Friday, October 30, 2009

Photo Essay: Anxiety, a Parade, and a Cannon

My 11-year-old son with autism loves parades, but fears loud sounds which hurt his super-sensitive ears. Here he needed a little help from his dad "locking down his ears" (which were also protected with ear plugs) when Central Michigan Univerity's ROTC unit went by with their cannon. They fire it whenever our football team scores. The mere sight of it causes my son to have extreme anxiety.
We were glad that all the noisemakers (the cannon, police cars, and fire trucks) went by right away so we could all relax. (He did love the CMU band, which went by just before the ROTC group did.)

Unpredictable dogs (with their tendency to bark and jump up on people) have also been a source of anxiety for C1. However he did Ok around my friend's dog here and did not need me nor my husband to help calm him. He was able to sit calmly for most of the parade.

My was relaxed and happy for most of the outing. This was taken before the parade began. He was just as happy and calm at the end.
Note: My son's attitude has improved over last year when he was rooting for strong defense from the wrong team so that the cannon would not be fired. This year he's been cheering for CMU even though it is not uncommon for them to score 40 0r more points per home game. (That means a lot of cannon shots!!!) I had to take him home early during the first home game this year, but he bravely sat through the next two victorious home games. We are proud of him! : )

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Tony Attwood Draws a Sell-out Crowd at ASM Conference

Sometimes I complain a lot about the lack of resources where I live in rural Michigan, but I'm happy to say that we have an excellent state chapter in Michigan, the Autism Society of Michigan. Proving my point, they were able to get the well known Asperger Syndrome (AS) expert Dr.Tony Attwood to speak at their fall conference, which was yesterday, October 21, 2009. The title of his presentation was A Complete Look at Asperger's Syndrome: From Relationships and Making Friends to Emotional Management and Social Skills.

I attended with two other moms and a psychology student who belong to my group, Central Michigan ASA, which sponsored the breakfast for the conference. We arrived well ahead of the 8:30 start time and heard that there was a waiting list of about 70 people who had wanted to attend. Dr. Attwood is best known for writing The Complete Guide to Asperger Syndrome. He also recently developed the CAT-kit, a kit designed to assist in teaching people with AS social skills.

Unfortunately getting there early meant getting up at 6 a.m. and on the road at 6:45. Ugh. I am not a morning person and was lucky to have an assistant (my loving husband) to wake me up and hand me a rather large mug of coffee as I stumbled out the door. However, fortunately leaving early and therefore arriving early meant getting a good table in the center of the second row.
The room was packed and people were still scrambling for seats when the president of the ASM introduced Dr. Attwood. Aside from two short breaks and an hour lunch, our speaker had the floor from the 8:30 a.m. start time to the 3:30 p.m. end time. Yes, he spoke the entire time, and with humor, good facts, and stories he made the time go really fast. I was impressed.

Here are a few key points that I hope you may find helpful. Some you may already know, some you may not:

A large amount of people with AS suffer from anxiety because of the way their brains have developed.

Aspies tend to have high intelligent quotients, but low social intelligence quotients.

Depression occurs in one of three adolescents and adults (mostly due to social rejection)

Aspies may express sadness and anxiety as anger (which tends to get them in a lot of trouble).

Many people with AS have post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from being teased.

Introducing yoga and meditation as relaxation skills may prevent Aspie from turning to drugs for help with relaxation.

Sometimes NT's (neurotypical people, not on the autism spectrum) are too subtle and need to be more direct with "Aspies".

*Young Aspies should spend at least an hour a week learning about emotions (and how they relate to social skills) from Kindergarten to twelfth grade.

One should always ask an Aspie if he/she needs a hug when they are upset, because it might be painful to him/her.

Some Aspies don't cry because they are afraid of getting hugged.

A lot of men with AS end up marrying women with high social I.Q's. These women tend to be nurses, teachers, social workers, etc.
Aspies may be inclined to spend a lot of time in their room because that is where they are the "kings of their own castles."
*This is the bit of knowledge I appreciated the most. I'll have to spend more time working on this with my eleven year old son.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Wrapping up the Media Series

Obstacles. I have faced many of them, including a shortage of time, while writing this media series. The website for a documentary (Sidecars, mentioned in a previous post) I was going to review was taken down. Further, The Black Balloon, an Australian movie that focuses on the internal struggles of a brother who has an autistic sibling, is not available yet in the United States. It will be sent to me via Netflix when available. Amazon has it, but DVD players in the U.S. are not compatible with the DVD currently being sold at the site.

I hadn't planned on including webcasts in this series but did so in order to keep this blog updated regularly. I was grateful for the opportunities to do so. Speaking of that, here is a link to an online video. According to Alexandra Wharton, the vice president of, "the video summarizes recent studies on the number of those affected with autism and the controversy surrounding apparently growing numbers." Please note that I haven't had the chance to view it due to a shortage of time and some technical difficulties associated with blogging from my home.

Also, a big thank you goes to Jon Gilbert for sending me this link about the documentary Living the Autism Maze, a documentary about families in Vermont. It came out in 2005. It can be ordered by calling a toll free number found at the site.

On a final note, here are two films related to autism that were released in the last year: Mary and Max (a claymation film) and City Rats. I haven't seen either film, but both look promising. They both have yet to be released on DVD.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Essay About the Documentary Refrigerator Mothers

Sometimes I get overwhelmed by the amount of controversy that surrounds the topic of autism--especially when it comes to the vaccine issue. Nonetheless, I'd choose raising a child with autism in this age of information over any other previous era, especially the 1950s and 1960s. This was the time when mothers desperate to find help for their children were blamed for their child's diagnosis of autism.

Back then any mom with a child with autism was at risk for being called a "Refrigerator Mom." According to the popular thought of the day, "Refrigerator Moms" were cold mothers who caused the child's autism by not being able to bond with them. The treatmentback then included taking the children away from their parents and/or isolating them from everything including toys. Ugh. Did I already say I'm glad I became a mom of an autistic child diagnosed in this century?

The chief proponent of the refrigerator mom theory was Bruno Bettleheim. He wrote The Empty Fortress: Infantile Autism and the Birth of the Self, which I suspect would be a painful read for most parents. The scary thing is that (at the time) the world embraced Bettleheim as the expert on the topic of autism in children. This is the quote in the documetary that gave me the chills:

"[Bettleheim said] mothers were responsible for making children autistic and the world fell for it."

Fortunately for moms who are currently seeking out help for children with ASD, the world has mostly moved on from that view. This is reflective in the documentary Refrigerator Mothers, released in 2003 by Kartemquin films for the PBS Point of View series. The director of Refrigerator Mothers let the mothers tell their own stories. Most of the moms in the film mentioned that they took their children to doctors hoping to find help. Instead they ended up getting a label thrust upon them. One even said, "instead of help, we got Bruno Bettleheim."

Another mom revealed that she still cannot get rid of that feeling of guilt that was placed upon her. This mother seemed to be doing Ok, but the sadness in her eyes made me wish that the Refrigerator Mother theory never came about. It made me sad and even a little angry that there are many, many mothers who had autistic children in that era who are still suffering as a result of having this label placed upon them.

However, I must say that despite the suffering, I couldn't help but admire all of the mothers in the film for their strength and courage. I'm glad these moms had a chance to tell their stories and I believe they were glad as well (maybe even relieved) to be able to tell them. If you haven't already watched the film, I'd highly recommend that you do.