Posts Tagged ‘autism and Asperger’s’

Mirror Mirror

December 8, 2010

Perhaps today is a good day to take seven minutes and forty-four seconds to watch a TED talk on mirror neurons by Vilayanur Ramachandran.

Whether you watch or not, Ramachandran might posit that you already know about it… at least at some unconscious level—because you gave that talk (at least the part of you that is Vilayanur Ramachandran).

While this sort of talk is all too familiar to aging new-agers and adherents of Eastern ideas, the fact that it is making its way into the corridors of Western science, by way of mirror neurons, strikes me as significant: what neuroscientists are discovering in the laboratory, the Buddha discovered under the Bodhi Tree:  there is no independent self, no distinction, ultimately, between your consciousness and my consciousness.

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Autism becomes us

October 6, 2010

An article in the most recent Atlantic by John Donovan and Caren Zucker, “Autism’s First Child” is well worth reading.

Using the first identified case of autism in the medical texts, and exploring the human story of this now seventy-seven-year-old, Donald Gray Triplett, the authors invite us to think about how the oncoming epidemic of autistic adults might offer new ways to think about differences in the context of the group.

Having worked with autistic and Aspergers children, I was thrilled to come across the following sentiment in Donovan and Zucker’s article:  “…we can dispense with the layers of sorrow, and interpret autism as but one more wrinkle in the fabric of humanity. Practically speaking, this does not mean pretending that adults with autism do not need help. But it does mean replacing pity toward them with ambition for them. The key to this view is a recognition that “they” are part of “us,” so that those who don’t have autism are actively rooting for those who do.

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Student Teaching Learning

August 11, 2010

“We can’t return we can only look behind

From where we came,

And go round and round and round

In the circle game”  Joni Mitchell

With “Sixteen springs and sixteen summers (nearly) gone now” I find myself living my own bit of circle game…

When I was a kid in elementary and middle school (and through most of high school) sitting in a classroom was akin to torture.  Big clocks ticked with surreal slowness and books packed with useless information beckoned with about as much allure as badly cooked bitter greens to a child’s ice-cream-attuned palate.

I later learned to love learning, and after a long (and expensive) journey through educations in both film and psychology, I found myself back in the boring classroom—the one in which no one, neither student nor teacher, truly wants to be.  As a psychologist assigned to a caseload of severely disturbed children, I was mandated to provide an hour of weekly therapy (plus a host of other case coordination tasks), however, many of the kids initially refused therapy (“you’re my fifth therapist in three years, why should I talk to you?”).  This was particularly tricky with the kids who lived in their dysfunctional households; the ones who lived in the group home I could corner in their rooms and, lacking anyone to talk to, would more quickly soften; often you couldn’t get them out of your office… once the bond was made.

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Narcissism Misunderstood

February 28, 2010

A recent New York Times Op Ed piece by Roger Cohen, “The Narcissus Society,” makes some good points about health care and the importance of working together as a society.

In lamenting how community has eroded, Cohen says, “In its place have come a frenzied individualism, solipsistic screen-gazing, the disembodied pleasures of social networking and the à-la-carte life as defined by 600 TV channels and a gazillion blogs. Feelings of anxiety and inadequacy grow in the lonely chamber of self-absorption and projection.”

As one of the “gazillion bloggers” I could imagine that the way things are changing might be experienced as a threat to the old order, especially if one had carved a niche within it, say as a provider of content in mainstream media that sees it’s viewers declining; however, I’m not sure that blogging and reading other blogs is necessarily more alienating that the non-connecting of the past—watching the nightly news and imagining that one was experiencing a sense of community… sponsored by Coca-Cola or Depends.

At least with an à-la-carte menu of potential connection we have many more people potentially experiencing and building community in a way that mass media may have killed more than facilitated.

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Tangled up in… Aspergers Blue

January 10, 2010

A reader asked, “If you hear or read anything new about mild Aspergers or coping with it as a young adult, PLEASE let me know.  After all these years, therapists, and psychiatrists, I am still so frustrated that no one can “put a finger” on my son.  His psychiatrist who insists it’s not (Aspergers) also said, “I can see why you have those concerns, he has little inflection in his voice and does not use facial expression when communicating for the most part….  I wish I had more time with him….”  


I have come to the conclusion that most of these people just really don’t care… it’s not their kid; he’s just a filled time slot on the schedule.  The doctor suspects my son’s IQ is “too high, which is not always a good thing”.    After one semester at college, he cannot find anyone who wants to room with him next year….  My husband is convinced he will be with us for life as he will never be able to interact with people appropriately enough to be on his own.  I am getting more concerned about it myself.”
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The Truth is a lonely hunter

October 15, 2009

big hair daysI recently saw a movie, “The Invention of Lying,” and it left me thinking that perhaps it was as much a movie about Autism/Asperger’s as it was about lying.

While the film is quite clever and funny, the central idea is built on the “what if” of a world where no one ever lies.  This is funny to the extent that people just say when they’ve been masturbating and pooping rather than “lying” about it, but the strange thing about the world the film creates is that it’s not really a world of honesty so much as a world lacking in all empathy and authentic social relatedness—a world that is almost exactly like the more disappointing aspects of world we already have, only the “thought bubbles” that rule behavior and social position are spoken as opposed to merely tacitly acknowledged and then acted upon.  This is very funny, but also a telling mirror of us masked and alienated humans.

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Going Deep with The Sponge—Can SpongeBob make us better parents?

October 7, 2009

Tom at Aroma

This summer marked the tenth anniversary of SpongeBob who, in his timeless decade, has kindly made his way to reigning Puer Aeternus (Latin for “Eternal Child,” i.e. Peter Pan).  The Sponge has cried and laughed his way to the top as the world around him, and us, has grown ever more bitterly Squidward.  Meanwhile, the little square-panted trickster has ridden a sort of porous authenticity, with his kind heart and open tear ducts, to an unprecedented level of global recognition.  Given that SpongeBob is beloved from the mansion to the hood, from Ivory Towers to the darkest prisons—a laughing Buddha soaking up the zeitgeist free of all judgment—perhaps SpongeBob is an archetypal unifier, a manifestation of something we all can love.  The Sponge is post-political (his country is the ocean), post-intellectual (smart enough to dispense with smart in favor of real), post-cultural (in mirroring our culture he has become our culture), post-developmental (no one really knows if he’s a grown-up or a child) and thus a perfect mirror of our own awakening kindness.

Given all this (and as you can tell from my writing as a quasi-intellectual, left-leaning, middle-aged, white male Beverly Hills shrink, I am not post-anything:  I’ve known SpongeBob and I’m no SpongeBob… I should have been a pair of ragged claws, scuttling across the floors of silent seas) I thought we should try to get a little closer to the Sponge in honor of better parenting.

Tom Kenny, the voice of SpongeBob, was kind enough to sit down with me the other day to share his thoughts about what SpongeBob might bring to the endeavor of parenting. After years of being asked about why SpongeBob is so popular, Tom got tired of saying, “I don’t know,” and turned to giving it some thought.  Tom says, “Voice-over wise, I’ve always tended to play characters who are pretty sweet and not very smart.  I’m not sure what that says about me.”

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Asperger’s at eleven

September 26, 2009

barkI once worked with a ten-year-old boy with Asperger’s who changed entirely at age eleven.  While he had always been socially awkward and withdrawn, rarely making eye contact and showing the “classic” nearly obsessive, and exhaustive, level of interest in one particular, and narrow, subject (arachnids).  We were slowly working our way to a relationship, some dialogue, and the faint glimpses of a give and take when fifth grade came to a quiet close.

And then, when the special needs school started up again and our therapy along with it, I was dealing with an entirely different kid.  He was surly, depressed and his non-communicativeness took on an angry edge.  I wondered what had changed, and part of the story seemed to be that his father would get frustrated and could be verbally harsh, which was particularly destabilizing to this very sensitive child.  Yet another reason for the change in personality was that this boy’s brain had reached the stage of myelination, where the neurons develop a sheathing that make the brain faster and more capable of abstract thinking.  (for more on this see  While this affects all kids during their development, this was a keen illustration of a person who truly was quite “different” from the norm, and as his brain developed, he came to more fully realize his situation.  It was good-news/bad news: good because he had enough social relatedness to feel awkward, yet bad because it only lowered his self-esteem and deepened feelings of isolation.

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Floor Time

August 28, 2009

aunt marylin's rainbowThe “spectrum,” as it relates to autism and Asperger’s (a disorder typified by poor social relatedness, repetitive behaviors and, often, extreme interest in a highly narrow range of topics—i.e. a kid who knows every species of spider, but little else), is a widely used term that I fear has failed to convey one of its most important meanings:  that all social relatedness falls along a “spectrum” ranging from Rainman at the extreme “leave me alone” side to Paris Hilton and Britney on the “never leave me alone” side.  If we put the far ends together we have a big Hollywood movie (autistic card counter, Dustin Hoffman, and slick hustler, Tom Cruise, hit Vegas); if we try to parent either one of the extremes we’re in for challenges.  And if we are parenting somewhere in the middle, we can still learn a few things from “spectrum” kids and some different ways of thinking about differences in general.

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Artificial Intelligence and the Age of Autism

July 28, 2009


If we parents are going to care about, and take better care of, all our collective children it will help if we better understand those children and the world we are all living in together.  Just because our specific child does not have a learning difference or an anxiety disorder doesn’t mean that we ought to care less about those things.

While we have been in a long age of narcissism, with people appearing self-involved when in truth many people simply have had little to no idea about who they truly are, not to mention what meaning or purpose they might discover within (or at least assign to) their lives (See post on how narcissism is like footed pajamas: we all continue to evolve (although it may at times seem to be more like devolve).  Just like children, who may regress a little and take a developmental step backward in order to then take a leap forward, our collective age may be doing the same—at least in terms of authenticity and relatedness.

Although I suspect (or at least hope) that the world is in a major transition and will not remain stuck in this alienated and pervasively commercialized state for long, we do seem to have slipped into a virtual age of autism.

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