web analytics
April 20, 2014 / 20 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Asperger Syndrome’

The Positive Side of Autism: An Interview with Dr. Temple Grandin

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

            For many years, autism was considered to be a rare, mysterious and severely disabling condition. But in recent years, due at least in part to a broadening of its medical definition, the incidence of the diagnosis of autism and related disorders has risen to about 1 in every 150 babies born in this country.

 

            Today, classic childhood or infantile autism is grouped with at least four other conditions known as pervasive developmental disorders, (PDD), which are now referred to as autism spectrum disorders (ASD’s). People suffering from ASD’s typically have difficulties with social interactions and communication, a severely restricted range of interests, and a tendency to engage in repetitive patterns of behavior.

 

            Severely autistic children cannot communicate at all verbally. They seem to be absorbed in a world of their own, and are unresponsive to most external stimuli.

 

            But ASD’s also includes higher functioning children who, with early intervention and intensive help from teachers, parents and therapists, may ultimately lead near-normal lives.

 

            Some of those diagnosed with the ASD known as Asperger’s Syndrome actually exhibit superior intelligence, and their autistic tendency to screen out external stimuli enhances their ability to concentrate all of their mental faculties on a particular task or problem. It has even been seriously suggested that some of the greatest giants in the history of science and the arts closely fit the current profile of those with autism spectrum disorders.

 

            Sir Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein both exhibited conduct which is now associated with Asperger’s syndrome. For example, Einstein was a loner as a child, and a late speaker. As an adult, he would become so obsessed with physics problems that he acted as if he was totally oblivious to his surroundings and his own physical appearance. In fact, during his later years at Princeton, Einstein defined the stereotype for the “absent-minded professor.”

 

            Behavior patterns consistent with autism spectrum disorders have also been identified with authors James Joyce, George Orwell and Lewis Carroll, philosophers Spinoza and Kant, composers Beethoven and Mozart, concert pianist Glenn Gould, and the author of the US Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson.

 

            But through most of the 20th century, the potentially positive intellectual side effects of autism went largely unrecognized. Little hope was held out for young children like Temple Grandin who were diagnosed with autism. Born in Boston in 1947, Grandin did not begin to speak until she was three and a half years old. Thanks to the devoted efforts of her mother and teachers, young Temple received the understanding, guidance and attention she needed to compensate for her autistic deficits, and find expression for her native intelligence and creativity. Encouraged to follow her natural affinity for animals, and exploit her heightened autistic sensitivities, Grandin won renown for devising more humane and efficient equipment for handling livestock on farms and in slaughterhouses.

 

            Today, Dr. Grandin is a Professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University. She is a consultant for fast food chains Burger King and McDonald’s, and the livestock equipment that she has designed handles half of the cattle in the United States.

 

            Her unique insights into the feelings and reactions of animals, combined with a self-taught understanding of the basic concepts of shechita, have enabled her to develop a new way to position and restrain animals while being shechted, which has been widely adopted by kosher slaughterhouses in the US and Israel. Grandin innovations have helped to speed up the shechita process and reduce various halachic complications, while at the same time making the experience less painful and traumatic for the animal. She is widely recognized as an expert in the practices and technology of kosher slaughter, and a staunch defender of its humane character.

 

            Grandin is not Jewish, but her work with animals has deepened her faith in G-d and given her an enhanced sensitivity for Jewish traditions and beliefs. When she designed a new type of ramp to lead cattle into the slaughter pen, she named it, “The Stairway to Heaven.”

 

            Grandin attributes much of her success to the positive side of her autism. Her autobiographical book, “Emergence: Labeled Autistic,” published in 1986, helped to explode the myth that all autistic people live in a world of their own, shrink from human contact, and are unintelligent. It tells how she was able to grope her way “from the far side of darkness” to become living proof that “the characteristics of autism can be modified and controlled.” In her 1995 book, “Thinking in Pictures: And Other Reports from My Life with Autism,” Grandin explained that words are just a second language for her, and that she tends to think in “full color movies, complete with sound, which run in my head.”

 

            These books, as well as her numerous speeches and articles on the subject, have turned Grandin into one of the leading advocates for adults and children with autism spectrum disorders.

 

            In a telephone interview with Grandin, I asked her what she would say to parents of young children diagnosed with an autistic spectrum disorder. Her first recommendation was not to give in to despair. “Autism is a wide continuum, ranging from children who will never be able to talk all the way to geniuses like Albert Einstein,” she said.

 

            She also encourages parents of autistic children to begin aggressive remedial education as soon as possible. “Even if your child is just 2 or 3 years old, don’t let them sit in a corner. Doing nothing is the worst thing you can do for an autistic child. Get your child a really good educational program, of about 20-30 hours a week with a good teacher and a lot of 1 to 1 interaction.”

 

            Recalling her own strict upbringing in the 50′s, Grandin said, “autistic children do well in a highly structured environment.” She explained that children with autism do not instinctively, “understand social rules in the abstract. They must be taught all the rules of proper social behavior, one at a time, on a case-by-case basis. For example, they must be taught to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ When playing with others, they must learn how to take turns. When standing in line, they must learn not to push the child ahead of them. They must not eat with their hands, etc. These rules must be taught even to high- functioning autistic children, because they do not have natural instincts to guide their behavior in common social situations.”

 

            Grandin notes that autistic children are also often overly sensitive to sensory stimuli. “Some of them can’t stand noise. Others are distracted by too much starch in their clothes,” she said. She recalled meeting one autistic Jewish boy who was distracted because his yarmulka was too stiff, His behavior improved as soon as he was given a more comfortable yarmulka to wear on his head.

 

            Grandin also urges parents to encourage their autistic children to follow their natural interests. “Don’t focus on their deficits. Rather, enable them to make the most of whatever skills and interests they have, be they mathematics, music or computers. In my own case, as a young girl I loved riding horses and electronics lab, and I was ultimately able to pursue a profession which combined them both,” Grandin said.

 

            She even held out hope for the future of autistic children who remain non-verbal. “For example, if such a child has artistic ability, even without the ability to speak, he could still become a sofer [scribe],” Grandin said.

 

            Grandin believes that many of our leading scientists, mathematicians and computer “geeks,” with their “nerdy” lack of social skills, are actually high functioning people with undiagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome, whose success in their fields is at least partially due to their autism-enhanced ability to concentrate.

 

            Grandin’s life story carries a message of hope for the parents of every autistic child. It serves as an example of the kind of meaningful contributions that such children can achieve in their lives, if given the support, instruction, encouragement and understanding they need to take full advantage of the unique gifts that the Creator has given them.

Chronicles Of Crises In Our Communities – 3/16/07

Wednesday, March 14th, 2007

We encourage women and men of all ages to send in their personal stories by e-mail to rachel@jewishpress.com or by mail to Rachel/Chronicles, c/o The Jewish Press, 338 Third Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11215.

To all women, men or children who feel that they are at the end of their ropes, please consider joining a support group, or forming one.

Anyone wishing to make a contribution to help agunot, please send your tax deductible contribution to The Jewish Press Foundation.

Checks must be clearly specified to help agunot. Please make sure to include that information if that is the purpose of your contribution, because this is just one of the many worthwhile causes helped by this foundation.

* * * * * * * * * *

Dear Readers,

This column recently featured a letter from a woman who suffered for years in an abusive relationship, only to conclude that her husband might have been a long-time sufferer of Asperger’s Syndrome.

The chronicle, appearing in two parts (2-9 and 2-16), was a personal account. The author spoke of her own research and analysis – absent any reference to professional diagnosis or evaluation. In her own words “An undiagnosed mentally ill spouse, he possessed an array of symptoms ranging from bipolar, borderline personality, to unadulterated temperamental rage.”

The following letters were written in response to Drowning in a Sea of Asperger’s. We welcome this opportunity to offer the reader an up-close and comprehensible look into the nature of this specific disorder.

Letter #1

Dear Rachel,

I am compelled to respond to the wife who wrote in “Drowning In A Sea Of Asperger’s.” First, I want to state clearly that in no way am I attempting to diminish the pain and suffering experienced by this wife/mother and her family at the hands of her abusive husband. My heart truly goes out to her.

That being said, I wanted to address what this woman points to as the apparent cause of her husband’s extreme emotional states, unpredictability and abusive behaviors. The title of her letter makes it obvious that she is attributing the downward spiraling of her husband and the eventual demise of her marriage to Asperger’s Syndrome. This is where I have a problem. I have quite a bit of experience with both Autism and Asperger’s (they are TWO different disorders that share some of the same characteristics – the author used them synonymously). I am a speech pathologist who has worked extensively with children “on the spectrum.” I am also a mother of an eight-year old son with Asperger’s Syndrome.

As I read this woman’s letter, I became increasingly bothered by her description of Asperger’s Syndrome – how it had “incarcerated” her husband “in a cloak of isolation,” made her husband “manic-depressive” with “excessive paranoia,” and that it is an “unrelenting and uncompromising illness” dominating her husband’s every thought and action. Anyone reading this description not familiar with the disorder would not hesitate to institutionalize my son.

My son is NOTHING like this man (nor are the other people I know with Asperger’s). Yes, he has behavioral challenges and sometimes struggles with transitions and changes in routine, and yes, he is most definitely socially awkward. BUT, he is HAPPY, outgoing, affectionate, inquisitive, and full of life. He has friends who accept him – quirkiness and all.

I am not denying that there are days when frustration gets the better of me. But there are many more days when we see progress and small steps in the right direction. Those are the days I cry -out of joy. There are many reasons for my husband and me to be optimistic. Granted, the road is a bumpy one, but in the end our son will reach the places he is destined to go and, G-d willing, will do so successfully.

Rachel, your readers are entitled to know the reality of Asperger’s – that rather than being a hopeless and devastating disorder, individuals with this syndrome tend to be exceptionally bright, creative, innovative and quite successful in their profession of choice. In fact, many of them develop meaningful relationships, get married, have children and lead fulfilling and prosperous lives. They also typically have unique perceptions of the world that enable them to contribute to society in many wonderful ways.

Numerous well-known personalities are believed to have had, or currently live with, Asperger’s – including Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Mark Twain, Thomas Jefferson, Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein and Bill Gates, to name a few.

Some questions for the writer: What was your husband’s childhood like? Did he have a stable family life or was there dysfunction in the home? How did his parents handle disagreements and their emotions? Based on your letter, it appears that your husband was diagnosed in adulthood. However, that should not have prevented needed intervention during his earlier years. If indeed your husband has Asperger’s, he would have been demonstrating characteristics of the disorder all his life. One does not acquire it; it is present at birth (but can be difficult to diagnose).

Did anyone notice your husband’s unusual/inappropriate behaviors? Did his parents/teachers seek out specialists to address these concerns? It seems from your letter that your husband has not received any type of remediation at any point in his life. Additionally, it is not uncommon for someone with Asperger’s Syndrome to also be diagnosed with other disorders, such as Anxiety, Depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, ADHD or ADD or Oppositional Defiant Disorder.

In all likelihood, many variables brought you and your family to this devastating point in your lives. I feel it is wrong to blame your husband’s myriad issues solely and squarely on Asperger’s Syndrome. I am sure that anyone reading this letter, who knows someone with Asperger’s Syndrome will share this sentiment.

Hopefully, readers hearing of this disorder for the first time will now have a more positive attitude and outlook. My husband and I are blessed with this unique and special neshamah from Hashem. We love him, adore him and are so proud to call him our son.

Letter #2

It is with great interest that I read the two-part articles from the woman who was married to a man with “Asperger’s Syndrome.” In the first part she stated that he is “bipolar” then went on to blame his actions on Asperger’s.

As a mother with a son diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, I take great exception in confusing these two very different illnesses. He either has Asperger’s or bipolar. These are totally different, with totally different symptoms.

People with Asperger’s generally don’t exhibit the mood swings, irrational and cruel behavior as described by the afflicted man’s wife. They are generally extremely intelligent albeit uncomfortable in social situations. Thus it is the “geek” anti-social behavior that usually defines them.

Frankly, to confuse the two is very upsetting to me, as my son and most people with Asperger’s (Albert Einstein, Mozart, Thomas Jefferson) are very gentle, keep to themselves, have very high IQ’s, and are extremely honest because they don’t know how to lie.

Someone with bipolar who exhibits symptoms like those described by the letter writer should be on medication and closely monitored. Since Asperger’s does not manifest symptoms of violence and the like, there is no known medication for this syndrome.

Chronicles Of Crises In Our Communities – 2/16/07

Wednesday, February 14th, 2007

We encourage women and men of all ages to send in their personal stories by e-mail to rachel@jewishpress.com or by mail to Rachel/Chronicles, c/o The Jewish Press, 338 Third Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11215.

To all women, men or children who feel that they are at the end of their ropes, please consider joining a support group, or forming one.

Anyone wishing to make a contribution to help agunot, please send your tax-deductible contribution to The Jewish Press Foundation.

Checks must be clearly specified to help agunot. Please make sure to include that information if that is the purpose of your contribution, because this is just one of the many worthwhile causes helped by this foundation.

* * * * * * * * * *

Drowning In A Sea Of Asperger’s (Part 2)

No secret reservoir of patience, no magic fountain of flexibility, just steadfast acceptance, until the police appeared on the scene. After his lies were submitted to official channels, trust was eradicated. A marriage cannot exist without trust.

I hired a lawyer − for not only had he accused me of being abusive, he planned to have me removed from the home. He also sought sole custody of the children and planned to garnish my wages to pay the mortgage.

“You need to hire a lawyer,” a friend advised. A court stenographer, my friend knew the score. “Legal battles are not about truth. He’ll make a good impression on the judge. You need a lawyer.”

Twenty thousand dollars later I was free, free of his mood swings, free of his lashing out, free of his black aura, divorced according to both Jewish and American law. Free.

Ronald accused me of turning the children against him. “Brainwashing,” he called it. No, I did not have to talk them into anything. He did it all by himself.

“You think I listen to mommy,” our 23-year-old son taunted, “that mommy tells me who to like and who not to like? I hate you because you are a despicable father.”

“Why didn’t you get us a nice father?” our daughter reduced her mother to tears. So many tearssalt on the tip of my tongue; Alice in Wonderland drowning in a sea of misery, drowning in a sea of Asperger’s. And if you labeled it, if you gave it a name, did that provide structure, a measure of control?

If a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears it, does it make a sound?

If a person is grossly obese but nobody tells her to lose weight, is she fat?

If someone is married to a person who has Asperger’s Syndrome, but her spouse has never been officially diagnosed, is her marriage tainted by mental illness?

“I am guilty of enabling,” I confessed to my peers. “Failing to take a stand made him think his behavior was appropriate.” Would my life have been different had I taken a stand? No, he was incapable of change. The marriage would simply have dissolved sooner.

Autism, derived from the word auto, means self, my self-centered husband, a product of self imposed isolation. Ronald never matured beyond Piaget’s preoperational stage, where the small child views the world in terms of himself. My husband never did progress beyond the “me” stage. When events didn’t transpire as he envisioned, he erupted. Then, after demolishing his environment, he switched gears and changed moods.

Like a pendulum, my husband swung from anger to neutrality, back and forth, high and low, angry and calm, never happy − manic-depressive minus the euphoria.

An acquaintance, mother of a bipolar child, elucidated what it meant to be manic. “Mania is not a synonym for joy,” she explained. “It just means energy, and that energy could be negative.” Manic depressive, Ronald exhibited bouts of energetic rage interspersed with listless depression. The past couple of months had been spent sitting on the couch, staring into space.

During the early years of our marriage, he’d spend his Sundays doing home repairs, long tapered fingers caulking windows, installing light fixtures; a truly eclectic handyman. When had his productiveness stopped? When had he adopted a couch potato persona, sitting endlessly, accomplishing nothing?

I spent my days searching for a manual on “How to Repair a Marriage,” like an archeologist digging for clues, a scientist deciphering facts. One nondescript day, while wandering the aisles of Barnes & Noble, a hidden force lured me to the special education section. My hand reached for a book on Asperger’s Syndrome. Were the knots in my life about to be untangled? Was the mystery of my marriage’s failure about to unravel? Thumbing through the non-fiction manual, I wondered why a woman skilled in communication had failed to communicate with her husband.

I ran home to explore further. Online I discovered that though my husband did not manifest the physical characteristics of the syndrome, he did possess many of its social characteristics − more than 50 percent, or 24 out of the 35 listed behaviors.

His symptoms included difficulty accepting criticism, excessive paranoia, and an inability to read between the lines or decipher body language. He was serious all the time, a scowl permanently etched on his forehead. Yet another symptom of Asperger’s was an inability to relax. His difficulty forming friendships combined with an intense concern for privacy. Asperger’s had incarcerated Ronald in a cloak of isolation. As I explored Asperger’s further, I realized that his strange behaviors were largely the result of an unrelenting and uncompromising illness, and not a deliberate attempt to sabotage tranquility. How ironic that a man determined to control his environment had been under the domination of Asperger’s all along.

Unearthing the mystery after the marriage’s demise was like discovering that you had been tormenting an ill person, cursing a deaf person, sticking your tongue out at a blind person. Would I have behaved differently had I known?

I would have needed someone to explain things to me. He would have had to concede, to admit defeat, to relinquish control. His disability was his inability to recognize his illness. I had attempted to play a game without rules but could not navigate the board. Was it fair? Was life fair?

Real life rarely comes with specific instructions. Episodes merge into one another until you are suddenly floundering. No instant solutions. Kafka’s Trial features bureaucracy gone awry, characters wallowing in reams of red tape. And isn’t that how the story began, with a sheaf of papers delivered by the neighborhood police? And then the sheaf of papers developed into thick files, shuffled by incompetent lawyers, expanding into scores of hearings, attended by many − where nobody listens.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/family/chronicles-of-crises/drowning-in-a-sea-of-aspergers-part-2/2007/02/14/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: