As many as 85% of children with autism also have some form of comorbid psychiatric diagnosis. ADHD, anxiety, and depression are the most commonly diagnosed comorbidities, with anxiety and depression being particularly important to watch for in older children, as they become more self-aware. Understanding and treating psychiatric comorbidities are often far more challenging than the Aspergers/Autism itself as discussed in this edition of Top of the Spectrum News.
The diagnosis of comorbidities can be challenging because many people with ASD have difficulty recognizing and communicating their symptoms. It takes time to uncover the cause of a meltdown or aggravation but to aid you in your search, we listed the most common comorbidities below:
Top of the Spectrum News is a product of Aspergers101.
Autism, depression, anxiety, ADHD, and developmental delays often keep kids (and parents) away from church. A new study has found children with autism are almost twice as likely to never attend church or other religious services. Families of children with other disabilities are missing from the pews as well. These are the parents who grew up in the church. Whose fathers were preachers, elders, deacons and whose mothers were Sunday School Teachers and Ladies Bible Class members. These parents of children with disabilities are aching for their child to know the same love of a church family as they did.
I can vouch for this describes my family. Our oldest son has Autism. For families like mine, it doesn’t take a study to know that there are often barriers that prevent children with disabilities (and their families) from participating in worship. So what are the barriers and how can we, as parents and church leaders, accommodate by emulating Christs ministry to all?
Church is a large social gathering that in itself, difficult for anyone with autism. The service can be a radically unwelcoming, even dangerous, place for persons with ASD in ways nobody ever intends. Sensory, Anxiety, etc. It is another potentially overwhelming situation (like school, grocery shopping, etc.) that is asked of autistic kids on a regular basis. Unlike most people, they don’t leave church feeling refreshed and renewed to face the week ahead.
As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. – John 9:1-3
As a parent of a child with a disability, know that you have been prepared for the road less traveled. God will not give you more than you can bear and He (the Almighty) prepared you, as he did your child, for this journey.
Below is a statement my son Samuel said when he was very young and we have it printed and hanging by our front door:
Don’t worry about the impairments that God included in this package…think about the good stuff in the package God gave you.
I would agree with Sam. As medical science begins to unravel and understand the brain and the effects of autism, we as a society and especially as the Church, should subside our fear of ‘different’ and embrace God’s beautiful design in worship together. On the other hand, parents should take note of a saying I’ve often heard Dr. Temple Grandin state: “Autism is not an excuse for bad manners.” Parents need to be cognisant not only of their child and their needs, but the ability for others to hear the sermon thus keeping the focus on God.
On Tuesday, September 17th, 2019, I was honored to have presented a lecture at my alma mater, Abilene Christian University. It was ACU Summit 2019 and my topic given: Autism and the Church today. With the overall Summit theme of “Sorrow, Hope & Joy” (a tribute to the Psalms) my heart knew (all too well) all three emotions and suspect yours does too. I offer to our Aspergers101 readers the entire presentation and downloadable tri-fold brochure if this message resonates with you or someone you love.
May you know you are never alone and as with all things…the answer resides in living like Christ. In the following presentation, we explore his teachings and apply them toward raising a family with a disability in the church today.
Below is a downloadable tri-fold brochure you may want to share with your church or autism/parent organization.
Anxiety-related symptoms are frequent concerns in children, adolescents and adults with Aspergers and HFA, which may be treatable with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
Anxiety is commonly found in high functioning individuals on the spectrum in particular because they have an increased awareness of their own social difficulties. This cognitive awareness may intensify their anxiety toward social interaction and promote isolation.
Recent numbers found that 11-84% of children on the autism spectrum experience impairing anxiety, while only 4.7% of all children aged 3-17 years have experienced anxiety.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapeutic treatment that helps individuals recognize how thoughts and feelings influence behavior and cope with these challenges.
CBT is used to treat a wide range of issues, in addition to anxiety, including:
“The Less Traveled Path to Christ: Families, Autism and the Church Today”
Autism, depression, anxiety, ADHD, and developmental delays often keep kids (and parents) away from church. The Great Commission instructs us to go and preach the gospel to all nations, to all people … and as for those with disabilities, we must put aside our fear of “different” by first understanding the uniquely wired brain and then providing accommodation(s). Jennifer Allen will share her family’s personal journey of having a child diagnosed with autism and how the less traveled path to Jesus, though oftentimes rocky, offers beautiful vistas that neurotypicals seldom witness. This session is for the church to better understand the challenges that face these families along with suggested accommodations and especially for the parent torn about church and their children.
ACU Biblical Studies Building 1201850 Teague Boulevard
Abilene, TX 79601 – Room 120
Go to ACU Website for full information on ACU Summit 2019 or view the full ACU Summit 2019 Program here. Note: Jennifer Allen’s presentation: The Less Traveled Path to Christ: Families, Autism and the Church Today is listed on page 23.
A meltdown is scary and lonely. A change in routine can be enough to tip the scales in sensory input and cause what is titled a “meltdown” where a person with autism or asperger syndrome temporarily loses control due to emotional responses to environmental factors. They aren’t usually caused by one specific thing.
Triggers build up until the person becomes so overwhelmed that they can’t take in any more information. In previous blogs, we have addressed the complex topic of meltdowns. While the main message is to have a plan to PREVENT a meltdown, we must also be prepared if a meltdown does occur.
I will start by outlining what NOT to do. I think this is best said coming from someone that has lived through a meltdown with neurological implications. The following is an excerpt from a message from Mr. John Scott.
Meltdowns: What Not to Do
My meltdowns can be very frightening and confusing for those around me. I work very hard to appear as capable and composed as possible throughout each day, so when I finally lose it, people are shocked to see me act so “autistic.” I cry, scream, break things, flap my hands, and pound my fists against my head. I haven’t found the perfect remedy for my meltdowns, but I do know what makes them far worse…
If I am having a meltdown… – DO NOT become angry with me or raise your voice.
Autistic meltdowns may be frightening to observers, but at their most intense, they are nothing less than pure psychological torture for the person experiencing them. I feel as if I am caught in a war zone, terrified for my very life. My senses are on fire and I have very little control over myself. I may feel threatened by intense emotional displays. This is very dangerous.
– DO NOT attempt to restrain me. I understand that my tantrums are scary, as I’m well over six feet tall, but you must remember that I am far more frightened than you are. I would never intentionally hurt anyone, but if you approach me in a hostile manner, or attempt to use any force without my permission, I may lose the last bit of self-control I have.
– DO NOT ask me what is wrong. Trust me, when I’m banging my head into the wall I do not want to discuss my emotional triggers.
– Most importantly, DO NOT tell me to “snap out of it.” Trust me, I would if I could. Don’t patronize or belittle me by acting as if I could control myself if I only tried harder. This is a good way to make the situation ten times worse. You may know me from my column here on WrongPlanet. I’m also writing a book for AAPC. Visit my Facebook page for links to articles I’ve written for Autism Speaks and other websites.
I would like to add one more . . . this is not the time to say “Use your words.” As the brain escalates in a meltdown, the ability to be rational and articulate diminishes.
So now for what TO DO?
During a meltdown a child most needs the opportunity to relax. Therefore, you should respond patiently and compassionately as you support this process. Offer choices of relaxing activities, perhaps through the use of a choice board. If the person is not able to make a choice, then simply present a pre-determined calming activity. Often, this might be an activity that incorporates a strong interest [e.g. video of SpongeBob or favorite song/music].
In some cases, it might be best to offer a way out of the situation through escaping the current stimulation of the environment. Again, a pre-determined location might be another room or other safe place [e.g. chill zone, motor lab, etc.]. However, it might be difficult for the individual to transition to another location if the meltdown is at its peak.
If there are others in close proximity, then it should be part of the plan to move them to a safe place.
Most importantly, do everything possible to keep the individual safe from him or herself. If they engage in head banging, protect their head by placing a pillow or bean bag between them and the floor or wall.
As you can see, there is little to really do during a meltdown. Again, all efforts should be made to PREVENT a meltdown.
You know — those things
you react to in the blink of an eye. You’ve witnessed the crazy. Come on, you’ve
done the crazy. Why all the crazy? Can’t everyone just stop, please?!
find yourself doing the opposite of what you KNOW.
What if the whole idea of
buttons to be pushed and triggers to be set off is only a reality because there
is something inside you to be pushed and set off?
What if you were able to
get to the root of what’s really bothering you? Just now several annoying
people and situations popped into your mind. There’s no way to NOT be
triggered by them. It’s maddening and I believe you. The problem is, it’s
only a half truth — it’s not the full complete picture.
What if those people
– those situations – are actually
opportunities for you? Dare it even be a gift? Ok, stop rolling your eyes
and yelling…just hang in there for a minute.
What if the problem is a “seeing
issue?” Meaning, you just haven’t been able to see another way to engage with them. And right there, signals another issue — you already super
know the social realm is a legit challenge for you, right?
I mean, you’ve been
involved in many a program, curriculum, group, and on going conversation all
aimed at helping you bridge this gap. While these interventions certainly meant
well and were full of good stuff, they most likely also missed something.
All people have social
difficulty. On some level – with some people – with some situations. It’s part
of our humanity. So it makes sense that the people charged with teaching you
how to navigate your difficulty had difficulties, too. Guiding someone through
a difficult course requires a specific skill. It’s actually so simple that it
typically gets missed. What is this skill, you ask?
Curiosity is absolutely
pivotal because it opens up a whole new way of looking at something. In this
case, your social challenges. As in, cultivating curiosity on all the levels,
in all the ways, in all the things.
What if you could
learn a new way of engaging? What if there was a helpful strategy to
eradicate the trigger.
I’m here to tell you,
curiosity is that strategy. Yes – even if you have Aspergers.
Here’s what some curiosity
can look like in action…
Pause. Take a step back.
Ask yourself what are you actually feeling? Where else have you felt this
feeling? What’s really going on?
And if your answers are
all about them – she’s just ridiculous and he disrespected me – then it’s time
to dig deeper about yourself.
about her ridiculousness bothers you the most? Why?
about his disrespect got under your skin the most? Why?
else in life have you felt bothered like this?
These are clues to what
triggers you and why. You may be able to rattle off all the clues: the what,
when, where, why and how this came about for you. You may have some clues but
it gets fuzzy fast. Or you may have no clue. Regardless of where you are with
your clues, it looks like you’re not getting beyond them.
The triggers still have a
When someone steps on them, the ugly happens. And later you have feelings about it. You rattle off quick contradictions – you didn’t have a choice, you’re over it, they deserved it, you should apologize and make it right, you’re done, you think about making a pact you’ll never let it get to you like this again and yet, somehow it keeps replaying itself again and again in your mind, just swirling around.
Having Autism is tough as it is already because you may come across many people who do not understand or care about you. You may often be made fun of because of the way you look, walk or anything you do or say. It’s a continuous battle that I deal with every day and unfortunately there exists people who will talk and make fun of you no matter what. Know that you are not alone. I have 2 simple idea on how to enhance your emotional intelligence (or Emotional Quotient, EQ) to counteract this negative feedback and restore your mind with positive thoughts.
As has previously been discussed on Aspergers101, emotional intelligence is a crucial skill to learn and practice that can greatly benefit you in many areas of your life. But how exactly do we get there? The steps below should help guide you towards building your emotional intelligence and self-awareness.
How can we enhance our emotional intelligence (EQ)?
Listen to your body:
A gut feeling you have about a particular situation such as quitting your job is a sign that something is not right either about the situation, or something is not right about quitting your job. If your body gives you an alert signal about a certain situation, pay heed because it may save you from a dangerous outcome. Listening to these signals and the root feelings of the sensations in your body will process your power of reason.
Always ask yourself, how do you feel?:
From a score of 0-10, with 10 being the best and most positive and 0 being the lowest and least confident, write it down in a journal to record how you feel each day overall. If you’re having a bad day, examine how or what caused you to feel this. Explore what transpired that day that made you feel down and how it connects with your overall feelings.
School is much like a war zone for many of those with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Bullying occurs primarily (but not limited to) the Middle School years. Dr. Tony Attwood chimes in on the torment and potential solutions in this video clip from the documentary: Coping to Excelling.
Why are there higher rates of depression in those with AS? There may be some genetic predisposition to depression for some, but this doesn’t explain most cases of depression. One reason for depression is isolation and loneliness. Despite the misconception that people with AS prefer being alone, research shows that many with AS want friends. Children and teens with AS are often lonely and feel their friendships aren’t “quality.” They’re looking for company, safety and acceptance to give them a sense of confidence. Those who have friends may have a lower tendency towards depression. However, many with AS who experience social anxiety or lack social skills in joining, starting, and maintaining friendships don’t have the tools to have the friends they want.
Another reason for depression is the experience of being bullied.
Studies have suggested that a majority of those with AS experience bullying. This isn’t surprising given the drive towards conformity and the emphasis on social status among middle school children in particular, but also among high school students and even older individuals.
There isn’t a cultural norm of tolerance of neurodiversity, or even of most kinds of diversity.
Qualities of those with AS that engender bullying are
lack of awareness of social cues;
interests or behavior labeled ‘odd’;
AS individuals have difficulty flexibily and astutely responding to bullies. Some with AS tend to be submissive and anxious in response, which empowers bullies to continue. Still others lash back, which gets them in trouble.
In my own practice, my Asperger’s teenagers and young adults have often been bullied and carry the wounds of bullying deeply ingrained in their sense of self-esteem.
This blog was last posted in 2014. As the new school year begins, this young mans viewpoint of peer exclusion helped him (and his parents) to go in another direction altogether. We hope it inspires you too. – Aspergers101
When asked about living with Autism, without prompt nor expectation of any kind, this quote came from our son Sam (then 15 years of age) during an interview for the documentary “Coping to Excelling”.
“Don’t worry about the impairments that God included in this package….think about the good stuff in the package God gave you.” -Sam Allen July 2011
These are Sam’s words of advice to anyone living with an impairment, disability or challenge of any kind. His words, though brief, are quite powerful for someone in their mid-teens. I share this because as a person of faith, this is a good way of thinking…maybe for us all.
Chances are anyone with High Functioning Autism or Aspergers Syndrome are not just challenged with the autism but with the comorbidities that typically go along with the diagnosis of ASD. Comorbidities such as ADD, ADHD, OCD, bi-polar or anxiety (to name a few) all challenge and can hinder daily life. We fight daily to overcome these obstacles while oftentimes losing sight of the strengths that do come with the Asperger or HFA diagnosis.
Strengths and ‘gifts’ may include that intense interest in one subject. That hyper-focus may drive family members batty but that is the very ‘good stuff’ Sam is talking about. Issac Newton, Einstein, Steve Jobs and John Nash are all said to have had Aspergers Syndrome. Their ability to focus intensely on one subject allowed them to do great things! Though Sam was never invited to his peer’s birthday parties or gatherings, his absorption in the topic of that time brought him to build a low-powered FM radio station from his bedroom as well as a high-powered gaming computer from scratch. This is a gift so go with it. If their interest happens to be the constellation, seek the stars with your Aspie by laying a blanket on the ground in the backyard at 2am. If it’s trains, go to train museums and allow them to ask the volunteers questions till their hearts content. You get the idea.
This quote now hangs by our front door so as we leave our house everyday…we are all reminded of our worth, no matter our flaws or challenges. Point being…the quote above came from a beautiful mind that is literally wired differently and who knows God doesn’t make mistakes no matter what bullying peers have said. Sam truly believes to his core not to “sweat the small stuff” but to focus on the good. I think that’s a good lesson for neuro-typicals as well!