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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

aspie social anxiety article review

Originally posted on LJ May 12, 2009 as commenting on aspie social anxiety article

commenting on aspie social anxiety article
So I came across this article on Twitter: http://www.aspergers.com/Adolesc.htm

Just wanted to make some comments on it.

(for the record, I'm using a gender-free pronoun "xe" and variants of, instead of genderizing, like the article is)

It starts out explaining that adolescence is a hard time for an NT kid, and is of course, a hard time for an autistic kid as well. As if we don't have identity trouble before adolescence, the teen years certainly spark up more angst and drama about it.

Good quote: "Adolescents yearn to develop a unique and independent identity, separate from their parents’. Yes, they love their parents, but they don’t simply want to follow their foot steps."

That is pretty much true, I think. A teen will rebel and push in order to discover what xe can get away with and learn about how things work in order to learn about xir self. In our society now, I don't think there is as much support for a teen's self-discovery quest, in that things aren't as clear and stable as a long time ago. We live in a very changing environment, and as adolescence, we become hyper-aware of how this affects ourselves. In this setting, we yearn to become self-reliant people.

Anyways, I have rants about that. Moving on.

I love it how the writer of this article needs to break down social anxiety/avoidance and social interaction/competency into measurable parts. Like the divisions of autism into "low functioning" and "high functioning", I guess it helps parents to understand the kid. But honestly, even the best of us can be pretty annoyed at social interaction or have a really bad day that just shuts down the social skills.

Here's a hint: My social interaction is directly related to how interested I am in the social sphere. In the past six years, I've developed a pretty decent-sized social community and have been social active, to the point of becoming an exec member for a campus club. And I've enjoyed every minute of it.
However, I think this is due to the fact that I've actively sought out a social group of people with the same interests and disregard to norms that I have. I found a place where it's okay to be weird and odd and occasionally be socially awkward. Everyone has heard of the socially awkward nerds, right? In university, it's less of an inability to be socially correct, and more of one's personal identity to not give up what one loves, and generally a contempt for social pressure to be "normal".

I predict, when I move away from Laurier and go back home, where I don't have that strong geek community, that I will relapse into becoming more socially awkward, socially nervous and will spend more time on the internet. For my internet friend, this is a plus. However, a lot of doctors might see this as me "regressing back into autism". That isn't true. It's simply that I see no need or anything of interest to maintain social competency. When I do find something, that will change. My skills tend to be flexible that way.

But what gets me about this article is that, from what I'm reading, the rate of social anxiety/avoidance seems to relational to the "functioning" level of am autistic.
to quote: "As autism gets less severe, the level of interest in peers usually increases."
Which simply isn't true from my experiences.
I have great social anxiety that keeps me from initiating many social interactions, most noticeably when trying to find a job, or contacting a doctor, or setting up an appointment. Or approaching a new group of potential social peers (that's going to be a fun one when I get back to Kingston). And I'm considered moderately-to-high functioning.

What I'm getting at is social anxiety isn't limited to any level of "functioning". The same is true for the level of interest. My mother will attest, that I will tune out any and everything that I am uninterested in, to the point of withdrawing completely into my own mind (I refuse to say my own world, as world is another word for planet). In fact, up to university, I more or less spent half of my waking hours in my own head, more or less ignoring what was going on around me. Yet I was functioning enough not to be diagnosed until I was almost 18.
Considering the many autistics not diagnosed until much older than I was, I doubt that I'm the exception.

Moving on, the part where the writer says: "Regardless of the individual developmental route, most children with autism start realizing that they are not quite like others at some point during their adolescence."

I'd argue that this realization actually occurs earlier, but a kid won't noticeably act upon it until adolescence. From a very early age, I realized that I was "different" from the other kids. Words had different meanings, different usage. Actions were different, etc. A thousand little unsaid things that pointed to one fact: I was different.
I only had these feelings of difference when I was at school; otherwise I was with my family, and things were normal. To my eyes, we were normal. It was only by interacting outside of the family that this changed.
It's amazing how much internal drama a kid can have about this, but it was only in adolescence that it began to matter. As a part of identity, to be different is a big thing and leads to a lot of angst. What's fun is when one realizes that autism is a developmental disorder; meaning that most of us, at any given time, are mental and/or emotionally operating at a developmental level that is about two thirds of our physical age. At average.

So as I'm writing this, I am 23 years old, physically, and operating, at average, at a mental/emotional age of approximately 15-16 years old. I say at average because the more tired/stressed and worn out I get, the more that number tends to drop. I've worked at my job as a cashier with a mental age of about 7-10 years old.
In 2002, I wrote THIS ARTICLE when I was 17, and operating at a level of about 11 years old mentally/emotionally. This was when I wasn't diagnosed with AS yet, just ADHD.
No, we realize we are different earlier. And it doesn't take a genius to figure that out. It just becomes more important and we act upon it when we enter physical adolescence. The nice part is that for females, we tend to stabilize around 16 years of age, physical and mentally. So in the next year or so, I'll be mentally stabilizing. Don't ask me about boys. I don't know.

next quote: "Once the adolescent realizes that he has significant difficulties in conducting social relationships compared to his peers, he needs deal with this loss, just like dealing with another loss."

Okay, yeah. There can be quite a bit of angst with realizing that one has difficulties socially. But to the point of mourning? Sheesh, it's not that bad. Personally, I fit this revelation to be relieving and freeing. Instead of struggling to reach an unrealistic goal of normalcy, I can make more realistic goals to consciously understand human behaviour and society, and develop the skills that allow me to interact socially. I'm not perfect at it, but then I can argue from my personal experience that neither are NTs!! Even social butterflies face challenges in society. Just because they have a different set of challenges doesn't deny the fact that they are challenges.

Seriously, don't mourn for us, and don't let us mourn for us. I don't want your pity. I want your support.

oh, I love this bit of advice: "Don’t try to minimize his difficulties, but also don’t let him exaggerate, providing gentle reality testing"
uh-huh. And how would a parent really know? If we are exaggerating, it's because the feeling is at least that big. So don't dismiss that even though an autistic teen isn't as socially incompetent as xe feels, that the FEELING isn't as real. Feelings are real, no matter what, and you need to take that into account.
Better advice: Validate xe's feelings and difficulties and ask questions that will allow xir to realize xier own strengths and true difficulties.

and then: "Offer the option of counseling, since sometimes it is easier to talk to a stranger"
Sometimes. But let's look at it this way. If an autistic teen trusts YOU enough to open up about this stuff, you don't offer to let xe talk to a stranger. Xe wants YOUR help. You think xe is going to talk to a stranger?

This isn't to say that I haven't talked to counselors. Some of them have been helpful in some areas. But every time, after the immediate reason why I started seeing them was addressed, I saw it as pointless and resisted attempts to continue. Nevermind that meeting a new one meant having to decide whether or not to trust them. Just because a person is a counselor doesn't mean they're automatically trustworthy. And a teen is more likely NOT to trust an adult.
So. An autistic teen trusts you to help xe with xeir problems. What do you do? A lot of factors there.

oooh, this is a good one: "Sometimes you have to be very political trying to sell an idea to a teenager. The mere fact that the idea is coming from his parents may make him refuse it. Let the idea come from a family friend, teacher, or a neighbor he trusts. Give him time to think about it. He may come back to the suggestion when he feels he is ready"

and, for the LOVE OF GOD, DO NOT LECTURE!!!!!
No teen likes to be lectured at. period. that's just setting up for an automatic rebellion, just from the PRINCIPLE of it. Instead, engage in conversation that allows the teen to think and come to xeir own conclusions. It's tough and requires a saints load of patience, but it tells the teen that you value xe making xeir own decisions and respect xem. The teen may not show it, but will be a lot more appreciative.

This doesn't just apply to autistic teens; I had this issue happen at the youth group at my church, where the youth pastor started to lecture us. It made us all really upset and the pastor was in danger of losing our respect for him. Our respect for him also made it hard for us to approach him, so I asked about the general feelings of the youth group and addressed the matter directly to him. In the end, a major youth rebellion was avoid and mutual respect for both sides was maintained, as well as our friendships.
Six years later, I'm still in contact with him and we're planning a youth group reunion.

Handle this right, and not only do you get respect, you get friendship.

Okay, the part about Clinical Depression. I forget where Christschool on youtube got the stats, but the leading cause of death among autistic adults is suicide. Like everyone else, we get depressed, we get anxious, and like everyone else, adolescence plays merry on our emotions.
side note, I believe studies have shown that clinical, all teens are insane due to the instability with chemicals in the brain. Everyone is equal in this.
So please please please, YES, get help if there is suspected Depression. Handle it well though, so you don't get the refusal to treatment that's in the case study the writer brings up.

Funny thing about that case study, actually. About 2002ish, I went to a psychologist to help with a major panic disorder, which I've described in previous posts. This is the same psychologist who diagnosed me with ADHD and Learning Disabilities in grade 9, and I fairly liked her. So I went back to her after a fairly traumatic panic attack in my evening shower that lead to me rushing out of the shower and immediately taking over a computer to type up what happened and a plea for help. It was so bad I couldn't say it; I had to type it. (I think my mom still has what I typed; she keeps those things as documentation)
But I went back to her, and worked on things as they came, until an exploding incident at Christmas of what we now know was me withdrawing and recharging being intruded on, that escalated into a situation where my psychologist, upon hearing about it, was ready to call Children's Aid had I been younger.

As the situation settled, the psychologist concluded that I was experiencing "rapid mood swings that can occur in females with ADHD" and referred me to a child psychiatrist at the hospital outpatient for medication. I was put on a light dosage of Zoloft, and continued seeing the psychiatrist for follow up. To be honest, I liked her. She was kind. She asked the RIGHT questions. Unbeknown to me, she was also talking to my mother, who provided her with the documentation of my past behaviour. The result, a working diagnosis of Asperger's which was confirmed by other specialists at the hospital. One of the best things to have happened in my life.

Funny how these things happen. Anyways.

Good points on encouraging specializations in interests. About the contacting the Autism Society of America, though. I'd rather you contact WrongPlanet.net. There's over 14,000 autistic members on the forum and growing and has all sorts of handy resources. I could be paranoid, but I don't trust Autism Societies, as a lot of them have curebie mentalities, and I believe that is more harmful to autistic people that is constructive.

Last point of the article: yeah, just cause we're autistic doesn't mean we don't have the very human desire to reproduce. Actually, there's very few cases in which I would not argue that an individual feels the need to reproduce. Although, sex ed is a fun topic for any parent. My parents got around it by giving me a book called "what's happening to my body" and letting my private Christian elementary school handle it.

seriously. sex ed for autistics doesn't have to be complicated.

aaaaand, that wraps up the article. huh, I spent two days writing this. Back to writing my assignment and finding MLA handbooks, and hey, I need to do laundry and get my brows done... **wanders off**

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