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Kathy Marshack News

Neuroscience in the Court System - Are 18 Year Olds Really Adults?

Wednesday, June 28, 2017


Neuroscience in the Court System Do you think an 18 year old is an adult? It’s commonly accepted that by the age of 18, a young man or a woman is an adult with adult privileges and adult consequences. For example, if you commit a crime at the age of 18 you’ll be tried as an adult in the court of law.

Yet, neuroscience shows that the brain is not fully developed by then. The process for making new connections and pruning unnecessary neurons continues well into the early twenties. Surprisingly, there’s an explosion of connectivity occurring after the age of 18. No wonder these young adults often make unwise decisions!

Earlier I wrote about Laurence Steinberg, a psychologist at Temple University, who found that “cognitive skills usually form by age 16 while psychosocial maturity — measured by impulsivity, risk perception, thrill-seeking, resistance to peer influence — doesn’t begin until age 18, steadily increasing through the early 20s.”

A recent New York Times article considers the impact this is having on the criminal court system and what alternatives we might have. According to the article, “Young adults 18 to 24 make up 10 percent of the population, but they account for 28 percent of all arrests (2.1 million in 2015), a rate higher than that of any other age group.”

The article also reports on a new experiment based on neuroscience. A number of cities are now hosting Young Adult Courts – a hybrid of adult/juvenile justice systems. (San Francisco was the first. Now there are more across the U.S. as well as in England and Wales.)

The court staff is trained in neuroscience by a clinical psychologist, so they can apply this science to offenders between the ages of 18-24. They follow up by providing these immature “adults” with supervision, education, and support as they weekly check in and report their progress.

Rather than having a permanent black mark on their record, which can adversely change their entire future prospects, these young adults are getting help to mature and develop better decision-making skills. This a definite WIN!

Understanding how the brain works is fundamental to solving many of the issues young ones face today. I’m fascinated especially by how empathy is formed in some individuals while it isn’t formed in others. I’ll let you in on a secret…I’m in the process of writing my next book on the topic of empathy. I’m anxious to share with you what I’ve learned.

Did you know I provide online education specifically for how entrepreneurial couples and families with ASD can apply neuroscience and psychology to improve their relationships? And if you have personal issues you need help with, you might qualify for online therapy as well. In our busy, hectic lives, the Internet can make counseling easier and more accessible. Why not see if it’s right for you?

What Question Would YOU Like to Ask Me about Asperger’s?

Monday, June 26, 2017


What question would you like to ask Dr Kathy about aspergersIf you could ask me anything about Aspergers and your AS/NT relationship, what would you ask?

Coming up in July you’ll have three opportunities to actually do just that. Each one of my low cost video conferences will be dedicated to answering your nagging questions. Because that’s what it's like living with Aspies, isn't it? There are these confusing moments, loose connections and vague gut feelings.

What might some of your questions be about?

  • How do I parent my Aspie children with an Aspie partner?
  • How can I help my NT child deal with his/her Aspie parent?
  • How can I find a measure of romance in my AS/NT relationship?
  • What are some ways to keep my sanity in a trying situation?
  • What specific rules of engagement will help my Aspie and I connect?
  • How can I help my Aspie to at least acknowledge my feelings?
  • How can I feel whole despite the craziness and loneliness?

Do any of these questions strike a cord with you? Perhaps they at least get you thinking about a topic that’s important to you. Please write your ideas down, so you don’t forget between now and the conference.

Let's gather to share our collective wisdom. I don't have all of the answers, but beneath the surface of our perplexing lives is a pattern. I believe this pattern is discoverable. These low cost conferences will be held on Thursday, July 6th at 9AM, Wednesday, July 12th at 2PM, and Thursday, July 27th at 4PM. The spots are filling up quickly, so, if you’re a member of our Asperger Syndrome: Partners & Family of Adults with ASD Meetup be sure to register very soon. (Not a member yet? If you are the neuro typical partner in a NT/AS relationship, request an invitation.)

If you prefer to consult with me one-on-one and you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA please contact my office and schedule an appointment. Otherwise, you might qualify for either online therapy or online education. Check out the services I provide and choose the one that’s the right fit for you.

Lessons I Learned about Helicopter Parenting from My ASD Daughter

Wednesday, June 21, 2017


I was a classic helicopter mom to my daughter with Asperger’s Syndrome, and these are some of the lessons I learned and wish I’d done differently.When you discover that your child has Asperger’s Syndrome, it makes you feel utterly helpless. I know, because I’m a trained psychologist, with a master’s degree in social work and a doctoral degree in psychology and I still felt that way about my own daughter who, by the age of 14, was officially diagnosed with ASD.

Recently I wrote an article for PsychCentral about my experience, hoping that it would let others know they’re not alone. (You can read the full article here.) One aspect that I wish I’d done differently is that I became a classic helicopter mother.

I found all kinds of ways to work around the school system. I hired tutors to coach her. I negotiated high school credit from outside activities. I tried Brownies, soccer, piano lessons, and summer camps. I forced her to audition for a prestigious private choir because of her marvelous singing ability—even though she was frightened of the other choir members. I tried everything I could think of to make my autistic child smile.


Being a helicopter parent is a natural outcome of the crazy-making AS/NT world. Our natural instincts are to protectively hover over our children when they have such a serious disability.

However, there are serious drawbacks to helicopter parenting. It leaves you very little time to relax and enjoy your children. As the super-responsible parent, you circle your child with help while not leaving enough time for hugs and play.

Lessons I learned from my ASD daughter:

Helicopter parenting is a natural by-product of loving your very dependent child. Don’t let anyone tell you that you are over-reacting. Your strongest asset is your heart.
  • Channel your helicoptering into finding a good psychologist or Asperger Syndrome specialist.
  • Join a support group like Asperger Syndrome: Partners & Family of Adults with ASD
  • Read everything you can about Asperger Syndrome.
  • Join your local Autism Society affiliate. It’s important that you socialize with other parents and spouses who share your experience.
  • Don’t blame yourself for your mistakes. Love yourself enough to keep on creating a meaningful life in spite of them.
  • Take time to relax and play.

Yes, there have been tremendous improvements in understanding Asperger’s Syndrome. But we have a long way to go to help our AS/NT families. I’ve made it my mission to be a source of knowledge and support. If you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA please contact my office and schedule an in-person appointment. If you live elsewhere and are seeking information on ASD, please take advantage of my online education.

Look on the Bright Side - You Can Do It Even If You're a Natural Pessimist

Monday, June 19, 2017


Arrow and sign saying positive thinkingDoesn’t it seem like most people fall into one of two groups? There are the upbeat optimists who see the good in situations and then there are negative pessimists who tend to expect the worst. Which group are you in? If you tend toward the negative, then this article is for you!
 
There are certainly times and situations that bring negative emotions. Processing those negative feelings is a necessary part of the healing process. What I’m talking about here, doesn’t apply to a fairly short-lived sad, angry, or negative period in your life. I’m referring to overall perspective on life – the way you view your life, your future, even the people in your life.
 
Chronic pessimism inhibits your ability to bounce back from disappointments and life’s inevitable stresses. It can also strain relationships at home and at the workplace. But your perspective on life affects more than just how other people relate to you – it actually influences your health.
 
Recent studies are finding that optimistic people have better heart health than their pessimistic counterparts. (Read more about these studies in this NY Times article.) Optimists are more likely to eat a healthy diet, avoid smoking and overdrinking, and prioritize regular exercise than pessimists. As a result, they maintain healthier blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels. Optimism helps patients heal faster from illness or injury and boosts the immune system to prevent colds and flu.
 
The good news is that, with a little practice, you can become more positive. This isn’t a fake optimism. “Putting on a show” to look like you are feeling upbeat about life isn’t going to help. But you really can train yourself to feel optimistic from the inside out.
 
This is done by re-training your brain to think positively. There are neural pathways in your brain that control emotion. If you tend toward negative thinking, the neural pathways for negativity become stronger, kind of like a beaten down path through the forest. A lifetime of pessimistic thinking can produce some beaten down negative pathways! Negativity becomes your brain’s go-to emotion.
 
On the up side, your brain is capable of generating new pathways, and it’s possible to train the circuitry in your brain to promote positive responses. When you look for the good, you activate different neural circuits in your brain. Dopamine and serotonin production is increased, soothing and calming you. The more you stimulate these circuits in your brain, the stronger they become. Positivity will become a more automatic response.
 
It’s not a matter of making one, huge change. There are small things you can do every day to progressively strengthen your positive neural pathways. Here are four suggestions:
 
  1. Begin each day with a positive thought. It will help you set the tone for how you will choose to think for the day.
  2. Live one moment at a time. Stop worrying about the past and the future. Focus on the present and making that day the best it can be. The practice of mindfulness helps many of my clients to focus and see the good in their day.
  3. Practice gratitude. Having a grateful attitude is linked to everything from better mental and physical health to greater satisfaction in life and relationships. Look for the moments, big and small, that you are thankful for.
  4. Do good for others. If you focus on thinking about other people and working to make their life better, you think about your own problems and worries less. This, in turn, keeps you from dwelling on the negative and moves you to focus on the positive.

If your negative feelings run too deep, there may be something else in your life that needs attention. Stress comes when the different aspects of your life fall out alignment. I can help you identify where you are out of balance and guide you back into a healthy, productive alignment. Please contact my office to set up an appointment.  I have an office in Jantzen Beach where we can meet in person or I offer online therapy if that’s a better fit for you.

Find Time to Be Kind – You and Your Business Will Benefit

Wednesday, June 14, 2017


Volunteers looking through boxesShowing kindness to others directly affects your own happiness. You’ve probably already noticed that when you help other people, it makes you feel good. But do you know why?

 
By focusing on other people and working to make their life better, you think less about your own problems and worries. This keeps you from dwelling on the negative and moves you to focus on the positive.
 
This is good news for your health! Positive thinking can boost your immune system, lower your blood pressure, and lessen your risk of heart disease. Since there is an inseparable connection between the mind and the body, feelings of joy, sadness, anger, hope, and apathy directly affect your body. So, by replacing negativity and pessimism in favor of kindness and joy, you can improve your physical health.
 
Showing kindness is also a great way to create and enhance social connections with people, which can foster a sense of purpose and meaning in life. Think about a time that you volunteered in your community or took a moment to say or do something for a stranger. Didn't you feel more connected with others and possibly made new friends in the process?
 
One small act of kindness can trigger a chain reaction. A small thing to you can mean everything to another person. It can move them to do something nice for someone else. When you show kindness to others, they are more likely to show kindness in return. Your one act can spread out into the community and come back full circle to where you are on the receiving end of someone else’s kindness.
 
But how can kindness benefit your business?
 
You might think that entrepreneurs need to be tough and aggressive but actually kindness does help you run a successful business. For one thing, as we already discussed acts of kindness fosters optimism. What business owner doesn’t need an abundance of that quality?
 
You’ll notice that showing kindness keeps you in touch with your community. Involving yourself and your employees in community events or fundraisers promotes a team spirit. It also helps your company’s reputation as a business that cares, which helps you stand out in a competitive marketplace.
 
The advent of social media is a great tool to offer memorable customer service. People are quick to lament a faulty product or terrible service on social media. When that happens, without being asked, reach out with a friendly note, send a free product, offer a sincere apology… Basically do something kind. These are interactions that people will remember and tell their friends about.
 
Kindness in the workplace also contributes to employee retention. Good, loyal employees can be hard to find. Once you find them, you have to work to keep them. A happy workforce is a good workforce. So encourage laughter, teamwork, and bonding. Express appreciation and offer commendation. Small acts of kindness, like buying lunch for the office, can make a big difference.
 
Are you convinced that being kind is worth the effort? Sometimes it can be challenging to be kind if you’re dealing with a lot of internal or external stress. If you could use some help please contact my office to set up an appointment.  I have an office in Jantzen Beach where we can meet in person or I offer online therapy if that’s a better fit for you.

6 Things Parents Should Do to Build Resiliency in Their Kids

Monday, June 12, 2017


Mom and daughter looking at computer togetherWhile we tend to remember our childhood as being fairly carefree, being a kid isn’t always a play date in the park. Our children take tests, change schools, compete in sports, move, suffer loss, make friends, and sometimes get hurt by those friends.
 
To deal with these situations successfully kids need to learn to be resilient. It’s a quality that helps us overcome obstacles, persevere when problems arise, and bounce back from adversity.

Resilient kids are good problem-solvers. Instead of viewing unfamiliar or tough situations as obstacles, they view them as opportunities to find solutions. They’re confident that they can figure out what needs to be done and handle whatever is thrown at them.
 
But resilience goes beyond the simple act of overcoming adversity. A truly resilient child has a whole different mindset than their peers who get hung up on failures. They believe that their mistakes do not define them. They know they have the ability to try again and that eventually things will get better. Interestingly, optimism is positively correlated to resilience.
 
Children who develop resilience are also flexible. They can handle surprises and adapt to new situations. They’re also less competitive. A resilient child’s self-esteem comes from within, so they are more likely to appreciate other people’s talents and work well with their peers. Instead of doing things quickly, they work efficiently and with quality. They’ve learned that taking the time to do things right and learning from others pays off.
 
The bottom line is resilient children tend to be happier, healthier, and more successful. We all want that for our children! The good news is that we aren’t born with some finite amount of resilience. It is a quality that can be taught and developed, and like a muscle built and strengthened over time.
 
So what can you do to build a more resilient child? Here are six tips for more resilient children:

1.     Avoid being overprotective. Overprotecting children fuels their anxiety over trying new things or facing a problem. As a culture, we try to make sure our kids are comfortable, but it often goes too far and starts to get in the way of children developing their own problem-solving skills. Let your children feel a little uncomfortable sometimes, and allow them to take appropriate risks. Teach them essential skills and give them age-appropriate freedom to help them learn their own limits.

2.     Teach your kids to problem-solve. Engage your child in figuring out how they can handle challenges. Give them the opportunity, over and over again, to figure out what works for them and what doesn’t. When they make a mistake, instead of asking them why they did it, ask them how they will fix it.

3.     Let your kids make mistakes. Failure is not the end of the world, and kids need to see that firsthand. Letting kids mess up tends to be more painful to parents, but it helps kids learn how to fix their mistakes and make better decisions next time. Let your kids experience the consequences of their actions.

4.     Focus on effort rather than results. You don’t want your children’s self-confidence to be dependent on accomplishments or praise from others. Teach them that failing at something doesn’t make them a failure. Praise the effort they put into something, even if the results are not ideal. This will teach them to endure disappointment, not be devastated by it.

5.     Help them manage their emotions. A key part of developing resilience is emotional management. Teach your kids that emotions are ok! It’s ok to feel. Then teach them that after they feel their feelings, they need to think and figure out what they’re going to do next.

6.     Show your kids that they matter. Like all people, children need to know they are loved and cared for. It is also important for them to believe that someone needs and relies on them. They want to know their existence and presence makes a difference to other people. Listen to your children and support them. As kids navigate new situations and inevitable disappointments, they need to know that they’re not alone. Communicate openly with them. Cultivate a warm, strong relationship. Even when they make a mistake, they should feel they can talk to you about it.

There are times when parents need some help and support. If you feel like you child is overly stressed and you could use some help them be more resilient please contact my office to set up an appointment.  I have an office in Jantzen Beach where we can meet in person or I offer online therapy if that’s a better fit for you.

Your Gut Bacteria is Changing Your Brain More Than You Think

Wednesday, June 07, 2017


Our gut bacteria affect our digestion, allergies and metabolism, now scientist are finding more links between gut bacteria, our moods and thinking ability.It’s become common knowledge that our gut bacteria affect our digestion, allergies, metabolism and mental health. Now scientist are finding more links between gut bacteria and our moods and thinking ability.

A recent article in The Atlantic lists a number of studies conducted on mice and humans that tested gut bacteria and it’s affect on anxiety, depression, and autism. Their results are fascinating.

“A growing group of researchers around the world are investigating how the microbiome, as this bacterial ecosystem is known, regulates how people think and feel. Scientists have found evidence that this assemblage—about a thousand different species of bacteria, trillions of cells that together weigh between one and three pounds—could play a crucial role in autism, anxiety, depression, and other disorders.”

Did you know that about three-quarters of people with autism also have some gastrointestinal abnormality, like food allergies or gluten sensitivity? Because of this, scientists are examining the potential connections between gut microbes and autism. Here are the highlights from just one of the studies this article mentions:

Microbiologist Sarkis Mazmanian of The California Institute of Technology saw that some autistic children had less Bacteroides fragilis. He and his colleagues fed Bacteroides fragilis from humans to mice with symptoms similar to autism. The treatment changed the animals’ microbiome, and improved their behavior. “They became less anxious, communicated more with other mice, and showed less repetitive behavior.”

They also discovered that when a chemical called 4-ethylphenylsulphate (4EPS) which seems to be produced by gut bacteria was injected into mice, they developed autism-like symptoms. Mazmanian says, “We may be able to reverse these ailments. If you turn off the faucet that produces this compound, then the symptoms disappear.”

Another study showed that eating yogurt containing live bacteria (bifidobacterium,streptococcus, lactococcus, and lactobacillus) twice a day created a significant increase in calmness. He speculates that, “the bacteria in the yogurt changed the makeup of the subjects’ gut microbes, and that this led to the production of compounds that modified brain chemistry.”

For years, I’ve advocated a holistic approach toward health and well-being. Our physical, mental and spiritual health is so interconnected that we must obtain a balance. Healthful nutrition is obviously one of the key components to wellness.

Make sure to sign-up for my newsletter, Enriching Your Life, to stay up-to-date on new findings that impact your health and wellness. Simply enter your information in the box on the left to start receiving your copy.

Read more on my website: Holistic Health.

Read The Atlantic article in its entirety.

Does Contempt Signal the End of a Marriage or Committed Relationship?

Monday, June 05, 2017


Does Contempt Signal the End of a Marriage or Committed Relationship Do you agree with John Gottman, Ph.D. and author of "Seven Principles that Make Marriage Work"? He tells us that once a couple has descended to the level of contempt for each other, the marriage is irretrievable. I don’t totally agree with his assessment, especially since I’ve been working with so many couples who are dealing with Asperger’s in their marriage or committed relationships.

Contempt is a very strong emotion – the feeling that a person is beneath consideration, worthless, or deserving scorn. Generally, one doesn’t get to that emotion over night. It usually takes a gradually erosion of respect. (Unless there has been one particularly horrific act that destroys all respect and love. Certainly when the love is gone it probably makes no sense to try anymore.) Yet, there are ways to reverse the erosion and rebuild your relationship.

As awful as is contempt, it actually comes fairly quickly in ASD/NT relationships. Why is that? My theory is that the Aspie doesn’t have empathy, so they may resort to saying pretty awful things to their partner, but contempt is not on their mind. NTs on the other hand take these unkind comments as contemptuous. Sometimes we build up resentment, too, and then our Aspies are puzzled by our anger. Such a crazy, painful, mixed up situation.

If you’re feeling contempt, or you believe your Aspie does, we need to talk. This is no way to live. Contempt, like passive-aggressive behavior is a counter-productive solution. We need ways to be open about our feelings, respectful of our differences, forgiving of others, and expecting forgiveness from our loved ones.

This last one is important isn't it? I sure would like forgiveness if I get frustrated with my Aspie loved ones, or really lose my cool and yell or withdraw. We’re only human and contemptuous comments are hurtful.

If you’re a member of the Asperger Syndrome: Partners & Family of Adults with ASD Meetup, I invite you to please join us for our free teleconference: Cleaning Up Contempt on Thursday, June 15th at 3:00 PM PT. Let’s get these feelings out in the open and figure out how our words and actions can help us cope.

Also, if you haven’t read my book, “Out of Mind – Out of Sight: Parenting with a Partner with Asperger Syndrome (ASD)”, you can get your first chapter free by clicking here. This book has become an important resource for those who want to understand their Aspie partners better.



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