ASD/Aspergers is NOT a Disease!

Let me start by saying Autism Spectrum Disorder including Asperger’s (also known as ASD) is NOT a genetic disorder! Yes, it is genetic, but NO its not a disorder. ASD occurs in people who’s brains are wired to be SMARTER and MORE ANALYTICAL than the rest of main stream bell-curve-normal folks. Babies are not born with the symptoms that make ASD kids most difficult to parent because it is POOR PARENTING practices that cause those disruptive symptoms.

"Most People" are bell-curve-normals.

“Most People” are bell-curve-normals.

When I say these kids are smarter, I mean smarter like a supercomputer, not smarter like ‘fills in the blanks on worksheets well’. And therein lies much of the problem. Supersmart kids do not follow foolish rules even if everyone else is following them. Supersmart kids do not obey because you “said so”. They don’t obey because you threaten to spank or punish them. They have already thought it through and they will do the thing that makes logical sense to them, even if your rules, or all the social pressure in the world say to do different.

Einstein also exhibited ASD signs: delayed speech, poor social skills, some teachers even considered him "retarded"

Einstein also exhibited ASD signs: delayed speech, poor social skills, some teachers even considered him “retarded”

Now, if you are a flexible parent who can actually LEARN FROM YOUR KIDS, your ASD child will not develop the most difficult traits on the “symptoms” list. But if you think parenting means molding your kids into the kind of people you think they should be, you’re in for a bad time. These are children who, even as toddlers, are well aware that your ways are illogical, inefficient, or wrong and they don’t mind setting you straight.

If the thought of a kid correcting an adult makes you want to punish the child YOU need to reevaluate your values and goals. That is the kind of attitude that contributes to the “dumbing down” of each successive generation. You cannot expect generational improvements if you devote yourself to keeping the kids dumber than the adults. Moreover PUNISHMENT DOESNT WORK for anyone. In particular, it doesn’t work for ASD kids. Any form of punishment, but especially SPANKINGS and physical punishment will BREAK these children. Think of them as supercomputers with fine delicate wiring. If you beat on it or pound on the computer in frustration it will NOT work better. It will, in fact, develop permanent processing problems.

When you beat, spank, punish or force your little supercomputer kid they will begin to regress. They may stop talking, they may stop reading or writing, they may begin to lash out in violent fits. After all that is EXACTLY what you just taught them to do! Oh, they learn well, very well. They simply resist learning nonsense for as long as they can…you know, until you force them to.

So what can a parent do?

Be real. Resist the urge to pretend a hubristic infallibility as our parents’ generation did. If you make a mistake, admit it. Apologize. Find a better way. Once, when my little ASD daughter was about six years old, I tried to introduce her to the delicious taste of rhubarb that I enjoyed as a child. But, for whatever reason, she didn’t want to taste it. I cajoled, then I teased, then I insisted. Then I broke into a mischievous game and chased her through the house with a spoonful of rhubarb pie and forced the spoon in her mouth in a fit of laughter. My daughter wasn’t laughing though. She began to cry. Then I began to cry. Then we laid back holding one another’s hand while I observed, “No one likes to be forced, do they? Even when its a good thing being forced is bad.” She tearfully agreed. I vowed never to force her to do things again. She agreed never to do that to someone else. And we never have.

She got over that episode of bad parenting because I got over it. Kids, even ASD kids, are very flexible and forgiving as long as we learn with them. I have had the good fortune to teach many ASD kids and I have found this to be consistently true. Teach and parent using logic and mutual learning and they respond by being bright, well behaved, brilliant thinkers. You WILL need to get books on parenting without punishment because all kids WILL push your buttons, ALL of your buttons at once. This is pretty much their job. So figure out what you will do when your kid is pushing all your buttons at once and still looking for one more, and make sure its a strategy that doesn’t involve punishment, physical or emotional violence. Otherwise, you will simply revert to just what your parents did to you and it won’t work.

I have also had the good fortune to heal ASD kids in my practice. They respond very well. The problem is usually that I can’t fix their parents. So the kids just get broken again and again until the damage becomes permanent. If I can’t get the parents to grow up and stop hitting and forcing and punishing their kids and START using their WORDS and their BRAINS like big Mommies and Daddies, the kids may well end up demonstrating all the increasingly negative traits on the ASD symptom lists.

Today's ASD kids would fall into the "head and neck" of this Nessie style curve. (You know, if they could all take the same test)

Today’s ASD kids would fall into the weird “head and neck” of this Nessie style curve. (You know, if they could all take the same test)

A word about Social Norms

Most adults and bell-curvers think that social norms are easy and intuitive. To ASD people they are quite difficult. That is because they are almost all culturally based and completely divorced from reason or logic. In some cultures it is good manners to look people right in the eye when they are talking to us. In others that would be very aggressive or insubordinate behavior. So the poor supercomputer kid or adult may do most social behaviors “wrong”.

Thus, most ASD folks eventually come to prefer the company of books or computers or pets and to suffer some form of “social anxiety”. This also accounts for why girls with ASD are under-diagnosed. Girls have multitrack minds and so can better observe subtle differences in social behavior. Many even develop strategies, rules, and coping mechanisms to comply with the unreasonable social expectations and thus to blend in. Others learn to ask or to be very transparent with their communication. The bottom line? You won’t be able to “cure” your ASD child of their awkward social behavior. But if you can explain the expectations or rules in concrete terms, you can help them adapt and blend. Example, “Its considered rude by adults to avoid eye contact when we speak to you.” works much better than, “Look at me when I’m talking!!”

I am eager to hear from ASD kids and adults about their thoughts on my observations. Do you agree? Can you add to my pointers or correct me? I’m also happy to hear from parents of ASD kids.

Words that make me Laugh

There’s a hypothesis called Sapir–Whorf hypothesis that says learning language actually shapes our reality because WORDS for new things allow us to THINK of things we never thought of before!  I’ve learned 5-6 different languages (if you count English) and I believe this is true!  More importantly, I think that the more you LEARN words, the more you can LAUGH at the otherwise dull, sometimes dreary things most folks call REALITY.  And…you may actually be able to create your own, alternative reality …where ordinary events are knee-slapping funny, for reasons only you can fully appreciate.

Welcome To My World, Sugar!

My favorite word of all times is from Spanish.  One day I will whisper this word throatily into the warm ear of a lover and seduce him on the spot!  My word is:  ferrocariles.  In Spanish you roll the double Rs in a sexy way that sounds like this:  fe.ro.ca.ril   (Click the word…listen to the pronunciation by Adelaida, that’s it!) Oooh! What does it mean?  Railroads!…somehow, I find the irony even sexier than the sound of the word itself!  Greasy, sweaty, smelling of iron…

Ferrocaril

Ferrocaril

In Seattle there were more words for RAIN than I had ever encountered.  The Inuit have many words for SNOW.  The French have countless words for LOVE.  In Swahili, the word for HAND was called mkono.  When I asked the word for shoulder a villager pointed to his shoulder and said, “Mkono”.  What about this, said I, pointing to my elbow?  Also mkono.  So Swahili is NOT the language you use to teach human anatomy, or possibly even play “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” with kindergartners.  It’s a trade language, so it depends on standing right in front of people and using a lot of gestures and facial expressions to communicate.

But once when we were walking outside, one of my students pointed to a big red stinging ant and asked, “What do you call this insect?”  “Ant” I told him.  Then he pointed to a poisonous black and white fuzzy insect and asked its name.  Again I said, “It’s an ant.”  His friend asked about the deadly safari “ant”, then the tiny sugar “ants”.  Finally, in an amusingly animated voice the student declared, “Do you mean to tell me that all these different insects are called by the same name?!”  We laughed till we cried.

ant

Ant…

ant2

…also an ant…

The other day I introduced a new word to a Buddhist friend:  schadenfreude.  Its a German word meaning: the happiness derived from another person’s misfortune.  My friend attempted to soften the meaning to something very PC, like slapstick humor or a genuine misunderstanding.  But, NO!  Its a German word!  It means the nasty thing it seems to mean!  You remember Germany?  From WWII?  And WWI before that?  The country with the highest ratio of bed-wetting men, most of whom don’t STOP wetting the bed until they join the military.  Why?  Because the potty training of toddlers is THAT HARSH!  Hello?  That’s right!  You DO get it…its just an ugly word for an ugly impulse.

My point, I suppose, is that words are FUN!   Even when they reflect some nasty reality of our culture, or the culture of others.  Somehow, when we capture big horrific ideas into tiny little sounds, roll them around luxuriously in our mouths, then release them for all to hear….we gain mastery over their sharp painful edges…we control THEM.  We touch them. We lick them!  We chew on them! We make them FUN!!

Here are some new words for 21 century America:

  1. Footwear – After 9/11, then came the “shoe bomber”, then the good people of TSA coined the word “footwear” as used in the sentence, “Please remove your footwear, and place it in the bin.”  It seems, once they decided to X-ray everyone’s shoes some smart Alec’s decided to snark back, “But these aren’t shoes, they’re boots!”   Then came “sandals”.  Then, to keep people and their sassy ways under control, TSA officials began asking people one after one to remove their “footwear” and left it at that.
  2. Personal Items – Long ago when air travel was something special and nice, we all carried baggage.  We gave our baggage to baggage handlers and they returned them to us by way of the baggage carousel.  Or we placed a carry-on bag in the overhead baggage bin.  A comical, if unpleasant start to a vacation was when someone lost his bag in flight.  But now we don’t carry bags.  Because they charge us extravagantly for each bag.  And, God forbid, we leave one unattended and end up thrown in the pokey awaiting trial for terrorism. No, what we do now is we stuff things in our pockets and our purses.  We put them in the pouch of our hoodies.  We cram things into plastic shopping totes.  We hang things around our necks and we loop things over our ears.  We scurry furtively on board like the sleek and cowering beasties we are with a collection of stuff that are now called, “Personal Items”  And we make sure we look around as we exit because “The airlines cannot be responsible for lost personal items.”  No longer any mention of ‘baggage’.
  3. Godspeed – It used to be that when a friend went off on a vacation you told them, “Bon Voyage” in the French tradition.  But there are times when one must travel for more somber purposes, such as a trip home for a funeral.  At such times it seems in bad taste to wish a “Bon Voyage” which literally means “Good Trip”.  Those are the times when you squeeze a hand tenderly, or chuck a shoulder warmly while holding back tears and wish the traveler, “Godspeed”.

So the next time you enjoy commercial flight you may notice one fellow traveler laughing hysterically at nothing.  That will be me, doubled over, tears running down my cheeks.  Really enjoying my trip!  If you would be so kind, please post my bail and explain that I’m not dangerous.  I just enjoy insanity encapsulated into fun words with rich histories.

“Good morning, folks, please step to the left, remove your footwear and personal items and place them in the bin for an X-ray.  Step forward when called and present your ID and boarding pass.  Then bend over and grab your ankles for the metal detector wand and Godspeed!….Godspeed, my friends!”

TSA

TSA

 

*After reading to a couple friends I realize my humor is a little obtuse.  The thing is, I encountered the TSA-style treatment at least ten years before 9/11 when traveling in the Middle East. But now, more than ten years after the event, when almost every week a new country or city is bombed, we Americans are still whining about the inconvenience of having to remove our shoes.  And we still think, “But I paid extra for the special calfskin boots with matching handbag, don’t I deserve special treatment?” No! TSA is saving your life!  Your calfskin boots will seed the clouds just the same as everyone else’s. Take them off!  And there still seems to be a preference for targeting brown people rather than all working together.  We are the new Cesar, fiddling while Rome burns down around our ears.