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Kathy Marshack News

Theory of Mind - A Necessary Component of Empathy

Monday, December 26, 2016


Theory of Mind, the ability to recognize that a person has beliefs, intentions, desires, and perspective differing from your own, is a component of empathy.In order to have empathy for another person, you must have a Theory Of Mind. That is, you must be able to recognize that another person exists and has beliefs, intentions, desires, imaginations, emotions, etc., to oneself and others and to understand that others have beliefs, desires, intentions, and perspectives that differ from your own. The Theory of Mind perspective kicks in the other aspects of empathy, such as understanding and nurturing.

Recently a New York Times article reported on new research that shows that pregnancy changes the brain in the regions associated with Theory of Mind. They report:

“Only the pregnant women showed gray matter reduction, thinning and changes in the surface area of the cortex in areas related to social cognition. Changes were so clear that imaging results alone could indicate which women had been pregnant. The researchers said they did not yet know what was being reduced in size: neurons, other brain cells, synapses or parts of the circulatory system.”

Researches are hypothesizing that the brain is pruning away portions of gray matter as a process of specialization, thereby increasing the mother's ability to resonate with her baby.

Understanding this may also help us to understand Theory Of Mind when it comes to autism. If development of theory of mind is biologically important for the survival of a newborn, the lack of this vital element surely affect relationships in general.

What feels so natural to us NTs and especially to mothers is not learned, but biological. This means that we have to build "workarounds" with our Aspies if we are to communicate effectively.

If you’re a member of the Asperger Syndrome: Partners and Family of Adults with ASD, please join our low cost Video Conference on Thursday, January 12, 2017, at 9:00 AM. We’ll discuss “Theory of Mind is vital for survival”. This video call is an opportunity to learn more about the mind of your Aspie and how to reach them...but also to take better care of your need to connect with others who have a "theory of mind."

Entrepreneurs – Do You Need to Change Your Habits This Year?

Wednesday, December 21, 2016


Arrows pointing opposite directionsWe all have habits we don’t even notice anymore. Maybe you get up each morning and immediately make a cup coffee. When you get to the office, you might take a moment to organize your desk and plan your day. You could take the same path through the grocery store every time you shop.

Our days are made up of a series of habitual behaviors. We develop habits because they are convenient mechanisms for getting things done without having to think too much about them. This leaves us more time and mental energy to devote to other things. Entrepreneurs, who are pulled in so many different directions throughout the day, find mindless habit to be extremely helpful as it allows some things to just flow.

But what happens when your formerly good habits no longer serve your best interest?

When you come to realize that a habit, or even a series of them, is no longer serving its purpose, stop doing it. Once we get something working, an efficient routine, it can be hard to give it up. But the fact is that what works now, won’t work forever.

Our lives are ever changing, as is our environment and our business. Therefore, it is important to assess your habits from time to time. Ask yourself: Are my habits helping me? Or are they just comfortable? Have they gotten to the point of being counterproductive?

I worked with a couple who, for many years, had a great routine going. Don ran the family business and Maria cared for the home and the children. The problem came later, when the children were grown. Maria wanted to go back to work, but she had trouble seeing her husband taking care of some of her former household duties. Don was afraid to relinquish control of their family finances. They struggled because everything had worked so smoothly for so long, they were reluctant to change even though change was needed.

What they needed to do was examine their habits in the light of their values as a family. If traditional family roles were most important to them, then it would make sense for Maria to not work outside the home. However, if their traditional style was simply convenient when the children were young, they should have no problem changing their style and habits to suit a dual-career life.

Successful entrepreneurs are all about managing exterior change, but many forget that they have to change themselves sometimes. While it is not always a comfortable process, change is a part of life and it is vital to our progress and happiness. We all need to experience new things, overcome new challenges that take us outside of our comfort zones, to grow.

As this year draws to a close, it is the perfect time to step back and assess your habits, personally and professionally. Can you identify any of your habits that might be doing more harm than good? I’m sure you can recognize some of your habits as being helpful and moving you forward in the right direction. Are there any new habits you want to develop?

New Year’s Resolutions often get a bad rap for not lasting past January. It doesn’t have to be that way. Instead, try examining your priorities and resolve to establish habits and routines that maximize your values and beliefs. These are changes and habits that will last…until they need to change again!

Have your habits and routines stopped bringing you joy? If there is something about your life that’s not working, don’t settle for it! If you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA please contact my office and schedule an appointment. I will help you get to the root of the problem and find a solution.

Drinking Safely During the Holidays

Monday, December 19, 2016


Woman declining a glass of wineIt’s the most wonderful time of the year – spending time with family and friends, giving and receiving gifts, and invitations to a lot of parties. With all this merriment, often comes more drinking. Even for people who generally drink in moderation, holiday celebrations can really impact their alcohol consumption and quickly lead to overindulgence.
 
What is it about the holidays that lend themselves to an increase in drinking? There is a festive feeling in the air at this time of year. It seems there are endless occasions for celebrations, from end-of-the-year office parties, to the reunion of long-lost friends and family.
 
The flip side of that, though, is the extra stress brought on by the holiday season. Family dinners do not always equate to relaxing, enjoyable evenings. Memories of those who are no longer with us can bring sadness. The sheer cost of the holidays can also make it tempting to escape in a glass of spiked eggnog!
 
Whether you’re celebrating, or trying to de-stress, it may be tempting to overindulge or even use the holidays as excuse for binge-drinking. It may seem like a good idea to help you cope with difficult family members or an uncomfortable office party, but the reality is over-drinking can have a detrimental physical effects and lead to behaviors you often regret later.
 
So how can you enjoy drinking during the holiday season wisely? Here are a few suggestions:
 
Have a plan. How much alcohol are you comfortable drinking? A martini? Two glasses of wine? Decide ahead of time how much you will drink, and stick to your decision. Don’t let others push you to drink more than you know you should.
 
This is especially important for recovering alcoholics. Go in to any gathering with two or three responses prepared for when you are inevitably offered a drink. You don’t have to tell anyone that you have struggled with addiction. A firm, “No, thank you. I’m fine,” can suffice.
 
Keep a non-alcoholic drink in your hand. This helps space out the drinks you’ve already decided you can have. Instead of drinking two glasses of wine before dinner is even served, sip on some water or sparkling cider in-between glasses.
 
This is also a great way to avoid being offered a drink. If people see you with a glass already in your hand, they will be much less inclined to try to push something on you. Having something bubbly and delicious also helps you avoid feeling deprived.
 
Remind yourself why you plan to drink in moderation (or not at all!). Have you made bad choices in the past when you over-drink? Do you feel sick, tired, and weak the next day? Remember why it is important to you to make this choice.
 
Keep alcohol in its proper place. Instead of viewing the party as an opportunity to drink, look at it as a wonderful time to socialize and enjoy good conversation. Then if you choose to have a drink, it's just an addition to a lovely evening not the focal point.
 
Surround yourself with supportive loved ones. For those that deal with addiction, it is vital to get support from close friends and family. While they may not understand exactly what you are going through, they want the best for you and will help in any way they can. If you start to feel your willpower waning, reach out to them. If you make it through a tempting situation successfully, share it with them!
 
If one of your family members struggles with addiction, it is very important that you help them as much as they will accept. The function of the family unit is to nurture and protect its members. Family members tend to overlook, condone, deny, rationalize, or minimize the problem for the sake of keeping peace. No one wants to rock the boat, especially around the holidays. Of course, you can’t force anyone to do anything. But offer to help. Do not enable them, or ignore their addiction. And if they turn around and get their life back on track, celebrate with them and support them in their ongoing efforts!
 
If you feel that you need help dealing with addiction personally, or in your family, and you live in the Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA area, I can help! Please contact my office to set up an appointment.

Help Your Children Distinguish Truth from Lies on the Internet

Wednesday, December 14, 2016


Children are woefully unprepared to tell the truth from lies on the internet, so we need to teach them to think critically by asking these probing questionsWe live in the information age. If you want to know anything, just Google it. However, it can be incredibly difficult to sort through it all to find the truth. The disturbing thing is that many people are acting on the false information they find online. They make unwise purchases; they retweet “facts” without checking for truthfulness; and even worse they may end up harming themselves or harming others.

For example, only this week NPR reported on a man who took a gun to a popular family restaurant to investigate a conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton was running a sex ring there. His source of information? Fake news stories on the internet. If grown men are so easily misled and manipulated by false information on the internet, what’s going to happen to our children?

To make wise use of online information, a person needs to have good reading and comprehension skills. But that’s not all. You also need to be able to make comparisons and critically assess if the information is accurate and reliable. This is a skill that needs to be taught to our children.

At present, our children are woefully unprepared. If you want to read an interesting study conducted by the Stanford History Education Group, click here to read their PDF summary. They found, for example, that over 80% of middle school students identified a native advertisement as a legitimate news story although it was labeled “sponsored content”. And just because they say a photo, they believed an obviously false story.

How can children learn to read online information critically?
They need to learn how to ask searching questions, such as:

1) Is it from a reliable source?
  • Is this person or organization known for telling the truth?
  • Or do they have bias that causes them to only report things that promote their viewpoint or puts cash in their pockets? 
  • What authority, experience, training, or credentials do they have?
2) Is it professionally written?
  • Is the information clear or confusing; consistent or contradictory; vague or detailed; provable or unverifiable?
  • Are there grammatical errors that suggest it was written by an unskilled writer?

3) Does it make sense?
  • Does it contradict what I know to be true?
  • Is more than one trusted site reporting this piece of information? 

It’s not wrong to question and examine what you hear or read. There’s a lot of truth in the adage, “If it seems too good to be true, it usually is”. This doesn’t mean you become fearful or suspicious and see conspiracies everywhere. Just remember the old Russian proverb that President Reagan used, “Trust, but verify.” It means being open-minded enough to consider all sides before making up your mind. Let’s continue the conversation over on my Facebook page. I’d be interested to know what questions you ask when you want to verify a story.

To read more on my website: Parenting.

Do You Have Trouble Reading Facial Expressions? Take This Test and See

Monday, December 12, 2016


Do You Have Trouble Reading Facial Expressions? Take This Test and SeeEvery day we’re confronted with interactions where we have to figure out what other people are thinking and planning on doing. Will that child dart across the road in front of your car? Will your spouse be receptive to your request? Does the new girl you just met really like you? Is there a way to tell?

While the spoken word gives you some indication of what someone is thinking, it’s not reliable in and of itself. Someone may be pulling your leg by sarcastically complimenting you while keeping a deadpan face. To know what they really mean, you have to learn how to read what their eyes are telling you.

The eyes and the surrounding areas are the most expressive part of a person's face. Once you know how to read a person's emotions through his or her eyes, you're much closer to being able to predict their behavior.

Judging a person’s mental state, also called having a “theory of mind,” is an important skill that most of us develop early in life. However, the brains of people who have Asperger’s, a high functioning form of autism, develop this skill only partially or not at all. This helps us to understand why our Aspies lack empathy and have trouble socializing.

When you can empathize, you feel what the other person feels, and you connect with that person on a deep level of understanding and trust. Empathy comes from being able to reading emotional cues, such as the message being sent through the eyes, the tone of voice and body language, in addition to the actual words spoken and the context in which they’re said.

Would you like to take the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test (RMET) that Simon Baron-Cohen developed? It presents a series of 36 pairs of eyes, and you have to pick one emotion out of four possible emotions being communicated. It’s so effective it’s been used as a tool to help point toward a diagnosis of Asperger’s. I’d love for you to come over to my Facebook page and report your results. The good news is that taking the test over and over again can help train your brain to improve in its ability to read the emotions revealed by the eyes. It’s a fantastic way to improve your ability to understand other people.

If your results indicate you may have Asperger’s, don’t despair or feel embarrassed. Take it as the first step toward creating a more rewarding life. If live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA please contact my office and schedule an appointment for a proper diagnosis. This may be exactly what you need to put you on the path toward healthier and long lasting relationships.

How to Avoid ASD Meltdowns During the Holidays

Friday, December 09, 2016


If you avoid family Christmas parties because of your Aspies unpredictable behavior, try these ten tips to help your Autistic child cope with holiday stressPlanning is the key to enjoying any special occasion. This is especially true when you have family members on the spectrum. With their normal routine disrupted, it’s important to prepare them well in advance so as to minimize their anxiety and potential meltdowns.

Don’t be afraid to start some new holiday traditions that make the holiday times less stressful for you. Here are 10 simple tips that can help you and your Aspie child enjoy the holiday season more:

1. Invite your Aspie child to help decorate your home, so he or she is actively involved in changing their environment. Sounds, smells, and bustling activity can cause sensory overload, so you may need to limit the type and quantity of holiday cheer. For example, you may want to limit the volume and time you play holiday music. You may want to choose subdued lighting instead of the flashing and twinkling lights.

2. Rehearse the scheduled events with your child (either in written or picture form). If you create a wall chart that counts down the days, post photos of all the people who will attend and help your child get to know them in advance. Talk about what activities will take place, where they will happen, how loud it will be, how many people will attend, and what behavior is expected. Knowing what’s next helps ASD children feel less anxiety.

3. Make treats that your child can eat so he or she doesn’t feel left out. Be sure to make enough to share. When it’s on the table amidst the other goodies, it makes your child feel like they fit in. Don’t give in to the peer pressure of, “But this is the holiday; let him have some of this cake…” You know how eating certain foods contributes to meltdowns. Instead, offer one of your special treats.

4. Make your child’s sleep schedule a priority. If traveling away from home, it may be helpful to bring your child’s normal sheets and pillows so he or she can sleep more peacefully.

5. If you need dress clothes for family pictures, change your child into soft clothes as soon as possible. Avoid the temptation to make your child wear new clothes from grandma, until you’ve washed them several times and removed the tags.

6. If you’re going to travel by plane, bring earplugs so your child can listen to a favorite program or music. It will drown out the noise of the plane and surrounding people, and it’s calming.

7. Take a few of your child’s favorite toys, games or books. When your child needs some downtime or distraction, there will be something familiar to comfort them.

8. Give your child a code word to use if he or she feels overwhelmed. This provides a feeling of control and helps them remain calm. Be sure your child knows that you will respond right away when this code word is used.

9. Briefly explain Asperger’s to supportive family and friends so they know what to expect and how to respond. If you have a few people who will act as a buffer against those who refuse to understand, it gives you some breathing room and you won’t feel so alone.

10. Make sure someone is always committed to watching your child. If you do this in shifts, everyone will have time to have fun. Have a pre-assigned way to tactfully “tag” the next person when their shift begins.

I hope these tips help you experience a happy and enjoyable holiday season!

What if the person with Asperger’s is your spouse? Don’t forget that the holidays can be stressful for them as well. You may want to pick up a copy of my book, Out of Mind – Out of Sight: Parenting with a Partner with Asperger Syndrome (ASD). It also explores the science behind Asperger’s. It will help you understand your Aspie better. Get a free chapter by clicking on the image below.

Finding Your Way to Normal Despite Your NT/AS Relationship

Monday, December 05, 2016


Doesn’t the holiday season make you wish for true love, a warm and hearty Christmas dinner with family, and better times ahead? It almost makes us believe, like little children who believe Santa grants wishes, that our heartfelt wishes might come true.

But then you realize with a sinking feeling that it can’t possibly happen, because your life isn’t like everyone else’s. You don’t get to live a normal life, because you’re living with someone who has Aspergers. And that realization makes you withdraw even deeper into your protective invisibility.

If no one notices that you’re not normal, you can pretend that what happens to you is okay. That you really didn’t want to attend the dinner with friends. That it doesn’t matter that no one kisses you under the mistletoe. That you won’t get a gift that makes you feel like a desired lover and partner. That it’s impossible for you and your Aspie to have a good time together. That you don’t feel special anymore. That you’re invisible.

I never really thought about invisibility before I learned about my mother’s Asperger Syndrome. But in looking back through the years, I realize now that I have been invisible all my life, and I believe it’s a condition that plagues a lot of NT people in Asperger/NT families

Whenever I explain my experience of family holidays to friends and colleagues their eyes glaze over. I do get some satisfaction from this, because it confirms my suspicion that my life is not normal. But it’s still a painful reminder. . . that I am alone.

Since the holiday season is particularly poignant for most of us, it’s time we gather together to discuss how you feel about this conundrum and what to do about it. If you’re a member of the Asperger Syndrome: Partners and Family of Adults with ASD, please join our free international teleconference on Thursday, December 15, 2016, at 1:30 PM. We’ll discuss “Finding Your Way to Normal”.  I'm not saying that you can really find your way back to normal. That ship has sailed. But perhaps you can create a new normal for you; a normal that helps you stay healthy, and loving and mentally centered. . . amid the chaos of living with those on the Autism Spectrum.

If your depression is worsened by the holiday season and it’s getting to be too much for you, please contact your medical or health care professional immediately. If you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA please contact my office and schedule an appointment so we can find ways for you to achieve happiness again.

And if you’ve been putting off getting a copy of Out of Mind – Out of Sight: Parenting with a Partner with Asperger Syndrome (ASD) because you thought it was just about parenting, don’t wait another moment. You’ll hear my story and that of others who feel invisible. It also explores the science behind Asperger’s. Get a free chapter by clicking on the image below.



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