Friday, November 13, 2009
"Congratulations," the psychologist said to his 11 year-old client, "you have Asperger's."
Today, being diagnosed as "on the spectrum", comes with perks. People assume you're smarter than average, and often they're right.
All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome, Kathy Hoopmann's new book for kids, is used by parents and clinicians alike in explaining to kids just what "Asperger Syndrome" means. The book is funny, dead-on and has a strangely intuitive appeal. After all, cats don't need to run up, tail wagging, when you get home. They're not barkers, and are content to simply leave your lap without a backwards glance when they're done being petted. Interaction with cats seems streamlined, without all the fuss and fanfare associated with canine communication.
If you're an adult with Asperger's, you probably didn't receive a congratulatory handshake when you received your diagnosis, if you received a diagnosis at all. This book is for kids, it's true. But it's also for past generations of Aspies, who may have missed out on the feel-good atmosphere surrounding the spectrum today.
If you're an adult with Asperger's, you're not alone, and deserve congratulations for getting through this much of your life without the benefit of school IEPs, sensory interventions and social skills classes.
You deserve a high-five.
Back in 1980, American psychotherapist David Burns published a book which has remained a therapy standard since. Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy was an instant bestseller. The book details the relationship between thoughts and mood, and offers research-based exercises for taking control of "automatic thoughts", and as a result, mood.
Burns identified ten common cognitive distortions, exaggerated and irrational thoughts, which can negatively affect mood. They are extremely common, and identifying them in yourself can serve as the first step in changing them.
Look over the following list and see if any of these distortions are habits of yours.
1. ALL-OR-NOTHING THINKING: You see things in black and white categories. If your performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure.
2. OVERGENERALIZATION: You see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.
3. MENTAL FILTER: You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively so that your vision of all reality becomes darkened, like the drop of ink that discolors the entire beaker of water.
4. DISQUALIFYING THE POSITIVE: You reject positive experiences by insisting they “don’t count” for some reason or other. In this way you can maintain a negative belief that is contradicted by your everyday experiences.
5. JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS: You make a negative interpretation even though there are no definite facts that convincingly support your conclusions.
a. Mind Reading. You arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you, and you don’t bother to check this out.
b. The Fortune Teller Error. You anticipate that things will turn out badly, and you feel convinced that your prediction is an already established fact.
6. MAGNIFICATION (CATASTROPHIZING) OR MINIMIZATION: You exaggerate the importance of things (such as your goof-up or someone else’s achievement). Or you inappropriately shrink things until they appear tiny (your own desirable qualities or the other fellow’s imperfections). This is also called the “binocular trick.”
7. EMOTIONAL REASONING: You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are: "I feel it, therefore it must be true."
8. SHOULD STATEMENTS: You try to motivate yourself with shoulds and shouldn’ts, as if you had to be whipped and punished before you could be expected to do anything. “Musts” and “oughts” are also offenders. The emotional consequence is guilt. When you direct should statements toward others, you feel anger, frustration, and resentment.
9. LABELING AND MISLABELING: This is an extreme form of over-generalization. Instead of describing your error, you attach a negative label to yourself: “I’m a loser.” When someone else’s behavior rubs you the wrong way, you attach a negative label to him: “He’s a damn louse.” Mislabeling involves describing an event with language that is highly colored and emotionally loaded.
10. PERSONALIZATION: You see yourself as the cause of some negative event which in fact you were not primarily responsible for.
Cognitive distortions are characteristic of depression and anxiety. Adults with Asperger's are especially vulnerable to adopting distorted patterns of thinking. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a modality of psychotherapy which aims to challenge and change distortions, is the most researched and common form of therapy used to help people with Asperger's change the way they think about themselves. Often adults on the spectrum, when confronted with the illogical nature of some of these automatic thoughts, are eager to change them to adopt a more reality-based perspective.
If you find yourself engaging in distorted thinking, you can begin to replace the illogical thoughts with more accurate (and often forgiving!) thoughts right away. Remember, cognitive distortions which leave you holding the short end of the stick can feel like a form of perfectionsim. But they can often hold you back from enjoying life, feeling confident and reaching potential.
For more on David Burns, visit the Feeling Good website at http://www.feelinggood.com/
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Listen to NPR's interview with Tim Page, author of Parallel Play: Growing Up with Undiagnosed Asperger's.
Asperger's Disorder is just that - a disorder.
Or is it?
A new wave of people determined to own - and enjoy - their Asperger's status has emerged, and the wave has many clinicians questioning our tendency to pathologize. As we enter a new age of appreciation of diversity, from race to types of intelligence, why, when it comes to Asperger's, are we stuck with diagnoses and tests, therapies and interventions?
One clear answer to this complex question is the notion of distress. An adult with Asperger's (or something close to it) who is in distress as a direct result of the disorder should have access to help. Not help erasing his unique characteristics. Not help being like everyone else. Rather, help enjoying the strengths of Asperger's and minimizing the depression and anxiety that can come with being different.
"That's ridiculous," I hear in the therapy office from some clients, "what good can come of having a developmental disorder?"
But enjoying the strengths that come with the package of neurological differences we call Asperger's is not a new concept. For instance, in their 2001 bestseller Now, discover Your Strengths, Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton, Ph.D. set out to identify styles of information processing that affect the workplace. The result was a spread of over 30 different relating and information processing styles. This was not necessarily a new concept. What was new was how these different styles were judged: not according to a black and white system of good and bad, but as all strengths to be cultivated, utilized and enjoyed by employees and employers alike.
For instance, one theme, the "Analytical", is a familiar style to many Aspies. "You see yourself as objective and dispassionate. You like data because they are value free. They have no agenda....It is hoped that your analysis is never delivered too harshly. Otherwise, others may avoid you..." (page 86). Depending on one's perspective, this strength can be perceived as a skill set, a style, a character flaw, an indifference to people, and on and on. It is up to each individual person with Asperger's to train his or herself to focus on and enhance strengths.
A second theme described is the "Deliberative", another style which resonates with many Aspies. "You are careful. You are vigilant," the writers assert, "You are a private person. You know that the world is an unpredictable place. Everything may seem in order, but beneath the surface you sense many risks. You like to plan ahead so as to anticipate what might go wrong....If some people don't like you because you are not as effusive as others, then so be it." (page 94). Depending on one's perspective, this strength can be judged as responsible, anxious, obsessive- compulsive, non-spontaneous, and on and on. Again, it is up to the individual with Asperger's to see the beauty in this strength and invest in it.
We all want to find ways to identify, enjoy and share our gifts. Have you identified yours? Are you enjoying them? Sharing them?