type of toss, take winds into account for how much force they need to put behind each toss, etc. 
  • Kite flying is another good one especially if you buy a kit that requires the kite to be built first. This engages family time, your Aspies love of engineering and mechanics, and then he has the payoff of hours of fun while figuring out how to get the kite airborn, keeping it aloft and eventually how to do tricks. You may need to guide him on each step, he may give up after having it in the air for only a few minutes thinking this is the end goal until you show him that he can execute dips, dives and flyby's with the new toy.
  • Swimming is by far the ultimate activity for many Aspies. It is among the best forms of exercise (for anyone), is easy on the body, and you can bring in so many different elements to the scenario from pool games ranging from Marco Polo to Water Polo, toys, contests like races with a friend from one point to another, and the ability to explore surroundings at natural areas like ponds, lakes and rivers due to the small creatures that abound in those environments. Be sure to remember sunscreen for your Aspie's sensitive skin, and yours too!
Get off this computer, get outside, get active and have fun with your family today!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Integrate, Don't Eliminate; Aspergers is Something to Embrace, Not Overcome

I always hear people talk about "our battle with Aspergers" or some other phrasing that makes me believe that a lot of people don't really have a full understanding of what Aspergers is all about. Aspergers is a very unique and special gift that can be nurtured, as I have told young Aspies before, it's almost like a super power. You don't know what it can do just yet, but as you get older you will learn ways to develop your "powers" meaning special skills.

If you're a parent that spends all your time and energy trying to overcome Aspergers, let me tell you, you're fighting a losing battle, Aspergers is something you should work to embrace, not try to do battle with. Remember this phrase when things get hectic... Integrate, don't Eliminate.

Look at the facts in your life, after all, that's what your Aspie is doing. :

  • If someone you love has Aspergers, it's not going away. 
  • While there are areas where you can modify behavior to better suit etiquette or social interaction, it is unfair to think you need to bend your Aspie towards all social norms, it's not fair to him. He has just as much right to live life as he wants as anyone else does theirs, sometimes other people need to change to suit him.
  • Choose the path of least resistance, it's not just for physics anymore! Why fight to change something that may be trivial in the long term? You may get so caught up in an action or behavior that you haven't really taken the time to consider if it even needs to change. How does this action affect you or other people? How will it affect you negatively in a year from now or five years? If you can look at it subjectively and realize that it's not a big deal, let it go, which leads us to the next point...
  • Let it go! Sometimes, even when you know you're right, just the act of letting something go can be cathartic for everyone involved. Choose your battles, you aren't surrendering, but maybe putting it off for another day, maybe when your Aspie is older or has more social experience under his belt. 

Summer Can Be a Source of Depression, Anger and Grief for Young Aspies

Summer break from school is supposed to be the time when memories are made for kids and teens, but for young Aspies, it can become one of the most difficult periods of their lives. Let's figure out why.

You already know that many Aspies are introverts, or perhaps even the opposite, they love people, but just have a hard time figuring out how to make friends because they are either socially awkward or shy. They may see their friends running off together to the local pool or beach, going to the movies, road trips and all sorts of other rites of summer but be left out of the group for whatever reason. This can, rightly so, lead to sadness, depression, and even in extreme circumstances thoughts of suicide, anger or harm to others.

One solution I recommend is to try to find ways to get your Aspie outdoors and engaging with other people in an environment where they feel safe and comfortable. Does your Aspie like cars or airplanes? Consider a trip to an air show or auto museum. Local car shows happen throughout the summer in many places. Is he an aspiring Picasso or Rembrandt? Find events at the local art museum or art festivals, even farmer's markets often have artist's displaying their wares. Whatever their interest, there are usually gatherings and contests for most of them and in these situations your Aspie can feel free to "nerd out" with other attendees as much as he likes, since devotees tend to love the minutiae of their chosen hobby or art.These subtle interactions may not pay off immediately, but you have at least opened the door to more social interactions and he will feel more comfortable speaking with like-minded strangers.

Family gatherings can be a great way to keep him involved socially. Hopefully, your relatives are familiar with your little guy's idiosyncrasies and unique self, so he will already be comfortable around specific cousins, aunts, uncles and so on. Host BBQ's, pool parties or get-togethers just so he has company and can interact like everyone else is. Growing up, this was a source of security and safety, I always loved being around people I knew I could just be myself with. If you encourage the other cousins his age to bring their friends, it can often lead to new friendships as well.

Looking towards the end of summer break is another consideration, in that your Aspie may have gotten in a rut or have conditioned himself to being alone and indoors all summer which will make reacquiring the skills needed to socialize at school all the more difficult, almost like hitting the reset button each and every new school year. Do yourself and your Aspie a favor by keeping him socially engaged throughout the summer so you both have less work to do when school starts back up.

Welcome to Aspie Art

This is an extension of what started off as a project to help promote artists of all ages who are lucky enough to have Aspergers. That's right, I said lucky because to me, it is a gift and one that I would not surrender for any reason. I LOVE that I was born this way. I would also love for nothing else than for other Asps (I use this term affectionately and interchangeably with "Aspie") to feel the same way about their unique and beautiful gift. I welcome questions and comments, and the comments are open to anyone. Please be respectful, that's the only rule here. Let's get this show on the road...