Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Relationships and The Aspie

by Ken Kellam

Rachel & Ken
People on the spectrum struggle to understand the meaning of non-verbal social cues. Unfortunately, this can be very hazardous when it comes to inter-personal relationships, especially those of a romantic nature. I used to think I had a chance at a relationship with someone as long as they didn't flat-out reject me. What I failed to understand was the non-verbal cues, i.e. not returning phone calls, not being receptive to conversation. But while these things may not come easy to the Aspie (someone with Asperger's Syndrome), they can certainly be taught.

Another area Aspies may struggle with is in handling rejection. It used to be whenever a person rejected me, I thought it was all about me and I had said or done something to put off the other person. With counseling I came to realize that it wasn't all in my control. I also came to realize that sometimes when things don’t work out there’s no one to blame. Neither party did anything wrong; it just didn't work out.

Aspies tend to see everything in black and while, which can cause problems given the intangible and ever-changing nature of relationships. For example, two plus two will always be four, and pi will always equal 3.14. But relationships aren't nearly so set in concrete. They are always changing, sometimes daily. But the Aspie may be reacting to how the relationship was before, or at least how he thought it was before, or how he thinks it should be, instead of responding to how it is in the here and now. This can obviously include realizing when the relationship has run its course.

How can the Aspie overcome this? With coaching and counseling. If he can be taught to look at things from the other person’s perspective, he might be able to see things more clearly. But he also needs to be taught the different ways a situation can be perceived. Otherwise, he might not be able to understand that everyone doesn't think the same way he does.

Ken Kellam III was diagnosed with Asperger's in his late 30's. He recently celebrated his 10th anniversary at ATC, where he works as Administrative Assistant to Dr. Carolyn Garver. He has been married for two years, and his wife also works at ATC as a Teaching Assistant.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Planning to Succeed

January was undoubtedly all about your New Year's resolutions and making plans for the year ahead.  We've all heard the saying that if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.  It takes a little organization and forethought to achieve the goals we have set.

Often, for parents of children with autism, long-term plans are made for the child's education and skill development, but it is also important to make short-term goals and plans as well.  What may be seen as a simple trip to the grocery store for most families can be a challenge for a family affected by autism.  Though parents are usually the focus of "tips" articles, if you are an adult with autism you may experience some of the same struggles.  Here are a few tips we hope will help you and/or your family make plans for the new year:

Be Prepared:  Channel your inner Boy Scout and think of anything you might need to have on-hand for a smooth day.  For example, if you or your child is especially sensitive to loud noises, bring some earplugs when you head out to a sporting event, party, or restaurant.  Think of what your day out will involve, and then think of items that can help alleviate stresses and triggers for uneasiness and bring them with you.  You might even call ahead to ask about any special accommodations your or your family might need.

Practice, Practice, Practice:  We all feel a little better when going into a new situation if we at least have an idea of what we're getting ourselves into.  While practice may not give you a perfect dinner out, going through the motions of talking to a waiter, ordering from a menu, and sitting still at a table might provide a more enjoyable experience.

Be Realistic:  Being prepared and practicing activities can open you and your family up to new experiences that were once thought of as off limits.  Even so, it is important to keep in mind that it will take time to build up to these new things.  If you or your child have never been to a sporting event, you probably don't want to get court-side seats to an NBA playoff game.  Try watching a local high school team play first.  You and your family will be able to build confidence and memories together.

Keep Trying:  You can follow all the tips you've ever been given and your day may still hit a few snags. This week you might have a difficult trip to the grocery store, but don't let that deter you from trying again next week.  Make note of the things that went right as well as the things that went wrong, learn from your experiences, then get back out there!  The more you try, eventually you may find the right combination for a successful day out.

And lastly...

Don't Worry:  We know it's MUCH easier said than done.  Many parents have expressed that they prefer to stay at home than risk disapproving looks and stares from strangers in public due to a sudden outburst or meltdown.  Remember, everyone has a bad day now and then, and who hasn't been in a restaurant or store with a nearby toddler throwing a fit.  Try not to let the worry of what others may think of you or your family hinder the fun and experiences you could be having.  So, don't worry and get out there!

We hope these tips will help in planning for a pleasant outing, get-together, or activity for everyone.