Ten Ideas to Live Healthier and Feel Better: Divergent Thinkers (Aspergers, NLD) and Everyone

with Marcia Eckerd, Ph.D.

  1. Respect yourself.   As hard as things have been, focus on your strengths. Your path, however bumpy, has gotten you the be the person you are. You are unique, and no one else can contribute your insight and perspective.
  2. Reach out for support.   If you have family or friends who “get it,” that’s terrific. If not, there’s communities of support out there on Facebook, like “The Aspergian Has An Article for That” and “Autism Support and Discussion Group”. People have had similar experiences and are working on the same issues.
  3. Advocate for yourself. No one can see inside you.   Consider how best to communicate to the person who is listening. With some people, you can probably say what you want plainly. For others, help them understand. You might try this: say something positive (I want to do a good job), then your need: (but I need a quieter place to work) and then something positive (I’ll be able to get that done). Or, another example: positive (I want us to get along), need (so I need you to be clear and not expect I know what you want), positive (that will really help).
  4. Take care of your health.  Your body is critical to your mood, your ability to think and your wellbeing. Too many people don’t get enough sleep, eat well or take the time to take care of themselves. Treat yourself to a recharging walk to somewhere you enjoy (or nap), whatever works for you.
  5.  Meditate   It’s been proven that mediation can structurally change your brain to be more stress resilient, and it’s like creating a center of calm for yourself. There’s many ways to do it (mindfulness, repeating a phrase, yoga, even walking). You’ll find great apps to lead you through mediation like Calm, Headspace and Insight Timer.
  6. Know yourself     Know your triggers for emotional and sensory overload and early warning signs in your thinking, feeling or body that say it’s getting too much. Have strategies you’ve pre-thought for calming down, whether it’s something like taking a walk, listening to music, doing a minute or two of meditation, anything that works.
  7. Have strategies    If you can’t escape going into difficult situations, have strategies for handling it. Short doses, taking time outs. Use self-advocacy to share that this situation is difficult and what might be helpful. If that doesn’t work and this situation keeps recurring, there’s something fundamentally wrong with this situation and you might have to think about how to change it.
  8. Have compassion for yourself    We all do our best and no one is perfect. You may have made mistakes and regret them but that’s how we learn. You need to give yourself the compassion you’d want to give a friend in the same situation.
  9. Let go of anger     This saying is allegedly attributed to the Buddha: He who holds onto anger is like the man who drinks poison and expects the other person to die. Anger stimulates your stress response so your autonomic nervous system stays in fight/flight mode. This is bad for your health, your immunity and your outlook on yourself and life. I’m not saying forget, just do whatever re-centers your focus on how you overcame (or can overcome) whatever obstacle you encountered. You’ve undoubtedly had some good experiences; focus on them as balancing the negative.
  10. Learn the serenity prayer.    Give me the serenity to accept what I can’t change, the courage to change what I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Employment with ASD: Embracing Disability Hiring

CHICAGO — Seyfarth Shaw, one of the city’s largest law firms, occupies nine floors of a skyscraper at 131 S. Dearborn St. Shalonda Sanders is responsible for picking up and delivering packages on each of them, plus keeping certain areas clean. It is a job she cherishes.

“I love my co-workers, all of them,” Sanders, 35, said of the 15-member office services team of which she is a part. “Downstairs,” she said, referring to the mail center, “I consider us as one.”

Sanders, who suffered brain damage when she was struck by a car as a child, was hired at Seyfarth about a year ago with the help of Best Buddies Illinois, after many years of trying unsuccessfully to gain paid employment.

The local chapter of the national nonprofit, best known for fostering one-on-one friendships between people with disabilities and a network of volunteers, had recently launched a jobs program to place people with intellectual and developmental disabilities into competitive jobs.

Shalonda Sanders, 35, works in the mailroom delivering letters, documents and FedEx packages to law office employees at Seyfarth Shaw in Chicago. Sanders, who was hit by a car at age 9 and left with brain trauma that slurs her speech and causes some tremors, was placed in the job through Best Buddies. (Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

Shalonda Sanders, 35, works in the mailroom delivering letters, documents and FedEx packages to law office employees at Seyfarth Shaw in Chicago. Sanders, who was hit by a car at age 9 and left with brain trauma that slurs her speech and causes some tremors, was placed in the job through Best Buddies. (Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

The program, one of many attempting to tackle the massive unemployment rate among those with intellectual disabilities, is part of a movement away from what are known as sheltered programs that keep workers with disabilities apart from the mainstream workforce and often pay less than minimum wage. Its challenge is to show companies that tapping into this underused talent pool isn’t just a good thing to do, but good for the bottom line.

How to Deal with Tough Professors and Classes as an ASD Student

When you are attending college you are going to have tough professors who at times can be unfair towards students. These professors either don’t care about your needs or are just academically tough. Having a tough professor can be intimidating for a person on the autism spectrum because those with ASD already have challenges with advocating for themselves. On top of it these students have to debate their needs with a professor who is strict.

Having tough professors is hard to deal with, and I was in your shoes as a college student, here I provide ways to help deal with tough professors.

Relax

Relax and be cautious: the class has just started and a professor acts tough to either intimidate you or motivate you to do better in the course. Never take the tough attitude to heart, it does not last long, and it’s just a tactic they use. Now the class may be difficult, which can add plenty of stress for a person on the autism spectrum disorder, but just know the toughness gets less and less as the semesters go on.

Never Give Up

I would advise you never to give up or drop the course no matter how tough the professor is or how difficult the course may be. Always know that you have support (which I will explain in detail) about how to approach a tough professor. There a resources and people in colleges out there dedicated to helping you succeed in college and getting the best help possible.

Look at the teaching style

You can learn so much from a tough teacher but their delivery of the material is important to understand as well. If the teacher just assigns busy work or book work or is rude and impatient towards the students, then you have a bad instructor. With tough teachers you learn a great deal of information and resources but the class is difficult. Be vigilant about important assignments in the course, and if the professor cannot give you a clear and precise answer about the assignments in detail, you need to seek help elsewhere. Assignments should be given out as you progress through the course as the material builds off of itself. Remember being rude and not giving clear and detailed information is not signs of toughness its signs of a bad professor.

Tough professor challenge their students

All professors in college challenge their students but each has a different way of approaching it. The best professors remember that they were once students too and don’t assign or do something that they would not do, or have not done themselves, in college. Professors believe if they challenge you, they can see your true potential, and if you gain one thing from it overall that’s growth.

Know your disability service staff

As a student with a disability you have one advantage with educational support staff. The staff is dedicated to helping you achieve your educational goals, getting you the best resources and help, and making sure you meet the academic standards of the college as a student with a disability. You can always rest assured that if you need any help with the courses and professors not meeting your disability needs or mistreating you, you know the disability staff at any college is there for you.

Know the professor’s boss

It is important when dealing with a tough, unfair or bad professor: you must know who their boss is. This could be the lead professor, department chair, or dean of that college that houses your degree plan. For example, The University of Texas at San Antonio is structured like this: my major was Criminal Justice, and I had a professor whose boss was the department chair of the Department of Criminal Justice at UTSA, and their boss was the Dean of the College of Public Policy that Criminal Justice is housed under. Know who their bosses are so that if you have any issues with a tough, unfair, biased, or bad professor you can call them, email them, visit them on campus and express your concerns about that professor. They are there for the students as well, and it is their job and your job to make sure your academic goals and the academic goals of the college are being met.

Know the professor’s office hours and emails

Know your professors’ emails and office hours and take full advantage of the office hours and emails. Show up to their office and email them as much as possible. This shows that you are determined and that you are serious about your educational needs. Those emails and office hours are for the students, and a good professor will allow you to call, email or visit them during those offices ours or set up an office meeting when the student is available. Good professors will respond to your email in a  timely manner and will be concerned with your educational learning goals as well. Take advantage of office hours and get all of your questions on the table and don’t leave until you and the professors are on the same goals and have a plan to help you succeed. If you leave with no plan go back to step 6 or 5.

Know the syllabus

Aspergers is Not the Same as ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder)!

People with Asperger’s usually collect labels like ADHD, anxiety disorders, or bipolar disorder before they’re diagnosed with AS. The label that annoys me is Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Is there a difference between people whose Asperger’s-related behavior is misunderstood and ODD? I find that ODD is sometimes simply a description of behavior without a cause.

Insurers ask for diagnoses based on ICD 10, the “handbook” of diagnoses. One of the official ICD 10 descriptions of AS is that it’s a “neuropsychiatric disorder whose major manifestations is an inability to interact socially; other features include poor verbal and motor skills, single mindedness, and social withdrawal.”

ICD 10 describes ODD as a behavior disorder and a psychopathological disorder. It’s described as a “recurrent pattern of negativistic, defiant, disobedient, and hostile behavior toward authority figures.”  The criteria include “frequent occurrence of at least four of the following behaviors: losing temper, arguing with adults, actively defying or refusing to comply with requests or rules of adults, deliberately annoying others, blaming others for own mistakes, and being easily annoyed, angry or resentful.”

ICD 10 is right in my experience in describing those with Asperger’s Syndrome as “single minded.” This is a real strength when doing tasks, following rules and being honest. However, single mindedness can also include inflexibility or even severe rigidity in sticking to a point of view.

When an inflexible demand is made of an inflexible person, you have rigidity meeting rigidity. That’s not going to work. For people with AS, what’s being perceived as oppositional, hostile or rule breaking is actually more about having a fixed way of viewing the world.

Especially when rules or demands seem illogical or unfair, those with AS can dig in and stand their ground. Many with AS and NLD also have concrete or literal thinking, which adds to the mix of misunderstanding and “rule breaking.”

Concerns About Solitary Sons with Aspergers

My son, now 30yrs old has had difficulties since childhood, and we know he has Aspergers. During his teens he was extremely angry and sad but he came through this period. Today he lives independently, has his own home and car but for the past year he has not spoken at all to anyone. His life is restricted to his job, which is in jeopardy because of his refusal to speak to his co-workers. He was visiting me on Sunday but now that has ended. He literally speaks less than a “Yes” or “No” to anyone. We have been to social service, doctors, clinicians, speech therapists, psychologists, and he refuses to see any of them. Everything I read online is about children. Any advice?

-Doug

Perspective

DIR/Floortime Method for Social-Emotional Growth of Children with ASD

Although our emphasis is often focused on early intervention, it is important to consider various types of interventions that can grow with the child with Aspergers or HFA as they grow into adolescence, another area of huge potential growth. One approach that has demonstrated clinical impact is DIR/Floortime. This method is a relationship-based, developmental framework that is geared toward supporting foundational social-emotional capacities.

The DIR Model, or Floortime, aims to support higher level thinking abilities of multicausal and reflective thinking by building foundational stability in self-regulation and co-regulation with another. DIR/Floortime incorporates techniques and strategies geared toward promotion of more stable and more flexible emotional regulation in the child or adolescent.

What If It Snowed In San Antonio?

A Care-giver Series: by Dr. Ghia Edwards

This is the third installment of my piece speaking about the health of a caregiver and it has been an interesting journey these past weeks. We as caregivers get in such and stay in such serious modes, that sometimes it takes something drastic to pop us out of our self imposed prisons of heaviness and sometimes fear. It was almost two years ago to the date that in San Antonio and much of Texas it full on snowed! Now for some of us who were raised around snow, (my parents were bi coastal people), this could have seemed mundane but it was not anything of the sort. I was so happy and joyful that it was snowing, I surprised myself and as I looked around me, everyone and I mean everyone was smiling and laughing and making snowballs and snowmen. Then it hit me, it hit me why I had to wait till this very moment to write this very thing. Life and it’s tragedies are real but in those moments of lifting and or explaining, or seeing people’s faces in reaction to perhaps a behavior your person was exhibiting, in those moments the divine breaks in. Now maybe it’s not snow in the south or something as drastic as that but I believe wholeheartedly that we are given sweet miracle moments that release us from the prison and remind us that we are free to live and enjoy and to find joy in the big and little things in life. I can tell you, I love each and every one of you who are struggling to be, when you don’t even know if you can put one foot in front of the other. I send you thoughts and knowledge that you can find the divine and joy in your task of caregiving, you just have to seek them, to go after them because joy can seem fleeting like the melting snow but the take away is this. When we can choose to see the beauty in a smile, or in a victorious moment where we somehow connect to and with our people, then that is where we see the miracles happen of this season and all year round . We may feel exhausted and cranky sometimes as caregivers but let us remember the beauty we are giving we get back in unexpected ways. Seek those moments and I know you will not be disappointed.

Joy and Peace,

Dr. Ghia

dr.ghia7@gmail.com